Without even small environmental wins, justice is a distant dream

By   /   March 4, 2018  /   9 Comments

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As the ‘left’ moves to the centre, I find myself on the further margins of the spectrum. Here I am, left of Labour and greener than the Greens, looking for everyday solutions as well as system level change to solve the problems of our era. I can’t see how incremental and conservative capitalist prescriptions can ever be the remedy for environmental collapse, economic inequality or social exclusion at their present scale.

As the ‘left’ moves to the centre, I find myself on the further margins of the spectrum. Here I am, left of Labour and greener than the Greens, looking for everyday solutions as well as system level change to solve the problems of our era. I can’t see how incremental and conservative capitalist prescriptions can ever be the remedy for environmental collapse, economic inequality or social exclusion at their present scale. I don’t believe we can solve the big problems we face, with the same system that caused them. ‘System change not climate change’, not more exploitation and extraction to solve scarcity and waste. But even small-scale steps toward greater justice seem out of reach of even the best government we’ve had in a decade.

Even though globalisation gives us access to diversity in what we buy and where we can go, it often comes at the cost of local jobs, and environmental and social justice offshore. But local and global equality can’t be separated. And environmental, social and economic justice and equality can’t be divorced from each other either. Just as workers in New Zealand deserve safe jobs with dignity and decent pay, so do workers in factories and fields overseas. Injustices to communities off shore, or of other species or systems, are just as morally indefensible as those injustices perpetrated at home.
I’m not an economist but I’m trying to apply the same tests to the (CP)TPP as I did to the TPP. So far there’s nothing that gives me confidence that the new and improved ‘progressive’ trade deal secures any more public or private benefits than the last TPP. Minister David Parker’s promises of billions of dollars of benefits, remind me of the promises of trickle-down economics. We’re still waiting for that theory to deliver, and blind faith in idealogues’ projections is for someone less cynical, and less left wing than me.

If free trade offers such benefits, I can’t see why, even after decades of various free trade deals, we’re seeing more imported plastic shit on our shelves (and beaches), fewer domestic manufacturing jobs, and growing inequality, rather than the wealth, equality and social justice we’re still being promised with the CPTPP. If the promised advantages of free trade are more jobs and (economically) rational movement of goods, services and trade leading to more universal equality, we should have seen some of those benefits by now. How long should we have to wait? Sure globalisation and trade liberalisation have been good for New Zealand’s farming and tourism sectors, but even there the benefits and costs are unevenly spread, with costs borne disproportionately by the environment and precarious, low paid workers, while profits continue to accrue in the hands of bigger companies and bigger operations. The ‘new and improved’ CPTPP looks to deliver more privatised profits and socialised costs as free trade has always done. That just doesn’t look like a successful economic, social, or environmental model to me, when, in a generation, the nation’s rivers have become unsafe to swim in, and ‘wilderness’ areas are like some theme park so full of people and rubbish, as to be not worth visiting if you’re a Kiwi because they’re just not wild any more.

Sustainability is a three-legged stool, balancing economic, environmental and social values. Moral sustainability requires reconciliation of short and long term ecological health, local and global social equity, respect for all life and all species and commitment to maintaining integrity of ecosystems. Addressing these concerns are an anathema to capitalism and the ideology of growth.
Many of us standing on the far left can easily describe the problem. Finding solutions moderate enough to satisfy the rest of the spectrum, including the huge bloc centred around ‘middle New Zealand’, that can remedy and avoid the worst injustices, is a harder challenge when there’s massive pressure to maintain the status quo.

Is a conservative incrementalism the best that we can do? Do we just accept TINA, There is No Alternative, because in the face of the power of the global market, there really isn’t.
We’re reduced to standing on the sidelines shouting at the powers that be ‘ban the (plastic) bag’, ‘stop rodeo’, ‘end zero hours / pay all care workers fairly and equitably / regulate for workplace safety / end homelessness…’, ‘stop fisheries dumping, and by-catch to prevent extinction of endangered species’. But it feels like we’re crying into the wind ‘more justice, give us a little change’, while fishing, mining, gambling, farming, and corporate interests are escorted through Parliamentarians’ front doors with snivelling gratitude. (Electoral donations much?) If you have faith in the invisible hand of the market, rationality of well informed workers and consumers, you can trust business-oriented government. But don’t piss off industry for a start. But workers are literally and figurately more disposable. And people should be happy to have a job, any job. A rising tide lifts all boats after all.

So far, so hopeless for any prospect of moving anywhere near where the left used to be, before neo-liberalism changed the framework of options, the realm of the possible. That’s not to say that under the current paradigm we couldn’t do better. Observe Helen Clark’s support for this country to ‘ban the bag’, and to pursue drug reform with a focus on harm minimisation. These weren’t policies she openly supported or pursued when she was Prime Minister but can do so with distance from electoral sanctions.

Not known for their progressive political views, even Portugal, Spain and the United States have liberalised recreational and medicinal drug use to greater or lesser degrees. But not educated, liberal New Zealand. Taiwan and other countries have banned plastic bags, straws and other disposable plastics, but not clean green New Zealand. Australia and various Pacific Island nations have installed cameras on their fishing fleet to ensure transparency in harvest practices and to address by-catch of non-target birds, marine mammals and fish – but not ‘the world’s best fishery’ in New Zealand.
Labour-led government Animal Welfare spokesperson, Meka Whaitiri defends rodeos despite pre-election commitments to the contrary, because ‘they’re a cultural tradition’, forgetting that slavery was once one of those cultural traditions too. Our treatment of animals is an indicator of our progress toward justice, and Labour are failing to consider animal rights justice against any assumed human ‘right’ to abuse animals, treat them as property or entertainment. New Zealand has one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates in the world, disproportionately high child poverty rates, domestic violence, suicide, inequality. We can definitely do better.

Free trade, neo-liberalism, deregulated primary production and self-reporting compliance, hasn’t been so good to us so far.

Out on the left of the spectrum sometimes feels pretty lonely, as people cluster around celebrity politics on either side of the centre. The political capital available to the Labour-led government should enable them to make courageous and brave decisions. The last Labour Government was known for its glacial incrementalism. In the ‘ever upward trajectory of justice’; the current regime seems as slow, as cautious, and as wedded to entrenched interests as any. If we can’t even achieve small (promised) wins around the environment, pursuit of holistic justice seems a distant dream. System change from within, seems impossible.

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  1. Nobody says:

    Christine, like all of us on the Left, you express the issues well, and you also perceive that our governments are all as captive to special interests as each other.

    Yet you stop there.

    I am waiting for someone as articulate as yourself to realise that we have reached the final end of the Culture of Complaint. Protests and petitions, wrung from us at such great cost now result in the barest nod or concession. While not pointless, maintaining the rage in this manner is ultimately unsustainable without much greater social and logistical support than we can currently muster.

    As activists, we are thus faced with an existential choice; despair, or change.

    If we are to change, we must see our current governmental structures for what they demonstrably are; an impediment to almost all meaningful progress, and definitely not something to be courted or cajoled.

    If any change is to occur on any large scale, we must learn how to mass-mobilise new popular support, and learn how to create new support systems to sustain those movements in practical, not just ideological terms. We need a new “politics of the stomach”.

    In otherwords we must create new “governments” of our own at all levels, to bypass the captive zombie governments that refuse to listen or act. We must stop outsourcing our Democracy to disinterested politicians and reconstitute and revitalise it ourselves, without asking for permission. We must start seeing Democracy as an essential social organising tool to be deployed everywhere, not just in Trade Union Halls.

    We are easily seduced into concern for global geo-political struggles which can only be waged on terms we do not control, while neglecting the local popular class/mass struggles we *can* do something about. We must stop reinforcing our own helplessness and exhausting ourselves to no purpose. We must learn how to win, and fight only when and where we can win.

    The Occupy Movement was if anything the most successful mass movement of recent times. People fail to understand that it forced a change in the language and culture, and compelled governments around the world to engage with it while it refused to engage with governments at all. Governments around the world were truly frightened that Occupy was the turning of the tide, and were desperate to crush it, without appearing to do so. Because they understood its power and potential, even if no one else did.

    I’m not suggesting a new round of occupations, im suggesting that while we petition governments, we empower them. But when we ignore them and carry on regardless, on a massive scale, we give THEM an existential crisis they cannot ignore. And in doing so, we bring them to us.

    If we cannot learn to organise and democratise and socialise the small things, the simple things, then we will always remain helplessly captive to those special interests you name, and we will surely remain that way until they send our collective ship to the bottom. Rather than docily waiting to be allowed out of steerage, we need to arrange our own escape, beginning now.

    • GreenBus says:

      Well said Nobody. We need to stir things up. Is Labour just all talk
      but actually a watered down Natzi group. Go Winnie maybe he will save us.

  2. garibaldi says:

    Well said Christine.
    It is disheartening watching this “new hope” government backpedalling rapidly. Still better than National though!

  3. Sam Sam says:

    It is my belief that the solution and change does come from the margins of people saying we’ve effectively come to the end of the used by date for a certain policy. And to continue this stream of failed policy inevitably creates an overwhelming amount of failure if it’s not stopped.

    On the margins of New Zealand’s political spectrum sit The Greens and Act. At 150k votes (Green) and 3k votes (Act) they are minorities vs Labours 900k votes and Nationals 1mln votes, there for minorities can not pull the majority onto there side. But money does have gravity.

    Modern monetary policy means creating and destroying money, because when money is left in debt auction houses it grows like the cancer of the disorganised. There for debt that grows outside the serviceability of the real economy must be destroyed, written off. What’s called debt jubilees is debt restructuring and writing off debt. This happens all the time. Only some where it’s written with in parliament that says the government can not do debt jubilees. This policy is a failure and might overwhelm the economy.

    I think I get what James Shaw is trying to do with removing conflicts of interest with in Green Party policy that says MPs must pay for there own dinning and entertainment. From a business point of view dollar figures are inconsequential, because there is always a high likelihood of a flat return. So how ever much a Green MP spends on dinning and entertaining business relationships, there should be a high likelihood that they’ll be able to get there money back on the next deal, so that when there business relationships grow prosperous, the Greens grow prosperous as well.

    Just throwing money at cancerous debt black holes won’t work if quality of life does not improve.

    • countryboy says:

      @ SAM.
      The Banks are the problem. I think that’s what you’re saying.
      Cut the foreign banks off our country like the tumour’s they are and write off all debt to them. Specifically mortgage debt to them.
      Then? We, (who are we really? ) must regain control of our basic taxes-paid-for infrastructure and systems which we all must have in order to sustain life at a comfortably liveable level. Electricity, communications, media, public transportation, education and health care. Homelessness in NZ is a madness, primarily. We look at homeless people and fell awful for them and they look at us walking by feeling awful for themselves. The level of tolerance for that abomination is deeply worrying to me because we’re being watched to have our reaction to that assessed and measured so as to make the next abomination more efficient and mainstream. I personally think we’re at grave risk of losing sovereignty of our country. I do truly think, that, that’s what’s happening.

      And then, and vitally importantly, make those who did this to us atone for their crimes against us all and to such an extent that no one else fucking tries it on in future. I like the idea of electronically chipping the bastards so we know where they are at all times.
      We must not let them away with what they’ve done to us.

      I remember reading as a kid about the seasonal floods that happen in Australia.
      Suddenly predators and prey co-exist up trees until the floods subside. Snakes and mice, cheek by fang.
      What would make Kiwi’s et al stand side by side against a common enemy?
      Clearly, something more than seeing our fellow persons living in the gutters, filthy, impoverished, their pride and dignity drained away into foreign bankers profit margins.
      They’re our people! They’re our whanau. They are, but for the grace of fuck knows what, you and me. And we reluctantly tolerate it. We acquiesce. We shrivel up like dry little leaves. Anywhere else in the word and the Beehive would be on fire. That’s the afflictions of madness.

    • Sam Sam says:


      God is not on the side of the big 4 banks, but the side that plays by the rules is the best. Today, the people of New Zealand take gods position that a covenant with environmental sustainability be maintained through democratic virtue seriously. They are surrounded by careless lobbyist with significant power, and their survival depends on their ability to counter financial quantity with quality. In John Carneys 2009 Business Insider article Why Banks Grow Too Big To Fail (linked below): How Australia’s Banks became the highest payed profession in New Zealand. Australian journalists and New Zealand journalists argue that the key to financial success has been its innovative finance programs, founded in democratic society.

      Why banks grow too big to fail is a journalistic lesson of financial innovation. The story is revealing and lobbyists are mentioned to explain the motivation behind chaos of financial programs, and as many have now come to know them as financial weapons of mass destruction aka rust belt. It is a divided and conquer case study on demonising returns that lobbyist, big banks and regulation (which actually only seperate every one else from there money), targeted discipline, and how to calculate the chaos. Conspicuously absent from the article are accounts of failed programs, or the New Zealand governments failed attempts to financialise government programs, indeed up privatising the tax system, which provides the owners of capital with its ultimate qualitative edge: limited Tax liability.

      One must wonder “why” New Zealand produces so many financial products. Explanations must be provided.

      Strategically, New Zealanders believe they must “innovate or disappear.” Mew Zealand has always sought to jump in the deep end, even before it develops the capacity to produce raw industrial material and add value to the economy. Then the oil price shocks of the 60s and 70s the think big projects of “energy independence,” still I force today, stating it would maintain a very strong qualitative environmental edge relative to global pollution. Since then New Zealand has continued to face economic stagnation and starvation, pushed by conservatives with foreign financial aid programmes to the synthesised threat of payday lenders. It, the beast, has had numerous opportunities to sharpen its claws as it feasts, and an economic, strategic imperative to do so.

      them indigenously in the late 1960s. In 1953, Israel promulgated a “Doctrine of Defense,” still in force today, stating it would maintain a “very strong” Qualitative Military Edge (QME) relative to its neighboring states. Since then Israel has continuously faced innovative enemies, from Arab states armed with advanced Soviet weaponry to the hybrid threat Hezbollah. It has had numerous opportunities to sharpen its Edge in combat, and a strategic imperative to do so.

      What fails to emerge is a coherent theoretical explanation of New Zealand’s financial innovation. Indeed, John Carney present numerous contradictory examples of financial leaders and designers about financial products. In different case studies we are told New Zealanders possess a “do it yourself attitude” due to a unique “Kiwi genome” but also that, contradictorily, New Zealand “don’t have different genes than [Western] people.” Moreover, New Zealand’s economy is describe as an Australian Banks troth: a flat organization, run by young and highly-educated people, with ample resources, who generate revolutionary innovation and immense returns. Whether flat, young, affluent organizations actually produce the most effective ways of living is not addressed.

      Link to article: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/why-do-banks-grow-too-big-to-fail-2009-8?r=US&IR=T

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Capitalism and the environment are mutually incompatible.

    Capitalism and societal good are also mutually incompatible.

    Democracy is the enabler of the lie that these opposites can be reconciled.

    Which really only leaves violent revolution…

  5. Takere says:

    Yep. They need a good ole fashioned kicking!

  6. Afewknowthetruth says:

    We are caught in a gigantic progress trap that resulted from Savery inventing a steam pump in 1698 and all the ‘progress’ that resulted from that fateful invention.

    We are caught in a financial trap based on Fractional Reserve Banking and the charging of interest that was established around the same time the steam pump was invented.

    We are caught in the population explosion trap that was triggered by industrialism and was exacerbated when the ‘Green Revolution’ established industrial agriculture -tractors instead of horses, electric pumps instead of hand pumps- after the Second World War.

    We are caught in the global hegemony trap that was a consequence of the USA exiting WW2 almost completely unscathed and with the biggest, most active military complex ever seen.

    We are caught in the political trap that resulted from economists with bizarre theories that contravened the laws of mathematics hijacking governments on behalf of banks and corporations.

    We are caught in the cultural trap best described as the Age of Entitlement that is a result of the consumerism that was established after WW2 to keep American factories operating when the orders for military hardware were not as forthcoming and when American oil was gushing out the ground faster than people could use it.

    We are living in the Age of Consequences, and all the consequences of all the ‘bad’ decisions made in the past are acting synergistically to destroy the unsustainable industrial civilisation we live in.

    There will be NO MOVEMENT towards sustainability because the political-economic system will not allow movement towards sustainability, and the majority of people do not want sustainability because they have been carefully trained to not want sustainability.

    Under the corrupt system we endure the purpose of government is to maintain status quo arrangements and attempt to expand them, even when it is patently obvious that such arrangements are destructive and terminal and expanding them will speed up collapse.


    Sadly, despite the clear and abundant evidence we are on a path to self-annihilation, governments will only ever act to squander energy and resources, make environmental matters worse and to obstruct genuine progress. And they will keep doing so until they can’t.

    Sadly, people in industrial societies want trinkets and toys and entertainment because they have been carefully trained from a young age to want trinkets and toys and entertainment.