Viva la vida

At new year, in spring time, and on Anzac Day, my calendar clocks another year, and I resolve to start again, again. This blog is not immune to it: it’s time for a change, because we know everything we need to, about National’s green blues

“This article is a stub. You can help [Wikipedia] by expanding it.”

In March, I said the Greens need a better narrative for their policies. They need to tell Joe Average why each policy is important, and how they relate to one another. They need an agenda for themselves; if they agreed on a philosophy, this would help. Their candidates right now are standing more or less around the ‘four pillars’; they’re standing for the Greens, in other words, and that may be all a Green Party is, in the end. However, historical accidents aside, it is not succinct or compelling enough to win a broad base, or run a good government. It evokes the wrong emotional response, of pissing people off.

It frustrates me, as a policy writer, to see the story told by the Values Party, forty years ago — a little dated now, yet oddly contemporary — in a muddle, the very minute we never needed it more. I thought the Greens, of any party, might live by their whakapapa.

Well, [expression of frustration redacted] I will write it myself.

Maths and nature are the problem, summed up here by David Suzuki; in 1972 and 1975 by Values, when they asked us to think Beyond Tomorrow; here by Tim Jackson, describing what growth has done, and failed to do, and how much more of it Earth would need but cannot sustain; here by Al Bartlett.

The political problem is finding the will and the way to break bad news to a bunch of people who do not want to hear it. It needs to be turned into a good news story, that explains itself, to anyone, simply, logically and persuasively; that is unthreatening, despite challenging the status quo.

It is a problem, too, of finding a story that works, and works quickly: a policy platform with real integrity, built on good science, and economics. It must meet all of the challenges, which are in the end the same challenge: fossil-fuelled over-consumption (climate change, peak oil, food insecurity, the GFC). It must meet them, in a way acceptable to today’s voters.

It must promise the world Enough.

Since Values already did, it makes sense to pick up those threads, and make a lifeline for the future; to weave them into a new narrative, about a sustainable economy for New Zealand; to ask, “what Values do we need today, to build a society that is environmentally and economically sustainable?”.

In March, I suggested two tiers. Each policy would need to explain how it supports environmental sustainability, because you need a planet, one finite planet, to live on, before you can do any of the other stuff. That is the one truth, I argued, the rest is politics. This would require a range of policies, including social justice policies; it wasn’t ‘environment trumps’. However, policies that could not meet this test would either be lower order, or some of them might need to change.

Six weeks later, I’ve refined it a bit, and do you know, it has four pillars, an instant selling point — just, er, not the same four pillars.

1. Environment
2. Economy
3. Social justice
4. Resilience

Or, smart and fair and kind and strong?

In fact, I cannot do this all by myself, all at once, which is by way of an apology. What follows is not very good; it just is what it is, today.


1. State of the environment reporting, on the stuff of life, that sustains and feeds us — air, water/oceans, soil, climate, ecological footprint — and using the reporting for fiscal/policy planning
2. The economic value of conservation. 
3. Conservation and business: the role of business, and risks of running the conservation estate like one. 
4. Dual purpose policies — soil carbon, pest control. 
5. Why does biodiversity matter? Well, the UN’s Rio Earth Summit 1992 thought it did, where it was twin to climate change, and a Convention was drafted for each.
6. Maybe, Nature’s rights (and our corresponding duty)?

What would an economy look like, that put the environment first, and worked smarter, not harder?

7. Steady state — how might that work? 
8. Tax and other income streams, like fee and dividend, and resource rental. 
9. Our big earners — dairy and tourism. 
10. Economic sovereignty — owning our own future. 
11. It would be fuelled by clean energy. What kinds?
12. What would business look like? 
13. What would government look like, and what would it do, eg, would it use its purchasing power for green procurement, or change SOEs’ SOIs, or you know, actually regulate for stuff that gives back, instead of taking things off people like, oh I don't know, their heritage buildings, and democracy? 
14. Role of the third (community, voluntary) sector. How might policy support them?

Social justice.
Were it up to me, I might not call it social justice at all, but humanity.

15. Why fix inequality? How does it affect the environment, and vice versa, locally and globally? Must a defender of conservation’s intrinsic value also grant the intrinsic value to a society of fairness?
16. What about the intrinsic value of kindness, to all — ie, an animal welfare policy?
17. Population policy, for sustainability: cap, or growth? 
18. Place of the Tiriti o /Treaty of Waitangi and Maori. Not just a social policy this, or the honour of a promise: the affinity between Maori and conservationists’ view of the natural world, that’s seen ‘kaitiakitanga’ written into our key environmental Acts, and the Greens and Maori Party line up with one another, is as much about the environment, where Maori can (often) be a powerful ally.
19. Why workers’ policies? Is there something you can say about equality of means in the broad sense — empowerment?

Building resilience.
Adapting to the changes we can already see, and minimising their risks.

20. Food quality and security (+ implications for land?). 
21. Transport. 
22. Houses (+ secondary benefits of each of these three). 
23. Building resilience in Christchurch, a ‘green fields’ example; and Wellington; and Transition Towns. 
24. Some more about vaguely-remembered good ideas, like one I thought I’d heard about in Nelson: offsetting, by paying to green someone else’s home, who cannot themselves afford it. 
25. Seeding change from the ground up — grass roots, collaborative, democratic.

That’s what you can look forward to.

After a while spent doodling, trying to draw this, so that it might look anything like a flower, I can report that this does not work. However, it is a whimsy I like, and I will probably keep trying. A tree might work better.

Holding the government to account, or whatever, is important, but three years has taught us all we need to know about them.

There are many many posts of mine on this; more would be more of the same. Their ‘rip shit and bust’ resources policy, for conservation mining, digging lignite, and drilling oil. Their conservatism, masked as pragmatism, on cleaning up after ourselves: air, oceans, waste, biodiversity, emissions reduction targets. Their “ambition for New Zealand” to be middling, like Australia, if we’re lucky.

These are political fossils, dead wood. This year, on this blog, I would like something green.