Bryce Edwards Analysis: The Inevitable split in the Greens

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards Analysis: The Inevitable split in the Greens

A future face of the Green Party, candidate Choe Swarbrick. Image: Courtesy of

Bryce Edwards Analysis: The Inevitable split in the Greens

Dr Bryce Edwards.

The split in the Green Party over Metiria Turei’s benefit confession and campaign is hardly surprising. The party has always contained an array of very different views and ideologies, which have co-existed under the broad banner of environmentalism. What is surprising is that it’s taken until now for the tensions to boil over. There are splits and deep divisions in every political party, and this one has always been inevitable.

Divisions in the Greens

The bitter divisions in the Greens are stressed by Audrey Young in her column, Crisis unprecedented for the Green Party. She says it took a while before the impact of Turei’s benefit bomb was truly felt within the party: “It seemed too good to be true and it was. The apparent solidarity behind Greens co-leader Metiria Turei masked bitter divisions, just like other parties have… Turei’s handling of historic offending has lifted the lid on turmoil in the Greens.”

Young is particularly critical of how the party has handled the departure of MPs Graham and Clendon: “The party establishment moved to contain the fall-out in the way that other parties do – to criticise the two rebel MPs as pretty useless and lazy, which is particularly unfair on Kennedy Graham who works his butt off in strange areas of international law.”

She paints the picture as incredibly serious for the party: “The crisis is unprecedented for the Green Party. At its best it has been the conscience of the Parliament, at its worst its holier than thou preachers. Now it appears like all the rest.”

It’s not only the departing Green MPs who are calling for Metiria Turei to quit. Today, Fairfax political editor Tracy Watkins says its time for her to go: “Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei should resign before she tears the party even further apart. The way the Green Party has flaunted Turei’s benefit fraud admission has polarised New Zealand, and now the party. The ugly infighting has exposed real divisions in the Greens – and those divisions are not just over Turei, but about what the party stands for” – see: Metiria Turei should quit.

The Greens aren’t green enough

Watkins is very critical of Turei, saying her “preening at the attention” is “a big turn off to many” potential Green voters. But her more important criticism is that the Greens aren’t being green enough: “The Greens have for years leveraged off the Green ‘brand’ and all that stands for – sustainability, the environment, clean green New Zealand – while spending much of its time talking about anything but.”

The charge that the Greens have ceased to being a “real environmental party” is central to commentary on the party at the moment. There are certainly tensions in the party about how much focus should be put on social and economic issues versus a concentration on the environment. Newshub’s Lloyd Burr has put this best, with his column, The Greens have lost their way.

Here’s his main point: “Thanks to Metiria Turei, the Green Party is in the midst of an identity crisis. It’s a crisis that cuts to the heart of what the party stands for, and what its priorities are.  Just as importantly, it cuts to the heart of its name: The Greens. The party doesn’t look like the strong, unwavering voice for the environment anymore. It is not focussed on forests and rivers, or climate change, or conservation underfunding, or waste and pollution reduction. It is now a party focussed on fighting for the rights of beneficiaries. It is focussed on legitimising benefit fraud, boosting welfare payments, and removing welfare obligations.”

Burr rightly points out that “The struggle of the environment vs social welfare isn’t new to the Greens – it’s been simmering away in the background for years.” And this tension hasn’t been resolved for the upcoming election, which means “There is a big pool of them who want to prioritise the protection of the environment, cleaning our rivers, combating climate change, and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans. These voters may will be put off by the Green Party’s new direction – and they’ll look elsewhere.”

Some similar points were recently made by Shane Cowlishaw in his article, Making the Greens green again. He says “You could be forgiven for wondering if the Greens have forgotten their own name.”

Should the Greens ditch the red politics?

The strongest argument for the Greens going back to being a more focused environmental party are put by Alex Tarrant, who recently wrote that “The Metiria Turei covfefe over the past few weeks has laid one thing bare above all others: The Green Party needs to take a long, hard look at itself and then split or grow up and focus purely on environmental issues. This election and the next more than any before are screaming out for an environment-focussed party to hold the balance of power” – see: The Greens need to split or grow up and focus only on environmental issues.

Tarrant wants to see the Greens focus on pure green issues: “Swimmable rivers, water pricing, criticism of the government’s climate change policy, the rise of electric vehicles, synthetic meat and milk, Trump’s anti-Paris Agreement stance, polluted drinking supplies in rural towns, Auckland public transport. Sure, they’ve made noises on all the above. But what has had them leading news cycles in the lead up to the election campaign? Turei on social welfare, and the Party’s decision to back National’s families package.”

He also points out that Gareth Morgan’s “TOP is quickly making inroads into some of its liberal urban voting base… The best defence would have been for the Greens to be an environment-only party.” And he concludes that “It is time for the Greens to plant some organic fertiliser and grow up.”

There is a chance that Morgan’s TOP will be one of the main winners from the Greens current crisis. In the past TOP has apparently unsuccessfully tried to recruit Green MP Julie Anne Genter, but has had more success with other former candidates – see Henry Cooke’s Greens candidate defects to Gareth Morgan’s TOP party.

Losing Green votes – how low can they go?

The consensus seems to be that the Greens will bleed votes over the current controversy, and Toby Manhire asks how low they might go: “Double figures already feels like a stretch. If they slip below 7% – and that’s entirely plausible; in 2008 they were 6.7%, in 2005 5.3% – the two young women who in many ways represent the future face of the Green Party, Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman (8 and 9 on the list following Graham’s departure) may not make it to parliament. Mojo Mathers, at 10, would be out. Other young talent such as Jack McDonald and John Hart (12 and 13): toast” – see: The Greens are in disarray, leaving the left resurgence hanging by a thread.
And certainly, the next Green Party caucus is going to look quite different, after the departure of the two candidates. As blogger Pete George points out, the party list will be affected: “In the past the Greens also promoted their principles of gender balance. Of the top 10 on the list, eight are female… If they get the same number of MPs back into Parliament (this now looks unlikely) 9 of 14 will be female, 5 will be male” – see: Green list more dominated by females.
Finally, for the most colourful critique of what’s happening in the party, see Patrick Gower’s Metiria Turei is causing the Greens to self-destruct. He says: “Metira Turei has switched the Green Party into a meltdown mode that it refuses to switch off. The Greens seem to be in pathological denial about the damage that Turei’s benefit fraud admission is doing. If Monday’s double resignation of two senior MPs isn’t enough to send the message ‘enough is enough’, then what is?”

Estonia’s high price of energy independence – ‘we have lost our wetlands, our streams’

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Estonia’s high price of energy independence – ‘we have lost our wetlands, our streams’

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Estonia may lie a continent and an ocean away from the two biggest polluters in the world – China and the United States – but the nation cannot lay claim to climate innocence. Having mined oil shale for 100 years, Estonia now has energy independence, but it has come at a cost. Kendall Hutt investigates.

Celebrating 100 years of oil shale mining may represent a proud moment for Estonia, but this doesn’t compare to what the country has lost, many environmentalists say.

The backbone of Estonia’s electricity production may have allowed the Baltic nation to escape from beneath the Soviet yoke and become energy self-sufficient post-independence in 1991, but most observers remember that this has come at a cost: the environment.

“In terms of ecology it’s a total disaster. From the point of view of state economy this is something to be proud of,” says Professor Mait Sepp, research fellow in physical geography at the University of Tartu.

“We have lost our wetlands, we have lost our streams.”

Many of Estonia’s environmental organisations agree, with more than 15 percent (504.6 km²) of the country’s Ida-Virumaa region severely damaged by the oil shale industry.

Mihkel Annus of the Estonian Green Movement says the sector still stamps the largest ecological footprint on the nation, despite European Union (EU) regulations.

’40 years like a volcano’
Perhaps the greatest reminder of this footprint will be the country’s ash mountains, huge piles of solid hazardous waste that mar Estonia’s relatively flat landscape.

“These will probably stay as the remnants of our fossil-fuel dependent past for centuries from now, as well as the land that has been excavated and already been exhausted,” says Annus.

Soviet legacy: The ash mountain of an abandoned power plant just outside the former oil shale town of Kiviõli. Image: Lukas Rusk

Harmful to the environment due to the poisonous gases and various contaminants they emit into surface and groundwater, these mountains are not only viewed as an ecological disaster.

They have also dealt a blow to the country’s pockets.

It cost the government more than 36 million euros (about NZ$44.4 million) to close the infamous ash mountain in Kohtla-Järve, which stood approximately 170m above sea level before it was closed and made environmentally safe in 2015.

Hazardous giant: Kohtla-Järve’s infamous ash mountain, which the Ministry of the Environment says it had to “redo”. Image: Berit-Helena Lamp/Estonian Ministry of the Environment

Estonia’s current environmental headache is the Kukruse ash mountain, which one official from the Ida-Viru County government describes as a 40-year-old “volcano”.

Hardi Murula, head of development and planning for the county government, says they have been engaged in ongoing talks for the past three to four years on how best to “neutralise” the mountain, but that no consensus has been reached.

“No one can guarantee during the restoration process that the pollution can be stopped.”

The closure of ash mountains throughout Ida-Virumaa is largely seen as positive despite the challenges, with one of the mountains in the former oil shale town of Kiviõli converted into an adventure centre in a joint industry-government project.

Piret Väinsalu of the Estonian Fund for Nature says the restoration of land is rather impossible, however.

“You can try to restore it into something, but it will always be there as a ‘heritage of oil shale age’.”

The source of the Kiviõli Adventure Centre’s heat is its ash mountain, which a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment described as a “great example of using available resources”. Image: Lukas Rusk

Legacy pollution
But government, industry and environmentalists do not see eye-to-eye on the source of this environmental damage.

Minister of Environment Marko Pomerants says much of the environmental impact is related to “legacy pollution” of the Soviet-era.

“Fortunately, most of the major negative effects are a thing of the past and the current oil shale sector has remarkably reduced its harmful practices for the environment.”

He says environmental concerns today largely involve emissions, although these have decreased since 2002.

Timo Tatar, head of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication’s energy department, agrees.

“Talking about environmental damage, one can say, that oil shale environmental impact has significantly decreased due to heavy investments into new combustion technologies as well as emission control.”

Kiviõli Keemiatööstus: The last oil shale bastion in the town of Kiviõli. Image: Lukas Rusk A digger at work atop the suspected ash mountain of Kiviõli’s last remaining shale-chemical plant. Image: Lukas Rusk

Official 2014 data by the European Commission shows Estonia currently stands as the second highest emitter, per capita, of greenhouse gases in Europe, however, and its far from carbon-free history occupies a blight on their climate change record.

Although the EU’s Emissions Trading System allows the country to sell-off its emissions because they are lower than the country’s massive levels at 1990, things are far from rosy, especially in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.

In light of this, environmentalists Annus, Väinsalu, and their colleague Aleksei Lotman, a marine conservation expert with the Estonian Fund for Nature, do not share officials’ view.

Although they agree the oil shale industry is “very much less polluting” than it was 30 years ago, they say making oil shale “environmentally friendly” is not enough.

To call current improvements by the oil shale industry so is “over-optimistic to say the least”, Lotman says.

A question of commitment
They are therefore critical of industry and government and feel both have failed to act effectively.

Väinsalu, who serves as the Estonian coordinator for the international non-profit network EKOenergia in her role with the Estonian Fund for Nature, says the government does “just enough” to be on a good list for Estonia’s European partners, while it simultaneously supports oil shale interests by lobbying for greater industry exemptions.

“Instead of understanding the need to find an alternative route and exit the oil shale era our government just supports the industry in every way possible.”

Eesti Energia train: The main driver of oil shale operations, delivering millions of tonnes of oil shale to the Narva power plants per year. Image: Essi Lehto

Eesti Energia, Estonia’s state-owned energy enterprise, refutes such claims and says it has taken several steps to reduce the environmental impacts of its operations.

“Today we can produce more energy from oil shale than in the past with less environmental impact,” says Eesti Energia.

Eesti Energia says introductions in new technology have been responsible, although physical changes have also occurred.

Among these was the 2008 closure of the ash field at their Balti power plant near Narva, in Estonia’s east.

The project took three years to complete and resulted in 570ha being made safe for the environment.

In 2013, Eesti Energia’s sister company, Enefit, opened a 17-turbine wind park on the former ash field.

“Our main focus lies in replacing fossil fuels with cleaner fuels,” Eesti Energia says.

The company adds it already does so through its use of water, wind, and biomass.

Rock-and-a-hard-place: Estonia’s renewable capacity is hindered by its relatively flat topography. Image: Lukas Rusk

Annus, however, as a member of one of Estonia’s most influential environmental organisations, feels industry may not have been as cooperative as it makes out.

“Whether they would make their processes more environment-friendly voluntarily, is questionable.”

He says this is because the oil shale industry has been put under increasing pressure by tightening EU regulations.

“They have been forced to take action to meet the set concentration values of emissions, changing the technology of landfilling of solid and hazardous waste, limiting water pollution, and so on.”

Annus adds much of Estonia’s oil shale industry happens behind closed doors, which further calls into question their transparency.

“A lot of the region has also been blocked off from the public eye.”

“No, no way”: This was as far as one of my photographers and I could get to one of Eesti Energia’s oil shale operations near Viivikonna, eastern Estonia. Image: Essi Lehto

Kaja Peterson, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre’s (SEI Tallinn) climate and energy programme, says Eesti Energia has, in fact, been rather open.

“I think Eesti Energia has been very flexible because they reformed and created a new sister company, Enefit Renewable Energy.”

She points out, however, that Eesti Energia is gradually transitioning to renewables and oil shale, unfortunately, still forms the majority of their operations.

Fossil free future?
This seeming unwillingness on the part of officials to divest from oil shale has led to serious doubts about Estonia’s renewable future.

While the government and oil shale industry remain positive, environmentalists and researchers are sceptical.

They claim there is no direct investment or clear political will in renewables by the government, only some will to diversify.

“There have been measures to promote sustainable energy, but the indirect subsidies for fossil fuels have still been greater,” Annus emphasises.

Annus feels Estonia is lagging behind a large portion of their EU counterparts and trendsetters, while Tatar and Pomerants celebrate Estonia reaching its Renewable Energy Directive target – 25 percent of renewables in final energy consumption – well before the 2020 deadline.

“Since the political target has been achieved there is no political motivation to increase that,” Peterson says.

Estonia’s climate footprint: The largest oil shale power plant in the world, near Narva, operated by Eesti Energia. Image: Lukas Rusk

Peterson’s colleague, Lauri Tammiste, SEI Tallinn’s director, says the shift to a low-carbon economy remains on the official agenda.

He highlights plans by the government to reach 50 percent of renewables and lower CO₂ emissions by 2030, although there will be a challenge.

“The main issue is, how to actually deliver these goals and ensure successful transformation with biggest possible environmental, economic and social benefits.”

When asked whether Estonia would have a fossil free future, Sepp was adamant he would not see change in his lifetime.

“No. Not in the near future.

It’s very convenient to use this old system. You have one system which works and to build a new one …. takes a lot of money and a lot of effort. Some very critical changes must happen to change this system.”

It seems clear, for the time being at least, that Estonia’s energy future remains far more carbon intensive than environmentalists would like.

Feature article by Kendall Hutt; photos by Essi Lehto and Lukas Rusk. The assignment was part of the Inclusive Journalism Project collaboration between journalism schools in New Zealand and Scandinavia.