Last week I urged you to read Al Morrison’s (director-general, Dept of Conservation) brilliant speech, Building Diversity: Building New Zealand, about the linkage between protecting the environment and economic prosperity.
Political columnist Colin James has also picked up on Morrison’s talk, with reference to its acceptability within National’s Government …
“But Morrison is not a lefty sandal-wearer. He links the environment — and the conservation estate — with economic wellbeing. This is in two senses: that nice nature is one of the things we sell, to tourists and with our land-based products; and that there is money to be made out of this “natural capital” …
“A business group working with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise aims to launch an initiative on this in December. Separately, Nick Smith is soon to go to the cabinet for sign-off for his long-delayed clean-tech taskforce.
“Morrison’s economic prosperity line is requiring a wrenching shift of mindset within DoC. But it fits with some other thinking in the bureaucracy that has yet to get traction on the ninth floor of the Beehive, where the talk is still of ‘balance’, meaning a bit more environment is a bit less economy.
“The alternative thinking argues that the natural environment and the ecosystems that make it up are infrastructure, like roads, airports, water pipes and broadband.
“Infrastructure enhances economic activity. It must be maintained and developed, which costs money, mainly in the form of taxes and rates. But that spending is generally seen as positive for the economy. Thinking of ecosystems as infrastructure introduces that perspective into maintaining the environment as integral to prosperity: no longer environment ‘or’ the economy; instead, environment ‘and’ the economy.
“Infrastructure doesn’t materialise magically from market forces — at least, not in quantities, to a quality level and in timeliness needed for optimal economic performance.
“So far, Smith apart, there is no evidence that sort of thinking is likely to catch on in the cabinet. Business won’t be made to change.”
In the title of his column Colin James asks: “Are we heading towards a greener government?” His answer, unfortunately, is “Not yet.”