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Global Financial Crisis a missed opportunity to make world economy more sustainable, environmentalist David Suzuki tells NZ conference

Global Financial Crisis a missed opportunity to make world economy more sustainable, environmentalist David Suzuki tells NZ conference

The global financial crisis was a missed opportunity to make the world economy more sustainable and change how it operates in an environment increasingly under pressure from unsustainable economic policies and instruments, Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki told a conference held at Parliament today.

Suzuki was the key note speaker at the day long conference called 'A sustainable economy for New Zealand'. Organised by the Green Party, the conference will include talks from academics and politicians, as well as economists and environmental groups on how to make New Zealand's and the global economy become more sustainable.

'We created economic instruments, so we can change them'

Humans lived in a world determined by principals and facts that emerged from the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, Suzuki told the audience, while other things, such as capitalism, free enterprise, corporations, the economy, currency, and markets were not forces of nature but instead created by humans. 

"We invented them for God sakes. We can’t change the laws of nature but we can sure as hell change these things," Suzuki said.

He stressed humans needed to change these creations as they had become "totally out of sync, or out of balance with the world that makes them possible".

"A few centuries ago people believed in dragons, demons and monsters – we believed in them. If we thought they were mad at us we’d give them gold, jewels, sacrifices, virgins, anything to get them off our back. We really believed it," he said.

"Well nobody believes in dragons, demons and monsters today, we know they’re figments of our imagination.

But these were replaced with another figment of imagination, the economy.

"And by God you read the headlines – ‘the economy’s not looking too healthy today’, man do we get scared.

"We give ‘em gold, we give ‘em jewels, there are no virgins left, but we’ll give ‘em anything else. We just want them back up and running. What’s going on?"

Humans could change the economy and its instruments, seeing as they were the ones who created them, Sukuki said.

GFC a missed opportunity

The global financial crisis was an amazing opportunity to do just this, he said.

"We had the global economic meltdown. That was a chance to sit back and say ‘something’s wrong here. We can’t go from dot-com boom to bust, housing boom to bust – this is crazy, let’s change the bloody system'.

"But what did we do?

"The first thing Mr Bush did, and then Mr Obama – pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the banks that created the problem. Into the auto sector without any strings attached – all they said was ‘please, please, please, get back up running and growing’.


Suzuki quoted Einstein's definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

"That’s what we’re doing," he said.

"We can change these human created things, we can’t change the world of nature."


The conference continues throughout the day, including contributions from Lori Wallach from Global Trade Watch, Jonathon Boston from the Institute for Policy Studies, Peter Conway form the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, as well as representatives from various environmental groups and university professors.

Environment Minister Nick Smith, Labour Finance spokesman David Cunliffe, and Greens MP Kennedy Graham will later discuss political perceptions of sustainability.

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Anyone addressing the small matter of peakoil @ the conference?


Hi Andy,

There is an energy session coming up...

But not to a great extent in the bits I've managed to get to yet. But someone in the audience asked about the effect of a rising oil price (as it heads toward peak oil) on tourism in NZ. It was pretty much let through to the keeper, although Professor Caroline Saunders from Lincoln said if there were to be another oil crisis soon, it would come about due to political factors.

Having said that, energy issues are being discussed. Rachel Brown from the Sustainable Business Network talked about how she would like NZ energy production to be 100% renewable energy.

Biofuels (ethanol) also got a wee mention.

That's part of the whole branding discussion - that we need to brand NZ as having sustainable business practices etc in the move toward cleantech industries. Then everyone else would say 'oh they produce their goods and services in a sustainable way, so I'll buy that one'.

I thought after that bit, a good thing to ask readers would be:

Do you take sustainability and environmental factors into consideration when purchasing goods and services? And how much does this affect your decision?




Alex - what a lot of environmentalists don't realise, is that without energy, all other items are off the menu.

And in answer to your last question: always, since the mid-70's. 100%.

It's not enough alone, though - population reduction and energy efficiency and renewable energy, are the biggies.

Suzuki, I suspect, knows we are out of time, but also knows you've got to keep swinging.


Well Andy,

The session I just went to was called "Monetary & Fiscal Policy; Trade and INvesment policy; Energy and climate change policy"

No mention of peak oil sorry mate.

Also no talk on monetary policy, apart from in a question from the audience right at the end:

Went along the lines of 

'Why can't we swap money issuance duties from the RBNZ to the Treasury, and then have a New Zealand dollar based on work, that can only be redeemed in New Zealand?'




Thanhs Alex. I really wonder at the Greens sometimes - ignoring the 600lb gorilla in the room. As PDK states energy is everything, its embedded in everything we do and buy - in reality what is money if not a proxy for energy? And the Greens manage to sponsor a conference at which the imminent peaking of our most important HCarbon source is not even mentioned.

I sometimes wonder whether its the 'social conscience' side of the party which is most desperate to ignore peakoil - a world in which oil prices shrink the economy is not one in which money can  be afforded for pet social spending schemes.

As a footnote - Orgins second well in the region north of Taranaki came up dry today. By my calculations thats 7 exploration wells on the trot that have come up dry in this offshore drilling season. Following on from the abandonment by one of the consortia of exploration in  the Great Southern Basin prospect it hasnt been a great 6 months for the NZ exploration scene.


When I was a Green party member, I used to shake my head at their increasingly left policies and the amount of work and discusion going on on these and not green issues. To be honest I quit last year because they were not substantially a green party anymore.....and were getting less green by the the coming election I actually for the first time am unsure who I will vote for......

"I sometimes wonder whether its the 'social conscience' side of the party" As I said, its now somewhat lopsided IMHO, I dont wonder....and yes my thought is indeed that "not one in which money can  be afforded for pet social spending schemes." is true.....

The other aspect has been the rise of the NIMBY's.....somehow they spend their day arguing about social policy or NIMBY issues....its really simple, we have limited time to get green energy put in, if we dont then when the panic starts we will be sucking out methane hydrates and converting crap quality coal to liquid fuels and fertilizers in huge qualtities...From what I read about the CO2 curve and AGW and warming if that happens we will be seeing a rise of 6+ Deg C midnext century, that is an extinction event...for us and many species.....



Dragons , demons and monsters, they are all real , sum of us marry them work with them and dream of them, never seen a virgin tho!


Yes – as a small and remote nation we do have the potential to be regarded as forerunners of a 100% pure clean and green economy, but not the way we are currently going. New Zealand fails a great change branding it’s economy to earn money in the billions.

 Well, the world is struggling, fast moving and changing for ever- time for New Zealand to find visionary solutions.

In the current situation it is probably wiser to listen to philosophers, environmentalists, ecologists and humanists (I’m not religious - sorry) and find the right answers to solve our upcoming challenges.

 Greed & Megalomania

The people of New Zealand are not only suffering under too much consumption but Greed, Megalomania of a minority – including corruption and a bloated government without a clear economic direction for years.

How much longer is the younger generation waiting for a revolt in “Beautiful New Zealand” ? The “Powerfools” in this and other countries are not only destroying theirs, the public’s natural environment, the land, the waterways and the air, but also their future, our souls and pride. The BB generation is currently causing enormous damage in our society not investing, but for them selves– costing this, but especially the next generation Billions to clean up the mess in may sectors/ levels. Not to mention our bubbly Property Industry – making our NZkids renting flats on Rock Creek Rd or worse, while foreigners living in flash houses on Orchid Park Drive  – HA this is all crazy!

 Ethics- Philosophy- Economy

More and more country are losing the battle against a clean and green environment, healthy food supply/ production, fresh water and air – quality of life. As a remote and rather under-populated country we have an exceptional chance to be different. The key is branding New Zealand - the introduction of a “GREEN & CLEAN” economic philosophy – why ?


 For years our economy is so unbalanced, unstructured and unorganised- badly managed, when serious philosophical questions have to be asked. What is New Zealand way of life in the 21st century ?

The large and increasing national account deficit seems to force the government into stupid actions of desperation. Obviously falling into a trap by considering revenues form:

- natural resources damaging our environment/ nature and  eco- tourism -

- opening more land for extensive (dairy) farming destroying our environment, undermining animal welfare standards and in disregard of the influence of climate changes – 

- doggy immigration policies leading to social, employment and housing problems etc.-

- it doesn’t create skilful jobs (see below) -  


I’m proposing a clear, consistent, long term strategy for our economy to be the world leader:


 “New Zealand’s Green Sustainable Economy Model of the World”

 Such a model would make us unique in the world, inspires, lift ethics, spirit, pride among the population and feed into many sectors of our economy and society.  But it also supports strong and already existing sectors. It would make Billions in revenue, the country would prosper.


 Industry and Ecology

 Today and in the future “Green Industries” offer new, good opportunities for NZ’s economy. Manufacturing Research & Development in sectors like Power, Transport and Telecommunication, in fields where we relay on foreign dependency most, even to a degree that our national security is at risk is essential. The government needs to pick winners, so building sustainable niche markets, producing and branding quality goods for us and to cover export demand will be successful.


Energy, Public Transport, Telecommunication

 Two examples of how we should proceed with infrastructure needs in Energy and other such as Public Transport:

Financially and economically it doesn’t make sense to import or to produce heavy and expensive machinery/ equipment like turbines/ generators, nuclear power plants or heavy trains.

Such imports are mostly under overseas contracts, managed and installed by overseas technicians and workers, without hardy any local workforce especially skilled ones.

In stead we should research, develop and produce –SMALLER UNITS- manufactured and installed by Kiwis in our own country. A step, when ordered by government with enormous, but positive implication for our country:


- increase employment opportunity -
- better education after school –

-  technical skill and knowledge improvements -
- higher wages/ imports of brainpower –
-  positive influence to other sectors/ fields such as Science and Research -

- less quality imports / reduction of account deficit -
- control and sovereignty –

- quality infrastructure services –

- national security improvement –

- almost no affects caused by natural events -

 Sustainable Public Transport - developing a sector of industry to cover public mobility within a 100- 150km radius. Innovative businesses producing SMALL QUALITY UNITS starting from bikes, scoters, light rail systems and the interaction within, hardly seen in other countries. All planned, developed, installed, maintained and ran by Kiwis.

Sustainable Power supply/ savers SMALLER QUALITY UNITS developed, produced, locally/ regional installed and ran/ maintained by Kiwis.

 We do need a “Mixed Economy Model” with a clear strategy to master the international dependency on fossil fuel, gas and power consumption.


Please, read and understand this article in context to my many other articles.

Walter Kunz  20.8.2009 (edited slightly in 2010)


Well said,
The problem I see is that most nzers have no idea at all about there individual energy needs or even how electricity is made how to store it distribute and manage it.
Mention solar or small scale power generation options like, led lighting or anything like this and the blinkers come on and it's all to hard.

When the time comes you will see a move to renewable/ more efficient power generation , and I'm not talking about electric cars as they're a crock. Try and sell a 5 year old Prius that needs a new battery pack.

The mind set is now that if it's not made in China they can't afford it. Rubbish .
We can't afford not pass on the knowledge and lessons learned by our smart engineers of now and yesterday. It's not green but smart.


well said yourself!


What about that report about Spain, that said that every new "Green" job had cost the economy 2.2 real jobs?

The free market will bring the Green jobs when they make economic sense. Trying to do them ahead of the time only does more harm than good. Wealth creation actually correlates with environmentally favourable outcomes once the Kuznets Curve has been crested. Wealth destruction only takes us backwards on both counts.

By the way,

by powerdownkiwi | 12 Nov 10, 3:08pm "Alex - what a lot of environmentalists don't realise, is that without energy, all other items are off the menu......"

Please understand, Powerdownkiwi, that that is one point you and I DO agree on. Let's see how much we can agree on, to present a common front to the worst idiots that do not realise how much is "off the menu". That includes most Green politicians nationally and locally, I might add.


You're probably a nice fellow, PB, but your thinking is too out to lunch for me.

Have a wee read of

Spend some time on the IEA articles. Note the dark blue drop-off.

Yo have to anticipate things like that, it's already happening and you free-market types haven't even seen it yet - you still think it's to do with the price of adjacent land, whereas that graph says forget greenfields building.

There's only time for retro-fitting of the existing stock, and I've been saying that for a decade.

There's three threads at theoildrum on the IEA report - read them well.

If you wand more, try ODT online, then go 'opinion', mine of yesterday "Time for a fireside chat" is worth a read.



Powerdownkiwi, where is YOUR model sustainable house? Is THAT an "infill development" or a townhouse or an apartment?

I am criticising urban planning that is attempting to force higher density living. What is your problem with that? Why do you defend town planners who DISCOURAGE people from living like you do by disallowing them to build outside of an urban boundary and making them pay 20 times as much for land as they fairly should? I WANT people to be able to grow their own veges, utilise passive solar, run a wind turbine, recycle grey water, dry washing outside, etc.

I absolutely agree with you, that we cannot support the status quo without cheap energy. That means tens of thousands of office jobs in Wellington and Auckland will no longer exist. So what the thump is the point of planning for trains and apartments on the assumption that those jobs are the mainstay of the urban economy forever? 

Kindly concede my point. If you don't, you are completely incoherent.


PB - just because I saw it coming a long way out, doesn't mean I think there's room for everyone to do what I did. I read 'The Limits to Growth' in '76, built my first solar house in the 80's, and bought this block as a carbon-sink (as a personal contribution to rainforest depletion - obviously something like climate change has to happen when you impact the carbon cycle, doesn't matter what, you shouldn't go there) in '94.

2 people on 60 acres is a good start if you're looking at imdividual sustainability, but some very rudimentary maths says that can't be an option for 7 billion people.

You need to remember that peak oil meant the half-way point, but that that use is not linear. For instance, do the first half in 100 years (as we've roughly done with oil) and you could expect to do the last half in 18.years.

It doesn't happen, of course, given that everything based on energy will haemorrhage concurrently. There will still be oil coming out of Ghawar in 100 years, but BAU will have long gone...

At this point, it is valid to acknowledge that if the existing housing stock is what we produced in the first half, we can't expect to 'double' that. So total replacement (given that we might just want that energy kept for other things) of the housing stock, is out of the question,

Leaving the question of: what is the best retro-fit of the current stock?

Insulation, solar water-heating, solar electricity, removal of design Achilles-heels (crimped polybutylene - indeed any services -  in walls, for instance, flat butynol roofs/gutters/valleys, may be part of it too. Some housing is just in the wrong place (Ravensbourne in Dunedin, for example) and will probably price itself out of existence.

The big things (without addressing which, there is no point in addressing housing) are reducing planetary population (and holding NZ at no more than current levels) and planning ahead, because at every stage, the goal-posts go further away from you.

Retro-fitting of the existing stock, says trying to maintain existing infrastructure, sadly. City sewerage is a must, as is city water. There simply isn't the energy left to morph that. Roading is a worry, being oil-based. Look to Cuba to see where various lifestyles go during Powerdown. (Note, I'm not advocating, merely pointing to a relevant example).

 You, I recall, think NZ would be better with 40 million people. You can't hold that thought, and the concept of Peak Oil, concurrently. Further homework would involve studying 'Cognitive Dissonance', something folk like me have done, wondering about folk like you....



 '2 people on 60 acres is a good start if you're looking at individual sustainability'

Intrigued me... It would take yonks to walk the boundary!

What is your thought/source for this? Just point me at something (politely please).



It means we have room to plant trees as a carbon-sink (we are actually carbon-neutral, not in the smoke-and-mirrors way, but in the real chemical way) - but that takes space. Trees are good - don't need fences, look after themselves. Currently 30plus acres in Eucs and Macros.

Some of it is 'revert to native', as it's too steep for farming, faces away from the sun, and should never have been cleared.

Then there's the soil-replenishment issue. We can leave parts of our garden fallow (or nitrogen-fixing) for years if need be, thus depletion is much less of an issue.

When you get an area like that on a slope, you get running water. We can run the house comfortably off the Gentle-Annie pelton wheel.

It also gives you room for a orchard - we propagate out own trees, and have plans for 7 acres.....

I've only walked the boundary 3 times since '94!



Thanks PDK,

Academically, what would the minimum acreage be... (appreciate the differences in land quality).

Someone like, for example, John Seymour, would imagine  5  acres as large enough for 6.

I understand the carbon sink argument, but not necessarily why that has to be part of your land (though laudable in a principled argument), I would suggest that can be better served  nationally (if the will is there).

Off to finish the broody coop (no - not a new housing development).

p.s. Does that pelton wheel scream?


You fail to anticipate issues at your about a URL for the 2.2:1?  I'd like to see the context, given your Libertarian blinkers..........

This one?…

This is an economic takes no account of the need to move off fossil fuels to re-newables longer term, I would take this study as in-adequate and the longer term outlook could show the economy is sustained better in the long term by putting in green technologies early. This is energy security and anti-agw.......policy makers are considering having to move to re-newables this is policy, a choice we make as a society.

It does have some good info though to think on. For instance its showing that the effects of running out of fossil fuels will push up the price to and past the present cost of renewables and its showing the economic impact of that and the job losses from that.

So this is a mis-directed piece of work, sure the tactical battle might be won by it but strategically its hopeless....

The free market isnt rational, never was and never will be....

We cant make the present 6.5 billion wealthy, such curve(s) while interesting is clearly un-achievable....consider that while we get to that stage ie everyone living as "rich" as you or I the population would expand enormously (20billion?) , way past the capacity of this planet to the theory isnt going to survive the real world....



"........The free market isnt rational, never was and never will be......"

And the alternative? Why would the USSR not be a model of warning for us? Why would Hayek not be right about planners delusions and unintended consequences?

You and Powerdown have completely failed to grasp my economic analysis that urban growth boundaries have had the opposite effect to what the planners intended - a classic illustration of what Hayek described. They have not increased urban densities at efficient locations, they have in fact increased them at inefficient locations and slowed down the rate of densification at efficient locations.

At least there are a few intelligent contributors here who have "got it" on that score.


IEA acknowledges peak oil - yet where are realistic solutions worldwide?


There are none....URL didnt work for me BTW.  does



Wealth to many is the ability to burn oil, the more oil you can burn then the more money you have ?

Smart money is owning and operating machines or equipment which allow you to do the things you enjoy without consuming huge sums of money continuosly .It's called efficiency.

Not until people figure out that you can enjoy life whether out on you boat with an efficient hull form and well engineered electrical systems not based on domestic watt consuming appliances dragging there heavy asses through the water or,

Living in a well designed and built home that makes the most of its north facing roof spaces and making investments that will go on producing energy long after the power companies have tripled line charges
and milked the masses at the speed of light.

Less bills you get from the utility companies the better off you and the planet is in the long run.



This Suzuki guy is a complete turd...

In effect what he is saying is that instead of fighting the fire of the GFC we all should have been worrying about the design issues... and forming committees to 'fix' capitalism... as one perhaps might 'fix' a dog...

So his formula is let Rome burn while we all stand around wringing our hands about how we got it all so wrong.  What a way to run a crisis....


@ HtG. You sir are a complete fool.


I'm not so sure who the fool is.

One of the worst foolishnesses around today, is all the consensus that the GFC "proves" that free markets don't work. This is the same as saying that plane crashes prove that the laws of aerofoil lift are wrong.

People who really understood the invisible hand of the market saw the GFC coming long before. MOST people preferred to believe the politicians and central bankers who claimed to have solved the cyclical nature of economies for once and for all by their oh so clever interference in the free market. The GFC is exactly the same thing as a plane crash because incompetent idiots were on the flight deck, and big-headed whizkids had programmed the flight path computer all wrong.

The GFC is "the invisible hand coming back to bite us". It really is that simple.

No-one is as economically illiterate as a Greenie. It is like they have different genes.


The most illiterate are those who throw around generic put-downs.

Greenie, Commie, Malthusian, Doomer.....

ring any bells?

And if being 'economically illiterate' means understanding that there are limits to growth, and that you will hit them at exponentially-increasing speed, then it probably signifies intelligence.


Oh yeah and by the way everyone,

They had the air conditioning on the whole time during the conference.

Somewhat ironic eh?