James Shaw on having two mums, Dungeons and Dragons, and what fills him with fury

After nine years as Green Party co-leader, including a five-year stint as Climate Change Minister, James Shaw is stepping down.

He joins Susie Ferguson for a chat about everything except politics and shares six songs that represent elements of his parliamentary experience.

On growing up with two mothers in 1980s Wellington:

"Social attitudes weren't nearly as enlightened. You gotta remember, we only legalised homosexuality in the mid-1980s. My folks got together when I was about 10 or 11 so sort of late '80s.

"I was at Wellington High School, which is the most socially progressive school so it was a good place for me in that sense, and very supportive and normal. But I've never really dwelled on that as a matter of identity or anything like that."

James Shaw on having two mums, Dungeons and Dragons, and what fills him with fury
Photo credit: Newshub Nation/Supplied

On meeting his dad for the first time in his early 20s:

"We occasionally get in touch. I've probably seen him three or four times during the course of my life, but we don't really have a relationship … I grew up with a solo parent, only child, and that was what was normal. As kids, everything is viewed through the prism of your own experience above all else."

On Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:

"There's a lot of things that I admire about his writing but he is the most undisciplined author in the history of humankind. I got to the end of the seventh absolute doorstopper of a book and realised that winter was still coming. I didn't realise that there were more books to come. For God's sake, finish the damn story."

On his lifelong love of Dungeons and Dragons:

"A friend of mine described it as an iteration of the age-old art of sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories. That's basically what you're doing. You get together with some of your friends and you basically drink wine and tell ghost stories."

On conducting himself as a politician:

"You know the old saying about you dress for your audience? If people are sitting there thinking about the way that you look or the way that you sound, something like that, then they're not listening to what it is. So a lot of the way that I've conducted myself over the course of my parliamentary career is to try and remove that as a factor … so that we can be in a conversation.

"I had a 15-year career in management consultancy first and I can speak the language. I think that that does make it a bit easier to have some of those conversations, because when you're dealing with a large industrial organisation that's putting a tonne of pollution into the atmosphere, if you want them to shift you've got to work out 'Well, how can I help?'

"You have to come at it with a background assumption that we both want the same outcome. Frankly, some of those businesses don't want the same outcome but you come at it with the expectation we all want the world to be a better place than it is right now."

On climate action around the world:

"The United Kingdom is the country that has made the biggest gains in terms of cutting pollution. They managed to drop their pollution by over 40% since 1990, which is frankly astonishing for a country with one of the largest economies in the world. This momentum has slowed down in recent years, which is really unfortunate.

"You can see things shifting enormously in the United States, especially after Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act has caused a massive shift in investment.

"We all like to beat up China for continuing to build coal-fired power stations, which they are, and at the same time they are installing solar panels and wind farms at an extraordinary rate of knots and putting huge numbers of electric vehicles on the roads and taking internal-combustion-engine cars off the roads."

On managing his anger:

"In the job that I've had, every single day, dealing with the reality of the situation, both internationally and domestically, it fills me with fury that there are people and organisations and parts of government that have this almost willful ignorance about the situation that we find ourselves in and that that is dramatically slowing down the pace of change.

"The reason I get so angry about it is because it puts our natural world and human lives at risk. And it astonishes me that people who think that they have any sense of conscience can so willfully aid and abet the destruction of our natural world and human life.

"I haven't had the luxury of self-expression for a lot of the last six years so [this anger] probably leaks out around the edges in moments of sarcasm. My regret is that it would be the people who are closest to me, my people, my staff for example - working all the hours that God sent and some more to help me to do the work that we've been doing - who see me at my worst, you know."

On individual action as an antidote to despondency:

"We need to be brutally honest about the science and about what's in front of us. But when you take action in quite small ways, like you know, in the home or in your business or your church group or your sports group, business, I think that really helps, because what it says is that within my span of control, I am doing something that, when it's added up to all of the other people around the world doing similar stuff, will make some difference."

On resigning from the Green Party:

"I guess one thing that I'm really proud of is that the work that I did over the last six years, largely, not entirely, but the framework has survived through the current government which has made a virtue out of demolishing most of what the previous government did.

"The acid test of what we were doing was that it's got to survive multiple changes of government, you know, swings of the pendulum, left and right, over multiple decades. To me, it's like all the proof has to be in the pudding. I don't really care what people thought of me, it's that we got the job done."

James Shaw played:

'The Power' by Snap!

"This is a song that I absolutely loved when it came out.

"We got [into government and it's all excitement and great. 'We got the power', let's get some stuff done. Let's, you know, end child poverty and fix climate change, and all of that jazz."

'Running Up That Hill' by Placebo (a Kate Bush cover):

"It's got a gritty sort of feel to it. And I chose it because having gotten past that initial excitement and that rush of blood to the head about being in government, it starts to get to be quite a grind."

'I Can't Decide' by Scissor Sisters:

"It's got a sort of a slightly honky tonk vibe to it and it's one of those songs from the early 2000s when I was living in London and going out clubbing and having a really good time.

"I just think this is a great tune in terms of the emotional arc of government ... there are some people that I will never talk to you as a result of the experience that we had."

'Big Yellow Taxi' by The Counting Crows ft Vanessa Carlton (a Joni Mitchell cover):

"This is a song I think a lot about in terms of our war on nature, humankind's war on nature. I know that that's not technically what the song is about.

"It's about the people who have this willful ignorance about what it is that we're doing [to the environment]. This song to me, sums that up, in a lot of ways."

'Don't Look Back in Anger' by Oasis: