If only the business lobby was more open to green ideas

Deep down, most New Zealanders are environmentalists. It runs in our blood, is laid down in our bones. But many of us seem to have a deep aversion to it being suggested how certain actions might be having an adverse effect upon the natural world around us.

In one breath, people will quite happily admit our waterways - the once-pure streams and rivers of this country - have been badly degraded by the dairy industry, and that this is unconscionable, but in the next curse the "bloody greenies" for trying to get something done about it.

There was an element of this about Gareth Morgan's appearance in the news at the weekend. Now, I happen have a good deal of time for the philanthropist, investment guru and economist - you might even call me an admirer of his particular brand of caring and principled capitalism - but, unless they were taken entirely out of context, his latest remarks seem to be those of a more abrasive, and less persuasive, persona.

Mr Morgan was addressing a conference of Forest and Bird.

Its theme was "Face Up to the Future". Reports on TVNZ said he questioned both the reluctance of the Green Party to go into coalition with National and castigated groups he referred to as the "green extreme" or the "loony left".

Such disparaging stereotyping ill becomes him.

He criticised opposition to mining and "fracking" as not being evidence-based and failing to take account of the possibilities for economic growth and employment they entailed.

"If you're pro-conservation, the problem here is you're increasingly being regarded as anti-economic growth . . . it needlessly alienates huge numbers of people," he said.

The reason it needlessly alienates huge numbers of people is that prominent, usually business-oriented personalities, routinely diminish the goals of the green movement in general by focusing on the activities and messages of it extremes - when the evidence is plainly that, as an entity, the Green Party has moved increasingly into the mainstream.

But that does not mean it is about to, or should, jettison its core values. Co-leader Russel Norman - who will have a great deal more to say about party policy than groups agitating on the fringes - is, for example, on record as saying the party is not against mining per se, rather against the kind of mining that threatens irredeemable damage to the environment.

As a party, it holds dear certain positions on which it would inevitably have to renege were it to go into coalition with National. The first and most pressingly evident of these is the partial sale of state assets; and if this opposition is a sign of the party having been captured by the far-Left, then it is in good company - with about 80% of the rest of New Zealand.

If sectors of the business lobby, so quick to rubbish the "greenies", were less resistant to taking some of their ideas and foundation philosophies more seriously, perhaps we would not need the antagonistic braying of the extremes.

Take the recent report of an advisory group set up by the Government, ostensibly to investigate the potential of the "green economy". Led by Phil O'Reilly, chief executive of Business NZ, one of this country's most vociferous and influential lobby groups - that is all it is, after all, a lobby group promoting the interests of business - it returned a report entitled "Greening New Zealand Growth".

To quote business columnist Rod Oram, Mr O'Reilly "argued there was no such thing as green growth, no new industries or technologies to exploit.

Rather, we should green our current economy, making it a little more efficient in resource and energy use."

This is hardly visionary, particularly when set alongside the more enlightened perspectives offered by such inspirational business leaders as Stephen Tindall (The Warehouse), Rob Fyfe (formerly Air New Zealand), Jeremy Moon (Icebreaker), Geoff Ross (42 Below), Rob Morrison (chairman of Kiwibank), Joan Withers (chairwoman of Mighty River Power), among others, as trustees of a think-tank called Pure Advantage.

They all see green growth at the heart of New Zealand's economic future and take the long-term view of how we might leverage off green technologies and our natural beauty and assets while protecting them for future generations.

They are the respectable end of the "green" spectrum in this country. Mr Morgan's bountiful talents would be better directed at persuading more of the business community to follow their example, than in plucking the low-hanging fruit loops at the peripheries of the environmental movement.

- Simon Cunliffe is a Wellington writer.


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