explicitClick to confirm you are 18+

Meet the next Moa. The NZ Greens and realpolitik: Is the party over?

The inability of the Green Party to simply come out and condemn the proposed destruction of pristine landscape and the probable extinction of at least one species, whose last remaining habitat is in that landscape, reflects a  confusion  and wider malaise in the environmental movement. That this potential destruction is going to occur because of an electricity scheme is deeply ironic given the central role that the exponential growth of electricity demand had in the early Green Party. 

The Values Party

The Green Party has its roots in the Values Party. Formed in New Zealand in 1972 out of a "rich ferment of ‘alternative' or ‘new politics' activity", Values were a "quality of life party" and "fighting pollution and preserving nature [were] key planks in the Values Party platform". Among other policies, Values presented a critique of economic growth which included its impact on the environment, and it was "this condemnation of economic growth, because of the harm it [was] doing" that became foundational to early Green Party thinking. {1} 

Central to this critique was The Limits to Growth (1972) report which attempted for the first time to quantify the unsustainable nature of global economic and population exponential growth. Values saw this issue of exponential growth most clearly manifesting itself in New Zealand in the way in which the demand for electricity was doubling every ten years (~7% annual growth rate), with its intrinsic environmental impacts. Some early activists and supporters had no doubt been part of the Save Manapouri Campaign (1969 - 1972), an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the raising of the levels of lakes Manapouri and Te Anau as part of the Manapouri Power Project (another irony in this story is that 570MW of this power is now becoming available because of the impending closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter). 

It is likely influential publications like Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring (1962) and E.F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered (1973) also played a part in positioning the thinking of these early Greens in a context of exponential growth, the relationship of growth to the environment, and the direct effect of growing human activity on ecosystems.

The Elephant in the Renewable Room

This brief background brings me to my point. The recent Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore film, The Planet of the Humans (POTH), exposed to the wider world the dirty secret that the renewable industry has known about for years. That there is nothing renewable about most 'renewable' electricity. I briefly worked in the wind-generation industry over a decade ago and it was obvious then in that industry.  Let's be clear: of course the sun will continue to shine and the wind will continue to blow. But the amount of energy required to produce the parts and elements used to create and sustain a solar- or wind-renewable electricity project is enormous. 

From mining of raw materials, the manufacturing of components, transport and erection, building infrastructure, lifetime maintenance including replacement parts, extraction and processing of oil to produce the fuels {2} to drive all this, there is nothing 'renewable' or sustainable about any of these activities. And then there's the waste produced along the entire supply chain. 

That these obvious facts are ignored by the modern environmental movement is shown clearly in POTH, and director Jeff Gibbs' frustration is apparent as he attempts to engage the 'leaders' of global environmentalism with these issues. Gibbs, like me, was surprised at how intertwined leading activists like Bill McKibben are with big finance (I was pleased to see Vandana Shiva was able to see through the renewable-paradigm hype). These leaders obfuscated, indulged in sophistry, and finally ignored him. Until the film was released. Then a firestorm of protest erupted as they attempted to get the film pulled, before finally retreating to their keyboards to unleash their fury and demand retractions, etc.

Where does this leave the Greens?

Gibbs' experience mirrors my own (albeit on a smaller scale), in trying to get an answer from the Green Party over their position on the pending Lake Onslow 'pumped-hydro' project. The proposal is to locate (by my conservative estimate) 200+ wind turbines - this would be if all the 'renewable' is wind-energy - in a pristine landscape. To make matters worse, the site is right on top of the last remaining habitat on earth of the critically endangered Teviot flathead galaxis. This project will likely result in its extinction. 

I know some Green supporters agree with my analysis of the Lake Onslow project; I've had some positive feedback (which maybe reflects a tension between some careerist politicians and some activists). Criticism so far has been from the (retiring) Greens' spokesperson for my polemical criticism of the current Labour-led government, and because I refer to the POTH favourably.

But none of this is addressing the bigger picture, which is the Lake Onslow project. Do the Greens support it or not?

The facts addressed by the POTH will not go away no matter how much these environmental leaders try to duck for cover. The Green Party needs to decide whether it wants electricity to power electric cars (50% plastic = oil) so people can drive to get their latte, or face the facts that renewable electricity is not 'renewable' (situating them on top of fragile ecosytems is doubly not renewable). The Greens seem stuck between the realpolitik of being in parliament and what I would argue is their deeper mission, which is to work to protect the environment from human depredation. The sooner these facts are faced, the sooner the environmental movement can effect meaningful change.

None of this is to say that the Greens should not maintain a focus on social justice. But it would be deeply ironic if the Green Party lost its way over a misguided electricity-generation project, when an analysis and protest of the exponential growth of electricity consumption in New Zealand was so central to its primary foundation. I hope they haven’t gone from firebrands to mere brand-merchants. 

[Disclaimer: I have never been a member of the Green Party, though I have supported them at various times over the years.]


{1} From Earth's last islands: The development of the first two Green parties in Tasmania and New Zealand - Christine Dann, ''From Earth's last islands. The global origins of Green politics'', Ch 5, (Ph.D. thesis, Lincoln University, NZ, 1999).

{2} The extraction of fossil fuels requires increasing amounts of energy (the return on energy is decreasing). This is most starkly seen in the growth of fracking (to extract so-called 'tight-oil'), oil from Canadian oil sands, off-shore drilling, and extreme climate drilling (e.g. Alaska) as we try to squeeze out the last remaining vestiges of 'easily' obtainable oil. These projects are only happening because the last discovery of easily obtainable onshore oil was made long ago. Saudi Arabia, for example, owner of the largest oil field in history, the now depleted Ghawar field, hasn't made any onshore discoveries for many years, which is why they're exploring offshore. In their own way these are all environmental disasters happening or waiting to happen.

See also

"... The green establishment’s hyperventilating over the film suggests an unhealthy fixation/link to specific ‘renewable’ industries. But there are downsides to almost everything ... "

‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary

Mining’s unlikely heroines – Greta Thunberg and AOC

Saudi Arabia Refuses To Learn From Its Two Failed Oil Price Wars - Aug 20, 2020 (oilprice.com)

Solar Panels Are Starting to Die. Will We be Able to Recycle the E-Waste?

Labour pledges 100 per cent renewable power by 2030

DOWN WIND - Wind Farm documentary - FULL DOC in HD