A treehugger by any other name?

Last updated 15:31 15/06/2012

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.

In the New Zealand media we see and hear it daily. Check the comments section of any Stuff.co.nz environment articles if you don't believe me.

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...

Hysterical greenies

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.


- Stuff

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Tim   #1   03:50 pm Jun 15 2012

Well said. Subscribing to one point of view on an issue doesn't mean you subscribe to the entire green mantra. I cycle to work, but mainly because it's cheaper than a car and I get fit - not because I have a rampant socialist agenda. Like every political point of view, greenie's are as full of contradiction as the rest, which is the beauty of politics. I am proud to both support and oppose the green point of view.

Niri Tacen   #2   04:39 pm Jun 15 2012

I think the problem is that there are people, on *both* sides, who always take the extreme view.

This is true everywhere - environment, politics, law & order, education... you name it, there's some twit who says "we must do this thing NOW, otherwise everything we know and love will DIE!!!!!oneone!!"

Unfortunately it is these same people who dominate the media, and the media love them for it. (The media can also be a bit extremist - "shock!" this and "shock!" that. It's not. Get over it.)

What's needed is sensible education. Stop looking at the extreme views. Will drilling for oil kill the environment? No. But if it leaks then we're in for a major disaster. Or if we keep using oil inefficiently.

I support environmental groups, but when they start using extreme tactics, it's bye bye.

It's like the whole "we're causing the earth to warm" thing. The jury is still out on whether this is human-driven warming. Personally, I think we've contributed, but are not the sole cause.

We need to manage this planet - especially our natural resources. We've just got to do it sensibly.

Ad   #3   06:36 pm Jun 15 2012

Well put Nicola. The name calling starts when any other valid argument stops. So maybe its a good sign? It happened to me the other day....I was acused of being a greenie against development. I have founded 3 succesful businesses, so against development is the last thing I am. I am concerned about our environment and the loss of NZ brand value. My accuser could not comprehend that NZ's brand is our most valuable economic asset and that we need to do anything we can to reinforce it, so all he could do was label me and put his head in the sand.

Jessica   #4   06:39 pm Jun 15 2012

Ohh.. so true. All of it. And I really still don't know why a name has to be placed on someone who just cares about the environment.. and wants to do good in the world. How is that a bad thing, or something that should be judged!? Who knows. One day we will be king of the world. THEN who will be laughing. Not me. Haha.

Alan_Wilkinson   #5   07:28 pm Jun 15 2012

Environmentalism is extremely difficult because of incredibly complex inter-dependencies, uncertain consequences and differing values. Far too many people and organisations pretend or just believe it is black and white simple.

Your "No mining in National Parks" is a classic example. Our National Parks are huge. If something valuable can be extracted at reasonable cost and minimal environmental impact, why on earth not? The slogan is just brain-dead stupid and those who wave it deserve the criticism they get.

Frankly, the need is not for "concern". We have a surfeit of it. The need is for good information and intelligent, rational analysis.

Marcia   #6   12:43 pm Jun 16 2012

Thank you for this great blog ! I find I get the same reaction from many friends and strangers when I state I am a natural/sustainable bee keeper or carer as I like to use. Instantly the hackles go up and I sometimes have to duck the wild looks! I am a very firm believer in that if humans don`t stop and think about what they are doing to the earth and its animals, we will suffer greatly in years to come and probably not that long away either. .

Shazza   #7   02:26 pm Jun 16 2012

Yeah, I tend to think we're screwing the world over thoroughly. Fraid I'm just too cynical to believe anything can be done about it.

FDO   #8   05:31 pm Jun 16 2012

Well said. Really like this blog. I am unashamedly a greenie, but not as committed a one as I should be - have just booked a long haul flight for a holiday, which is not green at all. I try to do lots of small things to make up for my travel addiction...

Nicola Toki   #9   09:25 am Jun 18 2012

Cheers for the comments guys. Coincidentally, we had Gareth Morgan at our Forest & Bird conference this weekend at Te Papa... He had a few challenging things to say (which is why we invited him), but he went straight to the 'greenies' and 'loony left' argument. http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/gareth-morgan-takes-swipe-green-party-4932325

which is a bit of a shame in my view. I work daily with business, farming, even the aluminium smelter in Bluff on the Kakapo Recovery partnership (http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz). Maybe Gareth just hasn't caught up yet? : )

Niri Tacen   #10   10:43 am Jun 18 2012

@Nicola Toki #9 - I saw that item on the news. It looked to me as though it'd been edited to be favourable to Morgan.

Mainly it reinforced my idea that people tend to take extremist views when it comes to conservation.

@Alan_Wilkinson #5 - The problem is not so much the mining - we know it's valuable - it's the nature of the mining. An open strip mine, for example, could destroy native land in the square kilometres. Opening a pit like that requires the removal of masses of rock and clay, all of which has to be put somewhere. These mines also use so much water they can lower the water table. And then there's all those vehicles driving around, the machines to extract the gems/gold/whatever, plus gases and toxic materials produced in the process.

I've no objection to mining if the environmental impact can be made very small, and is managed properly. Unfortunately it's mostly just destructive, with the company destroying massive amounts of native bush (and thus destroying the habitat) for the sake of a few kilos of stuff.

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