A treehugger by any other name?
According to many people, I am a treehugger. Also a greenie, a 'green-neck', a rabid environmentalist, yada yada yada. I would (apparently) have us all 'living in caves' were I to prescribe the way of life for New Zealanders.
One of my pet peeves is the deliberate labelling of anyone remotely concerned about any kind of environmental issue as some kind of backward thinking hippy determined to stop any kind of 'progress', and send us hurtling back to the stone age.
Politicians do it too. John Key famously accused Forest & Bird as being "hysterical" when they lifted the lid on the Government's plans to mine in national parks. Forest & Bird then used this as an advertising opportunity...
George Bush used the catchcry "We'll be up to our necks in owls" while campaigning in the 1990s, when he was running against Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who he claimed were the "environmental extreme". The reference to owls was Bush's response to environmentalists' calls to protect ancient timber forest in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. His stance that unemployment would go through the roof all for the sake of protecting the endangered owls who lived in the forest, proved to be unwarranted.
In fact, while forestry jobs were lost, the high-tech industry skyrocketed, gaining more jobs and putting Oregon among the lowest unemployment by 1995. If this situation sounds familiar, it's because the shift away from old-school exploitative industry to high-tech high-paying jobs is what the late (and very great) Sir Paul Callaghan called for in this pivotal talk. The figures are all there. It makes sense (and dollars) to protect our environment and to make NZ a country where 'talent wants to live'. This week's release of Pure Advantage's "NZ's position in the green race" firmed up that point in a well-researched report into the value of Brand New Zealand.
The thing about all of the name-calling and finger pointing is that it is a deliberate attempt to isolate people who are concerned, and make it difficult for others to associate with them. The tobacco industry did the same thing last century, deliberately proliferating the idea that 'anti-smoking' was a slippery slope to those people trying to control every aspect of others' lives.
In 2010, in the midst of the Schedule 4 mining debate, my father phoned me, wanting to know if I would "Ring the media and tell them to stop calling people who don't want mining in National Parks 'greenies'." "I'm no greenie," he said (he's not). "I'm a concerned New Zealander." Two things struck me about his plea. One is (bless him), he thinks that I can just 'ring the media' and direct them (if only!), but more importantly, that he didn't want to be affiliated as being a greenie, but he wanted to be able to be identified as a 'concerned New Zealander'. For me that was like a light-bulb going off in my head. How many of you are 'concerned New Zealanders', uncomfortable with some of the proposed activities that would see our natural heritage compromised or destroyed, but are reluctant to identify yourselves as a 'greenie' for fear of being picked on?
Should we start a movement for concerned kiwis!? If I promise that nobody has to wear a hemp suit, ride a bicycle or grow a beard? Would that help you stand up for what you care about? I'm keen to hear from you.
But for me, I'll be happy continuing to hug trees.