What’s stopping NZ reducing environmental damage?

The report’s authors, Rick Boven, Catherine Harland and Lillian Grace, say that, as result of these obstacles, risks continue to increase as the environment deteriorates.

“The evidence indicates it is time for vigorous response to reduce environment risks but the response remains weak.”

The first obstacle is the requirement to work together, cooperating for everyone’s benefit.

“Each person, business or country recognises that changing their own environment damaging activity will be costly or inconvenient and will make little difference unless others change too,” says the report.

“In self-centred and competitive world it is difficult to establish effective large-scale cooperative agreements.”

Secondly, neither business nor governments can be relied on to respond sufficiently because both are affected by bias to avoid or delay action.

The report notes that reducing environment damage often requires short-term costs to achieve long-term gains. Directors of businesses are constrained by law to act in the interests of their company and those interests are usually defined as short-term profits.

At governmental level, democratic governments face regular elections so they must provide what voters want. Voters expect ongoing increases in consumption and governments that fail to perform in delivering short-term economic growth are replaced.

The report says business and government leaders are keen to pursue those win/win opportunities where environment and economic gains are both available “but tend to ignore, downplay or resist change if short-term economic gains are threatened”.

Thirdly, most influential people and opinion leaders have paradigm that leads them to think that continuing economic progress is assured.

Boven, Harland and Grace say paradigms frame our understanding of the world. The dominant economic paradigm has been learned by policy makers and business leaders and adopted by most influencers and opinion-leaders.

“That paradigm involves continuous progress achieved by improving technologies and growing pools of capital and labour. In the dominant paradigm resources can be taken from the environment without limit and wastes can be disposed of into the environment without limit.”

Fourth, the report notes that the primary value in economics, and arguably in the modern world, is consumption. And as long as people want more consumption and remain unconcerned about risks, comforted by their paradigm, it will be impossible for business and government leaders to act vigorously to reduce environment risks.”

Rick Boven and Lillian Grace are respectively director and associate of Stakeholder Strategies. Catherine Harland is research fellow with The New Zealand Initiative www.nzinitiative.org.nz.

They acknowledge in their report that it is hard to think about life in world that could be fundamentally different from our world today.

“It would be shame to succeed short-term in the economic growth race but fail to prevent or respond effectively to an environmentally-driven crisis because of collective failure to imagine future that could be very different from what we now expect.

“Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to manage well as the earth moves from an age of abundance to an age of scarcity.”

A one hour film of the project can be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXYCJ4cE-sw

Also see Executive Update article Paper outlines national environmental strategy”

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