Talking climate with Kevin Hague

Over the last few weeks, I have been meeting each of the Greens’ co-leadership candidates to talk about their views on climate change, climate policy, and climate campaigning. Russel leaves big shoes to fill on climate campaigning, so I thought it’d be good to give each candidate a chance to show how they’d fill them.

I’ve really enjoyed talking with Kevin, James, and Gareth. On Friday, I’m talking with Vernon. I’ll post my summaries of our talks in the order that I spoke to them: Kevin today, James tomorrow, Gareth on Friday, and – all going to plan – Vernon on Saturday. There’s a rich depth of talent in the Party, and I hope these interviews show off where each candidate excels in the climate fight.

Ultimately, though, these interviews were for an Adopt a Negotiator post that I plan to post on Saturday, which is targeted at a more international audience.


The Pacific has contributed the least to carbon emissions, but will suffer the most. – Kevin

Kevin gets the big picture. He unambiguously wants to take Russel’s part of the Greens’ climate portfolio. Though he’s most well known for his health background and portfolio, and so started our conversation there, Kevin quickly and adroitly did the math and joined the dots, connecting climate change to our economic structures and the social justice struggles that they influence.

For Kevin, health provides a powerful – and very human – frame for discussing climate change. ‘It’s kind of obvious’, he says, that health and illness aren’t ‘just the result of individual factors but also of the environment‘. Disease is not random. The big injustices of climate change play out in the health sector too. Its health effects are concentrated of marginalised populations, intensifying the risks of those who already suffer the worst health outcomes.

In health and elsewhere, Kevin stresses social injustice and climate change are both just pushed into the background as environmental risk factors, their true importance masked by a drive for ‘profit maximisation‘ in an often too unregulated market – or, more often, a poorly regulated one, where natural resources are undervalued and true waste disposal costs hidden.

What’s the Government for, anyway? – Kevin

Climate change, says Kevin, is really a problem of unregulated waste disposal after all. This is a question of market design, not an ‘immutable natural force‘. We must change both the stance of the economy and our stance in relation to the economy. Both social and ecological imperatives demand a break from a post-1980s ‘neoliberal hegemony‘ that views ‘the economy as an immutable force‘, not as human creation and human tool. The economy mediates between people and the Government, alienating people from their Government – and making climate action more difficult. It’s not about opposing markets, but ‘retooling our economic engine‘ to be truly sustainable.

But Government now ‘simply has to move with urgency‘ to address climate change, because a real price on carbon is ‘absolutely necessary, but genuinely missing‘. We must use all our tools – including but not limited to markets – to achieve our goals.

So, then, does he support an emissions trading scheme not the Greens’ policy of a carbon tax? No:

I think cap and trade could have worked. It hasn’t worked. We are achieving nothing at all with the system we have now.

We’ve lost the chance, Kevin argues, to have an effective emissions trading scheme. The Greens’ carbon tax cut, he notes, is much simpler, doesn’t depend on the existing scheme’s broken architecture, and could be implemented quite fast.

But we shouldn’t talk about what’s wrong with emissions trading, Kevin stresses. It’s alienating. Let’s talk about ‘polar bears, sea level rise, cyclones, and kids‘. That is (polar bears aside), let’s make climate change human. I back that. What would Auckland look like, Kevin asks, in a 4ºC warmer world? He highlights our Pasifika community, whose response to the Party’s message ‘surprised and thrilled him‘  during the 2014 election campaign.

But has he read This Changes Everything? He’s got it, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. He’s really looking forward to it though – and mention of the title jumped us quickly onto the People’s Climate March, then and its 2009 day of action, then finally thought he’s put into divesting Kiwisaver.

A pause. What does New Zealand look like now, to New Zealanders and others overseas? Compared to elsewhere, climate change’s low profile here – at a regional level on up – seems ‘weird‘. We’ve insulated ourselves from the real progress happening overseas – even at a regional level in the US. Perhaps, he suggests, because we lack positive examples here, we need to look abroad.

After all, says Kevin, we need a positive inspirational idea.