Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Greens thrive as we face dirty truth

Rena's stranding highlights nature's fragility and the need to manage it well. Photo / Maritime NZ
Rena's stranding highlights nature's fragility and the need to manage it well. Photo / Maritime NZ

"When New Zealand has so much good environment, how come there isn't a strong Green Party here like we have in Europe?" asked a friend from France about five years ago. "Because everybody across the board cares so much about being clean and green that we don't need one," I bleated.

How things have changed. His syntax is much better, I am less naive and the Green Party - well, just look at them now.

That magnificent natural environment has turned out to be our dirty little secret, from the farmers blithely polluting our waterways to the braying mining companies and their political allies itching to dig into our conservation estates. It's no wonder that the environment looms large in the minds of voters and was identified as the most important election issue in a 3News poll.

The environment has played into the Green Party's hands. Some of the biggest stories of the past year have had an environmental element: Pike River and the Rena stranding highlighted nature's fragility and the importance of how we deal with it.

But the two main parties have also been of enormous assistance to the Greens by continuing the practice of politics as usual in a world which is clearly looking for something more.

This election is being fought over short-term trivialities, such as whose policies will cost $2 billion more or less. Given that the cost of the Christchurch earthquake has doubled since first estimates and now stands at $30 billion, such quibbling is unhelpful at best.

The only thing we can be sure of is more uncertainty and we should base our decision on who will do a better job managing whatever fresh disasters befall us.

Two leaders' debates that degenerated into quibbles show the difference between misleading people and lying to them is no longer relevant. The old ways have brought the planet to the brink of ruin. We are ready for fresh ways of doing things, so a strong Green showing in the poll and a place in the next government are to be welcomed. Fortunately, their representation is likely to be just enough for them to exert some influence but not enough for them to have marijuana declared a sacrament or tofu reclassified as the sixth major food group.


Further afield the world bounces from one crisis to the next, like a deranged pinball. Many countries survive thanks only to the grace and favour of China, which has turned into a version of the old joke about banks - if you owe China $1 trillion, you have a problem. If you owe China $100 trillion, China has a problem.

With that much at stake, China can't just pull up the shutters again. Its emergence as the dominant global superpower has long been predicted. Now that date is approaching faster than ever. I have heard people speak of this as though it's a bad thing, but I look forward to welcoming our new Chinese overlords.

If ever there was a country that knows how to run things, it is China. The Chinese do not mess around. When it became clear Maoism wasn't working, they steadily reformed their economy with the benefits that are now coming their way. Population growth out of control? Maximum of one child per family should help that.

China has made huge and occasionally drastic decisions in the past several years. The result has been pain, suffering and a great improvement in the standard of living of millions of people who would otherwise have been doomed to lives of misery. Human rights were a luxury it could not afford. The environment was made to take a back seat. These were short-term losses for long-term gain.

They know that people prosper best in a free society. With their big-picture focus, the Chinese know they cannot continue to degrade their environment. Once their people have enough to eat and somewhere to live, then they will turn their attention to ensuring that prosperity can be maintained long term, which means sustainability.

Unlike the oil-addicted special interests running the rest of the world into the ground, you can count on the Chinese to come up with solutions that will last.


It would be kind to point out to those sad souls still driving around with All Blacks flags fluttering from their vehicles that the Rugby World Cup is over. They look like those people who keep their birthday cards pinned up in their office for months after the event because opening a card is as good as their lives get.

- Herald on Sunday

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