Green Growth

Isn’t that an oxymoron?

The Green Growth Advisory Group were asked to report to the Government on how to develop green economic growth, especially through increased exports.

‘Green growth’ is an oxymoron. A positive trade balance certainly increases economic growth but there is no such thing as green economic growth. There is also no point in trying to sugar-coat it by calling it ‘Greener Growth’ either, being less bad is still bad.

The conclusions and recommendations in the report do have relative merit – compared to business-as-usual – and can rightly be called ‘greener’. However, as good as the recommendations might be, the report is simply asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking how can we export more greener goods we should ask how can we import less ‘black’ goods – especially fossil fuels and products made from them. The benefits are simple and compelling: importing less will mean we are more self-sufficient, resilient and environmentally sustainable. We will increase jobs, equalise incomes, retain profits locally and build and sustain strong communities including reviving the provinces.

Resilience is a fundamental attribute for being sustainable and yet we have completely eroded our capacity for self-sufficiency and are beholding to international trade ‘partners’ for the necessities of life.

Most other countries do indeed try to export as much as possible but they also try to import as little as possible, even to the extent of putting tariffs on imports that would otherwise undermine local production. The USA became the dominant economy on earth by doing just this.

New Zealand could be completely self-sufficient in food, clothes, shelter and energy – the fundamental goods for a sustainable life of well-being – but we aren’t. For the past 25 years New Zealand has adopted a free trade model that not only makes us economically vulnerable it makes us environmentally unsustainable. We import so much that we are always struggling to export more to balance our books. Unfortunately years of deficits means the public debt has continually increased with resulting increases in interest costs.

Instead of producing food for local markets first and then exporting the surplus, we export first and therefore pay export prices locally. New Zealand is one of the most effective and efficient food producers in the world and yet New Zealanders pay some of the highest prices for food in the world.

The decimation of the ‘rag trade’ in New Zealand over the past 50 years is one of the biggest mistakes we ever let happen. We import cheap, often nasty, clothes and our own high-quality clothes manufacturers can’t compete on price. To survive they either offshore their production or they have to take a premium quality position and therefore charge more which most people can’t afford. Iconic brands like Fairydown, Swanndri and Icebreaker all outsource to China ‘to survive’. We give up our jobs to overseas trading partners thereby creating a poor unemployed class in New Zealand who can only afford to buy cheap imports, it’s a vicious downward spiral.

Wool was one of the pillars on which New Zealand society was built. Many towns in New Zealand had woollen mills; in some towns such as Mosgiel and Kaiapoi wool milling was the major industry. Wool is a renewable, natural, wonder-material grown locally but over the past fifty years we have closed down most of the woollen mills whilst we imported cheap, synthetic ‘bads’ from Asia. Wool growing seems to have become a second-class activity – we export raw wool at low prices and import it back as ready-made suits and curtain fabric.

The reason we aren’t self-sufficient in fuel is because it’s more profitable to import it. Studies have shown that New Zealand can produce enough fuel from biomass for all its transport needs but it’s cheaper to import fossil fuels. The reason that fossil fuels are cheaper is that they don’t include the external costs of decimating provincial economies, ruining the environment, compromising our resilience and the enormous social costs related to unemployment and unequal incomes.

The question is, why don’t we have a Government Advisory Group that reports on how we can reduce imports by becoming more self-sufficient and resilient?