Instead I asked this:
Me: "You know how Agriculture was supposed to enter the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2013, and it was put back to 2015 because it was essentially too hard*? Has the question ever been asked whether it's in New Zealand's best interests long term to continue shoring up an industry that is unlikely to be competitive in a world where emissions are limited?"
Them: " ... " *stunned mullets*
[time passes, maybe 30 seconds]
Them " ... '
They seemed to be backfooted quite badly. Eventually they did answer - the answer being a twofold one. First, they suggested that our emissions only being 0.2% of the global total meant that anything we do is not going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, and second they suggested that should NZ remove the trusses that are currently holding up our agriculture industry and allow it to settle to a naturally-sustainable level**, the slack in the market will likely be taken up by other countries, and given that NZ has one of the more emissions-efficient agriculture industries, it's possible that it could make global emissions worse. Yes really.
I found the second argument more compelling than the first, but I'm still doubtful - it seems to me that artificially supporting our most emissions-heavy industry for the sake of global totals at cost to ourselves*** is a bit of a reach, and being completely uncharitable, sounds like an attempt to spin nobility where what's actually there is greed. Anyone who knows more than me about this want to give it a go?
* The government claimed that measuring agricultural emissions at an individual level is nearly impossible, and that any greenhouse gas savings within agriculture would likely come at a greater cost than the gains made. Thus, too hard.
** They didn't actually say this - they said 'reduce the industry's market share' or some such.
*** My personal beef here is the way farmers (who I identify with, having been one myself) have been encouraged to collectively expand their enterprises beyond New Zealand's realistic carrying capacity for livestock. At the moment the only reason we're not in the hole net-emissions-wise is because we've tons of forestry eating carbon flat out. When those trees get cut down in 2020, the fact that our actual emissions have increased by nearly 20% (probably more by then) since 1990 and we've done nothing about it will become blatantly obvious, and the major culprit is farming. If this industry can't function in an emissions-limited situation, I believe we need to stem its growth and actually start reducing livestock numbers. I would rather this happened gradually than that we continued to subsidise growth, only to pull the rug out from under people a few years down the track.
To be fair, what the government has done by extending the date of entry for Agriculture into the ETS is allow more time for research into technologies and practices that could reduce emissions without putting people out of business, and to put in place infrastructure to support the adoption of emissions-reducing tech and practices. They're investing heavily in ag research. I agree that with an industry that we all rely on to maintain our lifestyle, giving them a chance to get up to speed is probably prudent.
But I'm left with the question - if 2015 rolls around and Agriculture still can't enter the scheme because it's too hard, what then? Do we pull out of the Kyoto Protocol? Do we continue to shore them up till the trees are cut down and then throw them to the lions? At what point do we stop giving chances and get serious about what NZ can realistically support in terms of livestock?
Oops, that got a bit ranty. Sorry. I care a lot about farming, and I don't like seeing farmers as the bad guy in this - but the evidence is there and IMO the only way to salvage this is to get real, fast.