Do you think the Greens are optimistic or pessimistic? This question is relevant because pessimists are more likely to be problems than solutions.
The Greens habitually tell us we are unregenerate consumers of our children’s and their children’s futures. We are killing the planet. One climate change website (not run by the Greens) calls itself “ark”, as if we need rescuing from ourselves.
There is moral convenience in this view – a moral superiority over the rest of us complacent, sugar-laden, gas-guzzling retail junkies. And there is operational convenience: since the apocalypse is in the future, it cannot be disproved.
But the people who feel this way make up only a small catchment and all or most of that catchment is probably voting Green already.
More important for the Green party’s long-term future, hang-dog moralising annoys the getting-on-with-life majority whose votes major and centrist parties need. That limits how close those other parties can get to the Greens.
Labour, for example, likes the cuddly sort of greenness and does bother about climate change but cannot risk association with apocalypse. Cassandra is not cuddly, no matter how right she might be. National, ACT, United Future and New Zealand First think the Greens loopy.
So the Greens have been outside all three Labour-led governments. Elbow’s length is as close as they have got and in 2008 a National-led government looms. Time to rethink.
So it is interesting to hear the word “opportunity” from the Greens more often now — and not just “opportunity to be purer than others” but “opportunity to be better off, to live better”. Opportunity used thus is optimism.
It was interesting to hear Pete Hodgson last week praise Jeanette Fitzsimons’ climate change paper issued on March 27. There were things he disagreed with, he said, but also some very good ideas and new ideas.
And it was interesting that Labour swallowed its embarrassment and voted for Fitzsimons’ bill to plug a hole in the Resource Management Act left by the dumping of the carbon tax.
And interesting, too, that Hodgson responded positively to Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons’ suggestion in Parliament that a political consensus be attempted on climate change.
This came in the wake of his discussion of the carbon tax in his opening speech at Victoria University’s climate change conference.
He skirted the real political reason it had to be dumped, that not offsetting it with an explicit cut in another tax allowed it to be painted as a tax grab on individuals and small-to-medium businesses.
Instead Hodgson blamed it on a shortage of votes in the House — debatable, because the Maori party might have been persuaded if Tariana Turia and Helen Clark were not badly estranged — and, in behind that, insufficient public interest and backing.
Hodgson called for people outside politics to generate a “political economy space” for new measures to anticipate, mitigate and/or adapt to climate change.
Hodgson has been in the government six and a-half years. So he is not going to be the one to generate the “political economy space”. Who can?
The first question most would ask is: why bother?
I don’t intend here to debate the fine and fat points of scientific projections and their putative consequences. The hard reality is that, whatever the scientific and economic controversies, governments and a growing number of businesses worldwide are accepting there is climate change, at least at the low end of projections.
Thus climate change is evolving into an international policy fact and an insurers’ and investment fund managers’ business policy fact. This evolution is gathering momentum.
It is against that background that policy must be formed here.
Re-enter the Greens, with a whiff of optimism.
To their special constituencies the Greens will stick with apocalypse and the planet in peril. True-believing small-g greens might otherwise withdraw support, as they did when the Greens were in the Alliance.
But with the wider public the Greens would fare better with a smaller stick and more carrots. That way they might contribute to building Hodgson’s “political economy space” — and be able to play a brokering role in developing party political common ground.
There have been quiet soundings whether the Institute of Policy Studies, joint organiser of last week’s conference, might provide a neutral, safe place to explore common ground without the need for the posturing which marks the National-Labour public standoff on most issues, including this one.
One behind-scenes factor that moves this from the impossible to the faintly possible is that Bill English has involved himself and veteran environmentalist and 2002 National candidate Guy Salmon in developing strategic environmental policy alongside spokesman Nick Smith, whom Labour doesn’t trust.
The point for business in this is a need for certainty. The point for the public is a clear lead. Optimistic Greens could contribute to both.