Northern Advocate Column

Embracing the ban

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There’s been a lot of banning and restricting lately. A ban on fires is in place across Tai Tokerau. In the Far North, people are having to cope with severe water restrictions. Due to coronavirus, there are restrictions on international travel. Telling people who’ve had contact with the virus to stay at home is a ban of sorts.

At another level, Ngātiwai has a temporary rāhui in place to stop people visiting the Mermaid Pools at Matapōuri Bay. At Ahipara and the Karikari Peninsula, local iwi have banned motorcycling in the sand dunes because of the damage caused.

Last year—without the world ending—disposable plastic bags were banned by the Government. And of course, in the wake of the mass shooting in Christchurch, semi-automatic guns have been outlawed.

By and large, all those bans and restrictions have had general acceptance. Not complete acceptance, perhaps, but you get the feeling they’re supported by most of us. We recognise that for public health reasons, environmental reasons, safety reasons, individual freedoms must be curtailed for the greater good. Even if motorsport enthusiasts would like to ride on the dunes, they’re too small a minority to sway everyone else who agrees that protecting dunes is important.

The key to a good ban is broad public support. It might be imposed by iwi leaders, a civic authority, or the state, but it’s willed in a sense by the majority of the population. Leaders with the power to decide on a ban or introduce restrictions will have calculated that most people are going to back us on this.

A good ban works because it’s equitable. Water restrictions in the Far North apply to all households. Rich or poor, everyone’s equally affected. Imagine the outcry if authorities decided to deal with the water shortage by imposing a high price on each litre of water piped from public dams and bores. Anyone with lots of money would be fine. The poorest in the community would have a greater barrier to accessing the water they need. You might expect widespread anger and even violence as a result.

Having made a case for bans and restrictions, and our grudging acceptance of them, I’d like to make a comparison with the dominant policy response, so far, to the threat of catastrophic climate change. It’s to put a price on carbon emissions. This is done through emissions trading schemes or via direct taxes, which add, for instance, to the price of petrol.

Almost all the policy initiatives and recommendations put forward by our mainstream political parties will affect low and middle-income people the most, and the rich hardly a jot. There are multi-millionaires concerned about global warming, no doubt. Still, there’s not one policy initiative that’s going to have any discernible impact on their lifestyles. That’s why banning something or restricting its use is fairer. A good ban, remember, is equitable, affecting rich and poor alike. It’s certainly got more chance of being widely supported.

If we are serious about doing something real to reduce carbon emissions, in a way that’s fair to all citizens, then we have to embrace the ban. Ask yourself: are you ready for restricting the number of times anyone can travel by plane in a year? Or restrictions on the use of concrete (one of the worst materials for emissions)? What about limiting the number of cows per farm?

How do you feel about allowing only one car per family? All families would be put in the same situation, regardless of purchasing power. Both would be inconvenienced, both could embrace the opportunity to get healthier through more walking and cycling. Or feel good about themselves and their contribution to saving the planet while sitting on a bus.

We’re not going to combat global warming or adjust to resource scarcity, and maintain any sort of societal stability, without bans and restrictions. It’s up to us.

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