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100% Pure New Zealand Fantastical as dragons and wizardsGareth Morgan

100% muddled earth

100% Pure New Zealand Fantastical as dragons and wizards

It is a dangerous contradiction for New Zealand to sustain, and one that risks painting us as part of the group of ‘polluter’ nations.

In this its second term, a yawning gap has appeared between the actions of National and the clean and green rhetoric it trots out on the international stage. Our 100% Pure image has most recently been called out by the New York Times who called it as “fantastical as dragons and wizards” – a reference to the forthcoming Hobbit movie launch.

The New York Times article points out a 2010 study which ranks us as the 18th worst country in the world for environmental damage, citing forest and other natural habitat loss, our carbon emissions and water pollution as major contributors. These factors all remain in the firing line as the National Government’s tries to squeeze all the economic growth it can out of our resources. The Government’s response is to sweep them all under the carpet by instructing the Ministry for the Environment to cease publishing its State of the Environment Report. Let’s quickly look at each of the issues in turn.

Forest habitat for native species was offered a reprieve under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and offshoots like the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative (PFSI) which aimed to encourage native forest regeneration. Now that the global financial crisis and Government tinkering have torpedoed the ETS, there is no real incentive for investment in forestry. In fact those poor mugs who opted into the PFSI, planting native forests for their value as carbon sinks are stuck paying bills on a native forest that is now worthless.

Next, National has opted to walk away from Kyoto and has thrown in its lot with the major polluting countries like China, the US and Russia. Our emissions are among the highest in the world and without any credible policies to restrain them our Government’s commitments to reduce emissions are nothing but hollow promises – as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has highlighted. Incredibly we are now behind coal-chugging Australia in climate change action.

On water pollution we are nearing a crucial moment. Regional Councils like Horizons in the Manawatu are trying to set pollution limits to modestly reduce the degradation of our rivers, and work out rational ways of sharing the water in the rivers amongst different users. The Land and Water Forum has got everyone in the tent for a lot of talking and hui but now the time has come for do-ey. The question is will the Government support setting environmental standards that can save our rivers, or will they water down the whole concept in favour of chasing economic growth? This will become clear in coming months, but from what we have seen it points to them okaying increased degradation as a means for economic development.

Sir Paul Callaghan said it best back in 2009,

We believe that we have a clean economy and a clean green image, and do not see the lack of honesty which surrounds this branding. We are merely a small population spread over a large area which provides an impression of clean and green.

The economic problem we face is a competition with Australia. Mining is driving their boom and it is difficult to compete with. It is a relatively lucrative yet low-skilled undertaking, and as a result Western Australia is attracting people from all over the world. The only way for Key and Co to keep up with Australia during their short political tenure is also by extracting the most they can from our limited resources; not just minerals but also our waterways and land. The difference is that Australia’s land is inert, it has no value other than minerals in its dry crust. New Zealand is not in that position as our land is full of life, and degradation is all the more marked here.

Are there alternatives? Yes, but it takes hard decisions, investment, and time – nothing that a Government wanting to be returned in 2 years will want to hear, particularly not one that holds natural capital as being of questionable value. Adjusting to an economy that’s health doesn’t depend on greater and greater environmental degradation is overdue in New Zealand We are not a poor country, we’re three times richer than we were in 1960, and given the economic storm in Europe we have recently recovered a lot of lost ground compared to other nations. We live in times of great prosperity – at least measured via conventional means such as GDP or national income per capita. Income per head is three times what it was fifty years ago in 1960, which is progress for sure even though we’re down to about 30th in the world, having been steadily overtaken on that measure by other countries over recent decades.

Thankfully the leadership vacuum in Government is being filled by the business community. Pure Advantage, a grouping of some NZ business leaders that has released their plan for “Green Growth”. The plan is by no means perfect, but it provides a lot more flesh on the bones of the sort of waffly ideas that the Greens and Labour have been touting in recent years. Pure Advantage has finally provided these parties a tangible offering with solid business backing. You might think this has National worried – although the actions of a cabal of its senior Ministers to accelerate the rate of environmental deprecation would give lie to such a thought.

Realistically, clean tech and other green growth initiatives aren’t going to light up the New Zealand economy overnight. We have to pursue a combination of doing what we do now better, as well as finding new innovations and industries to grow.

No change comes cheaply – ask a farmer what it actually costs for them to mitigate the environmental impact of their activity – nutrient recycling technologies for instance. However, over time with innovation and investment we can stay at the cutting edge of clean and green farming, and enhance our position as premium food producers. But to make these long term investments we need policy certainty – something that the Government has deliberately set out of late to undermine not just by  blatantly resisting change and trotting off down a low value commodity route, but by threatening to change laws like the RMA to make environmental degradation easier.

Conservation and ecological sustainability is a mainstream issue, no longer the preserve of a narrow, myopic sector of interest. The mainstream of New Zealand, I suggest, is crying out: give us a suite of green growth policies that are credible and “make NZ a place”, as Sir Paul said, “where talent wants to live”.  Come on, at the moment the only thing that is green about our growth is the algae collecting in our rivers.

  • Curtis Antony Nixon

    The problem is that those who really control New Zealand i.e. Wall St and City of London bankers don’t care about NZers quality of life or our country’s ecology. That is because they only are concerned with extracting maximum profit from ‘their’ satellite farm/estate/Middle Earthian film set/holiday resort. NZers are merely their servile groundsmen and women, milking cows, mowing golf courses, catching fish, filming hobbits or digging up minerals for export or to facilitate tourism. Employment laws a problem? ETS inconvenient? The colonial administration of J.Key will scrap it. Want an exchange rate on the NZ dollar to ensure NZ is a ready market for cheap manufactures and our exports are as cheap as possible overseas – John knows about currency manipulation – he made his fortune raiding the NZ dollar in the 80’s? No wonder we still have the Union Jack on our flag and Queenie as HOS. It shows who is really in charge.

  • Terry Goodall

    Brilliant Gareth – very perceptive – Bilbo would be proud of you.

  • Tony Wasley

    Good analylsis. Blindingly obvious for some of us for too long. We have a government that doesnt understand deep economics, doesn’t understand that the enviroment IS the economy.Instead it comes from the point of Corporate Capitalism, a severely distorted form of capalist economics. Not surprising really considering the backgrounds of many in the National Party.

    • Peter McKinnon

      I think we have a government who understands economics 100% – and that makes their actions all the more worse. They’re just not acting on that understanding here; rather they’re acting on a desire to get voted back in the near term and putting that above the country’s long term economic interests.

  • Maryjane Walker

    Hm I do like the analysis but you seem to be criticising everyone and everything without offering solutions, a privileged position to be in but rather frustrating.

    I spoke to a guy who has lived in Queenstown for 15 yeas, who is still on $14 an hour, and it took him 3 months to see his local mp, Deputy Leader, Bill English.

    This guy in the past was a small business person, and he was harking back to the day of Rob Muldoon, and said that he has $10 left a week after rent and food. He mentioned how under Muldoon there what was know as a cost of living allowing allowance, ie that measured the per centage increase in the cost of living, and that workers were compensated for this in their wages every year, and employers paid it and beneficiaries received it. He noted that ordinary working people are not spending anymore and this does affect the local community.

    Giving overseas people, visitor then working visa does denies our young people jobs. Hm, this is food for thought. He stated Bill English, had no empathy whatsoever.

    I know what you mean about the environment, but how do we create jobs in Tourism and protect our native species, DOC is not doing it, it is a management issue, too many managers and not enough, focus at a national level. There are too many Conservancies, with regional policies,that all differ, and I believe we need a National Standard.

    DOC wardens have different contracts in each Conservancy, and even the volunteering is different, abit like the Health Sector, too many areas.

    For instance, only one Conservancy, Wanaka gets rid of Feral Cats in our National Parks, I believe a National disgrace, they have decided not to do it.

    I volunteered to help you, and the offer is still there.

    Regards Jennie Walker

  • Victoria Adams

    Totally agree with this Gareth.

    PS Are you awaiting a Dear Mr Morgan email from Mark Unworth re letting your ego run riot worldwide if this item happens to be read by a journalist from the New York times?

    • Victoria Adams

      Oops Mark Unsworth I mean but maybe Unworth is more suitable with his penchant for changing others surname.

  • Andrew Mountain

    What a load of shit. OK for a guy who allready has enough money to last several lifetimes to spout on about being green. Bet Gareth had a different view on life when he was a poor but budding capitalist now that he is rich he become a socialist and want to bankrupt NZ with the green bull that is the global warming agenda. Interesting because it wont affect him financially. OK I agree let clean up farming and get our river back in order but as for the rest of the agenda Gareth get a life dude.

  • Claire Bleakley

    Excellent analysis Gareth however where does transgenic tech fit into Pure Advantages vision?

  • Grant Lyon

    Not only are politicians doing nothing. Even deluded in their belief that increased production means increased profits. yet in reality, if farmers adopt one of the modern scientific “clean and green” methods of farming, they will make higher profits than conventional farmers, and sustain those levels. But there is also a lot of “Green wash” and talk from influential people. Like Pure Advantage and the writer of this blog. The science has been done. The Maths has been done. The trials Have been done. It is all working, right now. The problem is the inability or wiliness of those in the positions of influence, to listen and or to get their heads out of the sand and learn the latest techniques and technology. Fact. How many more times must I say this?

  • sunday special

    As mentioned by .other observers Morgan has plenty of environmental considerations he would like to load on to the NZ tax payer, as well as his previous ludicrous tax burdens .
    How about a fourth tax Gareth after your capital tax 6%, and your income tax Gareth 30% , yes another fourth tax for environment,
    How much would he like to impose.for his dream.
    Is there any stopping this man .Gareth is full of ideas that cost big money, totally out of the tree.
    But thankfully NZ Govt< NZ Labour party<, NZFirst < don;t agree with the tax zealot .

  • Mike McGinnis

    Peeling back the green veneer of NZ environmental policy has finally seen the light of day. This is particularly the case in coastal marine policy, and is the focus of my recently published Full Report on ocean governance in the country (see: The green brand represents a double-edged sword: the country can live up to the brand or suffer the consequences when the brand is exposed by the international community. True leadership and political will is needed today in central government to move in a more sustainable direction with respect to how the country uses and protects its precious coastal marine ecosystems. Dr. Michael V. McGinnis, PhD