NZ's right wing government continues rampage against environment

The National / Maori / Act Party government has apparently been continuing its trend towards environment destroying policies.

According to Russel Norman of the Green Party, the government plans to drop funding for recycling bins in public places. This policy comes on the tail of a litany of eco-unfriendly policies announced since the new government came into power late last year.

Dr Norman's article focuses on the effects of this policy on tourism. I don't think that New Zealand should be environmentally friendly so we look better than other countries and get more tourism spending, and so environmental policy should be more than just smoke and mirrors. Ultimately, the future of the planet and all people / things on it depend on the environment, and all governments around the world should be showing leadership and working to help the public protect the environment.

Recycling, if done properly, can be hugely beneficial to the environment - valuable resources can be reused, and the damage to land (and the associated eco-systems) used for landfill can be reduced. Recycling will also, in many cases, be more energy efficient (especially for things like aluminium cans).

As such, the "Love NZ" recycling bin scheme was a move in the right direction - otherwise, people will just throw recyclables into the public rubbish bins instead.

When this is stacked up against other actions of the government, things look very bleak indeed. The government has announced it will:

  • Stop the emissions trading scheme, and therefore move away from reducing CO2 emissions
  • Cancel the energy efficiency standard for lightbulbs, which would have seen inefficient lightbulbs phased out
  • Change away from previous policy to prefer sustainable power sources, opening up the possibility for coal or gas or thermal power plants
  • Weaken the resource management act so companies can come up with environmentally unfriendly ideas with less scrutiny
  • Repealed legislation creating a future obligation on fuel providers to provide sustainable biofuels

All in all, it would look to someone who didn't know better, that the National / Act / Maori party government was actually trying to destroy the environment.

In reality, this isn't quite true. Right wing politicians generally work by supporting the self-interest of big companies and the rich (helping the rich get richer and big companies exploit the people and the natural environment, unhindered, and often helped, by the government). They then use donation money they get from these big players (it isn't a quid pro quo exchange of money for policy, but more a willingness to pay to help the politicians meet their self-interest) to try to con the public into believing that letting themselves, and their natural environment be exploited in this way is in their own interest. Everyone acts out of what they believe to be self-interest, the right wing politician gets into power, and disaster ensues.

Ultimately, this comes down to the Tragedy of the Commons. The environment is a shared resource for everyone. By polluting the environment, people can become richer (they reap the entire benefit of the exploitation), but they only pay a small part of the cost, which is shared by everyone who suffers due to a degraded environment. The solution to the Tragedy of the Commons is to internalise the externalities - that is, to make it so the environment is no longer a common resource for everyone to exploit to an unlimited extent at no cost, but instead to make polluters pay everyone else back for the damage they do to the environment. The emissions trading scheme (which National et. al. plan to stop) would achieve this by making polluters pay for their emissions to those who are taking carbon out of the air.

Part of the problem is that the political process doesn't really recognise future generations - the people voting are those who are alive and of voting age today, not those who will suffer further down the line, and also that people are easy to bribe with short-term prosperity over the next three years at the expense of longer term costs. In New Zealand, there is also the 'drop in the bucket' argument - we are only a small part of the world, so we can't make much of a difference. I am always astonished by the lack of foresight when I hear the drop in the bucket argument; if everyone puts their drop in the bucket, the bucket fills up very fast.

I think the solution is for us all to keep up public awareness of environmental issues, by setting a good example and bringing up the discussion as a topic with friends. It may be three years until the next election, but only a few of the very rich get any real long-term benefit from right-wing policies, and yet over 50% voted for them... and I'm sure people in National know that they need to keep those people happy. If those people demand that National look after the environment better, it is the ordinary New Zealanders who will get their way, not the very rich.