A Green New Deal for Aotearoa

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has caused much angst amongst many conservative republicans in the US by promoting a Green New Deal (GND). The deal is attractive to progressives and those on the left because it is a package or political manifesto that encapsulates the environmental and social goals that many feel are essential to shift to a sustainable and fair economy. Republicans have labeled it a "Socialist Manifesto" and emotively suggest that it will destroy America.

The key elements of the GND are:
  • A ten year mobilisation plan.
  • Building resiliency against climate change-related disasters.
  • Meeting energy demands with clean, renewable zero-emission energy sources.
  • Expanding energy efficiency and access to power.
  • working with farmers to cut emissions.
  • Overhaul the transport sector with electric vehicles, public transportation and high-speed rail.
  • Planting forests to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Fair pay and improved working conditions.
  • Universal, high-quality healthcare.
  • Access to affordable, safe and adequate housing.
  • Stronger labour standards (health and safety, minimum pay, hours...).
  • Cleaning hazardous sites.
  • Free higher education.
  • Access to clean water and air, health food and clean, natural environments.
The GND concept is based on Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that was hugely successful in lifting the US out of an economic depression and improving the quality of life for working people. In New Zealand Michael Savage's Labour Government enacted similar policies that also lifted living standards and opportunities for most citizens. 

What is important to note is that history proved the wisdom of investing in people and shifting the balance of power away from big business and the rich. For its time the policies were revolutionary in scope and much condemned by the rich and powerful who were reluctant to give up their power and influence and share their wealth. The policies created a new normal that saw housing, healthcare and quality public education an expectation for all and most families could thrive on a single income.

The dominance of neoliberal economics over the last three to four decades has caused a growth of inequality in developed countries with a rapid diminishing of the middle class and a shift in wealth to a smaller percentage of the population. 26 individuals have now captured the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world's population (3.9 billion people). 

Many of the social issues that existed in Roosevelt and Savage's day need to be readdressed. We again have huge inequality in health, housing and education and employment rights and conditions have been eroded. Here, in Aotearoa, we currently have amongst the worst statistics in the developed world for the health and safety of our children and youth.

What is different from the situation in the 1930s is that we have the added environmental crises of climate change and the waste produced from our noncyclic economies. All reliable science and statistics indicate that we have little time to turn things around environmentally and already we are witnessing a downward spiral of ecosystem health, globally and in New Zealand. We are losing species world wide at a rate of around 150-200 a day, (1000 time more than what is considered natural) and climate change is already having a huge social, environmental and economic impact

Our current global economic systems involve high levels of resource extraction and environmental degradation through unsustainable farming practices and poor waste management. Our finite planet is being choked and destroyed by our lack of foresight, urgent action is needed!

Ocasio-Cortez has captured international attention through becoming the leading spokesperson for the GND in the US. She has used her media profile to champion what US Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, championed in 2016. The idea is not new, Van Jones wrote about The Green Collar Economy in 2008 and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand also promoted a GND in 2009

Interestingly many of the proposal's in the Green Party's 2009 GND are actually being progressed in some form under New Zealand's current government. However, I believe that it is being done in a piecemeal fashion and lacks the urgency or coordination to be as effective as the new deals in the 1930s. We need to be bolder and appreciate the power of true leadership.

Apart from Donald Trump and a handful of similarly thinking autocratic leaders, the world's governments generally understand that business as usual will no longer work and champions of new approaches are being watched with interest. When John Key was Prime Minister he was hugely reluctant having New Zealand lead on climate change (or anything else in the environmental or social arenas), he wanted us to be a fast follower. I believe there is more to be gained by leading and already Jacinda Ardern is gaining international respect for her stances on climate change and individual wellbeing. It will not hurt our global reputation or economy to lead on climate change and social justice, it will most likely open export markets and increase our influence on the global stage. 

Ocasio-Cortez became more palatable and influential face for the GND in the US than Jill Stein could ever achieve. Her youthful energy, attractive image and influence within Congress and the Democratic party have provided her with advantages that Stein will never achieve in such a flawed political system. Jacinda Ardern is a strong and articulate communicator and is sincere about achieving progressive change but the Labour Party she leads has strong conservative elements, coalition partner New Zealand First has real conservative elements too, so that the Green Party is the real champion of progressive politics.

What really makes the Green Party stand out from other parties is its holistic approach to policy development and regarding society, the environment and the economy as intrinsically connected (one element can never be regarded without reference to the others). However, Green campaigns in past elections have tended to focus on siloed campaign policies that were often too pragmatic to capture an overall vision.

The advantage of a GND package is that it supports a vision and makes connections. If the Green Party is to reclaim the 11-15% support that it often received in the years before 2017, then a strong GND type package needs to be developed. The Party can't compete with Ardern's popularity, but it can lead on vision and be seen as the essential progressive conscience of the next government. 

I would suggest that any New Zealand GND could contain the following:
  • Advocate for a cyclic economy (an economy that is focussed on sustainability and waste minimisation and recognises the futility of endless growth). This will include reducing the dominance of the big four Australian banks by increased regulation and supporting local banks and alternative money systems. 
  • Championing a transport revolution that increases the efficiency and availability of public transport, increases the numbers of electric vehicles and strengthening regional economies to reduce truck miles. Also working towards making train travel between major cities a viable option to using planes. 
  • Making good housing a human right rather than a means to increasing wealth (this would include housing developments that support energy efficiency and building communities).
  • Create an entity to research best practice and most economical ways of building healthy, efficient houses and commercial buildings and retro-fitting existing ones. A focus on local resources and sustainability would be a priority. This entity can provide support and advice for local councils to speed up consents and encourage useful innovation. 
  • Shifting away from intensive animal farming by supporting alternatives. Currently horticulture (especially organics) is the more profitable land use but there needs to be support for transitioning for those financially committed to dairying. Currently over 40% of our total land area is used for farming animals and only 1% for fruit and vegetables. This would involve boosting research and education. 
  • Review and change our energy supply systems so that they are more sustainable, efficient and much cheaper for consumers. The current model is highly flawed and does not support individual or regional efforts to better manage energy supply. 
  • Lift the status and incomes of those who work in education, health and care sectors to properly recognise what they do to support wellbeing and our economy.
  • Develop a warrant of fitness for businesses to ensure that good employment practices are in place and sustainability is a core element. New businesses will be supported in this and it should a foundational element of business qualifications.
  • Lift the status and importance of our natural water systems and soils so that the external effects of industrial practices on our environment is properly accounted for in business activities. 
  • Te Reo will be a core part of school curricula in schools and Te Tiriti education and the colonisation of New Zealand is taught well at all levels (based on actual historic experience and knowledge).
  • Shift our education system to one that supports individual development and meeting individual need rather than complying to arbitrary assessments. Life skills (healthy eating, financial management, healthy relationships, values education...). 
  • Champion fair tax systems so that the wealth our country produces is more equitably shared.
  • Overhaul our justice system so that it is an equitable one that provides fair and humane processes for all.
  • Establish clear economic, environmental and social well-being priorities that are complimentary and relevant to creating a fair and sustainable society. These would direct government budgets and policy priorities.
  • Develop and support global trade guidelines that support fair trade and socially responsible working environments.
  • Develop a tourist industry that enhances and celebrates our unique environment. Budget tourism could involve working on environmental projects operating in a similar way to the Wwoof scheme and wealthy tourists should expect to pay a reasonable environmental levy. 
  • Establish pest free ecosanctuaries (like Orokanui) in every region as an essential part of our conservation system. 
  • Champion nonviolent global diplomacy.
Obviously these are my personal ideas and I am open to challenges and welcome debate from inside and outside the Green Party.

What have I missed? What have I got wrong? 


Jon said…
Dave -- are you going to the policy conference next month? If you are, I'm dead keen to talk over your ideas here, and to hear others' opinions too.

All the best,

bsprout said…
I am, see you there. The intent of this was to start a broad conversation to test the waters inside and outside the party.
wld said…

All good well-considered points here. Only comment is that 'Te Reo and Te Tiriti be included in the core curriculum'. i.e. not 'compulsory' as that will evoke enemies.
bsprout said…
Good point, wld, it will actually mean the same but be less divisive.
Nick said…
I really like your ideas.

One fundamental thing missing is health policy. The First Labour Government wanted to introduce universal healthcare, including primary care, however was unsuccessful owing to the resistance from conservative doctors, who refused to work in a nationalized system. Given that we have an epidemic of non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and stroke; I would argue that a stronger primary/population healthcare sector is essential, and a much more cost-effective way to deal with these diseases.

The Greens used to have some fairly significant health policy when Kevin Hague was there (he had a background in population health), but they currently have very little. The provision of healthcare services is a significant part of the welfare state, and in my view need to be considered in the Green New Deal.

There is some good academic work coming out at the moment on food systems for planetary health, which needs political support in order to be implemented, i.e. could help to formulate policy in these areas.

I really like your ideas! Health could use some work though...
bsprout said…
Thanks Nick you make some good points and Kevin Hague did have a number of key elements that would make a better functioning health system. My personal approach to this was to focus on the people who work in the caring sectors (education/health/welfare) who are overworked and largely underpaid. DHBs have blown their budgets because of increased costs in staffing and the current health minister is reprimanding them. Whether it be rest homes, early childhood centres or school or health support workers, many are employed on minimal wages and limited qualifications and yet they are vital front line staff. I thought I would focus on valuing the occupations as I thought that would be the quickest way to improve outcomes.

I would be interested in your thoughts and how you would have worded a health policy.

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