Skip to comments.Kyoto 'Flatulence Tax' Plan Causes Turbulence in New Zealand
Posted on 06/23/2003 2:49:32 AM PDT by kattracks
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - New Zealand farmers are making a stink about government proposals that they pay a levy on the flatulence released by their livestock.
"If it wasn't so downright stupid it would be funny," seems to be the view shared by many New Zealanders, as one small regional newspaper summed it up in an editorial.
The center-left government, which supports the Kyoto Protocol, wants to use the money raised - about $4.9 million a year - to fund research into ways of minimizing the impact that the country's cattle and sheep population are allegedly having on the planet's climate.
Like many other Western countries, New Zealand has signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that aims to reduce the emission of CO2 and other "greenhouse gases," which some scientists believe causes global warming.
Kyoto requires specified countries to meet greenhouse gas reduction quotas.
Unlike the rest of those countries, most of the greenhouse gases contributed by New Zealand are not CO2 from heavy industries, but gases such as methane emitted from both ends of sheep and cattle, and nitrous oxide from their dung and urine.
New Zealand has just four million people, but 45 million sheep and around 10 million head of cattle. Together with commercial goats and deer, the animals are responsible for more than 40 percent of the total greenhouse gases produced.
By comparison, the agricultural sector only accounts for one or two percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted by the U.S. and European countries, the president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, Tom Lambie, said in an interview Monday.
The farmers' organization is strongly opposed to the government proposal, he said, and was joining affiliated sectors such as meat marketing bodies to try to block it.
Among farmers' concerns was the fact that the proposed levy would make it harder for them to compete against those in countries that have not ratified Kyoto, such as the U.S. and Australia.
Also, the government had signed up to Kyoto on behalf of the entire country, Lambie said. If it now wanted to pursue research in this area, the money should come from all New Zealanders via taxes, not from farmers alone.
More intriguing concerns have to do with the research itself.
If the research is aimed at finding ways of cutting back on the livestock emission problem, it can theoretically either find another, more efficient use for the gas; or seek to make the animals less windy.
The first idea is faintly ludicrous. As Lambie noted: "The gas would be very difficult to capture ..."
The second suggestion - the idea that we could manipulate a ruminant's digestive system - had not proven particularly productive in past experience, he said.
Furthermore, New Zealand customers have a reputation for being highly suspicious about food safety issues and many are strongly opposed to genetic manipulation.
Any attempt to fiddle around with the way the animals' digestive systems work could raise an outcry, he said. Animal welfare groups would also likely be unhappy.
A change of diet could make a difference. In Europe, an individual cow produces less methane than its New Zealand counterpart because the European animal's diet is both different and less nutritious.
The average dairy cow in New Zealand produces around 90 kilograms of methane a year, equivalent in energy to 120 liters of gasoline.
(New Zealand researchers say this means that a 200-cow dairy herd produces the equivalent of 24,000 liters of gasoline a year - enough gas to drive an average vehicle more than 120,000 miles.)
But it is precisely the highly-nutritious nature of the plants that New Zealand's cows and sheep eat that make the country's livestock farming so productive and cost-effective.
Changing the diet in New Zealand, he argued, could end up costing the country more in the long run.
"That's what makes New Zealand productive. You'd be taking away its competitive advantage."
The government insists that it is simply proposing a levy to finance research. That research may produce technologies and practices that will enable farmers to "increase productivity or reduce production costs," it says in a discussion document.
Officials also strongly deny that the plan amounts to a "flatulence tax."
But that's the term being used by the official opposition National Party and other critics.
"Our farmers are facing costs that no competitors in the southern hemisphere have to consider," said National Party lawmaker David Carter, vowing that a future National government would repeal any such levy that the current government may impose.
Other opposition parties enthusiastically joined the fray.
In a statement headlined "Flatulence Tax Just Government Hot Air," ACT New Zealand, a small conservative party, urged farmers to strongly resist the move.
A spokesman for New Zealand First derided the government's "obsession" with Kyoto, accusing it of "posturing on the international stage at the expense of our economy."
The United Future party said the government should never have ratified the protocol and its "bureaucratic nightmare" in the first place.
The tax proposal was "utter nonsense and should be abandoned immediately," it said.
Lambie would not be drawn on one other, absorbing question.
One of the main reasons cited by President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard for rejecting Kyoto is the fact it does not place demands on developing countries to reduce their emissions.
Only industrialized countries have reduction quotas, but fast-developing countries like China were left out, despite the fact they may one day produce emissions to rival those of the U.S.
Already, U.N. figures show China to be a major CO2 polluter - second only to the U.S.
But with experts arguing that methane is having a considerably greater effect on climate change than CO2, China may be getting off lightly on another front too.
While New Zealand's 45 million sheep vastly outnumber its small human population, it pales in comparison to China, which has 290 million sheep.
The U.S. has less than 10 million.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.
I just wonder what this apparatus will look like.
I think it was on Rush's old television show where E.I.B. "news" had made a spot that talked about such a "device". It basically looked like a big whoopie cusion worn under one's underwear. Hilarious!
What have they thought of, yet?!?!?!?!?
I has no effect whatsovever, don't worry about it.
That'll be 4.9 Million NZ please....
They can give each sheep a little plastic suit.
It's scary enough that they thought of this!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.