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The Economist slams John Key’s mining plan

Written By: - Date published: 11:48 am, March 24th, 2010 - 40 comments
Categories: Conservation, Environment, Mining - Tags:

It’s not easy seeming green” is the title of The Economist‘s latest article attacking John Key’s mining plans. The flagship publication of the global free market says the mining plans for New Zealand’s conservation estate undermine our 100% pure brand.

The story begins by referencing Lord of the Rings to illustrate how important the clean and green brand is for New Zealand.

New Zealand’s tourist industry, too, is eager to see the islands’ sweeping and unsullied vistas revealed once more to millions of cinemagoers, as they were almost a decade ago when the first of the three films based on Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of The Rings’ was released. Those films did a great deal to boost the country’s tourism trade (Air New Zealand started advertising itself on the basis of ‘Best Supporting Scenery’), fitting nicely with the country ‘s ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ marketing slogan, first used a couple of years earlier.

Those movies did a lot for New Zealand’s 100% pure brand. But for the brand to work, we needed to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. And over the last 15 years, with respect to our conservation estate, we did. Between National in the 1990s and Labour in 2000s, Schedule 4 protection was passed and two new National Parks were created.

But that green image was always under threat. No government has tackled our greenhouse gas rises or stopped pollution of our waterways. And John Key pretends it’s not a problem:

When tackled on these claims by an Australian reporter, New Zealand’s normally amiable prime minister John Key angrily dismissed them as ‘bollocks’, pointing to his country’s efforts to tackle its emissions by energetically planting trees that would re-absorb them. But local papers took up the theme. ‘New Zealand: 100 per cent pure hype’ trumpeted the New Zealand Herald. ‘We are clean and green, but only relatively speaking and by accident rather than conscious effort.’ The ruggedness of much of New Zealand’s terrain may have protected its film-friendly uplands, but at lower elevations farming has stripped away forests, eroded hills and clogged rivers with silt and fertiliser run-off.

Yes, we have serious environmental issues that the government needs to tackle, and John Key shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist.

The emissions-trading scheme excludes agricultural emissions until 2015, and its generous allocations of free carbon credits to business have been lambasted by environmentalists. The country’s transport strategy favours road-building over already-scant public transport, and there is much talk of the need to ease resource-management rules that act as barriers to business.

New Zealand’s response to climate change has been dismal. National watered down the ETS so much, now Kiwis will be subsidising large companies for their pollution! But it’s Key’s mining plan that’s the real kick in the guts for our image.

In February, the government revealed it was considering opening some of the country’s pristine public land up for mining—an activity to which the dwarves in ‘The Hobbit’ are much given, but which is not popular with more elvish sensibilities. Energetic lobbying by environmental groups forced it to scale back the amount of land under consideration, but on March 22nd it announced that it still intended to open 7,000 hectares of conservation land to mining, with other conservation areas to be surveyed for their mineral potential.

The Economist goes on to suggest that if New Zealand proceeds down this path we should really just give up our 100% brand for something more ‘sustainble’. I wonder how much that would cost the country?

In many ways, the dilemma New Zealand faces is no different to that of other rich countries—how to balance economic growth with the need to address environmental degradation. But it is particularly acute in a country so dependent on the export of commodities and landscape-driven tourism. The difference between New Zealand and other places is that New Zealand has actively sold itself as ‘100% Pure’. Now that New Zealanders themselves are acknowledging the gap between the claim and reality, and the risk to their reputation this poses, it is time for the country to find itself a more sustainable brand, and soon.

Maybe Mr Key should’ve asked for advice on how his mining plan might hurt the Kiwi brand? If the Greens get basic classical economic theory, you’d think a National government would.

40 comments on “The Economist slams John Key’s mining plan ”

  1. Jon S 1

    Wouldn’t want to be a man in the room when the Minister of Tourism gets a hold of this and gives the Prime Minister a call…

    • freedom 1.1

      nice one !

    • Irascible 1.2

      He’d congratulate the PM on having the “balls” to create a site that would have the tourists standing in awe especially if the nine had a cycleway for X treme cyclists to ride on. He might even suggest that cycleway monies be diverted into subsidising the hole in the conservation estate on the grounds that the roads needed for the mines were part of the tourist incentive the cycleway was to promote.

      • Cnr Joe 1.2.1

        mining tourism?
        ooh he is inventive, this this Crosby Textured facsimile of a good keen man keyed-up kiwi P.Millionaire

    • Jum 1.3

      LOL

      I love a post that makes me laugh but sticks it right in the jugular of right-wing selfish greed.

  2. Bill 2

    Bear in mind that Key and the Nats had already decided to flush the Clean and Green brand out the nearest outfall pipe because ‘it was too hard’, or some such. They weren’t thinking ahead a wee bit and attempting to blunt the environmental argument that they knew would inevitably oppose their upcoming mining proposals?

    They’re not that stupid are they? Not that simple minded? Surely? Are they?

    I think, upon reflection, that they might be.
    I think, they think, we think nothing of them ripping up beauty for the sake of brass as long as ‘clean and green’ doesn’t sit as an inconvenient official aspiration for NZ.

    Actually, I withdraw that train of thought.

    They’re not even that smart. Occams Razor pushes me to conclude that they simply don’t give a fuck and they cannot understand that anybody else would.

    It’s that empathy thing again.

    • Michael Foxglove 2.1

      Bill – I think you’re right. They just don’t care… The only thing that will make the government care about 100% pure brand is private polling that shows the public care a hell of a lot.

    • Mat Smith 2.2

      John Key and mates are going bananas. And turning us into a banana republic.

    • Pewi 2.3

      The National Party has been very quick in pre-emptively branding any objection as hysterical. Perhaps to give themselves the upperhand in arguments?

      But what rationality in leadership and management have they been demonstrating in madly inviting such a damaging piece as this in a highly regarded worldwide publication?

      Smile and wave goodbye to the missed opportunities you have just created, John?

      Why are you sabotaging the NZ brand?

      Really, what you’ve just done is stupid and quite unforgivable.

      • Armchair Critic 2.3.1

        I can not stand how the supporters of mining keep saying “we need to have a rational discussion about mining s4 land”.
        The discussion has been had. They think mining s4 land could be good, with not much to back it up. That’s kind of irrational. The response is a reasonably strong thanks but no. That’s a pretty rational response to the irrational suggestion.
        The supporters of mining s4 land need to find their rational side and stop bandy meaningless slogans about. I resent the inference that opposing mining s4 land is less than totally rational.

  3. Bored 3

    The final question from the Economist .’how to balance economic growth with the need to address environmental degradation’?

    You cannot grow an economy unless you grow production. You cannot produce without an environmental footprint. Ergo if you increase production you increase your environmental footprint.

    Now assume you are going to grow .and you have taken 50% available resources (environmental footprint whatever), you have 50% left to exploit. You grow at 2% per annum; you will have used everything (101%) at 37 years of growth. Try this exercise on your spreadsheets.

    My point is that you can prove mathematically that growth cannot become a constant as it must consume all resources. The implication is that the thinking behind growth economics is both fallacious and fatal.

    • Michael Foxglove 3.1

      I knew there was a good reason I stopped reading the Economist years ago.

      • lprent 3.1.1

        Your loss. I read it all of the time, and done so for decades.

        I seldom agree, but they do present the major arguments clearly. Beats the hell out of any other magazine or paper I’ve ever read.

        BTW: Bored. You can increase production per capita while making a decrease in the environmental impacts. There is the obvious one that you’re missing in your assumptions – what happens to an economy when you have decreasing populations. Something that the world will be facing for the first time in a relatively few decades.

        Pull your head out of the box and think of a few more… I just did.

        • Michael Foxglove 3.1.1.1

          I know what you mean Lynn.. but every time I pick it up, I can’t help but think I should be reading the Guardian instead.

        • Bored 3.1.1.2

          IP I had those fond ideas too, very aware of that, even noted population decline in bits of Europe.

          Apart from that I think that the mega trends are undeniable, you can take a Cornucopean approach, I am more in line with a Malthusian scenario. Ultimately if you take your head out of the sand you realise that you can produce sustainably at a set level if the resources can regenerate. Productivity does not come into it, how many people you need to exploit the sustainable resource does not matter. When you pass the point of regeneration, or base your production takes things that can only be used once you can only grow so far. As I said do the maths.

          I like your regard for the Economist, I read it often. The best thing I got from it was a man whose head was way above most economists (Schumaker). He anticipated the inability to have continuous growth 50 years ago. The challenge is to have appropriate levels of production, population and sustainability. My fear is that these will not be reached as a matter of choice, the planet will impose them on us.

        • Ari 3.1.1.3

          You can do that lprent, but increasing efficiency is not the same reliable growth engine that increasing consumption is, and it requires a paradigm shift in social values to reliably establish.

          We’d need to become community-focused instead of individual-focused. We’d need to become pragmatic instead of partisan. We’d need to enact emergency programs to reform neighbourhoods, to invest for the future, to stop making the now better now, and start making the future better with a little hard work.

          In short, it’s a hard sell politically. Not that us Greens and our green friends won’t be working on it. 🙂

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.4

          Increasing productivity can also reduce the human footprint on the environment. The problem is that economic growth is used to bring everyone up to first world living standards which increases the resources needed anyway. Yes, the worlds population will start to slowly decline in a few decades (not allowing for effects from ACC or Peak Oil) but by then most of the resources will have been used up. What will remain is the stuff that’s nearly impossible to get at.

          Sooner or later will have to bring our resource use down in to the renewable supply rate. At that point growth, and possibly productivity, becomes impossible and capitalism will no longer be able to run the illusion of ever increasing wealth.

    • vto 3.2

      But have we taken 50% of the resources Bored? The devails advocate would argue that the ‘resources’ have hardly been touched yet in terms of energy. For example, nuclear (safe of course) and solar dwarf the carbon energy resources and they have hardly been touched yet. And as for the hard stuff like steel, well that can be recycled and used again. Simplistic but true.

      I recall a few years ago, soon after the cloned sheep Dolly appeared, there was a news item about some scientists who launched a rocket by laser. Now, put those two things together..

      Laser is light. What do you get in outofspace? Light, that’s what. So the energy source is off-planet. Sweet – can propel the rocket for as far as the stars shine.

      Secondly, combine that propulsion with the cloning advancement whereby we could grow our own new cells and advance longevity and what do you get?

      The ability to travel for as far as the stars shine and live for as long as the cells can be grown…

      The end is in fact not nigh.

      • Cnr Joe 3.2.1

        Abundance vto. nice one. Tom Robbins?

      • Maynard J 3.2.2

        Damn, I thought you were saying cloned sheep would colonise the universe in our stead.

        I want to live forever in a light-powered rocket, vto. How much does one cost, and can everyone else have one?

        • vto 3.2.2.1

          Well I imagine the testing stage will take a while. But they should be cheap – few mechanical or electronic parts etc, just some ultra reflective surfaces. And yep sure everyone can have one.

          Actually maybe Brownlee could be the inaugural test pilot.

          • Bored 3.2.2.1.1

            I would like Mr Brownlees end to be nigh..

            And I agree, we may not be near the end, or even close BUT you might want to consider that oils half gone, the bluefin tuna about to be permanently off the menu etc etc. The trick is to know that the behavoir is not right and adjust course to meet our future needs.

      • Bored 3.2.3

        The issue in the universe has never been the amount of energy that exists, it is a matter of how concentrated it is at the point you attempt to capture it. And if you sit still long enough you can capture any amount of sunlight, but compare that to how fast you may want to use it. Concentration rate versus dispersal rate. Suggest you scratch up on the laws of thermodynamics. Jeez reality is so depressing for dreamers, but hell , it may be preferable to wear the Zaphod sunglasses.

      • Ari 3.2.4

        There’s limits on renewables too- the limits, however, are likely to be on the rare earths that are used to construct most advanced green technology rather than on the available sunlight or wind energy. One of the reasons that peace is so important is that modern warfare uses a lot of the same resources we need for renewable power. 😉

  4. gobsmacked 4

    Labour and the Greens should be making MUCH more of the increasingly negative international media coverage of NZ. It takes five minutes on Google to find the latest condemnation of our government – get them compiled, get the quotes, and get it into our media (literally put it in their hands, today’s journos need gifts, not hints). It’s so frustrating that Brownlee’s lies (“postcard on Eden park” – utterly false) get the traction in the media – these people need to be beaten at their own game. Where’s the rapid rebuttal?

    Just one example (this is whaling, not mining, but the same point applies): New Zealand roundly condemned in the Independent (UK) – and in an accompanying editorial too:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/whaling-the-great-betrayal-1925387.html

    All I have is an ancient computer, and dial-up, and nobody’s paying me a cent – but I can find this easily on a coffee break, all the time. Come on, Labour, Greens and the rest – start getting this stuff out there. Every day!

    (or give me a job … 🙂

    • outofbed 4.1

      What makes you think this has not been given to the media?
      I have had copy of the Green press release about this article for few hours

      I can assure you that people are working really hard “to get this stuff out there”

      Your question should be addressed to the MSM maybe

      • gobsmacked 4.1.1

        The MSM are a sad joke, that’s a given. Under-resourced and ever more superficial. So the question is: how to match (or beat) National in playing the MSM.

        Here’s a timeline, on topic:

        Mon PM: Mining proposals released. Brownlee uses the prepared line, “postcard on Eden Park”. Written by one of the PR people, no doubt (see also block of cheese, hydra-headed monster, truth jetted in, etc.).

        Mon PM: “Postcard on Eden Park” used by TV3, TV One, Newstalk ZB, etc. Repeated by Brownlee in all interviews. So, job done.

        Tues PM: On One News, “postcard on Eden Park” is reported as false. It’s actually 120 postcards. But it doesn’t matter any more. It’s a day late.

        Because 24 hours later, mining has been replaced by benefits. Again, job done. They got the simplistic message out, and then moved quickly on. Communications 101.

        Wed PM: Jim Anderton gets up in the House and says it’s 120 postcards. Much mocking of Minister, all good fun. And all pointless. Because it’s now 48 hours late.

        Here’s the thing. The moment I heard the “postcard” line on Monday, I knew that was the soundbite. Not because I’m some Rove/McCully dark genius but simply because when you’ve seen enough politics, you know how it’s done. It’s not hard. It’s obvious. It really is.

        And my immediate reaction was- check that. Challenge that. And … nobody did. Until now, some 48 hours later, after it had been on the TV news.

        That’s what happened. But it shouldn’t have. (and it is just one example)

        The oppostion aren’t setting the news agenda. They’re following it. They’re failing. Sorry if that offends people on the inside – no doubt they are working hard. But the Nats are working smarter. And they’re winning. And if the opposition parties can’t see that, then nothing’s going to change.

        (note: I have no idea who works where, am not a member of any party, have no axe to grind, just a distant observer – calling it as I see it).

        • BLiP 4.1.1.1

          You’re missing whole sub plots – first seed the ground with the “hysterical vs rational” wedge, prime the MSM, make the announcement at the same time as another attack on beneficiaries is launched, then watch as King John The Clueless of Camelot ducks for cover so as to not sully his pristine “brand”.

          • gobsmacked 4.1.1.1.1

            Well of course I missed out plenty, BLIP. I don’t have time to write the whole manual, on a blog.

            But it has all been done before (usually originating in the USA) and that’s why it’s not hard to see what they’re doing now.

          • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1.2

            The MSM are a sad joke, that’s a given. Under-resourced and ever more superficial. So the question is: how to match (or beat) National in playing the MSM.

            A little difficult when NACTs mates own the MSM and call the shots over what gets reported.

  5. Bill 5

    Having read the article, I disagree with any interpretation claiming that it ‘slams John Key’s mining plan’ or any such like.

    According to the article, mining isn’t the problem. Water pollution isn’t the problem. Air pollution isn’t the problem. Land degradation isn’t the problem.

    The problem is the ‘clean and green’ brand.

    The last sentence in the article could have been penned by Nik Smith himself…”Now that New Zealanders themselves are acknowledging the gap between the claim and reality, and the risk to their reputation this poses, it is time for the country to find itself a more sustainable brand, and soon.”…

    Note that it is the brand that threatens NZ’s reputation? Not the sorry state of NZ’s environment?

    And so the solution does not entail getting our sorry environmental arses into gear. The solution is to simply rebrand. Which is the line the Nats have been pushing.

  6. Ron 6

    that vto comment is joke. Right?

    • pollywog 6.1

      Hmmm…let’s see. The recipe to date seems to be, new energy, exhaust resources, colonisation…rinse and repeat in no particular order.

      I’m reminded of Rapanui/easter island and the fair skinned, red haired ‘long ears’ who used the energy of the short eared polynesians and all the resources to create idols that led to revolution and their extinction.

      When the new energy source is found, i’m pickin the rich will leave this planet like rats.

      • Bored 6.1.1

        Damn it PW, I am going to find that power source immediately, you might as well clip the ticket too by arranging the rich rats immigration papers to Alpha Centauri and places beyond (one way).

  7. Jim Nald 7

    Thanks, John, our PM and Tourism Minister (I do hope you talk to each other).
    How many jobs will we lose from this and how many more might we miss out?

  8. Levi 8

    Everybody should visit this site!! And join the facebook group!!

    http://coromandelwatchdog.wordpress.com/about/

  9. RAWIRI 9

    WHO CARES ABOUT TOURISIM AND THE SO CALLED MILLIONS WE SHOULD BE PROTECTING OUR HERITEGE AND THE HEART OF OUR LAND .IT MIGHT BE UNDERGROUND BUT CAN YOU LIVE WITH A HOLE IN YOUR HEART . SO IF THIS HAPPENS THEY ARE TAKING OUR CULTURE AND OUR BELIEFS. KIA KAHA
    PMS DONT CARE
    THESE ARE WORDS BY DAVID PUATA
    “IN THIS TIME OF NEED, WE EXPECT ALL, BUT GET NOTHING BUT GREED”

    [lprent: Don’t SHOUT – it offends my eyes (and it is totally unnecessary). Similarly dropping the same comment across posts is a fast way for me to start considering that you might be a troll – read the policy about trolls. ]

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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
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