24. 10. 2013

Why do right wing politicians fear the green economy

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What is it about centre-right or right-wing governments that make it so difficult for them to understand and promote the huge potential of the green economy?

I spent the last week returning to that question (with growing bafflement) after visits to Australia and New Zealand, both of which have governments similar to the Coalition Government in the UK. 

In both of those countries, some of the most eloquent advocacy for timely, strategic investment in the green economy can be heard from business leaders. In New Zealand, for instance, I met with some of the founders of an organisation called Pure Advantage, a not-for-profit organisation formed in the belief that by embracing green growth, New Zealand can realise “a greener, wealthier future”. It’s just completed a piece of macro-economic research identifying green growth opportunities that align with New Zealand’s competitive and comparative advantages.

I very much doubt that anyone in the New Zealand Government could out-enthuse these particular business leaders in their defence of markets, profits and competitiveness! Yet Pure Advantage identifies the NZ’s Government’s incoherent policy on green growth as a principal barrier to progress, and it’s deliberately targeting growth opportunities that don’t require any government involvement.

I met with many like-minded business people in Australia, and here in the UK even the CBI has berated the Coalition Government for its wilful failure to put the green economy at the heart of its growth strategy - as perfectly demonstrated in George Osborne’s utterly dire speech to the recent Tory Party Conference.

I am not talking about buying into the whole green story, with its emphasis on alternatives to growth, ‘putting Nature first’, greater social justice, and so on - I’m simply talking about the green economy: generating jobs, profits, increased productivity and competitive market share from promoting growth in what is called the ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services Sector’ (LCEGS). What, as they say, is not to like about that? 

I honestly have no convincing answer to this question, and can only suggest five contributory (and overlapping) possible causes:

1. History
Deconstructing the speeches of people like Osborne and Tony Abbott (the new Australian Prime Minister) suggests that their overall view of green politics in general is one trapped in a set of historical (and largely outdated) precepts: that all Greens are essentially crypto-communists with a deep hatred of markets and capitalism in general. As former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said: “they’re all like tomatoes - they may start out green but they all go red in the end”.

2. Blighted Brains
I’m sorry about this ungenerous thought, but you do sometimes wonder if their intellectual capabilities have been permanently damaged by excessive exposure to the unforgiving orthodoxies of neo-liberal economics. Focusing on the green economy requires a lot of hybrid thinking (as in smart regulation and market instruments) rather than economic mono-railing).

3. Political Capture
The centre-right (without much opposition from the centre-left, it has to be said!) has become the principal cheer leader for the fossil fuel and extractive industries. With both votes and money at stake (vast amounts of money in both the US and Australia), these politicians are in effect the creatures of the industries that have most to lose in the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient business models.

4. Cognitive Dissonance
So completely are they ‘owned’ by these industries that they seem unaware of their own intellectual incoherence. For instance, like all good disciples of market economics, they espouse the view that markets only work when the price we pay for something reflects its true cost. Yet they go to unbelievable lengths to ensure that markets remain hopelessly distorted by refusing to internalise the cost of carbon into market prices today.

5. The Slippery Slope 
I find this one hard to believe, but it was seriously suggested to me in New Zealand that politicians are scared witless of where all this leads - as in “give them a few green inches and next thing you know you’ll have gone the whole green mile into the weird and wacky world of tree-hugging vegetarianism”.

Mix and match - or come up with something more convincing!

May be Canada’s Prime Minister (a man called Stephen Harper, another of those centre-right politicians) will soon be bucking the trend here. He’s just appointed a former (pretty green) Mayor of Toronto to develop a new strategy for Canada’s green economy. But I wonder how long it will be before that too gets smothered in the tar sands of Alberta?

Jonathon Porritt
11 October 2013 

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Comments

03. 11. 2013
Coilin MacLochlainn

You are mostly right, Jonathon, but when you say "I am not talking about buying into the whole green story, with its emphasis on alternatives to growth," you are sending out a conflicted message. Any informed politician who reads that will think you cannot be serious about the green agenda. You need to look at where endless growth leads, i.e. collapse, and at what humanity needs to do now to protect itself, for life to have any future on Earth.

28. 10. 2013
MICHAEL COOK

We must keep up pressure in the hope that a 'meme' will develop and commence its work but it is taking a long time alas.

Michael.

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