“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 miningâ€”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 countriesâ€”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.