Alex Johnston on how Auckland's housing crisis is creating 'angry birds', apartments and housing affordability, 'Big Oil' the new 'Big Tobacco' and ANZ's investment in fossil fuels

Alex Johnston on how Auckland's housing crisis is creating 'angry birds', apartments and housing affordability, 'Big Oil' the new 'Big Tobacco' and ANZ's investment in fossil fuels

Today's Top 10 is a guest post by Alex Johnston, a Waitematā youth representative at Auckland Council and Auckland University law student.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

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See all previous Top 10s here.

1. Auckland house prices are creating angry birds

This cartoon from Guy Keverne Body nicely sums up how it feels to be told that your inability to afford a house is based on lifestyle choices.

2. Apartments and housing affordability

This blog post from Transportblog highlights how the consistent building of apartments in downtown Auckland has kept the range of affordable dwellings high in that area, while the inner suburbs remain far out of reach for most. It’s crucial that we recognize the affordability benefits of density, as well as the lifestyle benefits of providing greater housing choice in existing urban areas to cater to Auckland’s demographics.

What sets the city centre apart isn’t low demand but high supply responsiveness: the city centre has stayed affordable because lot of apartments have been built there. This includes a mix of expensive apartments and small, affordable apartments to meet a range of different demands for space. Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry is moving into a luxury apartment in the Viaduct Harbour, while there are many students on low incomes living a bit further up the hill.

These maps show one simple thing: Building lots of apartments works. The one place in the city where we’ve allowed it to happen – the city centre – is now the most affordable place in the city.

3. Auckland’s housing crisis worsens

It’s been impressive to see journalists increasingly tackling the human impact that house price inflation is having now rather than just the inability of people to buy houses in the future. Reports over the last week from The Nation, Q+A and Checkpoint all delved into the reality faced by many Aucklanders who are renting. The overcrowded conditions, substandard housing leading to health problems, and increased transience and homelessness of young families are something that we cannot accept in a first world country.

4. “The whole system is at crisis”

The Prime Minister’s response to the fact that there were families with children living in cars is that they need to “go and see Work and Income, and we'll see what we can do". But with a Housing New Zealand waiting list of more than 2000, an accommodation supplement that hasn’t risen for years, and rents in Auckland that have risen 25% over 5 years, seeking help from WINZ is not enough. Quoting Lifewise Chief Executive Moira Lawler, Radio NZ reports:

“We are desperately needing to invest in more affordable housing. We need a system that identifies people that are desperate for housing and prioritises their needs, and makes enough financial support available, so they can afford to be housed, and afford to stay there."

She said when social institutions like Housing New Zealand were expected to return $118 million in dividend to the government, it was clear the policy approaches were wrong.

5. Want to own a house in Auckland? Circle these dates

As much as housing has become a prescient issue in national politics, there’s one major policy solution that is on the cards to be voted on by Auckland Council on August 19th: the Unitary Plan. The Independent Hearings Panel finished their hearings last week, and will now put together their final recommendations for the council’s Governing Body to vote on. It won’t be a golden bullet, but it will be crucial to allow more development to happen.

6. Exxon scrambles to contain climate crusade

Changing to the issue of climate change, there are a series of interesting legal investigations happening the US targeting ‘Big Oil’, similar to what happened in the 1980s and 90s with Big Tobacco. Various state Attorney Generals are investigating ExxonMobil over whether it deliberately misled the public and its shareholders about the threat of climate change. This campaign started (as much climate advocacy does) in the environmental movement but has swelled into the political and media mainstream and, according to Politico, “now poses the biggest existential threat the company has faced in decades”. This could help hold Exxon to account for its complicity in driving climate change.

“A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public,” the 2012 conference organizers wrote in a memo on the meeting.

“Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups, and there are many possible approaches to unearthing them.”

It will be very interesting to see where this goes, and whether it will result in the kind of damning settlement of hundreds of billions of dollars that tobacco companies had to pay in 1998.

7. ‘Break Free’ fossil fuel protest deemed ‘largest ever’ global disobedience

The last two weeks have seen a massive wave of civil disobedience actions targeting fossil fuel companies and those funding them, called ‘Break Free’. The actions taking place across the world show the increasing measures thousands of everyday people are willing to go to confront climate change and demand action, above and beyond a regular protest. The Guardian reports:

The protests have taken place amid new evidence of the rapid transformation of the world’s climate due to human activity. April 2016 was the warmest April on record, according to Nasa, beating the previous record by a huge margin.

Global temperature records have now been broken for seven months in a row, with last year the warmest on record, beating a mark only set in 2014. Aided by a hefty El Niño event, the heat has helped cause drought in Africa, corals to perish and the Arctic to experience a record low in ice extent.

8. Climate change protest forces ANZ to shut flagship NZ branch for day

Last week, I took part in one of the Break Free actions here in New Zealand, organized by 350 Aotearoa. This targeted ANZ group’s funding of fossil fuel projects to the amount of $13.5 billion. The financial shift away from fossil fuels is crucial given the fact that up to 80% of known reserves have to stay in the ground if global warming is to be kept to the 2C ‘safe’ threshold. ANZ’s continued investment in large fossil fuel projects is not in line with that scientific reality. Shutting down the bank for the day was a way to draw attention to the fact that ‘business as usual’ for the Big Four banks cannot continue.

350 Aotearoa spokesperson Niamh O’Flynn said the activists were on the right side of history:

I think being peaceful and welcoming is the way to involve more people in this moment. Sometimes it is hard and sometimes people don’t always agree with us but I think the future generation will look back and see these people sitting outside of this bank as climate heroes.

9. How Copenhagen rejected 1960s modernist ‘utopia’

As a fan of cycling-friendly cities, my first visit to Copenhagen in January was like a dream come true. It really is a fantastically planned and liveable city. This story reveals how it became to be such a great place to live and get around, largely by rejecting the modernist motorway-building spree of the 1960s and taking a radically different path. It is now a model for urban planning for cities around the world. The Guardian reports:

Much to the modernists’ discontent at the time, Copenhagen’s development took a different trajectory, and managed to escape the congested concrete clutches of modern urban planning. In the process, it laid the foundations for its contemporary reputation as one of the world’s most “liveable” cities – an urban model so desirable that copying its outcomes even has its own verb: “to Copenhagenise”.

10. 140 characters means 140 characters: Twitter is set to make an overdue change

Lastly, it seems like one of the annoying things about twitter will be fixed, with the social media platform set to no longer count links and images against a tweet's character count. This should make things a lot more streamlined and user-friendly. 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


It is good to see the funding of climate change denial by Exxon highlighted but it is no longer about financial penalties: the damage done by Exxon (and many other fossil fuel companies) can never be rectified -financially or otherwise- because we are in the early stages of accelerating planetary meltdown, as a direct consequence of extraordinarily high atmospheric carbon dioxide that has resulted from excessive use of fossil fuels. It really has been a case of profits before people in one of its worst possible forms.

According to NSIDC Arctic ice cover is around 1.4 million km2 less than the 1981-2010 average and is declining at a phenomenal rate.

The ice sheets on Greenland are not going to disappear next week or next year, but we should expect them to melt at an ever-faster rate -resulting in many metres of sea level rise- over coming years, particularly since there is no plan to drastically curtail emissions, so temperatures just keep rising. .

Unlikely Greenland ice sheets will disappear given that its above the 1990-2013 average and has been through a lot warmer periods in recent history. 1990 to present - a period that has seen 45% of post industrial CO2 emitted so that's is not much of a anthro CO2/Greenland ice sheet correlation to say the least. But hey don't let facts get in the way of a good old hand wringin'.

The Greenland ice sheet is quite resilient:

"During the penultimate interglaciation, ∼130 to ∼120 ka ago, solar energy in summer in the Arctic was greater than at any time subsequently. As a consequence, Arctic summers were 5 °C warmer than at present, and almost all glaciers melted completely except for the Greenland Ice Sheet, and even it was reduced in size substantially from its present extent."


"Northern Hemisphere ice sheets had melted by 6 ka ago. Solar energy reached a summer maximum (9% higher than at present) ∼11 ka ago and has been decreasing since then, primarily in response to the precession of the equinoxes. The extra energy elevated early Holocene summer temperatures throughout the Arctic 1–3 °C above 20th century averages, enough to completely melt many small glaciers throughout the Arctic, although the Greenland Ice Sheet was only slightly smaller than at present."

You may be in a state of permanent denial of reality, profile but now even the International Energy Agency is highlighting the extreme danger posed by CO2 emissions. There are several obvious blunders in this item but the tone is very clear:

"The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."

If the world is to stay below 2C of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.....

The IEA's data is regarded as the gold standard in emissions and energy, and is widely regarded as one of the most conservative in outlook – making the warning all the more stark.'

Another 67,000 km2 of ice cover melted yesterday. A record low and a record rate of melting.

Thank you for your quotes from a power engineer cum energy economist in response to a paper from Arctic specialists. When it was 5 degrees warmer the Greenland ice sheet was still there - and the ice sheet has increased as we have increased antro CO2 by 45% since 1990... So in a post 1990 Greenland icesheet sense the door is opening not closing. Thanks Fatih.

You just keep hanging out on crackpot doomster websites like

"From ∼2.6 to ∼1.0 Ma ago, ice sheets came and went about every 41 ka, in pace with cycles in the tilt of Earth’s axis, but for the past 700 ka, glacial cycles have been longer, lasting ∼100 ka, separated by brief, warm interglaciations, when sea level and ice volumes were close to present. The cause of the shift from 41 ka to 100 ka glacial cycles is still debated."

Ah settled science.

And you keep quoting totally irrelevant 'information' that relates to an entirely different world -one in which hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon that nature had sequestered over hundreds of millions of years was still in the ground. But now all that carbon is in the atmosphere and oceans in the form of CO2 and bicarbonate ion -hence the staggeringly high atmospheric CO2 and the death of coral reefs due to overheating and acidity.

By your reckoning the International Energy Agency, UNIPCC, University of Colorado, Scripps Institute and the US Naval College etc. are 'doomster crackpot' organisations.

Your ignorance, stupidity and arrogance clearly know no bounds.


So you have nothing. Thought as much. Yes a different world, much warmer, but Greenland hung in just the same. You are on a hiding to nothing trying to claim CO2 is disappearing the Greenland ice sheet. I would avoid that doom senario in future - it's a bit like eugenics, population bombs, mmr, acid rain etc. You do know doom senarios have a certain shelf life and you have to move onto the next one? There are plenty of other regional weather events you can try and big up. I wouldn't shift the goal posts from Greenland to coral reefs and acidity - sort of falls on the first hurdle given oceans are basic and are going to stay that way. I huess "less basic" is far too boring a term for an alarmist.

"Biological and hydrographic processes change the chemistry of the seawater moving across the barrier reefs and into Palau's Rock Island bays, where levels of acidification approach those projected for the western tropical Pacific open ocean by 2100. Nevertheless, coral diversity, cover, and calcification rates are maintained across this natural acidification gradient. Identifying the combination of biological and environmental factors that enable these communities to persist could provide important insights into the future of coral reefs under anthropogenic acidification."

It sure does suck when the empirical data doesn't match the computer model or lab studies. Having to come up with a new hypotheses and all that. Love the use of the weasel word "projected" in that abstract too.They know how to keep their funding coming.

Neither of your links make the conclusion you claim they do. One link is to a pay wall with the abstract only which clearly states that Greenland glaciers melted enough to raise sea levels 5m.

The coral reef link does not claim ocean acidity is not a problem, it merely looks at a type of reef that has evolved in higher acid conditions for some possible insights.

You are the crank, where did you get those links from? You copy/pasted from your favourite flakey conspiracy theory site no doubt.

Note early Holocene temps 1-3 degrees higher than present. Note world didn't end - just ask the Aborigines. Clearly colonisation is a bit worse for your weĺl being than climate change. Also note "separated by brief, warm interglaciations, when sea level and ice volumes were close to present. The cause of the shift from 41 ka to 100 ka glacial cycles is still debated."

As for ocean "acidity" - ocean pH varies a lot even on a monthly basis on some sites and corals have existed for millenia.

"Thus, on both a monthly (Fig. 2) and annual scale (Fig. 4), even the most stable open ocean sites see pH changes many times larger than the annual rate of acidification. This natural variability has prompted the suggestion that “an appropriate null hypothesis may be, until evidence is obtained to the contrary, that major biogeochemical processes in the oceans other than calcification will not be fundamentally different under future higher CO2/lower pH conditions” 

Crank. Love it. I'll add to the list. Do doomsters whinge less when you provide links or when you don't?

As I have repeatedly pointed out, you present redundant, irrelevant 'information' which is often quite off-topic and does not apply to present conditions, whilst you completely disregard anything that is actually happening in the real world now. And then you effectively declare that all marine biologists, all atmospheric scientists, all chemists, all meteorologists, all paleo-scientists are 'cranky doomsters'.

Presumably, in your world of irrational analysis and conspiracy theories the people who take the measurements at Lake Mead are 'doomster cranks', and that although all data and recent photographs show it to be at a record low level water is actually brimming over the Hoover Dam.

The 3rd Global Coral Bleaching Event – 2014/2016

Now confirmed as the longest bleaching event ever recorded

Ocean acidification is occurring faster than at any time in the past 50 million years. This rise in ocean acidity is fuelled by human-created greenhouse gas emissions. The effect is to reduce the ability of shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow, reproduce and build their shells and skeletons. Other species that depend on shellfish and coral for food and habitat are also affected, and experimental studies have revealed less obvious effects on marine species, including changes in the ability of reef fish to distinguish predator from prey.

And if you really want to talk about Greenland ice, here is the latest update on that:

Early start to Greenland Ice Sheet melt season

April 21, 2016

For six days in early April, unusual weather patterns produced an early season melt event on the Greenland Ice Sheet, covering up to 10 percent of its surface area. Such an event is unusual but not unprecedented; the record surface melt season of 2012 began in a similar manner.

I'd better repeat that because you have difficulty with such information: RECORD SURFACE MELT SEASON OF 2012.

And this year the sea ice is already FAR below that of 2012, so we should not be at all surprised to witness a RECORD loss of Greenland ice this year.

By the way, how much does Exxon pay you for churning out the garbage you churn out?

And you're a tree hugging hippy.

Are the facts and logical arguments starting to make you nervous?

Insults are always the clearest indicator of a lost debate.

Geez truthie you really are hanging yourself with your own tongue here - note your "stupid" and "ignorant" comments further up the thread, and on many other threads. I do agree with you on this however - insults reflect you don't know your position as well as you think you do. For example if you were debating with someone that the moon was made of blue cheese you would feel pity not anger.

Exxon pay me arounf $10k per month into my Panama bank account plus a can of Tui. What a fantasy land you must live in if you think an energy companies pay people to write comments on blogs.... Use some logic for a minute - Exxon love global warming scare stories because it had helps hammer coal so they can sell us more gas.

Yes truthie just quietly ignore the SMB data from Danish met linked above. 45% of anthro CO2 added since 1990 and SMB still about average.

Aborigines originally migrated to the landmasses themselves when you look at the "Out of Africa theory".

Aborigines in all continents & landmasses on Earth caused mass extinction on the megafauna after they arrived in those lands.

Native Amerindians with the displacement of Camels,extinction of the Mammoth in the Americas & extinction of horses until reintroduced by Europeans.

Indigenous Australians with the Diprotodon,Marsupial Lion etc.

Maori with the Moa,Haast's Eagle etc.

For example for Humans wiped out thousands of native bird species when they migrated to the Pacific Islands 3,000 years ago.

Almost all Humans on the planet were almost wiped out 70,000 years ago with the Lake Toba eruption that caused global temperatures to plummet.

I have a question for you regarding ocean acidification. How is this actually being measured? The PH scale has a neutral point at 7 PH as we know. So how do we know any reduction in alkiline levels of ocean are not just a direct result of more neutral fresh water being added to specific areas of our seas as opposed to carbonic acid increases?

How are they doing/ making these measures?

Again, I highlight this is a serious question.

Justice, from the link above: " missing link in the OA story results from a chronic lack of pH data specific to a given species' natural habitat. Here, we present a compilation of continuous, high-resolution time series of upper ocean pH, collected using autonomous sensors, over a variety of ecosystems ranging from polar to tropical, open-ocean to coastal, kelp forest to coral reef. These observations reveal a continuum of month-long pH variability with standard deviations from 0.004 to 0.277 and ranges spanning 0.024 to 1.430 pH units.

This comparative dataset highlights the heterogeneity of present-day pH among marine ecosystems and underscores that contemporary marine organisms are currently exposed to different pH regimes in seawater that are not predicted until 2100."

Ever thus scare story become before empirical measurement.

Hmmm, so they don't really have any hard or conclusive evidence as yet that PH changes are directly related solely to atmospheric changes in CO2 levels.

Exxon is only one of a number of big oil companies. How do they capture the others? And as much as we do not like conspiracy theorists finding conspiracies under every rock, stone and pebble, I wonder how many if any of the rumours that used to circulate about how people who worked out successful ways to run vehicles on various alternative fuels are true, even partially? Have the big oil companies held back technological progress at the expense of the global communities?

As to the housing crisis, everyone is afraid of making the changes that will have a real impact.

Yeah, burn the Witch!

Sorry, a little omission; "I wonder how many if any of the rumours that used to circulate about how people who worked out successful ways to run vehicles on various alternative fuels" add and then mysteriously had a shed burnt down or vanished or some other weird accident, are true?

"successful ways to run vehicles on various alternative fuels are true, even partially?"

This belief only comes from those those that don't understand physics or engineering. If you are going to move a 1300kg lump of steel with a 75kg passenger at 25% efficiency, any alternative still turns that energy into waste heat and will produce carbon dioxide.

There are no long term alternatives to wasting energy pushing 1300kg vehicles so inefficiently.

In part is is about the energy density of diesel, or petrol, which are double coal. Coal is double that of wood, the best sustainable source of energy for transport fuel.

To run a car on wood at this time means a heavy conversion plant to turn the wood into a useable form for the internal combustion engine. Plus it also means you have to carry 5x the weight of fuel for each kilometer travelled (including water in the wood).

I might be able to double the efficiency of wood using my combustion technology, but it still doesn't match crude oil derivatives, and it produces CO2.

The smart answer is to use less energy.

Clearly the Flintstone car is the only viable alternative.

No, that produces lots of methane, particularly when fuelled with egg-burgers

yep foot power...

Foot power still requires energy and still emits carbon dioxide.......would cities be able to survive on foot power? I think they are dreaming......I don't think hybrids will be the answer either!

a) Energy in = energy out. So any rumours of perpetual motion machines being "hidden" are frankly most likely to be tin foil hat nutjobs or con man originated.

b) then its the EROEI issue. Sure there are successful alternatives like oil from plants etc. Absolutely no issues on the technical ability of a diesel to burn (say) peanut oil (or most any other oil), except its $30odd a gallon and no one whos paying the bill for it themselves can afford that.

Exxon clearly has been a bad boy and they will pay for it (I hope) the really interesting thing will be who the trail of $s and emails leads to, that I think will be an eye opener.

Nice top 10 Alex. With climate change try watching this documentary. [who killed the electric car]

We have the technology to shift from fossil fuels, but a lot of organisations with vested interests, including politicians, fighting against it. This doco is a brilliant showcase of those dynamics at play.

Auckland is the antithesis of Copenhagen, build motorways and they will commute, The current Neolibs still haven't got it. My horror moment this week was when Labour started banging the anti-MUL drum in time with the Nats, This is going to get uglier