Red Alert

The Dolphin and the Dole Queue

Posted by on June 27th, 2012

Last Saturday Labour Party members and friends gathered in Titirangi to talk about the environment and green technology. It was great that deputy leader and Labour’s environment spokesperson Grant Robertson was able to join us. (UPDATE, and Grant’s speech can be found here)

I gave a speech about the unbreakable nexus between economic development and environmental protection. It’s called The Dolphin and the Dole Queue and you can read it here or follow the discussion it’s generated at The Standard.

My speech contextualised clean-tech and renewable technologies and how these might meet some of the pressing environmental challenges. It did this by placing in context:

  1. The gathering storm clouds of major environmental trends, such as climate change, fossil fuel scarcity and population growth;
  2. Why a strategic shift to a green economy which incorporates clean-technology and renewable energy is required;
  3. A reality check on the remaining ‘gap’ – that fact that, even with prompt action, major risks and adjustments will still exist;
  4. Rules of thumb for navigating future choices – evidence and analysis, the precautionary principle, and resilience economics.

There is no longer a genuine debate about whether our climate is changing. Instead there is an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists versus the old vested interests of polluters and their curious allies on the conspiratorial fringe.

The truth is our planet is near – if not past – the point where our ever-increasing demands on resources will surpass the Earth’s ability to sustain our civilisation in its current form.

Too many politicians appear to have calculated that frightening people with the truth just makes things difficult for them. Maybe that was true. Perhaps it still is. But the time for short-term thinking must end because the facts are clear.

Do you want future generations to have much more difficult and conflict-riven lives than we do; is it acceptable to you that your descendents should look back at us and ask “How could you have known what you did and yet you did nothing?”

There is huge potential for New Zealand in clean-tech and renewable energy. We’ve already got Lanzatech capturing industrial waste exhaust and turning it into energy. We’ve got SolarCity installing solar panels on thousands of roofs in Christchurch. Living Earth is creating compost from waste which might have gone to landfill. New Zealanders are doing amazing things in the clean economy which matter, and which help us get a slice of the $6 trillion potential global market.

But a core part of my speech stressed that a more serious and sophisticated analysis of the potential and limits of clean-tech is required. Yes, we must ensure New Zealand isn’t left behind and that our country maximises both the ecological and economic value of our necessary transition to a clean economy. But we must also carefully guard against the risks of “green-wash” and being overly optimistic that a move to a low carbon future means business as usual. Because it doesn’t. It’s going to take cultural changes around consumption and stewardship of the things we own and the land we inhabit, and we’re going to have to meaningfully reach out to the developing world so that their rise doesn’t countermine our progress.

New Zealanders must work through the challenges now because the rest of the world is racing ahead of us. We need to deliver a broad public and political push for sustainable economic growth and enhanced environmental protections, and we need to start today because our “clean green brand” is already being questioned overseas.

This change is sharply at odds with National’s “milking and mining” plan of ever-increasing pollution and kicking business leaders who dare to speak out against their dead-end strategy. So progress is going to be a big challenge.

I concluded that, while the challenge is huge, community engagement and activism is necessary and change is possible.

What do Red Alert readers think? How can we get the most from clean-tech? Is enough being invested in its development? How are we going to change attitudes and work together so we can enjoy fulfilling lives today while still saving this planet for our grandkids?

34 Responses to “The Dolphin and the Dole Queue”

  1. Allyson says:

    I think we should think seriously about the real benefits of clean-tech renewable energy commercial prospects and seriously contrast and compare to the known benefits of mineral and fuel extraction. One of these options are proven to be worth billions every year, the other practically worthless. One already employs many thousands of kiwis (granted, many in Oz), the other offers no significant employment option.

    If Labor wish to make up ground lost at last election they should not look to reclaim the greeny vote. Labor supporters want to drill it , dig it and sell it. Of course you would not hear this from Titirangi, but venture into your deepest darkest labor strongholds and tell me what they say.

  2. James Lovelock, the Godfather of Global Warming, came out recently and said his doomsday predictions were “overly alarmist”. That the planet isn’t warming as fast as lesser qualified political scientists would have us believe.
    He lashed the “Green Religion”, and suggests there may be merit in backing fracking and nuclear energy generation. does this marry well with the Labour vision?

  3. mickysavage says:

    Gawd Monique there are more climate change scientists called Steve that believe in anthropogenic change than those who do not. It is abundantly clear that as the world’s CO2 levels increase so does average temperatures and the occurrence of extreme weather events. Even if by chance they are not related the world is running out of resources and it appears pretty clear that the production of peak oil has peaked.

    So even if climate change is not happening, resource depletion and population growth demand action.

    And are you willing to gamble the future of our grandchildren on the hope that the vast majority of scientists have got the science wrong?

  4. David Cunliffe says:

    @ Allyson, that certainly does not square with the mood of the large uadience on Saturday, nor the vigorous online discussion that followed. Of course jobs matter, but unless we move our economy to a basis that is both high in value and low in environemntal risk, we are going to get a very rude adjustment crunch in future.

    @ Monique: part of my speech was to challenge the ‘Pollyanna’ that a few eco light bulbs mean we can all carry on driving hummers… and to advocate clear headed fact based analysis. Such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is doing on fracking…

  5. Alby says:

    Speaking of Green jobs David. With many Nations currently increasing their spend on rail infrastructure as a cleaner form of transport opposed to roads, it sickens me to hear 300 green jobs are to go at Kiwi Rail. I never heard Bill English mention a word of this in his announcement of the paper shuffling write down of the Kiwi Rails books. In fact I recall him say no intention to sell and no changes at Kiwi Rail in the same sentence. Twisted words and more job erosions instead of creations is typical.

  6. AnnaLiviaPluraBella says:

    David, it reads as well as it was presented in Titirangi. Grant Robertson’s speech was also well received by the large crowd. Both of you satisfied the need of all people to hear intelligent well informed debate on the dynamic between the economy and the environment. They want to know that our leaders have a grasp of the issues and can present well though-out paths into the difficult future.
    Would both of you accept invitations to take the gig to other electorates?

  7. OneTrack says:

    I would like to see much more in the way of specifics and/or examples of clean-tech that demonstrates any sort of economic sustainability. What I mean by that, is there a clean-tech industry that is able to survive without subsidy from the “unclean-tech” sector.

    Something that also earns more overseas funds than it consumes would also be nice.

    For example, what is the cost-benefit equation like for installing solar-panels in Christchurch? Due to the angle of the sun, I wouldn’t have thought it would have been that great. What is the payback period on them and how much subsidy is involved, if any? How much milk and butter did we have to sell in order to buy the panels and inverters from China.

  8. Draco T Bastard says:

    What do Red Alert readers think?

    We need to shrink the economy until it only provides what we need – especially farming. We also need to broaden it so that we produce far more of what we need here in NZ – we have the resources.

    Broadening of the economy is what should happen from productivity increases but those increases have been shifted to producing more and more of the same stuff resulting in massively degraded environment, increased poverty and inequality (result of leaving such decisions to the greedy) and our best and brightest looking for work elsewhere because what they want to do just isn’t done here.

    How can we get the most from clean-tech?

    Full government investment up to and including building and owning the factories. Forget leaving it to the market, that doesn’t work as has been proved over the last 30 years of neo-liberal policies.

    Is enough being invested in its development?

    No, needs to be far, far higher.

    How are we going to change attitudes and work together so we can enjoy fulfilling lives today while still saving this planet for our grandkids?

    By changing from a competitive society that eats its young to a cooperative society that supports them instead.

  9. Draco T Bastard says:

    One already employs many thousands of kiwis (granted, many in Oz), the other offers no significant employment option.

    Development which results in productivity gains almost always reduces the number of jobs. People shouldn’t be scared of this as it’s an opportunity to move change how resources are used. Something that wasn’t available before now is. As we’re really talking people here what we could see from the decrease in jobs in one area is an increase in R&D and arts & culture.

    Unfortunately, what happens when we leave it to the market (in reality a few capitalists) is that that increased unemployment is used to drive wages down increasing poverty and profit. It’s this misappropriation and misallocation that is the cause of poverty around the world. It’s also the cause of massive over-use of our limited resources as capitalism needs to produce more and more (and thus have more and more consumed) to maintain profits and to pay the interest that the banks charge.

  10. David Cunliffe says:

    @annalivia. Absolutely. Planning Wellington central gig and hopefully chch with Ruth Dyson our conservation spokesperson

  11. David Cunliffe says:

    @onetrack have much moee detail to offer but the speech was to lay out framework thinking and was long enough already!

  12. David Cunliffe says:

    @Draco TB. Your first comment totally negates the benefits of trade nd comparative advantage. Im not of that view- but trade rules should contain appropriate environmental provisions and we need to think about resilence to future environmental and security risks.

  13. Draco T Bastard says:

    Societies don’t specialise and comparative advantage is bollocks.

    Really, what’s the point in producing tons of cow to exchange for a few kilograms of computers when we could just have made the computers ourselves utilising less resources than producing the cow and be sustainable doing so? The reality is that trade is far more expensive in real terms than making most of what we need here and trading for what can’t produce ourselves.

    As for specialising as a society? Well, I can’t think of a faster way to destroy a nation. People specialise, not societies. If you try to specialise a society then the people you most want to stay leave to some other society that actually does what they have an interest in. There’s a reason why ~1/5th of NZers are ex-pats and, IMO, the reason why is because we just don’t have the culture/industry here.

    The profit driven free-market must, absolutely must, use up all the resources available* as it’s the only way that profit can be maintained and, because of that, is unsustainable.

    And then, of course, there’s Climate Change which is also a result of free-market capitalism and it’s need to use up all resources ASAP. That need is also the reason why the politicians at Rio+20 just failed to come to an agreement to save our planet from deprivations.

    If you’re serious about what you said then you need to look for solutions beyond mainstream economics.

  14. jennifer says:

    David, turns out you have got it completely wrong, according to the CEO of Exxon Mobil Rex Tillerson who reckons folks like you are “illiterate” on the real facts and “lazy” with the real truth and simply “manufacture fear.” I guess he must trump you, because he is a big shot business titan, right? A bit like Key and his advice on asset sales. He knows all about shares, so he must be right.

  15. Lara says:

    “How are we going to change attitudes and work together so we can enjoy fulfilling lives today while still saving this planet for our grandkids?”

    Clean Tech is all very well, but it completely ignores the elephant in the room.

    Our economic system requires perpetual growth. New Zealand, and indeed the earth, is a finite space.

    We need to address the elephant in the room and conceive of an alternative economic system which can cope with zero growth without creating massive unemployment and misery.

    But I don’t see Labour or even the Greens (surprisingly) addressing this fundamental problem. I see very few people addressing this problem, instead we talk of “sustainable growth” (an oxymoron) and green technology as if that’s going to save the planet. It isn’t. It’s just tinkering at the edges.

    And I’m not a crazy conspiracy theorist either. I have a BSc from Auckland University and I’m a Technial Market Analyst. Very normal in fact. I just understand basic mathematics.

  16. jennifer says:

    @ Lara, you seem to assume the elephant is actually in the room. Most people think it is happily wandering the Serengeti, like it alway has. Perhaps that’s why the Greens talk a big game, but leave it at that.

  17. Jack Ryan says:

    Draco, specialization does exist and is a key component in making good quality, cheap products. Have a look at the recent hindsight program on ‘made in NZ’. Lots of example of have a small market, Part time workforce and dodgy products. The key point was that our market size can’t support the level of investment in people and equipment to make all the products our consumers and business need. Unless the taxpayer supports them with inport controls and or subsidies it just is not going to happen. Other countries have the market size close to their manufacturing without shipping them half way around the world.

  18. Draco T Bastard says:

    Um, Jack Ryan, I said that individuals specialise but that societies don’t. Specialising a society inevitably results in that society stagnating due to the lack of R&D and the loss of the people who want to do other things.

    The key point was that our market size can’t support the level of investment in people and equipment to make all the products our consumers and business need. Unless the taxpayer supports them with inport controls and or subsidies it just is not going to happen.

    A society can always support itself. In fact, that’s the whole point of society and it’s economy. Leaving this support to the market always results in misallocation of resources and, eventually, collapse of the society itself.

  19. Quoth the Raven says:

    David, do you realise that the application of the fundamentally conservative precautionary principle would if applied in the past have severely retarded the incredible technological advances humanity made. The same applies today and to the future. The precautionary principle sounds innocuous, but it is radical.

    As others have argued you should apply the precautionary principle to itself and ask how much harm are you failing to prevent with its application and what harm may you do to human progress and flourishing.

    Progress requires risk and by advocating the precautionary principle you put that progress at risk. As it is argued here

    Everything in life involves a risk of some kind. Throughout our evolution and development we have sought to minimise and manage risk, but not to eliminate it. Even if this were possible, it would undoubtedly be undesirable. A culture in which people do not take chances, where any form of progress or development is abandoned ‘just to be on the safe side’, is one with a very limited future. The very nature and structure of all human societies are what they are because individuals, in co-operation with each other, have taken their chances – seeking the rewards of well-judged risk-taking to the enervating constraints of safe options. Had the precautionary principle been applied the Pilgrim Fathers would never have set sail for America in their fragile ships. Life-saving advances in medicine would have been halted when the first patient died on the operating table.

    The application of the precautionary principle already does immense harm. As Matt Ridley reminds us vitamin A deficiency affects millions of the poor in Asia, and precipitates the deaths of more than a million children every year, because of a monotonous diet of rice. However, growing GM Golden Rice, which is under a humanitarian use licence as the companies and universities involved in developing it gave up their intellectual property rights, could help alleviate this at a fraction of the cost of supplementation. Yet it has been held up for years due to regulations. See also this opinion piece in Nature Regulation must be revolutionized.

    I hope you condemn environmentalists when they take it into their own hands to apply the precautionary principle like those who broke into a CRI and destroyed a GM Pine trial here. Which is now an all too common practice around the world. For instance, last year activists in Germany destroyed GM crop trials as did activists in Belgium and Australia. Activists who are merely putting the words of environmentalists like David Suzuki into practice. David Suzuki who said

    Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.

    Worse still are those who mailed bombs to nanotechnology scientists.

  20. Anglo-Norman says:

    Finally a politician that appeals to the “higher thing” in most of us. Cheers, Young Cunliffe. I suspect 60%+ of this readership has a degree of some type. You treat us as if we are intelligent and well read . More, boy, more.

  21. RedFred says:

    IF only the precautionary principle had been applied to the use of asbestos.

    You can’t make silly claims about stopping human advancement , the science of science is now at a place where we generally know what we don’t know and manage our ignorance. Science is not omniscient.

    Marie Curie didn’t know or could not even imagine the result of her experiments on her health. Science advanced and we got smarter and started using some lead.

    Lets publish how to modify the H1N1 virus to make it airborne, shall we?

    Want to talk GMO? Lets look at Monsanto record of suing farmers who have been found with crops containing patented genes. These GMO crops have inadvertently spread onto the farmers land (see here and Monsanto has gone after them for illegally using the crop.

    Environmentalists aren’t applying the precautionary principle their applying the direct action principle to stop something they think is stupid.

    Here is list of GMO gone wrong and perhaps where more precaution should have been taken

  22. ants says:

    @Draco – would you be happy to pay $40,000 for a 42-inch TV? How about $10,000 for an iPad? $100k for a car?

    Suggesting we could make these in NZ is a bit of a pisstake – we are good at dairy – but we have none of the mineral inputs, scale, or labour resources to build things at even an order of magnitude more than we currently buy them.

    Your little utopia would be a disaster.

  23. Quoth the Raven says:

    RedFred – The precautionary principle is not simply about taking more precautions. It is as David Suzuki said “if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful”.

    In the real world of human knowledge we simply cannot know with apodictic certainty whether something may potentially cause harm and we weigh weigh potential harms against potential benefits.

    We do not apply the precautionary principle in the real world. We do not ask that every invention, every new product, or way of doing things, be proven not to be harmful and wait until “we know for sure what the impact will be” because we cannot. If we did all technological progress would come to a halt.

    You bring up the example of asbestos, but what if we early research into X-rays never went ahead because the scientists could not know for sure what the impact would be? How many lives would have not been saved because we didn’t apply X-rays in medicine? What discoveries, like the structure of DNA, would have been forsaken? The same goes for Marie Curie and her discoveries.

    What world would we live in if we applied the precautionary principle? One of stagnation, bereft of creativity and innovation, where human progress comes to a halt. That maybe the world David Cunliffe and you desire, but not me.

    Regarding, GMOs I would urge you to read the innumerable literature reviews on the safety of GM crops and foods derived from them. For instance this EU report “A decade of EU-funded GMO research” which found “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” Of course there are risks, but you need to consider them relative to those of traditional plant breeding, and weigh them against the potential benefits.

  24. RedFred says:

    @Quoth I think it is about magnitude, the magnitude and risk associated with whatever is being proposed.

    I am not completely against GMO, but magnitude of risk must have a heavy weighting, GMO might be safe 99.98% of the time but what does it mean for world food supply if .2 rolls up on the dice on a GMO corn crop and cause widespread failure or wipes out the bee population.

    Madame Curie didn’t understand the risk of x-ray, but we can imagine/predict the risk of an errant gene in corn.

    Latest concerns being raised is the relationship between Bee colony collapse and Monsanto corn ..guess what Monsanto brought one of the biggest Bee research companies; means no research on GMO and bee colony collapse.

  25. Quoth the Raven says:

    RedFred – The point is that we simply cannot gauge the magnitude of risk with the level of certainty demanded by the precautionary principle. Hence we would not take the risks that are a necessary concomitant of progress and then we would stagnate.

    Regarding honey bees there is plenty of research to show that there is little adverse effect on Honey Bees from GM crops. See for instance, A Meta-Analysis of Effects of Bt Crops on Honey Bees.

    As far as I can see the prevailing belief is that regional declines in Honey Bee populations are largely caused by the spread of Varroa mite which is a vector for viral pathogens and is probably the key factor in colony collapse disorder (which also affects areas in which GM crops are not grown). See: Global Honey Bee Viral Landscape Altered by a Parasitic Mite.

    During the past 50 years, the global spread of the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor has resulted in the death of millions of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies (5). There is general consensus that the mites’ association with a range of honey bee RNA viruses is a contributing factor in the global collapse of honey bee colonies (5–10), because the spread of mites has facilitated the spread of viruses (11, 12) by acting as a viral reservoir and incubator (13). … In particular, deformed wing virus (DWV) has been associated with the collapse of Va r ro a-infested honey bee colonies (5, 8, 14–16), because it is ubiquitous in areas where Var ro a is well established…

    Lastly the evidence is that globally domesticated honey bee populations have actually increased considerably in recent decades despite regional declines, but that this population increase has not kept pace with the increase in crops that are dependent on them for pollination. See: The Global Stock of Domesticated Honey Bees Is Growing Slower Than Agricultural Demand for Pollination.

  26. Draco T Bastard says:

    Suggesting we could make these in NZ is a bit of a pisstake – we are good at dairy – but we have none of the mineral inputs, scale, or labour resources to build things at even an order of magnitude more than we currently buy them.

    1.) Dairy is presently killing our environment which will, eventually, kill us thus is not sustainable.
    2.) Mineral Resources, Yes, we have enough for us.
    3.) We only need to build enough processes to feed the factories and we only need enough of those to supply ourselves.
    4.) The whole point of productivity increases is to free up human capital to do other things. Unfortunately, what we get is productivity increases going towards profit and producing more poverty.

    Your little utopia would be a disaster.

    You haven’t yet figured out how Britannia came to rule the waves have you? I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t through saying they couldn’t do stuff and comparative advantage.

    The delusional utopia we’ve had forced upon us for the last three decades is the disaster as any reading of history will show.

  27. Jack Ryan says:

    Draco, yeah the British Empire decided a as whole to do stuff and therefore was the world’s first superpower until they lost thier Empire. The lost complete contril of resources, markets, people, monopolies. Yep they ate just like little old NZ.

  28. SPC says:

    Possibly development of the network to establish capability to receive solar energy on the national grid – and some sort of incentive for householders and businesses to invest in solar energy as in Japan?

  29. SPC says:

    Required insulation (and energy efficient heating) of rental property (ceilings/under floor), then incentives to adopt (leading to later requirements) double glazing, and ventilation systems would lead to business growth in ensuring sustainable energy use and healthy homes.

  30. Colonial Viper says:

    The theory of ‘Comparative Advantage’ was advanced by Ricardo in the 19th century. He used an example of how England had a natural and inherent advantage of producing wool cloth, while Portugal had a natural and inherent advantage of producing wine. Therefore, it made sense that each economy produced what it was good at, and traded those products with each other for mutual gain.

    In the modern economy this no longer holds true. Marlborough or California can produce “champagne” better and finer than the old champagne houses of France.

    Who would’ve thought that a highly illiterate, backward, communist country (China) could have a comparative advantage in building iPads and Macbooks, many thousands of kilometres away from their main markets of Europe and the US.

    The difference between now and the 1800’s is that the most valuable goods in the world do not depend on simple climate but on knowledge, technical expertise and above all, financial capital.

    And these are things which can, using will power and proper planning, be moved and applied anywhere in the world. Make no mistake – had American executives not consciously and deliberately transferred the knowledge (and financial capital) to make advanced electronics and machine parts from their plants and workers in the US to their new ‘partners’ in China, China would not be the economic powerhouse it is today.

    Ricardo’s theory of ‘Comparative Advantage’ no longer holds true. Read Chang’s “Bad Samaritans” for detail more clear than I can describe here.

  31. Colonial Viper says:

    Draco, yeah the British Empire decided a as whole to do stuff and therefore was the world’s first superpower until they lost thier Empire. The lost complete contril of resources, markets, people, monopolies. Yep they ate just like little old NZ.

    HOWEVER consider that “Great Britain”‘s fall from Imperial Power has actually been relatively soft and gradual, which amongst other things is a testament to the Brit ability for capable administration and bureaucracy, even in the face of decline. A decline that you could argue has been going for the best part of a century now. Many other such historical imperial powers fell far faster and far harder, some being wiped from the face of the earth.

    Its an open question as to how the US is going to fare over the next 50 years.

  32. Spud says:

    Hi David! 😀

  33. Quoth the Raven says:

    Colonial Viper – Comparative advantage is not really about what a country is “good at” or one having an inherent advantage at something. It is about opportunity cost. The opportunity cost, at the margin, of producing one good instead of another. That is not to say that natural advantages are irrelevant. England still does not produce good wines and the reason that Marlborough and California produce fine wines is because of the climatic and other environmental conditions that make it conducive to do so. Such conditions are simply not reproducible anywhere in the world.

    For the advantages of free trade comparative advantage is only one justification because specialization and exchange generate net economic gains independently of specialization according to comparative advantage. Put comparative advantage aside and think that the larger the market the greater the opportunity to specialize and innovate. The level of specialisation in contemporary society is astounding and crosses arbitrary national boundaries. Free trade breaks down these arbitrary national boundaries to exchange and expands markets expanding the possibilities for specialisation. Expanding markets also makes it possible for producers to take advantages of larger economies of scale. New Zealand, a nation of only 4 million people, has a relatively small internal market. Hence the level of specialisation we could pursue is very limited.

    China made such great economic gains as it moved away from Maoist autarky and became a globally trading nation. China ended its self-imposed isolation and liberalised its economy and became integrated into the global economy.

    If there is one country, aside from North Korea (whose state ideology Juche includes economic self-reliance) and Maoist China, whose experience ought to dissuade one from entertaining autarky it is Albania. Albania’s attempt at autarky under the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha ought to have demonstrated once and for all what an abyssmal failure autarky is. His legacy was one of isolation, xenophobia, and repression, leaving an impoverished and technologically backward nation.

    Social democratic parties used to entertain ideas of economic nationalism and autarky. Now, with reality having caught up with them, social democratic parties the world over have abandoned such thinking and now support free trade and global integration. The Labour party here under Helen Clark pursued free trade treaties and even David Cunliffe, who is usually the Labour party’s most reliable source of boilerplate anti-capitalism, recognises the reality of comparative advantage.

  34. Matt says:

    That paper was co-authored by two employees of Monsanto… Real integrity there.