On the stump, for a happy planet

If I were a politician, I’d campaign on four social, economic, and environmental issues — not necessarily in that order

Were I a politician, I’d campaign on the cost of living: a social issue.

I would do this because it’s top of voters’ minds. It is making them miserable, every time they open their wallets to buy food, or fuel, or pay the power bill, no billboards required.

I’d tell them: this is a campaign about raising your standard of living. We know what the answers are. We showed you an example already, when we Warmed Up New Zealand; we have a track record on this, and you liked it. Thanks to us, the government can give some account of themselves on energy efficiency, but their road transport story is rubbish, in several parts.

I’d focus on the latter, then, and a food policy enquiry.

Were I a politician, I’d campaign on growth: an economic issue. Growth is a myth, I’d say. You know this already: we’re not having it, which is less of a catastrophe than you’ve been taught to believe. We can rebuild the economy, to make New Zealand stronger, in times like this.

Catching Australia is a myth, too, but last election the Prime Minister promised to do it; he won’t want to talk about it, now (we’re competing with Australia, in a race to the bottom on wages), but Dr Brash will. So: GDP is the wrong measure, I’d say; we need a different one. Dr Brash likes GDP, because that’s how it was, post-war, but this is the new century, and it needs a new idea.

Here’s one for starters: the proudest moments in our history are the ones where we stood against bullies, and won. Instead of copying Australia, maybe we could try doing that again: standing up for something economically brave and smart, kind (to the environment), fair (to all), and strong, in any weather.

We can grow jobs, I would say — real jobs, with mana, not just 'make work'. Retrofitting is one example; there are others, but let’s talk about pest control. We’ve been working with the government on this, but there is so much more we can do, and so much good it could do, for carbon storage, and conservation. A third of our land is a natural carbon farm, introduced pests our worst biodiversity threat.

Since we owe a lot of money, we’d better talk about how to raise some, and how not to spend it. I’d contrast the emissions trading scheme with a ‘fee and dividend’. One stands for pollution subsidy and corporate bludging; the other for rewarding social responsibility, and supporting the less well-off.

Were I a politician, I’d campaign on resource limits: the environmental issue. For example, land: people want to buy ours, because the world doesn‘t have enough. Water: people want to use yours, privatise it, dump in it, without paying for the privilege. Oil: the reason for the rising fuel prices. Carbon capacity.

This is a government that knows no limits: for them, no water seems too deep, no coal too dirty, no conservation park too sacred.

Actually, I’d be campaigning on resource limits, even if you never knew, because all of the other policies are about that, too.

But if you wanted to — if you wanted to be depressed — we could talk about how three of Earth’s nine life-support systems are sick. Or do the math on global consumption and growth, and collapse. Or, here on the ground in New Zealand, the state of our freshwater, biodiversity, bees. Bees? Well, you can laugh; no end to the hilarity, really. “The economy is sick,” you might say, “and she’s talking about bees …”

Bees make food, by pollinating crops, which we export, which … are you with me, now? Bees are our primary producers.

Were I a politician, I’d campaign on Christchurch. Christchurch, like the cost of living, is on people’s minds and in their hearts. We could take something broken in Christchurch, and fix it; it would be a metaphor, and a symbol of hope. It would be the right sort of growth, and jobs.

And I’d talk about Christchurch, to remind you how things have been, these last three years: in particular, the government’s cavalier idea of democracy and due process.

All of these, in the end, are environment policies, because if I were a politician, that’s the kind I would be. And I'd fancy myself a clever one, because all of them are social and economic policies, too.