Greens: environment an economic argument

For some time now the Green Party has been linking a forward looking economy with environmental issues. Russel Norman spoke about this at the Green Party conference.

Our environment is our economy: Greens

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says New Zealand needs to redesign its economy to live within nature’s limits and get away from its dependence on get-rich-quick schemes.

Dr Norman said a Green-led Government’s spending would be comparatively moderate, and much of it would come from repealing expenditure on motorways and tax cuts.

Although the Greens have focused in recent months on proving their economic credentials, Dr Norman’s speech returned to the importance of preserving the environment.

“Our environment is our economy … and within our lifetimes, a smart, green economy will be the only economy still working.

“There are so many sane, economic, self-interested reasons for a clean green exporter and tourist destination like New Zealand to fight to protect its natural heritage. And I am happy to argue for this on economic grounds any day of the week.”

In general I agree with this – in theory – although I don’t think it’s anywhere near as simple as reversing tax cuts and mothballing some motorway projects.

Moving towards this environment first ideal will be difficult, especially at a pace the Greens want it to move.  And there are a number of impediments and question marks.

  1. The Greens aren’t in government
    The biggest impediment to Green ambitions is their lack of influence in the current government. They chose not to continue their Memorandum of Understanding from the last term so their influence has diminished rather than increased.
  2. They are likely to be a minority part of the next government, at best
    Despite the Greens looking well organised and on the rise, and Labour looking rabble-ish still and struggling to rebuild, if the next government is Labour/Green the Green influence looks like being about 1/3 – at least in the forseeable future Greens won’t have anywhere near a majority say.
  3. The influence of other parties
    Even if Labour/Green win the next election, they may also need other parties to govern. Various combinations of New Zealand First, the Maori Party, the Mana Party and United Future are possible. The Greens would need to get all coalition parties on their side to progress their policies.
  4. People are resistance to major social change
    We have entrenched consumerism in our society. Changing the habits of consumers – and advertisers who convince people to buy much more than they need – will take sustained and powerful counter arguments, and/or major regulation and coercion. That will be resisted.
  5. New Zealand is a very small fish in a huge sea
    Our country is strongly influenced by the international economy, trade, and commercial pressures.
  6. Would Greens stay true if they get sufficient power to change?
    Greens are enthusiastic idealists. They have never had much power in New Zealand politics. If they got into a position of significant political power would reality and pragmatism thwart their grand plans?
  7. Would it be possible to change everything?
    Even if Greens got into a powerful enough position to do what they wanted would the realities of a complex world-wide social and economic system make it impossible to change to anywhere near the degree of the Green ideals?
  8. Unforseen impediments and adverse effects
    Even if New Zealand embraced a revolution, converted to a Green economy and managed to halt the ponzi growth scheme in our wee part of the world without cutting ourselves off completely it is unrealistic to think this wouldn’t introduce significant adverse effects.

The Greens have some good ideas and grand ideals which are certainly worth giving some thought to them. But there are large question marks over who they would work in practice – even if Greens got enough power to implement them.

If they could do what they wanted the Green wave would certainly not be without major change, probable disruption, and unforeseen obstacles and adverse effects.

We should talk Green, we should think Green, but the big questions are how Green should we go, and how Green could we go.

1 Comment

  1. 1) No, this is essentially a manifesto for if they do get into government in 2014 or 2017.
    2) Perhaps, but an incredibly significant minority. Even if the Greens return with 14 MPs again, and it is likely on current polling trends to be a few more, that is still a quarter of the government overall. Much more significant that the one or two Mana will get or the 5 or 6 NZ First will get. Being able to walk out of government and bring the whole thing down would give them a significant advantage over other minor parties.
    3) Labour has made moves in the direction of more sustainability under Shearer, witness his slogan ‘Clean, Green and Clever’. Debatable whether he will still be leader, but it does signal a change in how Labour operates.
    4) Many of the changes proposed by the Greens would end up saving people money, which people tend not to be very resistant to.
    5) We are a small fish, all the more reason to do everything we can to differentiate our brand from the rest of the Western world, by making the most of how we are already seen by many overseas as some sort of Avatar-like Nirvana. (We all know its not true, but that is how a lot of the world sees us. Thanks Peter Jackson.)
    6) Debatable. Under Norman the Greens have become more centrist in some ways, but have retained the commitment to the environment and social justice that has always characterised the party. I don’t think we’d see a Green government selling out the environment, like we have seen Labour governments sell out striking workers.
    7) No, but change is often generational, and the Greens clearly plan to be around for a while.
    8) You could say that about any government.