Like Raewyn Peart in her Guest Buzzmaker column, I view the National Government with mixed emotions when it comes to their environmental record one year in.
On the one hand, on occasion John Key, Nick Smith or the “Bluegreen” element of the National Party get the rhetoric right. For example, I have no quarrel with these five principles as proffered by the Bluegreens:
• Resource use must be based on sustainability;
• Economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand;
• Good science is essential to quality environmental decision making;
• People respond best to change when engaged and given incentives;
• New Zealanders have a unique birthright to access and enjoy our special places.
But the problem with business-driven parties is that when push comes to shove, they just can’t quite manage to deliver on the rhetoric. What starts as “economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand” seems inevitably to morph into “improving the environment must follow economic priorities.”
Somehow, the likes of John Key and Bill English just can’t seem to truly comprehend that “green” can be an economy driver, as opposed to an occasionally affordable luxury indulgence. Yet it’s as plain as the nose on your face – the millionaires and billionaires of this century will be the innovators and entrepreneurs who bring us a non-carbon-based economy.
Even when John Key and Nick Smith are “on message,” there’s the problem if differing degrees of “enlightenment” within the National Party. For example, while the Bluegreens are talking about Kiwis’ “birthright to access and enjoy our special places,” Energy Minister Brownlee is exploring mining in National Parks and Ecological Reserves. And lest Brownlee be seen as a Cabinet outlier …
At a briefing I attended right here in Hawke’s Bay, Finance Minister Bill English volunteered a comment to the effect that New Zealand’s economic prosperity is being held back by our refusal — so far — to exploit the vast mineral wealth contained beneath our conservation lands. And why is this wealth — rivaling that of Australia, he noted — being denied the nation? Because of a few members of Greenpeace!
There’s so much wrong with that statement I scarcely know where to begin.
First, one might hold out hope that our Tourism Minister, John Key, sees a huge and — if we stand by it — everlasting commercial value in our conservation lands and the natural splendor they protect. Set aside, if you must, ethics, legacy to our grandchildren, biological diversity and sappy stuff like that. Those protected lands are the primary reason most foreign tourists come to New Zealand, for god’s sake!
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said: “Taking a long-term view, it may be that tourism is a more valuable and sustainable industry to New Zealand’s economy than mining.” NZ tourism is a $20 billion per year industry, while our mineral potential is estimated at about $140 billion, 70% of which would involve conservation land.
But second, perhaps more alarming because of its broader consequences, is what the comment clearly signals about where Bill English comes from when Cabinet debates occur on such matters.
In his head, they are still framed in terms of the economy VERSUS the environment. That’s an antiquated notion with as much credibility these days as tying your currency to the gold standard. Sure, if you want to milk every last bit of production and revenue out of a piece of land as quickly as possible, unfortunately “the environment” can get in your way … there is a trade-off. But sustainable growth (and profit) requires that environmental values and carrying capacity be taken into account. Successful (i.e., profitable and job-creating) businesses are increasingly green ones.
Here in Hawke’s Bay, we have numerous examples of businesses that are successful either because their core product or service is green (like 3R, Quantum Laboratory, and BBE Architects) or because they achieve cost savings and higher profitability because they adopt energy-saving and other environmentally-friendly industrial practices.
However, when “economy versus environment” is the ideological mind-set of the nation’s Finance Minister, it automatically gains respectability and becomes dangerous. Because facing the clout of the Finance Minister, all other ministers are eunuchs … possibly excepting our current Tourism Minister. Hence National’s cave-in on any credible Emissions Trading Scheme (no emissions cap to drive a true market price for polluting the atmosphere), and its opposition to stronger protection of endangered marine mammals.
And who knows what will happen when National gets around to actually writing national surface water standards or coastal policy, or setting out the full powers of its new Environmental Protection Agency, or completing its “reforms” of the RMA?!
Our Guest Buzzmaker actually paints a rosier picture of the National Government’s one-year environmental record than I would. I’m afraid that I – a Bluegreen wannabe at heart – am inclined to see that record, like the Labour and Green Party authors elsewhere in this edition, as more rhetoric than reality.