Friday, November 18, 2011

Owen McShane: Unwinding the Sustainable Development Mindset


I am frequently reminded of Richard Prebble's commentary on the wonderful TV Show “Yes Minister” (still running on SKY). He said “The public thinks that “Yes Minister” is a comedy, the civil service knows that it's a documentary, and the Cabinet Ministers know that it’s a tragedy.”

I last quoted Prebble’s comment in an essay “Can a New Government Actually Change Anything?” written just before the last change in government. Maybe it is time to re-visit it.

It opens “My previous column argued that, while a new government may instantly change the mind-set of Parliament, changing the mind-set of all the bureaucracies, agencies and corporations put in place over the last nine years will be much more difficult and take much longer.”

I am convinced that this is still true, and indeed the difficulties have increased. During the last twenty years, the concepts, myths, and falsehoods surrounding the term “sustainable development” are now so embedded in our legislation controlling markets, land use, energy, transport, construction, and any other human activity one can think of, that unwinding it presents a gargantuan task. And undoing the brainwashing that has allowed this to happen is even more daunting.

In many cases “sustainable development” is a code word for responses to Anthrogenic Global Warming. Just about all our RMA documents take it for granted that sea levels are rising on every coastline and that these rises justify “managed retreats”. The Christchurch City planners decided rising sea levels posed a greater risk to Christchurch than Earthquakes.

They were wrong but don’t hold your breathe waiting for them, or anyone, to admit it.

The tenuous theories of AGW have spawned a belief that we must be cured of our addiction to our cars and accept that public transport is the necessary and virtuous alternative.

It must be coming evident that the science connecting Greenhouse gases to damaging climate change grows more tenuous by the day and the costs of using these theories to justify central planning of everything are causing Governments everywhere – but especially in Europe – to suddenly loose interest. They have real problems to deal with – not mythical conceptions of disaster in a hundred years’ time.

But how long will it take all those bureaucracies, policy documents, climate research institutes, and “green” based companies to fade away? They will be reluctant to admit error – too many careers have been built on these shifting sands.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Owen, could you define 'sustaitainable developement'? It think what you are describing is policy inertia. It takes a lot of effort to set in motion but once established it takes equal effort to change.

david@CUTS.org.nz said...

Most regrettably, Owen is no longer able to answer your question. But it is a useful one, so may I be permitted to pinch hit for him?

The UNCED and associated UN-funded global Enviro-NGOs managed to get their "Agenda 21" (a specification for global socialist government, wrapped in distracting green drag) adopted by some 166 nations at the first "Earth Summit" held in Rio in 1992. It was held that holding to the Agenda 21 prescription would achieve "Sustainable Development". Agenda 21 is claimed to provide the basis for the "Smart (sic) Growth" urban implosion model for city planning (re-labelled "Compact cities" in NZ to prevent the impression that it was merely an off-the-peg copy of an American style of town planning - which NZ had specifically rejected in favour of the "more market" RMA.)

"Smart Growth"-style planning of cities was initiated by APA members in the fifties (in the wake of wholesale failure of Le Corbusier's "Future City" ("Tall towers in green fields"). Architecturally-oriented town planners came back from holidays in Europe enthused for Italian hill towns and central (pre-automobile) Paris, so proposed a "stop sprawl" amalgam of the two ostensibly to save "scarce, valuable agricultural land" but really in reaction to their horror at the "ticky-tacky little boxes and they all look the same" which Levitt mass-builders were "sprawling" all over new Levittowns on the outskirts of New York, Washington DC etc to house returning servicemen (today very desirable suburbs). The connection between what is implied by the term "sustainable development" and massively expensive (resource-hungry) urban implosion as it has become today, clear-felling whole neighbourhoods and heritage areas for densification purposes, and over-consuming building resources and energy in the process, and replacing efficient automobility with limited and limiting energy-intensive rail transit is tenuous indeed, but that's what gives the local branch of the now-globalised AE-PC (Absolutist Enviro-(Town) Planning Complex) it's power, so what the heck!!.