The financial crisis which has unfolded this year has caused governments to release billions of dollars at short notice to prop up the financial system. One might wonder why such funds have never been available to alleviate poverty, cancel Third World debt, or take meaningful action on climate change. But we don’t wonder about such things, since we know the answer… governments are keen to protect ‘business as usual’ for the wealthy few, but they are far less keen to act to transform the lives of the poor or look to the long-term future of the biosphere.
Climate change is undoubtedly the most significant issue facing the planet right now. Human society must immediately begin rapid and radical alterations to the industrial and agricultural production systems causing much of the greenhouse gas emission that is driving this climate change. Yet we seem chronically (one might suggest criminally) unable to make the necessary transformation in the way we live. The best we can do – the EU’s much-trumpeted policy of 20% emissions reduction by 2020 – is ridiculously inadequate.
So what are our options?
The idea of ‘sustainability’ is hugely important to green parties around the world. The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is no exception; indeed, the word appears on the party website’s header, as shorthand for one of its four charter principles, ‘ecological wisdom’. Sustainability is central to the Green Party’s expression of its environmental vision. This is a vision of a future in which “our human economy will be sustainable because it is in harmony with ecological processes … resources will be used no faster than the rate at which they can be replenished and wastes will not exceed the ability of the environment to absorb them safely.” With this in mind, the party seeks to “ensure that sustainable development will take priority over growth in GDP as a national goal”.
What does sustainability mean in practical terms? In a recent speech, Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons considered sustainability from a business perspective, noting how “business is going green by finding smart ways to use all their inputs more efficiently – less energy and materials per widget, less waste, less toxic materials. They will even change the nature of the widgets so they last longer, are repairable, reusable, recyclable.”
“But,” she stressed, “in the end that can go only so far.”