June newsletter intro…

Kia ora koutou, 

We hope this finds you well and feeling positive about the winter months ahead. 

I recently attended Outward Bound for their 8-day course which involved starting every day with an early morning workout and a compulsory ocean plunge. Back in the hustle and bustle of a big city it surprises me how much I miss those active and cold starts to the day.  

A key theme from Outward Bound is of course teamwork. I was there in my capacity as a volunteer for Big Buddy and our team of 12 (six big buddies and six little buddies or as we referred to ourselves ‘tuakana and teina’), was given multiple challenges that involved us developing a plan, identifying everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and then executing that plan.  

It’s a theme I wish was applied across our political and economic systems.  

I’ve talked before about the fact that our whole society has a role to play in solving the big challenges we all face. Unless governments (central and local), businesses, and communities are all paddling the economic waka in the same direction, we are not going to reach our destination and avoid falling off the proverbial waterfall. A sustainable future requires us to make rapid transformational changes to our economy, and we will not achieve that if our collective waka is going around in circles.  

That feels to me very much like what is happening right now.  

While we at Go Well have the good fortune of working with many businesses and communities who are implementing the changes (and doing the mahi to modernize for the 21-st Century and the transition to a circular, regenerative, and inclusive system), they are not getting the policy support from government. In fact, it feels to me like the new government is not only paddling against those working for a better future, they are starting up an outboard motor to take us off the waterfall faster!  

I am of course referring to the Fast-track Approvals Bill. A bill that would see just three Ministers have complete decision-making powers over “infrastructure and development projects with significant regional or national benefits.”, and the authority to ignore existing environmental protections critical to preserving fresh water, forests, oceans, and wildlife. 

It really does feel to me like we have ended up with a government that’s come from the 1950’s with the same understanding of economics.  

The fifties was a time when the global economy was vastly smaller than it is now with a global GDP of $8.44 trillion compared to $130.04 trillion in 2022. It was a time when the world population was 2.5 billion. It’s now 8 billion and on track for 10 billion by the end of this century. It was a time when the volume of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere was 312.83ppm, it’s now 418.8ppm.  

I overuse this quote but it really should be written in bold letters on the walls of our parliament.  

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein.   

Not only was the global economy and population vastly smaller in the fifties than it is now, we had nowhere near the level of scientific understanding we do now. No doubt they would have had some idea that pouring chemicals into a river wasn’t great, but they didn’t have thousands of satellites orbiting the planet and sending back real time data on everything from deforestation rates to methane emissions, or glacial melt. Nor did they have a global network of atmospheric meters that provides real time data on the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, or a global network of oceanic sensors providing real time data on the warmth and acidity of our ocean and changes to ocean currents. 

We could be a facing up to the challenges and seeing this as an incredible opportunity to be a country that is leading the economic transformation. Instead, our government wants to double down on extractive, polluting and linear economics by introducing the Fast-track Bill.  

It is this very economic thinking and policies that has resulted in New Zealand having more than 4000 species threatened or at risk of extinction, rapidly degrading water quality, a jump in our greenhouse gas emissions of 14 per cent since 1990, and 3.7 million tonnes of resources being sent to landfills last year (706kg per person!). Surely everyone can acknowledge this is unsustainable and that we must do things differently?  

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree we need to speed up the consenting and development process. Due to decades of denial and inertia the speed and scale of change now required to maintain a habitable planet and prepare for more extreme weather cannot be overstated. If we are to have any chance of keeping the planet not only habitable but peaceful, we need rapid development of renewable energy while reducing energy demand. Rapid development of urban farms and a regenerative food system. Rapid development of reusable packaging systems, and product repair services. Rapid development of zero-carbon freight and transport.  

Or, in simple terms, the rapid development of a circular economy.  

An economy in which pollution and waste has been designed out, products and materials circulate round and around the economy, and we are regenerating our planet’s natural systems.  

I don’t deny how challenging the transition to a circular economy is but it’s only getting harder the longer we delay. 

To be clear about what is happening, our planet is rapidly heating up due to the massive amount of greenhouse gases humanity have released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, and causing biblical weather events all across the globe, and rather than leading the charge to achieving 100% renewable energy supply, the New Zealand government wants to extract and burn more fossil fuels. What’s happened to being a forward-thinking country? One leading by example?  

Not only does this Fast-track Bill put our right to a stable planet and thriving environment at extreme risk, but it also puts the country’s global brand at massive risk. It is a brand that our entire economy relies on, and many of our businesses people work tirelessly to uphold and enhance.  

Global consumers and markets are not demanding more environmental destruction, or more extreme weather events. They are demanding exactly the opposite. This offers Aotearoa an enormous opportunity to supply these products and services, but they will have little to no credibility if we become a hermit kingdom wallowing in our own polluted waterways and destroyed nature reserves.  

It must be noted that global markets do not care about the origin of fossil fuels and raw minerals. You can’t sell ‘New Zealand grown coal’ for a premium built on our brand story. So those who are set to profit from this Fast-track Bill are a small minority of our business community, and the many shareholders of global enterprises.  

It must also be noted how exposed the Fast-track Bill would make our political system to bribery and corruption. It proposes giving three Ministers complete decision-making power over what projects get the green light. Since the first release of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Aotearoa has scored at the top or within the top three countries in the world. It’s a reputation that massively enhances our ability to do business and attract investment.  

Yet since the Fast-track Bill has been proposed (it is currently in the select committee stage) we have already had: 

And those are just two we know about…  

Please do not mistake the above criticisms of our current coalition government with any kind of support for the previous government. Although at least they never proposed such draconian economic policy as the Fast-track Bill. Even with a complete majority we didn’t see anywhere near the level of leadership, vision, communication or innovation that we needed.  

Why is it that the European Union can develop a plan to achieve a circular economy, as can China, but “clean green” New Zealand’s economic plan is to mine seabeds and conservation land?  When will we have a Circular Economy Plan? And a Circular Economy Ministry?  

Where is it going wrong?  

On the bright side, there was a piece of work commissioned by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on the Impacts, Barriers, and Enablers for a Circular Economy in Aotearoa. The results of this research have just been released and you can read the reports here.

We also have a significant number of fantastic businesses in New Zealand who are leading the charge to a circular economy. Many of them are listed on the Sustainable Business Networks Circular Economy Directory.  

This gives me hope. If our business community can show the way, our politicians will be sure to follow.  

But it would all be made so much easier, and faster, if we as a business community, government and civil society develop a plan, identifying everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and then executed that plan together.  

I simply can’t do the work I do with any credibility or have any self-respect if I don’t join the protest against the Fast-track Bill on Saturday with my sign demanding a circular economy plan. 

I have helped contribute to the Kiwis In Climate submission, and I have signed multiple petitions, but turning up in person for me will have a much bigger impact on how I feel about myself. I also like to think I will be representing those that cannot be there because they cannot get there, or they have not been born yet. 

I hope to see you there.  

Nick and the Go Well Team.  

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