Clean and Green: New Zealand Is a Study in Environmental Contrasts. (Currents)

By Motavalli, Jim; deBlanc-Knowles, Jaime | E Magazine, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Clean and Green: New Zealand Is a Study in Environmental Contrasts. (Currents)


Motavalli, Jim, deBlanc-Knowles, Jaime, E Magazine


To the people of Colorado-sized New Zealand, Mike Ward may be best known as the guy who makes and sells jewelry on the streets of downtown Nelson. But now you have to add another title to his portfolio: Green Party Member of Parliament.

In the 2002 elections, "clean and green" New Zealand elected eight Green Party members as MPs, and they now enjoy the legitimacy of a Parliamentary office in Wellington. Their ranks include longtime activists such as Sue Kedgley, author of Eating Safely in a Toxic World, who campaigns for animal welfare, clean energy and public transit; and lan Ewen-Street, an organic sheep and cattle farmer.

With their new national visibility, the Greens are no longer marginal players in New Zealand politics. They join with the country's liberal Labour government on some issues, but part from it dramatically on subjects like support for war against Iraq, lifting a moratorium on genetic engineering (GE) and free trade.

The latter two are especial sticking points, and evidence of a country that is allowing some cracks to show in its green facade. New Zealand (also known by the Maori name Aotearoa) is largely an agricultural country, with a strong constitutency of organic and biodynamic farmers who oppose Labour's recently proposed guidelines for introducing GE crops. "The public has said overwhelmingly it does not want GE in field, food or environment," says Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

New Zealand has enthusiastically embraced free trade since the 1980s, and Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) head Murray Horton charges that the legacy of this is a country where one third of children live in poverty, with "the fastest-growing economic divide between the rich and poor of any developed country." CAFCA says that foreign companies control 45 percent of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product.

So far, Prime Minister Helen Clark's Labour government has shown no willingness to give up on one of the cornerstones of New Zealand's green reputation: its 1985 decision to go "nuclear free." The ban extends beyond power plants to include nuclear-powered (or nuclear weapons-carrying) ships that would otherwise find a haven in the country's harbors. Clark wants a free trade agreement with the U.S., and American negotiators have hinted she could trade it for a lifting of the prohibition against U.S. nuclear ships. In polls, 70 percent of New Zealand voters support keeping the ban in place, but a third would allow nuclear-powered ship visits in exchange for a trade deal.

Two highly visible green targets in New Zealand are choking traffic (especially in the largest city, Auckland, which has London levels of air pollution) and big box stores, including K-Mart and the homegrown Warehouse chain.

Auckland will have 1.6 million people, a third of the country's population, by 2020. Conservative mayor John Banks was elected two years ago on a platform of finishing the city's semi-complete highway network, and he's taken enthusiastically to the task.

New Zealand has the second-highest rate of car ownership in the world, and in Auckland that translates to nearly one car for every two people. Only two percent of Auckland's population uses public transportation, down from 58 percent in the 1950s. That's a lower rate than Los Angeles. …

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Clean and Green: New Zealand Is a Study in Environmental Contrasts. (Currents)
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