New Zealand has been billing itself as "100% Pure", ostensibly trading on its reputation as an environmentally friendly country with solid policies for using natural resources wisely. While many people would dispute that 100% number, NZ is far from being as bad as other countries in terms of environmental protection. This past week, however, there were some rumblings in the New Zealand media suggesting that some Kiwis haven't bought into this new tourism marketing campaign. The first article noted that the New Zealand government planned to sacrifice marine protection of Antarctica's Ross Sea in favor of the toothfish/Chilean sea bass fishery. The second is an opinion piece linking the government's poor handling of the recent oil spill, their decisions about the Ross Sea, and the possibility of allowing coal mining in the Denniston Plateau - currently public conservation land. The take-home message is that the slogans are increasingly not supported by action.
It has often been the case throughout history that clever but irresponsible people realized that they could exploit a previously untapped natural resource for a short amount of time and make a lot of money. While tourism to New Zealand isn't quite a pristine resource, one wonders if the current government is taking the same approach to it. Bring the tourists in to see New Zealand's natural wonders even as those wonders are being destroyed. Coal mines are regarded by few as must-see sites. But hey, you'd make great money for a while.
In many ways, NZ does have a great brand. Think of the country and you think of natural beauty, and maybe Bret and Jemaine. It's easy to dismiss marketing and advertising as inherently shallow, but in this instance a little image consciousness could be a good thing. With so many other countries already privileging "development" over preservation - think of the US blasting the tops off mountains to get a little coal a little faster - does it really make economic or global sense for NZ to sacrifice its unique qualities? The world needs countries that can provide credible leadership on global environmental issues. If New Zealand can really commit to being 100% pure, and say no to coal mining and Ross Sea fishing, it can be one of those leaders. This relatively small place could play a constructive role and set an example. Or it could ruin its wilderness and destroy one of the world's last intact marine ecosystems. Which one is a better legacy for the next generation of New Zealanders?