You Don’t Have to be a Leftie to Care About the Environment (or Inequality)

You’d think that the Green Party would have welcomed TOP Policy #3: Polluters Pay given that it shares their vision for a cleaner greener New Zealand, but sadly it doesn’t look that way. This blog from Environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage makes it clear that the Green Party are reluctant to welcome newcomers into the environmental space. We dealt with leader James Shaw’s comments (which appeared to be contradicted in Eugenie’s post) over the weekend.


We have great respect for the Green Party, particularly in the environmental sphere, so it's not surprising that we share a lot of common ground there. Like all parties they have made a unique contribution to the New Zealand landscape in their own way. In the past they’ve been brave, unafraid to champion new ideas in the face of Establishment Party lethargy.

Yet despite recent moves towards the centre, Eugenie’s blog shows that they still retain some of the distrust of capitalism that lies at their roots. That, sadly, is where we respectfully part company. TOP thinks that business can be part – a big part – of the solutions that we need, and market mechanisms will help encourage that.

Businesses Doing Good

Simply put, TOP wants to reward businesses that are doing the right thing and punish those that aren’t. It is hard to see why the Green Party would argue with that, other than a deep-rooted distrust of business and capitalism.

There are many examples of businesses doing real good, not just greenwashing. The B Team and our own Pure Advantage are business led groups tackling social and environmental problems. Kirk Hope from Business NZ has made it clear that reducing inequality is now a priority for our business leaders. Just last week at Davos, forty of the world’s largest businesses agreed to reduce the problem of plastic in our oceans.

On the issue of water quality, we have some exemplar farmers doing incredible work. If we had all farmers operating like these exemplars, our water quality problems would be a long way towards being solved, and we might even improve profit at the same time. TOP doesn’t want to punish farmers for stuff they can’t do anything about, we want to get all farmers up to best practice. We can do that through market mechanisms – incentives that put the environment squarely on the profit and loss statement for farmers. Once it is there it will get managed and we will see rapid improvements.

Markets and Tradable Rights

One of the key ways to get businesses doing the right thing is tradable rights. This is the tool the Green Party seems mainly concerned with. We’re don’t know how the Green Party propose to solve problems like fresh water pollution, because that detail isn’t available. But still, lets deal with their gripes.

Eugenie points out some cases (like our own Emissions Trading Scheme) where tradable rights haven’t worked. And she is right on those examples, but that doesn’t make the tool the problem. Any tool can be misused in the wrong hands, and National has clearly abused the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Protecting the environment means setting limits, we all agree on that. Now if you also care about the economy, you’d want the businesses involved to work amongst themselves to find the best way to meet that limit without having to shut up shop with the loss of jobs, profit and tax revenue. The OECD, and pretty much anyone with some economic literacy agree that under the right conditions tradable rights are the way to do that. We also advocate ‘corrective taxes’, which the Greens are happy with. These are actually pretty similar tools, it’s just a matter of horses for courses.

Let’s be clear, nobody is talking about ‘free markets’, which are a figment of the ACT Party’s imagination. In the view of TOP, markets need to be managed to work properly. International experience shows that well managed markets can deliver excellent results, and we think this approach can be applied in New Zealand, including to farming. Blunt, poorly managed regulation on the other hand could be a disaster for our economy.

Some Points of Clarification

We’ll finish off with a few points of clarification from the issues raised in Eugenie Sage’s blog:

Resource Management Act – If a development will cause environmental damage, the RMA allows the developer to offset that damage by doing something good somewhere else. Eugenie doesn’t like the use of offsets because they have been abused in the past and it allows development that damages the environment. TOP doesn’t want to oppose development, but we want to get the offset system working properly so that the environment is truly better off over all. We also agree that Regional Councils have been left high and dry on the RMA by a lack of guidance from successive Establishment party governments.

Encouraging sustainable land use – Eugenie was disappointed that we called for a holistic approach to sustainable land use but hadn’t got it all worked out. This point is merely that government should have one coherent policy to help land owners deal with the issues of soil erosion, water quality and climate change. At the moment the Green Party are proposing separate policies to deal with each of these issues. We need to make it simple for land owners, including farmers, to operate in an environmentally friendly way, not tie them up with green tape.

Compensating fishers for marine protection –TOP doesn’t propose widespread compensation of fishers for marine protected areas, because the evidence shows that most fishers don’t lose out from marine protection; fish move. The fishers that do lose out are crayfish and paua fishers, and we think these industries may be deserving of compensation from no-take areas. Ultimately any compensation would come from commercial ocean users anyway through a resource rental. Yet that didn’t stop Eugenie accusing TOP of receiving fishing company donations!

Tourist tax - Finally they claimed that we pinched their ‘taonga levy’, which was launched in August 2016. While at the Morgan Foundation I wrote an opinion piece on this idea with Marie Brown at EDS, which was published in May 2016. But who’s counting?

Surely what matters here is the policy, not the politics. 

Showing 8 reactions

  • Brian Turner
    followed this page 2017-01-27 21:32:11 +1300
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-01-27 15:15:44 +1300
    Peter Carey – “Is there really that much difference between the Greens and TOP on environmental policy? The Greens are justifiably concerned that TOP will take some of their vote.”

    No and yes. As an ex-green party member I’d had enough when the attacks started on TOP from some “greens”. Trouble is these noisy people were left first and green second (if at all) IMHO. So the problem is not the Green aspects of both are not compatible its the green centralist position TOP is seen to be taking. So a vote loss but also a funding loss. In addition there is the perception that the Green party is too far left, take away the veneer of the green central members and the Green party becomes another Alliance party in Green drag. The strange thing for me is some of the Green’s want and are happy about the Green party being wedded to “red” Labour but not a two way green wedding.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    commented 2017-01-26 13:27:51 +1300
    I like Peter’s view very much. NZ is small enough in my opinion to establish us as a producer of quality food and dairy products (as well as tech products and services … but that’s another story), and serve niche markets that are happy to pay a premium for the good stuff, rather than trying to compete with the mass producers of junk food.
    It would also greatly improve our image among the developed world if we were able to show them how things can be done properly. People would want to come here to watch and learn.
  • Peter Carey
    commented 2017-01-26 12:20:52 +1300
    Is there really that much difference between the Greens and TOP on environental policy? The Greens are justifiably concerned that TOP will take some of their vote. I for one joined the party last year because of my concerns about the National government’s irrigation at all costs policy and we’ll worry about the environmental damage later (so 19th century let alone 20th). However, my fit with the Greens is uncertain because the Greens give the impression (but maybe not their current leadership) that they want to take us to some utopia that doesn’t exist and adopt a simpler, slower life. Sure its going to have to change but I don’t think we can go back, we have to embrace technology and innovation and try to get more from less, and lower our environmental footprint.

    Ever since our early ancestors created agriculture, land has been degraded and the original ecosystem displaced. With human population growth being what it is, the worse is probably still to come. Some land is going to be better suited to intensive agriculture and you try to grow as much as you can sustainably on those lands, leaving less viable land to operate at a much lower impact and economic level or not at all, allowing it to revert to nature. So high country farmers do probably need to irrigate the better flat land if you expect them to pay to look after the higher, less productive land from pests, weeds etc. Otherwise the public will have to and giving it to overworked DOC is tantamount to abandonment.

    What also needs to be considered is Irrespective of whether we farm “conventionally” or “organically”, as soon as you till the soil you’re damaging the natural ecosystem. It can never be what it was but that’s the price paid for humans to have a modern standard of living otherwise its back to hessian underwear and disease and pestilence. Even if the intensive part has a greater environmental cost in the context of a catchment (and that’s what has to be considered, not just one piece at a time) that may be acceptable but that’s where the polluter pay signals have to be strong to show the cost:benefit so I support this TOP policy. If we put dairy cows on hill sides or porous soils and irrigate or allow storm runoff to pollute ground and surface water then we need to say you’re going to have to come up with a smaller footprint or do something else. Not sure who’s going to pay for that. Having said that, if we use herd homes, farm more organically for higher price markets, or use other innovative farm managment practices then it might be possible; you always want to allow for innovation unless you want to farm by government directive like they do in the EU. Nobody wants to kill the golden goose but we do need to move to less of a commodity economy, whether that be milk powder or cheap tourism, otherwise we are in serious danger of losing those largely, non-monetary benefits, of what makes NZ a great country to live in (or should be).
  • Earl Mardle
    commented 2017-01-24 17:12:43 +1300
    As a longtime Green Party supporter I have been unhappy with the party move to the neoliberal end of the spectrum. While their anti-capitalist credentials have been tarnished lately, I’m all for them returning to their roots and applying the hard word to all capitalist ideas and forcing them to defend themselves, NO policy or philosophy should be exempt fundamental criticism.

    Which is where I have serious issues with the perspective of TOP environmental policy. It starts from a position that the environment exists as a place to do business and that it is, of course, absurd and destructive to damage that and undermine the long-term ability to continue to profit from the environment.

    I need to see an overriding position that the environment is not separate from us, we are fully, permanently and totally embedded in it and what happens to it, be it climate, water, soils or other living participants in the ecosystem, happens to us. It is a place from which we evolved and without which we cannot survive, it is where we LIVE and whatever we do that diminishes the quality of that life is wrong.

    IF, after that, doing business allows us to make a living and exchange value with each other, fine, but until we treat it as utterly fundamental, we will continue to write our own death warrants in the landscape.

    I fully support the polluter pays principle, but we also need to extend that to say there are some places that are so rare and fragile that nobody, barring pest eradication teams should be allowed near them. Similarly, the idea that I can damage this bit of the environment if I do some good to that bit is absurd. Once I degrade some part of it and offset somewhere else, the degraded part then becomes available for more degradation because, it makes “sense” to keep on damaging smaller areas if we can keep on assuaging our consciences by doing good elsewhere. The rack-renting landlord who contributes to the City Mission or supports the arts comes to mind. No, not acceptable.

    The one-time Mayor of Curitiba had an environmental policy (mentioned in “Natural Capitalism”) that allowed flexibility while demanding accountability, you could produce whatever pollution you liked, but it had to be safely disposed of within the factory boundary. And the city got to say what was safe. By forcing users to treat all materials as resources and returning them to the landscape in at least the same, or better condition than they came from it, we remove a lot of the angst from the process. A water intake that was 2 metres downstream of the outflow, for example, might be a good model for that.

    While we are in the water, the research 30 years ago showed that a marine sanctuary of 1km of shoreline every 10km would generate massive benefits for the marine environment and its inhabitants, as well as those humans who made a living off those resources. Espouse that and you will have my ready support. And we wont need to “compensate” anyone for the loss of their ability to exploit the finite resources of the sea.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    followed this page 2017-01-24 15:28:26 +1300
  • Steve Cox
    commented 2017-01-23 20:15:00 +1300
    The RMA, OIO and others have been set-up to allow something to happen usually with conditions attached. But there is no follow up and enforcement of those conditions. Why? Because ideology, cultural cringe and finance constraints by the government.
    All these Acts need to have inclusion in them a provision for open disclosure of all conditions, and that anyone may lodge a complaint with the courts. Much like the Police seek a search warrant without advising their target so would a complainant go to the courts and show the conditions ordered and evidence those conditions haven’t been met. The judge would accept the facts and make an order – just what that would be would be Act specific but should be far beyond a wet bus ticket.
    It would then be up to the one complained against to prove they had met the conditions, otherwise obey the court order.
  • Wayne Golding
    commented 2017-01-23 17:16:08 +1300
    I guess this is a bit like me an ACT/National voter with solar panels on my roof (8kW on a good day) – how much do yours generate Gareth?