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Why is the Green Party shunning a win for the Environment and Economy?

Newshub’s coverage of TOP Policy #3: Polluters Pay contained the usual responses from the usual suspects, such as Fed Farmers, which we will look at tomorrow. Most extraordinary was the response from James Shaw at the Green Party – that reducing stock numbers in certain catchments wasn’t economically viable. He was later contradicted by his Environment spokesperson who claimed they also advocated fewer cows, but for now let’s take the comment at face value. There is plenty of evidence that in many cases de-stocking may be possible without any loss in farm profit.

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Farm Environmental Economics 101 

Like any land-based industry, you can only push increased volume so far before you will hit the limits of what your environment can bear. That is why if we want to reconcile economic growth with our environment we need to re-think our volume-based strategy and start adding value instead.

In a few areas everything is fine – we just need to make sure any further increases in volume are carefully managed so they don’t stuff the environment. In other areas where things aren’t so rosy we need to reward farmers who consider the environmental costs of their actions.

How do we achieve this? TOP aren’t going to tell farmers how to farm. We want to give them the incentives to farm in the best way possible considering the environment. Overseas evidence tells us that it is possible to improve the environment without stuffing the economy. The way to do it is by setting standards for good practice, to acknowledge the good work some farmers are doing, and make sure that other farmers have a strong incentive to catch up. The same rationale applies to all businesses in fact, but let’s stick with the farming example for now.

From looking at the evidence there are two broad ways that this improvement is likely to happen.

The first is de-intensification. That means fewer cows on a given piece of land. This may sound at first blush like it would cut profit, but that isn’t the case. For starters, fewer cows better fed can result in the same production, with lower pollution. The second reason is that feeding cows with grass is actually quite cheap compared to all the supplements you need if you have more cows. Palm kernel, water, nitrogen, all are needed to provide more feed for a larger herd, and this adds to a farmer’s bills. Many farmers are currently finding that reducing their herd size can cut costs and leave them better off, or the same profit-wise; and all this with a lower environmental footprint. Why not incentivise this shift across the industry if it is a win for our rivers? 

Showing 31 reactions

  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-28 09:28:42 +1300
    Rick Bazeley yes I agree. I have until now only ever voted Green. Ive loved their ethos, Integrity, simplicity and honesty, its been a refreshing time for me in Politics. Sadly in the last 3 or so years that seems to have been changing for the worse as “fanatics” seem to be joining combined with the desire to win/buy votes no matter what, these voters will expect to be paid. I only see it as “tricky” when you consider the non-green aspects like economics but I think the Greens have always been way too weak in this area, TOP for me adds to Green economic competency and centralist view sorely needed. I’d wish TOP would get 5% in 2017, but 2020 or 23 might be more realistic, but I am hopeful for a good result this year.
  • Rick Bazeley
    commented 2017-01-28 08:28:57 +1300
    I am following this debate about the introduction of TOP to the NZ political scene and how it all sits with the Green Party with intense interest. I am a long term GP supporter, and former candidate.

    I really like the strong economic analysis that is integral to TOP thinking and policy. It brings the concept of environmental economics to the fore. This is something which has often been grossly lacking from the conventional business as usual approach, which concentrates purely on profit and ignores negative environmental outcomes. This is as a result of single bottom line accounting and ignoring triple bottom line accounting which also requires businesses to take into account environmental and social outcomes. Whilst pollution and environmental degradation are treated as economic externalities, the environment is screwed. It’s always happened throughout history until eventually there is enough knowledge and uproar from the people, and then governments finally regulate and legislate to protect the environment and aim for sustainable practice. Before this happens, it’s all rape and pillage, ‘the disaster of the commons’ stuff. The GP knows this, and so does TOP. So it’s great that TOP has come into the picture, or to the party should I say.

    The debate about how the two parties should co-exist is a tricky one. IMHO they should be complementing each other and will hopefully both be in a progressive green (NB lower case ‘g’) government by the end of the year. As long as environmental and social justice issues are prioritised, then which party gets the votes will of course be down to personal choice which is a good thing. These blogs are excellent because of the high quality of information and debate occurring in them, which is so sadly lacking from mainstream media (Don’t get me started on that one!)
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-26 15:46:14 +1300
    “Using NZ’s image of high quality, environmentally “benign” producers" The image though is a bit of a lie if not outright abused for me, ie when the price per kg was climbing palm kernel imports also climbed. So if you indeed produce higher value items and sell more that would again encourage such imports? Not sure how we would price palm kernel that in market terms as the damage is external to NZ, maybe its just a case of banning the import.
  • Peter Carey
    commented 2017-01-26 12:31:22 +1300
    When it comes to farming, especially if ALL costs are considered, more production does not necessarily equal greater profitability for the reasons that Geoff has outlined. The production focus that Fontera has been on is largely because that’s what their farmers told them to do, not to spin off into higher value items. Farmers are justifiably wary of a monopoly spending all their levies on pie-in-the-sky ideas but innovative product development is where they need to go. Using NZ’s image of high quality, environmentally “benign” producers and more targeted products should produce dividends, contending with lower cost milk producers won’t.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 13:04:29 +1300
    Indeed they lost me as a Green party member, fund contibutor and voter to TOP.
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-24 10:08:30 +1300
    TOP is likely to take some of the Green voter base, so they need to discredit the TOP party to maintain their voter support.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 09:42:18 +1300
    Anyway we get a bit off topic here, short term why is (some of) the Green party so anti-TOP?
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 09:40:52 +1300
    Hadley Pettigrew, You show the classic disconnect with a finite planet and wanting everyone to be affluent, that takes a flat earth grow for ever model. This conversation is like ground hog day for me, rinse and repeat, look for the evidence and draw your own conclusions. eg “not bothering” for maybe 10 if not 20 years we have indeed been trying to find alternatives the problem is they do not stack up in a fossil fuel constrained world. In that period (actually longer) anyone who has commented on the growing urgency has been labeled a Malthusian nutjob (and that’s the polite side of things). Limits to growth and especially limits to growth re-visited make somber readings.
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-24 09:22:55 +1300
    Steven, you can do more than one thing at once, forcing large populations of the world to starve, because you can’t produce enough food due to not bothering to find alternatives while you figure out how to quickly reduce the world population is not ideal. The world population will grow, we cannot stop it in the short term. The only way to enact population decline peacefully is to give everyone affluence, rich countries have a lot fewer children than poor countries and possible even a negative population growth if it weren’t for immigration.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 09:03:22 +1300
    Hadley Pettigrew, frankly this would be a last gasp effort and nothing more than wishful thinking. Always look at the EROEI as the key qualifier on whatever you think might help us. So all crops no matter what require energy to harvest and bring to the table. The less dense that energy the higher the cost to harvest seems a losing game. Just take mealworms, as an example, their food corn (as an example) has to be grown, harvested and moved to point of consumption, that requires still requires a huge amount of fossil fuel and water. Cows that are organic grass fed? interesting comparison in that all aspects of the production need to be accounted for. In any event the point is we have to change and fast or we will be overcome by events, not do things that buy us time and then carry on not changing, shale oil is for instance a classic example.
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-24 08:52:49 +1300
    Steven, you are not thinking outside the box here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_farming

    That is one option, but again requires a culture change to accept eating insects, quite good for the environment too.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 08:36:18 +1300
    Andrew Ganya “I might have been a bit harsh on the Greens” in terms of economics I am afraid as an ex-green party member sadly they do not show much sign of competence in this area, great heart and wish but needs have to be paid for somehow. However I dont consider National, nor Labour much good either let alone say NZF so I’d fail the lot.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-24 08:33:16 +1300
    Hadley Pettigrew, the problem is we are out of time. There will within 10 years be clearly past peak oil, which means less food and/or more environmental damage, 7billion ppl chasing 2billion ppls food, I cant see that being pretty. Sure we can grow some food with a higher output per m2 it still needs fertilizer which is Ngas based to be economical. On top of that the estimates on crop loss due to climate change range from 10~25%. So there are multiple whammies on our food production on the horizon. In terms of switching to electricity that I think is wishful praying, and in no small aprt lack of understanding of engineering and science by many. Electricity is not a cheap and plentiful liquid fuel the term to grasp is EROEI. In terms of EVs etc again these are OK for cars (ignoring environmental damage/costs) , but heavily lifting? trucks? etc, not so much….ships? hmm not really.
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-24 08:15:36 +1300
    Steven Jones, yes we can’t grow forever, but we can change what we farm to get more value per hectare for a short term solution since we can’t actually commit genocide. If you look purely at protein per hectare it is very easy to find other things to grow, we just need to change as a culture to survive https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_protein_per_unit_area_of_land . Regarding the Peak Oil discussion there is a lot of work switching to electricity, lower capacity energy storage but can be sourced from renewable or nuclear energy, therefore no reliance on oil for a vast majority of vehicles.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-23 21:23:56 +1300
    hadley pettigrew, that preposes a flat earth, ie we can grow for ever. however a) we are on a finite planet so we cant keep taking more and more. b) the green revolution doubled if not trebled food production by using fossil fuels to do it. The problem is now we are at peak oil and the output will within a few years decline to none by 2050 or so. This means our only option is to feed people organically. ergo we have to greatly reduce our demand for food which means greatly reducing population.
  • Andrew Ganya
    commented 2017-01-23 20:10:58 +1300
    Hrm granted I might have been a bit harsh on the Greens, especially given I’ve not provided them with any criticism regarding their policies. As folks have rightly said, the policies are similar… But here’s TOP getting the media coverage for it. And while TOP are prepared to work with National, frankly I’m happier with that (as surely no National voter would ever put their faith in someone who says they won’t work with that party) than with the Labour-Greens alliance. I dunno. I think the more players that are pushing for such policies the better. Greens will always be for the environment (I’d hope) but that image of economic ineptness, while undeserved, is so hard to shake. Maybe TOP can fill a different niche.

    Well pollution from agriculture and other industries is a widespread problem. Ultimately if we want better environmental management we will have to pay for it as consumers. I’m hardly rolling in cash but that’s fine by me, as long as its honest. Methods such as organic farming I feel are often promoted as a solution that will help the environment; they might, but then they might just give us organic food. For example, I heard (here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/201826790/world-soils-day-megan-balks) that copper sprays and phosphate rock fertiliser can contribute to contamination of the land with copper and cadmium (which is also at high levels in this rock). So not a panacea for agricultural pollution unfortunately.
  • Graye
    followed this page 2017-01-23 11:25:25 +1300
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-23 11:11:54 +1300
    Steven Jones, that is my point Organic farming is terrible, we need more cheap food for the world not less more expensive food
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-23 11:02:37 +1300
    Hadley Pettigrew “The Green party wants 50% Organic farms” If I recall correctly over in the USA where they have a christian sect the Amish that shuns modern powered tools but they have a huge water / river pollution problem from animal waste. So I am not so sure organic is necessarily better. http://modernfarmer.com/2014/11/amish-mennonite-farmers-polluting-lancaster-county/
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-23 10:56:58 +1300
    Do you have a link to James Shaw’s original statement please? PS as a rule I like to see such URLs as proof…..and since TOP is an evidence based party?
  • Kerry Thomas
    commented 2017-01-22 14:30:32 +1300
    Rather a mis-characterisation of the Green party position.
    Which is not dissimilar to TOP’s stated position.

    De stocking and more sustainable farming has long been advocated by the Greens. We are well aware that less intensive stocking rates may reduce the need for expensive fertilisers and supplements. Increasing the long term econmic viability of farms.
  • Navin Weeraratne
    commented 2017-01-22 10:49:41 +1300
    Higher value over commoditised mass production/supply of goods and services, no matter what the good/service is, is the only way to sustain long-term business. The challenge is the vested interest in the status quo. Incentivising better practice definitely works, and has to be implanted throughout NZ for each and every industry. There will be noise at first, but our future generations will thank us for it!
  • Hadley Pettigrew
    commented 2017-01-22 10:12:15 +1300
    The Green party wants 50% Organic farms, this will vastly reduce production and stock intensity, it isn’t a headline policy but it is on their website.
  • Campbell Romeril
    commented 2017-01-22 09:47:59 +1300
    Two points that I’d like to make here;
    One is that less intensive and more sustainable farming practices can have even stronger advantages financially than mentioned above, for example, Fonterra are currently paying over $9- per kilo of solids for organic milk, that is to say, nearly three times the going rate for conventionally produced milk.
    Secondly, the Green Party have quite clearly indicated their intentions towards partnership with labour thus beginning inextricably entwined in establishment party politics which is the very thing we’re all trying to throw on it’s ear.
    It’s a good policy, it’s achievable and realistic. One would almost think it was the result of evidential analysis.
  • Paul Crash Carter
    commented 2017-01-22 09:38:06 +1300
    Exactly! I don’t think the Greems have missed the memo and you’re not scoring points by slagging them off, it’s low hanging fruit. I do agree we need a balance between business and environment. After all tourism and therefore clean green is our biggest earner. Taking care of the environment is a no brainer. :)
  • Steve Cox
    followed this page 2017-01-22 08:41:10 +1300
  • Andrew Ganya
    commented 2017-01-21 23:26:49 +1300
    Steven Jones, I must say I agree with you. I’m also a member of the Greens, and certainly value the fact that their policies have been arrived at through democratic means within the party, which is not exactly the case for TOP… But what does that matter if the ultimate direction of those policies is the same, when one is clearly more honest and ready to deal with the issues. I honestly did not think I would flip. But, your climate change policy pending, I may have no choice.

    Farmers and others associated with the industry will inevitably respond negatively to this because it confronts their expectations of being able to do what they like, and that they simply need to provide for their families to be good people. The populace in general needs to be disabused of this notion, because we need more. Society needs more. I’m an ecologist ‘by training’, and when you say this to farmers they come back at you as if you have some vested interest in the environment that they don’t. It’s laughable and diabolical at the same time. I mean, surely farmers are fair, hardy stock who believe that you get out what you put in, and that if you make a mess you clean it up… or am I wrong? The question is somewhat rhetorical – the evidence is plain to see. And this codswallop about farmers providing society with this grand service of feeding us? That’s no favour, it’s friggin’ trade – y’all get paid I believe. On the other hand people doing good environmental work find it very hard to get good pay because safeguarding the environment does take time and effort, and therefore money, which many people find hard to justify spending because the negative impacts generally take a long time to show and are spread over everyone. If industries are leaving the environment worse for their presence they’re not the backbone of this country; they’re millstones breaking our backs. Slowly but surely. The absolute truth.
  • Kingsley Tobin
    commented 2017-01-21 19:36:55 +1300
    Great viewpoint. Some lip service but expected.
    Insentives ? How about the better option of sheeps milk ?
    I’ve been a Green member and was hoping for their support but maybe you appeal to their base.
  • Peter Jones
    commented 2017-01-21 18:26:24 +1300
    Top NWO scum bag. The man is crazy.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    followed this page 2017-01-21 17:53:09 +1300