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Jeanette Fitzsimons State of the Planet Speech

There is a lot to do

Jeanette Fitzsimons State of the Planet speech – 22 Jan 2006

Picnic for the Planet, Waihopai

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Thank you for coming to the Greens second Picnic for the Planet, where we celebrate this incredibly beautiful, vulnerable, only planet we have and commit ourselves again to taking care of it - both for its own sake, and so that it can take care of us.

Instead of the usual politician ' s " State of the Nation " address we in the Greens begin each year by considering the State of the Planet, because it is the planet that gives us life and the means to sustain it. Once it was enough for nations, or even communities, to take care of their local piece of the planet - the soil and water where they lived, the forests and fisheries they directly used, the biodiversity of their region.

That is still important. But we can no longer ignore the reality that the world ' s population and technology and level of affluence has grown to the point where we are all living on the same island. We live under one sky. Carbon emissions from industry here will melt the Arctic ice. Ozone depleting chemicals released from Europe leave us facing higher rates of skin cancer.

We all are washed by the one ocean: fisheries transcend national boundaries, pesticides and fire retardants used at the equator are found in the flesh of rapidly disappearing polar bears.

We all compete for the same global resources. The decline in production from Middle Eastern oil fields is felt in the prices at our petrol pumps and the surcharge on our airfares.

Think Global Act Local is about taking care of our own piece of the planet and managing our own activities using what we now know about the whole system. It empowers us to act more thoughtfully and more effectively. It requires us to ask, " what would be the effect of 6 billion people doing what I am doing now? "

Last year I drew attention to three major threats to the earth and our way of life on it.

The ecological collapse of the oceans, through pollution, siltation, overfishing, and destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling.

Climate change, evidenced then by melting Arctic sea ice, ice sheets calving off the Antarctic, bleaching and death of coral reefs.

And the reverse side of the climate change coin: the depletion of the conventional cheap oil supplies on which our civilisation has been built, and whose burning has led to the warming of the planet.

Twelve months on it would be easy to despair at the lack of action from Government on these issues, and the continued procrastination I foresee for the next 12 months

There has been no concrete action to limit the extreme ecological damage caused by bottom trawling. NZ is willing to support other nations who might propose a moratorium but when it comes to action is not willing to take the lead. It has been left to the Green Party and NGOs like Greenpeace and Forest & Bird to educate the public about deadly fishing practices and to advocate for action.

Instead our government is focussing on setting up Regional Fisheries Management Organisations with a meeting in Wellington next month to progress one in the South Pacific. It remains to be seen whether such an organisation, if it is successfully established, will set any enforceable rules to limit destructive fishing practices. And whether, if it eventually does, it will already be too late for many unique sea creatures. It is vital that those who care about the ocean make their voices heard while this crucial meeting is taking place.

New Zealand has a system for managing fisheries, which is supposedly sustainable - but only if you ignore the dire lack of information about stock size and health, the effect of illegal fishing and the dumping of lower value fish. That ' s a big IF. But worse, globally nearly two-thirds of the oceans lie outside any regulations on commercial fishing and a third of the world catch is either illegally caught or not reported. The UN estimates that half the world ' s fisheries are at maximum exploitation and another quarter over-exploited. Yet fish consumption has trebled over the past thirty years and demand will continue to grow.

When I made that State of the Planet speech a year ago the world was reeling from the rise in oil prices, which had just reached $45/bbl for Brent Crude. In the year since then, prices have reached over $70 bbl, averaged $56 for the year, and are currently at around $66. We have seen fishing boats stay in port because it was not cost-effective to go out fishing; surcharges on air travel hitting our tourism revenue and surcharges on internal freight.

On the positive side we have seen a decline in the sale of large 6 cylinder cars and an increase in small efficient ones. Public transport in Auckland and Wellington is generally well supported but cannot meet demand. But we are still importing vehicles that use 15 litres to travel 100 km when we could be importing models that use only a third of that. One of my top objectives this year to is to get controls on the efficiency of vehicles entering the country.

I predicted very conservatively last year that we would see oil production peak within ten years. Some analysts are saying that it has peaked already. IEA figures show an expected increase in demand over this year of 1.65 million bbl/day but an increase in supply of just half that. You can ' t go on for long increasing demand by twice as much as you increase supply.

The world has changed - and not in the gradual way that market theorists have always assumed would allow gradual adaptation, but in a rapid doubling that vastly exceeded any possible technological or market response. Oil prices are a major contributor to our out of control current account deficit and our inflation rate, which breaches the Reserve Bank limits.

I said last year that oil is the reason for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and for the erosion of freedom in western countries including our own, in the name of a war on terrorism. In the last year that war has claimed even more lives and more freedoms. At 2,000 US lives, many thousands of Iraqi lives, hundreds of thousands of maimings, and two trillion dollars, there is no end in sight. The war is using, and wasting vast quantities of oil as it seeks to establish political control over what is left.

In NZ we have been complacent about our refusal to participate in the invasion of Iraq. But the blood is still on our hands, as has been pointed out this weekend. Too few NZers know about the role played by those 2 white domes a few miles from here in spying on the law abiding citizens of many countries, and in obtaining the information that makes the war possible. Waihopai is of far more value to the US war efforts than our troops would have been and we cannot escape that responsibility.

2005 also saw the two most serious indicators of accelerating climate change.

Both have been predicted for many years as a possible consequence of advanced greenhouse warming but no-one expected them this soon.

First, the Gulf Stream, a warm current, which brings tropical water up the coast of Europe and keeps its temperature much higher than you would expect for that latitude, has been found to have weakened by 30% in just 12 years. That is a huge rate of change and signals the possible freezing of Europe if the trend continues and the current stops. That ' s the Day After Tomorrow scenario, though without the more extreme special effects of the movie.

Second, the frozen tundra in northern Russia, which locks up huge quantities of methane from ancient swamps, is thawing and the methane is already being released. This is a vicious circle, as the methane adds to the warming, which adds to the release of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.

These phenomena have led the atmospheric chemist James Lovelock to the view that the climate is past the point of no return and nothing can now be done to prevent the planet becoming uninhabitable. That is an extreme view, which I don ' t share. Any new state of the climate will be dynamic and even if action now is too late to prevent major change, it can still prevent things getting even worse. We must not encourage views that are likely to add to the sense of powerlessness that is our worst enemy.

Isn ' t it strange how overnight public discourse can go from the view that nothing is proven yet, it will all take a long time and there is no need for urgent action, to the view that it is now all too late and so there is no point in doing anything? What happened to the logic of doing something in the period between these extremes?

It is good to see young people aware that it is their future we are talking about and you will see many of them wearing T-shirts today saying, " Don ' t fry our future " .

We have also had, in March last year, the release of the Millennium Ecosystem Report from the UN, the most extensive ecological assessment of the current state of the planet that there has ever been. It told us that the life support systems we depend on, such as freshwater and fish and fuel, will not be there for our grandchildren unless we change our ways of living and generating wealth. The conclusions should give all governments cause for urgent action.

But did the New Zealand Government use it to gain public support for its so-called " Sustainable Development Programme of Action " ? No. Here it was a one-day wonder in the media and not referred to at all by Government until I raised it in the House, when the Minister for the Environment downplayed its significance with defensive statements about the Governments ' environmental record. .

And of course, in September we elected a new government - or was it?

I predicted last January that while a National-led government would take us backwards into the arms of US foreign policy, nuclear fission and GE foods and divide our nation with fear and hatred of minorities, a Labour government, with or without the involvement of NZ First and United Future, would not address the crucial issues I had described. It would muddle along with some positive steps but policies that contradict one another. And so it has proved to be.

Our fellow New Zealanders did vote for the more inclusive families package and student support rather than for income tax cuts for the well off, and they voted against the racism that the right hoped would deliver it the election - but only just. Most Labour voters thought they were voting for a Labour-Green government, and many wanted the inclusion of the Maori Party too.

What they got was what I warned they would get if they voted Labour rather than Green - a Labour led government pulled to the right by its two support parties, unable to be more than a caretaker government, stopping the excesses of a Brash coalition but with no obvious new ideas, no vision for creating a more habitable world. It is a government which will be notable mainly for preventing a National agenda rather than for implementing anything positive. It may even be remembered for taking giant leaps backwards.

A good example is the cancellation of the carbon charge. Three parties are claiming credit for this shortsighted move. Peter Dunne and Winston Peters are selling it as their win, resulting from their confidence and supply (or should that be coalition?) agreement, which promised a review of the carbon tax. But it was a cheap gift for Labour. The review had started some time before and the draft report was in the hands of the minister in the first week of November, just two weeks after the government was formed. There was no time for Dunne or Peters to have any influence on what was already largely written.

This makes National ' s claim that their Axe the Carbon Tax campaign caused a rethink, ludicrous. That campaign was launched on 1 December. The Treasury report was already written by then.

It reads like a report written by officials who were expecting a National government, but Labour could have rejected it or asked for further independent analysis. Again it wimped out. Two Green MPs in Cabinet could, I believe, have sent it back for further analysis with the strong arguments we could have mounted. Perhaps the future will regret that did not happen.

It is Labour, and Labour alone, that must face the music for abandoning our sole economic instrument to internalise the environmental costs of carbon. It is Labour that is responsible for abandoning the simplest, cheapest, most easily understood way of making the polluter pay. For abandoning a measure that would have made wind, solar, biofuels and energy efficiency more cost-effective by recognising their contribution to the future of the planet, and therefore of the economy. For abandoning a measure that could have reduced the cost to NZ in 2012 of meeting our Kyoto commitments. Oh, but they won ' t be there in 2012 to get the benefit of that - it is our young people who will have to pay that cost as our actions today fries their future.

The carbon tax was a long time in gestation. The policy development work was done under National in the mid-nineties but Simon Upton was rolled by his cabinet. Labour promised it for 2007 in its 2002 Climate policy package.

Labour has done little to explain that it would not be a drag on the economy because it would replace other ways of raising revenue. They have not explained that every use of energy can be made more efficient and that this will eventually improve the bottom line of industry. Now they have to explain to us where they are going to cut government expenditure or replace the $360 million revenue with other taxes.

Other ways of controlling carbon emissions were legislated out of existence because we were going to have a carbon tax.

Regional Councils are now prohibited from considering climate change emissions when hearing applications for air discharge consent. The argument was that it would be double jeopardy to have both a carbon tax and a planning rule. This meant that climate change could not in any way influence the decision on whether to convert the old inefficient Marsden B power station to coal. Instead of double jeopardy we have total free rein.

Now we have nothing except a promise to go back to the drawing board and develop something new - which is likely to take till the next election.

I have a bill in the ballot to put back in the RMA the power to consider climate change in air discharge consents. 2006 may be the year Parliament debates that.

Fifteen years ago ground breaking New Zealand legislation established as a goal " safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil and ecosystems " . The Resource Management Act was new language that expressed for the first time in legislation the primacy of keeping our planet alive. It was hailed internationally.

The Act says we must at the same time as safeguarding that life-supporting capacity, enable people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being, and for their health and safety.

Yet for the sake of some higher good known as " progress " or " growth " we are systematically destroying that life supporting capacity - changing our climate, draining and polluting our freshwaters, sending many species to extinction, killing 400 New Zealanders a year with air pollution, clearing forests and wetlands, straightening and damming rivers, paving over food producing land.

That higher good must be something of immense importance to outweigh the health of our natural systems. Does the well-being of our society actually require that destruction? Of course not.

The planet is being raped and abused in order to generate ever more wealth and economic growth, supposedly to improve our well-being and make us happier - yet the awful truth is, it doesn ' t. Instead we appear to be getting more miserable.

Money is not buying us happiness or improving our social and cultural well-being or our health and safety.

A fifth of New Zealanders now suffer at some stage of their lives from clinical depression. Women and Maori are affected the most. The WHO predicts that by 2020 depression will be the second highest cause of death and disability in the world. It affects rich as much as poor. If we are wealthier than before and more depressed than before, more wealth will not make us well again.

There have been many studies over many years that show little connection between wealth and happiness. To the extent that they are connected, in a range of different societies it is relative wealth that seems to count. Numerous surveys show that money is important until you reach an average level for your society and after that it has diminishing returns.

No-one could deny that there is poverty in New Zealand, especially for some children, and that for those families an increase in wealth is an increase in well-being. But these are not the families who gain most from economic growth. Over the last few years gains in the minimum and average wages have barely kept pace with costs of living while the remuneration of CEOs has rocketed.

So has the share of our wealth going to firms rather than workers. In 1987 wages were over 48% of GDP while profits were just over 40%. By 2005 this had reversed - wages are now just 42.5% and profits are 45%.

If wealth ceases to bring a significant increase in happiness for those in average and above income brackets, it would suggest that a happier society is one with a modest gap between high and low incomes. NZ was among the most equal countries in 1986 with the disposable income of the top ten percent of households just under 5 times that of the lowest ten per cent. But under the policies of the eighties and nineties the gap grew rapidly and the richest ten per cent of households have nearly 8 times the disposable income of the poorest. Sadly, the gap has continued to grow under the last six years of Labour led government, even when we thought the worst excesses of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia had been left behind. From 2001 to 2004, the latest for which we have figures, the lowest decile had their disposable income reduced by 3.6% in real dollars while total incomes grew by 4.5%.

The latest international comparison places us nineteenth in the OECD for equality. We don ' t know yet what difference " Working for Families " will make to these statistics, but ironically, it hardly affects the poorest ten percent and is likely to leave them even further behind. This is because it does little for beneficiaries with children, in an attempt to force them out to work, even if they invalids, on a sickness benefit, or already working full time caring for young children.

A key goal of the " progress through growth " ideologues is to maximise trade. It doesn ' t seem to matter any more whether we are trading products where we have a natural advantage for products we cannot efficiently make here - the goal is simply more trade. Neither the Government now the opposition has any concern at all that the free trade agreements we have with Singapore and Thailand have led to us importing more and exporting less. As long as it ' s trade, that ' s fine.

The holy grail of the free-traders is of course an agreement with the US. I doubt that the government will learn anything from the Australian experience where the blood of Australians in Iraq has been traded for a FTA with the US that has left Australia worse off, with imports from the US up by 5.7 per cent and exports to the US down by 4 per cent.

Trade adds to our well-being where it provides us with coffee and bananas we can ' t grow here and machine tools we cannot economically manufacture for our small market, and allows us access to other markets for farm produce where we have an advantage. But even this comes at a price.

Trade is a very intensive user of fossil fuels so an intensive contributor to climate change - masked by international arrangements where no country can tax international transport fuels and they count in no country ' s Kyoto budget. Why would we fry the planet just to send very similar biscuits across the Tasman in both directions?

Why would we fry the planet in order to import meat from the US by lowering our standards for protection against mad cow disease, as the US is currently demanding of Australia, " in the spirit of the free trade agreement " ? How, exactly, is that supposed to increase our happiness or our well-being?

Most us have been on holiday for some part of the last month. You only have to look at what people do on holiday to see what they value. In their thousands they leave behind their homes with double carports and two bathrooms and heated towel rails and plasma TV and seek a simpler life, close to the sea, the mountains, the forest, the river. Camping, tramping, sailing, kayaking, sports, or just hanging out at the bach looking at the sunset and listening to the moreporks, many New Zealanders still hanker for a life closer to nature with less stress, more time with family and friends, more fun. They are voting in their holidays for a different set of values, a different set of goals for this country but it is going unnoticed.

We are working longer hours than in recent decades and more than most other OECD countries, commuting further and taking longer to do it, damaging our health, to earn more, buy a bigger home and car, then as soon as we get the chance, leaving it all behind for a holiday. And in the process we are wrecking our life support system. How did we make that decision, or who made it for us?

Actually, we are just obeying orders without questioning them. Every political party, except the Greens, exhorts us to lift economic growth till we are in the top half of the OECD - even if we promptly go to the bottom half in environmental quality, access to open spaces, work life balance and health.

Every TV ad exhorts us to buy and consume more stuff and tells us we won ' t be happy unless we do.

Workplace culture fosters competition to work the longest hours and prove one ' s dedication to the firm.

There is no encouragement to take more time with the children or the old people; to grow a garden and enjoy healthy food that didn ' t require any transport; to buy a smaller car and need less petrol or a smaller house and do less housework; to study things that will satisfy our curiosity and our need to learn rather than just buy us a meal ticket.

To do those things we need to provide our own motivation, or to encourage each other. To do those things we need to rebel against the orders constantly beamed at us by our government and our society.

Yet it is precisely those things that will make it possible to heal the planet and to survive the end of the age of cheap oil and stable climate.

If the task of government is to promote the well-being of all its people, how should it do that? I suggest to you that it has to do with offering a vision for a better way of life rather than more growth; it has to do with inclusiveness, with justice, and with protecting the commons - our common environment and resources, our common culture, our public health and education systems. It is to do with changing our goals.

2006 is the first year of a new electoral cycle. It is a year in which we don ' t get a chance to change elected officials so we need to empower ourselves as citizens to make those changes we can on our own and in our communities.

It is a year to educate about the Green message, to rebuild communities so they will have the capacity to survive a changing climate and rising oil prices. In 2007 you will have the opportunity to vote for new local representatives to build your community further.

2006 could be the year in which you join or form a local water care group to keep the sewage and the farm runoff out of the rivers or the sea; the year in which you help organise a co-op to supply organic food; the year in which you work with your neighbours on pest and weed control; the year you insulate your house, start cycling to work one day a week, use the car less, grow a veggie garden, do less overtime and spend more time with your kids and your friends. It could be the year in which you think about how you spend your money to support the environment instead of trashing it - which fish are the most sustainably managed? Is your food locally grown or full of food miles? Which product will last and which will be in the landfill in a few weeks or days?

Saving the planet is not party political. Or it shouldn ' t be. If you get involved in your community doing these positive things you will end up working with people of many political persuasions. Maybe they will start questioning, too, why their views are so little represented in Parliament.

2006 could be the year to take a real part in developing your council ' s Long Term Council Community Plan to incorporate sustainability. It could be the year you rebel against the orders to work more, buy more, accumulate more stuff and put your well-being and that of your family and community ahead of the kind of growth that benefits only the better off and destroys our habitat.

It could be the year that you start demanding of our government that they put in place a new set of goals, a new measure of progress. While people often laugh at Bhutan ' s " happiness index " and I certainly don ' t support some of the things that Bhutan has done in creating refugees, the concept of measuring well-being instead of just size is worth a close look. Aiming at increasing " gross domestic product " where the more we deplete our natural resources and our environment, the more officials celebrate, is a measure best consigned to last year, and indeed last century.

For the Greens, this is the first year of a new parliament and the first year for ten years without Rod. We have a lot of reorganising to do, and we remain as committed as ever to make a difference.

We could have felt very disempowered by the election result and particularly by the formation of a government where minor parties were allowed to dictate who the Government could work with. We did feel betrayed but we set about carving out a niche in the new set-up where we could start building the elements of a sustainable future, despite not being formally in government.

I hope to achieve a radical improvement in our energy efficiency across the economy and a solar water heating programme that will reduce the coal burned in power stations, empower households to see that they can reduce their power bills, and lead the way to a truly solar economy. Sue will be working on a Buy Kiwi Made campaign to inform people about how to make their spending power support NZ industries and NZ jobs, and make sure we still have those productive industries when there is no longer enough cheap oil to import things we can make here.

In these projects we are acting as part of government, on behalf of government. But is does not reduce our ability to call government to account for policies that accelerate climate change and ecological damage, drive a bigger wedge between rich and poor and reduce the sum total of human happiness and well-being.

The Greens are the Party for the Planet, and for its people because the two can ' t be separated.

There is a lot to do.

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