Written By: - Date published: 7:39 am, January 29th, 2018 - 92 comments
Categories: climate change, Economy, greens, james shaw, sustainability - Tags: doughnut economics, how change happens, kate raworth, state of the nation, state of the planet, sustainable economy
Remember how the Green Party campaigned on greening the government? Thought it was going to be a few tag on bits here and there? Think again.
Last weeks State of the Planet speech was another very good speech from James Shaw. It covered important ground, including the state of NZ and the planet (not good), and what the Green Party are planning to do about it. Shaw positions the Greens as now a government party, and all that entails.
He starts the speech with the assessment of the state of the planet and of NZ. If you are not already familiar with how bad things are, please go read Part One of the speech now. It’s sobering. He then gives an overview of sustainable economics theory, and finishes with a proposal for how NZ can “lead the way in moving the theory of sustainable economics into practice – and what a unique opportunity we have, right now, to do so.”
The main thing that Shaw is signalling in the speech is the urgent need for NZ to shift to a sustainable economy in order to avert catastrophe, particular with regards to climate change. He makes no bones about neoliberalism being at an end, but traditional lefties will be disappointed if they want to hear the Greens talking about pulling down capitalism. Instead Shaw is talking about what can we build to replace the current, obviously defunct economic system?
The cognitive linguist George Lakoff says that it is absolutely essential to have a compelling alternative frame if the old one is ever to be debunked. One of the reasons why it’s taking such a long time, I think, to get to a sustainable economy is that, although few people would argue against it, no one has been able to adequately describe it, in ways that sounded more credible than the linear, take-make-waste economy of the status quo.
Shaw name-drops prominent green sustainable economics thinkers from the past decades. Economics is not my field but I can’t overstate how exciting it is to see a government party and the Minister for Climate Change talking about core sustainability concepts such cradle to grave, biomimicry, and systems based sustainability, not just as informing the Green Party, but as actual paradigms for effecting change within the NZ government.
If you’re not familiar with green philosophy and thinking, it would be worth looking up Shaw’s references to get up to speed with what is going on here. This is sustainability in real terms, not the flakey concept that’s been appropriated by neoliberalism. Green thinking is a thing, and green politics is distinct from left wing politics. NZ is going to have to upskill on this over the coming years. The left too, who are still largely treating green politics as a nice to have that should fit in and around left wing paradigms. Shaw just got up and said, actually, we have to do real green politics if we want a chance at averting disaster, and here’s the plan.
So Shaw is centering green economics here. Boldly. Like others, I’m not that keen on the whole electric cars will save the world rhetoric that underpins much of the more superficial greening of industrialised nations, but what is exciting about this speech is that Shaw is talking about building systems of sustainability into government. That’s not tinkering around the edges or greenwashing, that’s effecting fundamental change across society.
As an example of new modelling, he references Doughnut Economics,
But I think Kate Raworth of Cambridge University has probably been most successful in creating a visual model that can compete with our traditional mental models about the economy. Essentially, two concentric circles, one inside the other.
From a deep green perspective this is still anthropocentric. I’d prefer models that place humans within ecosystems, but it’s a good stepping stone for most western minds who are still largely thinking in conventional, “linear, take-make-waste” economic terms.
There are now some very robust models out there – and enough evidence bubbling up from different companies and countries around the world that have been trying on various ideas – to give us a pretty good idea of what a sustainable economy looks like.
The Greens in Government will be using these new models of economic thinking that balance economic and environmental and social outcomes to guide us in our decision making. We urge others to start doing the same.
Shaw goes on to talk about what this would look like in practical terms. As expected, 100% renewable energy is there, not just electricity but transport fuels and industrial heat (100% renewable energy generation is in the Confidence and Supply Agreement for this reason).
We would have zero waste to landfill: waste would be designed out of industrial processes, and what little waste remains would be captured and reused, refurbished or recycled. Eugenie is currently reviewing the Waste Minimisation Act to achieve this outcome.
In fact, zero would be regarded as the goal in a number of areas – greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, air pollution, chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorous loading, zero homelessness, and zero people living in poverty.
We’d be designing industrial processes, products and services that regenerate resources rather than deplete them.
Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping that GDP growth would trickle down into poverty alleviation, we’d be distributive by design, consciously building models of commerce that systematically increase wealth across the widest possible base so all of our people benefit.
The speech moves onto legislative frameworks. The plan is to use this term to build the structure that will enable NZ to move to a green economy in the coming decades. Somewhat controversially, Shaw references the neoliberal revolution in NZ as an example of how to create the architecture of an economy.
We were one of the first countries in the world to put in place the architecture of the current economy. In reality, legislatively, it came down to a handful of Acts of Parliament: The State Services Act, The Reserve Bank Act, The Public Finance Act, The Employment Contracts Act, and The Resource Management Act.
Shaw believe those five Acts have more than any others determined the economy since the 80s.
The Greens in Government now want to look at what the new cornerstones for the next thirty years might be that reshape the New Zealand economy to be one of the first truly sustainable economies in the world – that delivers for our environment and our people.
He lists the following as intentions for action in the near future,
It’s important to remember that this is a speech from the Green Party, not the government. Shaw is upfront about the need for the Greens to be in parliament beyond this term (that’s a heads up to activists and supporters). Their plan is ambitious, and I’ll be interested to see how much they can achieve of that over time. It’s very clear that it will only work with support and movement on the part of the other parties. Extra-parliamentary support will be critical too, so there is a lot here for activists to pay attention to. The Greens are frogwhistling to the people already on board with green politics, but they’re also being transparent to the whole of society about what they want and intend to do and why it’s important. And it’s an invitation.
No doubt there will be the usual criticism that the Greens are too small and don’t have enough power to make Labour do anything, but this misses the point. The Greens want change, not power, and they are very good at influencing policy by working the long game with integrity. That Labour front footed a bunch of traditional GP policy areas in the election was a win for the Greens when one looks through a green politics lens rather than the conventional macho, ‘power and leverage is all that matters’ one.
One of the key issues now in transitioning to a sustainable economy is whether Labour will be willing to be influenced by the Greens and how much. It’s a good sign that they’re already on board with the bare bones, and I’m immensely grateful that Jacinda Ardern is PM, because she appears to have the capacity to work with others and not hoard power for the sake of it. I haven’t said anything about NZ First, mostly because I don’t know where they fit in with all this, but Shaw sounds confident in the shared policy.
There is so much good stuff in this speech. I feel like I will be holding my breath for a while, waiting to see which way this falls. After 2 decades of NZ wanting the Greens but not enabling them to lead, I feel we have a second chance now to do the right thing.