Green message needs a little religious fervour

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 08:07 02/07/2012

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OPINION: Greenwash. The Collins English dictionary defines it as a superficial or insincere display of concern for the environment shown by an organisation.

It's a PR spin tactic, vigorously adopted by heavy polluters, to convey an image of environmental friendliness.

Right now corporations are fair tripping over themselves in their headlong rush to run their logos up the nearest respectable green flagpole.

Even environmentalists are falling for it. The Department of Conservation has deemed it financially necessary to cuddle up to business.

A recent million- dollar deal with Air New Zealand, and a longer-standing relationship with Genesis, is all designed to make up for the significant government funding shortfall that DOC is currently grappling with. In the Genesis case one could say that at least the whio (blue duck) is potentially saved - and is a very compelling argument - but what is lost in the process is the true, unhindered ability for DOC to advocate against Genesis in matters such as water allocation which is, of course, one of the reasons for handing over the cash. DOC management says it's common sense.

I would contend that, in the scheme of all things planetary, the price of silence is too high. Gareth Morgan wouldn't agree with me. His ill- tempered rant, at a recent Forest & Bird conference, spoke of "green-necks" and the "loony left". He reckons they need to be kinder to the business world so as not to "needlessly alienate(s) huge numbers of people".

His speech came as a bit of a shock and appeared to catch many offguard in the media and the environmental community. My question is why? Mr Morgan's an economist in both thought and deed. If you invite a metaphorical viper into your house don't complain when you get bitten. Yes, he's a philanthropist - and good on him - but that, in and of itself, doesn't buy respectability. He also wrote a book on climate change a while ago and decided, after much research, that he believed in it.

What took him so long? Obviously I don't revere him like many New Zealanders do. He's just a man - a rather, over-exposed one - with his fair share of dinosauric opinions and a Village People moustache. However, while he asserts that the green movement should embrace the mainstream I believe the polar opposite. I say they have already gone too far down that road and it isn't working. The crucial Rio+20 earth summit was universally described as an epic tragedy.

It achieved nothing but talk followed by more talk and even some of the most powerful and influential world leaders stayed away. A more perfect illustration of the failure of current conventional green strategy I cannot find. Green pressure groups were by turns livid, disbelieving, and tearful. The non-result exposed their collective inability to mobilise large people support and all for the sake of 20 years of behind-the- scenes engagement with governments and businesses instead. In other words, they got tangled up in playing their game and not their own. Every self- respecting environmentalist has learned that sound science is crucial to presenting a credible case, and it is, but it must be seen as only one of an arsenal of persuasion tools. Science alone is not getting through.

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There is the ever-increasing "paid for" science to battle with, and the general populace are reacting with confusion and tuning out. Modern environmentalism seems lost in a sea of technological information, graphs and PowerPoint presentations because it believes it's logical and sensible and normal. All of which suits the machinery of government and the polluters to a tee.

 That's just speaking their language. The danger is that we forget there are other languages worth employing. Hanging one's green hat solely on the rational, and effectively getting nowhere, indicates that the time is right to begin a dialogue employing more moral and ethical terms. It seems to me that one of the most powerful arguments missing from the green repertoire is reverence. What was fascinating in Rio was the increased participation of religious organisations of all denominations.

Their common message was that the challenges of runaway climate change, and care of God's creation, represent an urgent moral imperative. It was a call for spiritual reflection.

The big boys can argue with science in their sleep. It gets somewhat harder for them when confronted with common human decency. Moral and religious arguments may compel action by governments in ways none of us have so far imagined.

While I'm an atheist, and place a lot of store in (uncorrupted) science, I am not unmoved by such a call to worship. I find, rather surprisingly, that it speaks to me in a way that the rational does not. To think and speak about the planet in more transcendent, mythical and poetic terms could be the beginnings of a new and effective green paradigm. Lord knows we need it.

- Taranaki Daily News

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