Sunday 29 September 2019

Greed Is Not Good – But It Can Make Good Things Happen.

The Last, Best Hope Of Humankind: New Zealand was once known as the social laboratory of the world; why should it not turn itself into the planet’s climate laboratory? Directing our energy outward is the only viable survival strategy available to New Zealanders. There are no walls that we could possibly hope to build, high enough to keep us safe.

“I STUFFED THEIR MOUTHS WITH GOLD.” So said the Labour politician responsible for creating Britain’s iconic National Health Service (NHS). Aneurin Bevan had been asked to explain how he had managed to silence the British Medical Association’s (BMA) fierce opposition to the keystone of the Labour Government’s socialist programme – and that was his reply. Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw could do a lot worse than be guided by Bevan’s example – especially since New Zealand’s farmers appear to value nothing so much as cash.

The great problem with New Zealand’s current crop of Labour leaders is that most of them would have no idea who Aneurin Bevan was – let alone what he said. Some of them might be able to quote Tony Blair and/or Peter Mandelson (Blair’s equivalent of Boris Johnson’s Dominic Cummings) but the exploits of Clem Attlee’s Labour Government (1945-1951) would likely be dismissed as the irrelevant echoes of the naïve “Clause 4” labourism that Blair’s New Labour replaced. It’s why they have so little to say about Jeremy Corbyn. Ardern and her closest allies, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins, regard the British Labour leader as a throwback to the failed left-wing politics of the past.

It’s a pity, because Labour politicians like Attlee and Bevan understood that implementing a “transformative” economic and social programme would require the kind of ruthless pragmatism that only the possession of deeply held beliefs can sanction. Bevan understood that if he insisted on getting everything that he wanted he would likely end up with nothing. To secure his beloved NHS he would have to compromise. When the BMA threatened strike action, he simply made it worth the doctors’ while to accept the NHS. He “stuffed their mouths with gold”.

A progressive government determined to do its part in the global battle against Climate Change would have proceeded from the assumption that, unless they were generously rewarded for doing so, the farming community would strenuously resist any and all attempts to draw them into the fight. It has been a constant of New Zealand political history that resistance to progressive change has always been led by organisations composed of, or beholden to, farmers. Ardern and Shaw should have taken that as a given – and framed their policies accordingly. The historical precedent was right there before them in the guaranteed prices scheme that had bound the farming sector to the new social-democratic order set in place by New Zealand’s first Labour government (1935-1949).

The closer each farm comes to meeting the Government’s targets for greenhouse gas reduction, the more certain it should be of receiving financial rewards from the state. Think of it as an environmentally targeted variant of the US policy which artificially keeps agricultural prices high by paying farmers to keep some of their fields uncultivated. Cleaning up the nation’s waterways could be achieved by a similar policy of rewarding, rather than punishing, farmers for their behaviour. By stuffing their pockets with cash.

As things now stand, the Coalition faces a simmering rural revolt. Farmers are convinced that they are being made the scapegoats for New Zealand’s failure to come to grips effectively with Climate Change. They are in no mood to co-operate with anyone except Federated Farmers and the National Party.

Labour’s coalition partner, NZ First is terrified of this incipient rebellion – rightly concluding that if the party is perceived to be siding with the Reds and the Greens, then it will be wiped out in next year’s general election. This fear predisposes them towards delaying, if not actively sabotaging, the already flawed policies cobbled together by Labour and The Greens. To make matters worse, both Federated Farmers and the National Party are well aware of NZ First’s rising political panic and are feeding it at every given opportunity. As a result, the Coalition’s policies on Climate Change are in danger of being reduced to incoherent and ineffectual nonsense. James Shaw is already being made to look like an inept fool, and Jacinda Ardern’s commitment to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment is about to be tossed onto the growing pile of Labour’s broken promises.

It’s a sad end to what could have been a much happier story. New Zealand’s only hope of making any kind of difference to the unfolding horror story that is Climate Change lies in showing the rest of the world what can be done. Our 0.17 percent contribution to the global total of greenhouse gas emissions is much too small to attract the attention of those whose eyes remain fixed on the relentlessly rising contributions of the USA and China. But an unequivocal success story: the achievement of a small nation that found a way to rapidly and equitably reduce its carbon emissions and clean up its waterways; that just might inspire other nations to direct their gaze southward. And with Jacinda selling the story, in all the ways David Lange was prevented from selling New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy back in the 1980s, who knows how many nations might end up tagging along behind the Kiwi Pied-Piper?

The saddest aspect of the week just past is that Greta Thunberg’s incandescent address to the Climate Summit in New York was not seconded by New Zealand’s Prime Minister with a story of real and entirely imitable success. A Prime Minister who could respond to Greta’s righteous wrath with words of hope. Who could say to the youth of the world: “Do not despair, all is not lost, we have found a way. Come to our little country at the bottom of the world and we will show you how to dramatically reduce a country’s carbon emissions in record time. We will help you to become the global disciples of ‘enough’; youthful ambassadors for a world that only awaits those with the courage to make it.”

New Zealand was once known as the social laboratory of the world; why should it not turn itself into the planet’s climate laboratory? Directing our energy outward is the only viable survival strategy available to New Zealanders. There are no walls that we could possibly hope to build, high enough to keep us safe.

As for how best to deal with the enemies of a sustainable future: can we not be guided by Aneurin Bevan? If paying people to do the right thing prevents them from doing the wrong thing – then isn’t that money well spent?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 27 September 2019.


peteswriteplace said...

People need to be educated about the effects of Chinese and American involvement in climate change.

swordfish said...

Chris, you argue: "Labour’s coalition partner, NZ First is terrified of this incipient (rural) rebellion – rightly concluding that if the party is perceived to be siding with the Reds and the Greens, then it will be wiped out in next year’s general election ... both Federated Farmers and the National Party are well aware of NZ First’s rising political panic"

Various iterations of the New Zealand Election Study over the last decade suggest NZF supporters are disproportionately former Labour voters (with an outlook remarkably similar to the more morally-conservative end of Labour's voting-base).

Analysis of the geography of NZF's electoral support shows that the Party receives a significant majority of its Party Vote from Urban seats (both Metro/Big City & smaller Provincial City). According to my estimates: a little over 60% of NZF support comes courtesy of Metro & Provincial City seats (with another 7% from Maori electorates). Only a third from Rural / Semi-Rural constituencies (& a good deal of that from the larger towns that dominate those seats)

John Hurley said...

The problem with that scenario is power down = smaller economy = less to go around (following Labour's dallying with the creation of an ethnicless state). JA was more interested in promoting the later at the UN.

Anonymous said...

Problem for a small a small nation like ours, Chris, is where does the money come from to "stuff their mouths with gold." Tax is the only answer - either direct existing taxation away from other pressing needs or increase tax. Either way, mostly the poor and the middle class suffer so that we can show the world we're a "pied piper" and even then most of the world won't really sit up and take notice. And as for farmers being besotted with cash, it does enable them to sustain a business and earn a living.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Deeply held beliefs in our "left-wing" politicians? Now that it be a thing. The only deeply held beliefs they seem to have these days is in their own re-election prospects. And they kid themselves that "We can't do any good unless we're elected." But once elected they are so deeply afraid of offending the middle classes that they don't do much in the way of good for ordinary working people. Just tweaking the edges of neoliberalism.

Odysseus said...

US emissions have in fact been falling, almost 11 percent since 2005. The greatest increases have been from China and India whose contributions now measure about 30 percent and 6 percent respectively and rising. Greenhouse gas emissions are very much a developing country issue these days and largely out of the West's direct control. However the ultimate objective of organizations like Extinction Rebellion is the collapse of western democracy which tells you all you need to know about their real motives. It is sad to see impressionable young people being terrified into becoming footsoldiers in this dystopian crusade.

Anonymous said...

A better solution would be to offer ridiculous tax breaks to large corporate farms so that smaller farmers can't compete and go bust or sell out to the big guys. It's easier to deal with corporations than individuals.

Anonymous said...

NZ Farmers: socialising their losses & privatising their profits for 150years. NZ farming is a "tragedy of the commons", with no farming input cost on economic public goods such as the environment, all NZdrs now & in future generations are effectively going to be paying farmers welfare benefits to clean the country up from decades of farm mismanagement, pollution,waterway degradation, creeping FF lobbying changes to their National mates to make environmental std.s meaningless & policed by toothless local authorities stacked with crony farmers. In doing all this NZdrs will continue to subsidise farmers private profits so no, they shouldn't get any more if their business model isn't sustainable without pollution they should be closed down same as any other polluting business would be.

Trev1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricia said...

As New Zealand is a sovereign country and has a floating exchange rate it can issue its own currency. It does not need to raise money via taxation in order to spend. It can buy anything that is for sale in its own currency. That is not to say it should but it can. The Government can buy up farms and so therefore can, in Bevin’s words, stuff the farmers mouths with gold.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The Great Global Warming Swindle"
Yeah right, a documentary that's been slated by pretty much every climate scientist going as being a mixture of "truth, half-truths and outright lies." And I've looked at it and even I knew that some of that Bullshit was outright lies.

greywarbler said...

Trev1 Are you a friend of Fred Dagg's? Everybody should know that the Trevs got together in 2017 to have a National Day in memory of our good Fred Dagg, always in a corner of our hearts.

greywarbler said...

I don't where you journeyed from but your message from afar is not helpful, and perhaps you could take it to some other western paradise.
You say "the ultimate objective of organizations like Extinction Rebellion is the collapse of western democracy which tells you all you need to know about their real motives".

I am interested in where you stand in the 'motives' zone - perhaps towards the self-motivation with self-advancement end.

greywarbler said...

The easiest way to be Labour these days as GS says "just tweaking the edges of neoliberalism." I picture them trying to do the lazy maid's approach when working for the wealthy, 'just pick up the edge of the carpet and sweep the dust under so all looks okay'.

David Stone said...

Thanks for that reference Trev 1

peteswriteplace said...

Farmers haven't changed much since I was young and had many a spirited talk with. Still arrogant and ignorant. Some really thick as two planks socially speaking.

David Stone said...

What happened to Trev's comment and his reference Chris? We should be allowed to hear the other scientists too. Free speech and all that. There wasn't anything offensive in his comment was there?
It creates a whole other idea about the climate change narrative if the sceptic's arguments are being censored .

Trev1 said...

@ David Stone, here's the link again David:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"We should be allowed to hear the other scientists too."
Okay this column is about to disappear off the front page but Jesus wept, "other scientists"? Pretty much all scientists in relevant disciplines believe in anthropogenic global warming. In any large enough group there are bound to be some – let's call them dissenters. Personally I prefer to call them eejits. There are a few mathematicians who have some problems with the models, but they don't know much about climate either. So there are no "other scientists". And yes I know 30,000 scientists signed a petition against global warming at some stage – I went online to check who they were and stopped looking after "Fred Bloggs – osteopath".

Trev1 said...

Why is the so-called "consensus" of scientists afraid to debate? Why do they obscure the fact that the temperature has been as much as 5 degrees C higher during the current Holocene period? Climate change? Yes. Man-made? Nonsense.

David Stone said...

I'm not much into counting up pro and negative scientists. There is insufficient data for any of them to work with yet to know what extra CO2 will do. But the IPCC scientists are in the awkward position of being responsible for warning the world that we might be heading for catastrophe. They know they don't have enough data to be sure , but if we are causing a catastrophe and they say it's OK they will be responsible for it coming to pass. I think this responsibility that they don't have the knowledge to properly discharge is causing those engaged by the IPCC to take the most extreme possibility to be safe. This I believe rather than a deliberate hoax is what is driving the narrative.
The established facts that affect climate are there to find. It's how they fit together that will influence what happens and that is not yet a subject of scientific certainty.
i accepted the popular narrative for the last 30 + years as I have close associates who have been on the case from the beginning and i have unquestioningly accepted their word; coupled with the obvious fact that we seem to be releasing in a few hundred years , mostly one hundred, carbon that has been collecting for millions of years.
i'm arrogant enough to form my own opinion from available factual information having been disturbed in my assumptions into trying to understand the machinery for myself over the past year. i no longer accept that CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere is likely to have a significant effect on the world's climate. The theory doesn't make sense to me any more.
If you would like to engage in a discussion on the basis of causes and effects rather than on the basis of which scientists to believe and which to ridicule , I would be happy to do that. It could be fun. But only if emotions are left out of it.
Cheers D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. I don't have enough knowledge of climate science to judge the issue which is why I take the word of climate scientists about what is happening. I doubt if you have enough scientific knowledge to question this either. So it would be a waste of time hour discussing the actual science.

David Stone said...

GS. There is a lot of information out there to access. In fact it's all out there if you put the time in. The scientists are not keeping it secret though the search engines are certainly directing a strong bias . But there isn't any secret information that only scientists can access. What is uncertain is uncertain to everyone . I do believe that if you set to work with an open mind and some time, especially with the academic background you have, you can form as valid an opinion as anyone.
The science is at a level you probably taut .Like What is the specific heat of water? What is the solubility of CO2 in water at a given temperature? At 2 degrees warmer? What is the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere? How much CO2 is dissolved in the sea cf what is in the atmosphere? How much heat is removed from the surface by evaporation and released high in the troposphere as rain and cloud is formed? How much water vapour is there in the atmosphere? How effective is WV as a GHG cf CO2? It's do able . Have some faith in your own intelligence .
Cheers D J S