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March 24, 2014 | by  | in Features |
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Russel Norman

Russel Norman, the co-leader of the Green Party, keeps his office on the 14th floor of Bowen House. Leafy vines cover the back windows. He wears a grey organic cotton T, baggy denim jeans and skate shoes. Norman is Australian, and he has very much maintained the drawl.

THE PERSON

How do you get to work?

Varies. Mostly I walk or bus. Bus No 21.

What do you do for lunch?

I have my lunchbox. [Today, scroggin and a cheese-and-tomato toasted sandwich]

Do you have a good vege garden?

It’s okay. I have three worm bins. But I just don’t have enough time to look after it.

Do you use organic food?

Probably 90 per cent fruit and veges are organic.

Have you smoked pot?

Yeah.

THE POLITICIAN

What’s your advice for students to do their bit?

Often, transport is the big footprint. It’s also expensive so you know, yeah, that’s also one of the big things to get on top of. Transport’s a big one. Obviously, what you can do with your scraps in terms of sending them to the landfill is all pretty easy to deal with in terms of growing veges.

If you were the kingmaker for a day, and you could enact one law to improve the environment of NZ, what would it be? 

Well I mean in terms of NZ environmental issues, it’s gotta be about freshwater: probably some proper standards around levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment in rivers. Government is proposing some levels at the moment that will allow rivers to have more than 1.5 times the nitrate as the Yangtze River in China. The standards they are proposing [mean] rivers don’t have to be drinkable; they don’t have to be swimmable; they don’t have to wade-able. You have to be careful you don’t touch anything. Don’t get splashed ‘cause you’ll get sick. The groundwater in Canterbury now is so toxic that if you fed it to your kids it would kill them.

Genetic Engineering?

‘Keep it in the lab’ I guess is the slogan. We are fine with using GE in the lab; we are fine with using GE insulin, for example. But yeah, we keep it in the lab. Can’t let it loose on the environment.

Is apathy the problem? 

Well I mean nonetheless, if you look at recycling rates, they have gone through the roof. People are recycling. We still get improvements in cycling and walking. Public transport (‘PT’, he calls it for short. What lingo.) is doing alright. I mean, a lot of things are structural. So if the Government spends all the transport money on motorways, then it makes it very difficult for people to choose alternatives to the private car because it becomes an obstacle.

Deep-sea drilling?

We wouldn’t. The reason being twofold: one is just the risks around the kind of the dangers exposed by Deepwater Horizon. The ability to plug a hole when you get one. I always assumed, as all of us did, that blowout responses had always worked and it turns out they don’t. And the second issue is climate change. Just from the point of view of preserving a stable climate then you just can’t burn it anyway.

Do you think the moves away from coal and fossil fuels will increase power prices?

I just don’t think it’s true. The most expensive power in NZ at the moment is coal-fired power, so Huntly [last NZ coal power plant] only comes on at peak point. The Green Party vision is quite different. It’s that we all have smart meters at home and it says if you want to turn on your [appliance] at 9 pm instead of 6 pm, you will pay a lot less for your power. That will incentivise a movement in demand. Once you take the top off the peak, then you don’t need to turn Huntly on anymore, so everyone gets cheaper power and you don’t burn coal. It’s just about being smart.

Then if you think about the next step, it’s gonna be electric vehicles. We are gonna have electric vehicles and so in the middle of the night when we have geothermal going, we’ve got windpower going and nothing much to do with it, then you can just suck it up into your electric vehicles.

Geoengineering?

We’re pretty sceptical about geoengineering and also carbon capture and storage. I mean, obviously, both technologies are in their early days. We don’t know where we are going to go, but the danger is that people go, “Oh well! We don’t have to do anything about reducing emissions because maybe some magic will come along and fix it all for us.”

 

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About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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