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The need for a new environmentalism

The need for a new environmentalism that is solution orientated.

This e-mail snip below records some comments from an academic (name deleted because I am now more and more concerned about the tactics of some environmental zealots to attack the messenger rather than the message, Prime Ministers included). Thought it might be of interest because it raises some very important questions.

Q. Are NZ's mainstream environmental groups working for or against environmental outcomes? Is the protection of a particular environmental point of view (preservation) more important to many environmentalists than considering the issues deeply in order to achieve ACTUAL positive environmental outcomes? Why does the national media give so much credence to the preservation view? - ratings? (The print media are far better in this regard.)


A very interesting revelation came from *********** who spends a lot of time O/S. He says that Aust and NZ are internationally considered pariah states in respect of sustainability due to the wide and deep perception that nationals of those countries are unable to consider any middle ground. NZ much worse than Aust. As a result, several gifted NZ'ers have been passed over for excellent sustainability / conservation jobs O/S simply because they are from NZ. Cheers,


We need a new environmentalism that is far more sophisticated, and far more willing to work toward real environmental solutions - instead of our narrow consideration of the environment as a stand alone entity outside society and economy (often from a position of ignorance of both ecology and environmental history as well), and for our apparent emphasis on polemics. In short, we need to catch up with the rest of the world whose environmental movements are working toward solutions and integrating humanity and economy, instead of living in the 1970s.

By way of illustration of our propensity to see the environment as separate from society and economy, I note that anyone with any sympathies with Timberlands is still referred to as "pro-loggers" by (especially) the North Island television media, and national radio. You canNOT be a "conservationist" AND a "pro-logger" apparently. And the preservationists subtly influence the media to use such phrases as "pro-logger" (who has the more power with the government and media, and who has the better PR skills? - Timberlands or the preservation movements' PR machine?) because they know that the imagery from such phrases suits their ends (however dishonest that imagery is).

The television media are perhaps too poorly informed to even consider that someone who kills a tree or an animal can be a conservationist as well. Buying cellophane-wrapped meat or wood perhaps absolves the sin of environmental "use". Á propos of people being less than informed, and perhaps being willing to suck up whatever less-than-honest television imagery (often old file photographs of clearfelling while referring to Timberlands sustainable beech plans etc) and whatever statements would give the best ratings (never mind the truth, or balance), I heard recently that Timberlands received less than 50 hits (38, I heard 3rd hand) on its website showing their planning documents over the submission process in 1998. The media should reflect on this. Many on this e-mail list have read these plans - either in hard copy or on the web, while the 10 000 odd people who signed Forest & Bird's little postcard "sign-a-submission-against-Evil-Timberlands"can hardly claim to have done so. Nor I suspect the PM, nor her advisors, nor most of her senior Ministers associated with the issue (blinded by the possible votes?). Nor, I suspect, the media (blinded by the potential ratings?).

In my humble opinion, neo-classical economics and preservationists both view the environment as being set apart from society and economy - and both are encouraged by a downgrading of objective and broad-based policy analysis. Either Treasury rules as the policy direction dictator (1984 - 1999, RIP), or (as it appears now, at least in environmental matters) the Forest & Bird Society (1999 - ?). NZers appear to have a political system that encourages either one extreme or the other. A sad indictment, and quite depressing for some as they watch the pendulum rushing past.

I tried to write out a list of positives from the whole Timberlands saga recently

- environmental protection (a bit more funding for DOC perhaps, through the focus raised on that issue, but otherwise a likely decline in the ecosystem health of the ex-TWC estates, and substitution for overseas timber alternatives from destructive practices instead of management beneficial to biodiversity and ecosystem health) - trust in environmentalism (hardly. This has been dealt a blow, especially in rural areas) - trust in govt (ditto, again dealt a blow) - development of a land ethic in rural land users (a major backward step, but what do preservationists care about a land ethic - that presupposes humans and many appear to want them expunged) - social justice (the justice of the pogrom, lynching without trial other than by media and organised propaganda) - legal process (a judiciary at the mercy of a legislature [a "pass a Bill" mentality, shades of the Clyde Dam Empowerment Act], itself at the mercy of an executive, itself overly controlled by a PM, and itself with Forest & Bird as close ideological soulmate. Our whole government process is depressingly hierarchical, without sufficient checks - and this helps encourage the extremes and violent swings. Democracy is a more fragile thing in New Zealand than many suppose) - economics (we are doubly worse off - we stop a sustainable industry generating jobs and income and then compound the loss by a compensation that was unnecessary in the sense that the local would prefer their right to continue with Timberlands plans in the first place. To this we could add the foreign exchange effects of importing substitutes).

Very little silver lining to the cloud in my opinion.

For what it is worth I thought I would append the environmental, social and economic loses resulting from the Timberlands debacle. For some to claim it as an environmental triumph is difficult to fathom - unless "triumph" is related to defending the faith, in which case it is a quasi-religious triumph rather than any environmental one. I think it clearly stands out as an environmental defeat - an example of environmentalism shooting itself in the foot, if not the soul.

a.. we lose the knowledge of ecosystem processes and pest management strategies that Timberlands was researching (all of which was claimed as part of the PR budget by Hager's book) which was applicable across not only the wider indigenous forestry estate (underfunded) but also privately owned indigenous forests and even other land uses

we lose the environmental gains (which were becoming embarrassingly evident with some of the bird counts) in the managed and protected indigenous forests - their transfer to DOC will see any of these embarrassing biodiversity gains expunged from the public eye (for, like the Inquisition, it doesn't pay to let the people see or hear a heresy - incidentally F&B leadership also put pressure on the government to get Timberlands plans removed from the website as well) b.. c.. We lose the exemplar of a land ethic and management systems - including adaptive management, and an ethical view of the forest which focuses on what remains (ecocentric) rather than on what is removed (anthropocentric utilitarian)

d.. we encourage and perpetuate the myth in the public eye that preservation (DOC) is the only environmental protection possible, and close land owners eyes to the possibility of sound environmental management - if so-called "environmentalists" don't believe it is a possibility for humans to coexist with an ecosystem, then how are they going to liase with landowners to that end (rural people are not stupid [let alone inbred] - they know hypocrisy when they see it)

e.. we encourage DOC to continue on its anti-community attitude with regard to the environment (by which I mean their pursuit of preservation on private lands by ring-fencing, purchase and generally expunging humans) instead of challenging them to work WITH people to get them to OWN environmental problems and solutions á la Aldo Leopold - which I believe is the only long term solution f.. Consensus, community-based, bottom-up decision-making is dealt a blow in favour of top-down, authoritarian, IDEOLOGICAL decision-making

g.. we lose the trust in environmentalism through their willingness (one could say zeal) in breaching consensus contracts and accords - this trust in environmentalism we need if we are to get a better land ethic established - apparently NOTHING is more important (neither facts about the environmental effects, nor societies and the legal processes that underpin our society) than getting more and more forests away from humans with "exploitative" "values". h.. we lose the faith in government (in steep decline over the last 15 years with the pursuit of ideology in economic policy, and now apparently the pendulum is to swing to another extreme in ideology - with some marked similarities to neo-classical economics in that they see humanity as set APART, rather than a PART of the environment

i.. we lose the faith in legal process and objective analysis (including the abuse of science, and its tainting with politics) j.. we encourage the import of substitute decorative hardwoods from overseas (and the clearfelling of tracts of indigenous forest on other lands) as a substitute for sustainably managed forestry (I can easily find the figures - our reduction in indigenous roundwood removals nicely mirrors the rise in hardwood imports form 1990) - from what standard of forestry one wonders? Well, not really. I know the alternatives, and they are mostly appalling. NIMBY rules in NZ preservationism.

k.. we encourage standards within private indigenous forestry management that are nowhere near as sophisticated as they might have been with Timberland's example, and create uncertainty in that industry as well (hypocrisy reigns supreme) l.. We lose business confidence because governments appear willing to breach contracts by fiat, and listen to extremists (though of course, business was perfectly happy while the ideology was on the other foot). As an aside, those of us who were opposed to the past ideological extremes have commented before that such excesses could open Pandora's box by removing checks to sound policy-making - apparently they have

m.. we abuse law making and the democratic process by passing a Bill to annul a community's right to a fair deal. Claims to a mandate are as hollow as the claims in utilitarian moral philosophy that the "mandate" of the prejudiced mob to lynch an innocent without trial. This happened in the past in some countries of course - from witchtrials, to pogroms, to the KKK. A claim of "mandate" of the many, over the rights of a minority to the justice of a fair hearing, are empty. n.. we sacrifice people on the altar of environmental fundamentalism (for the West Coast has only 32000 people - with perhaps half of whom being voters) to the gain of the million that reside in environmental bliss in Auckland and other large centres. The west coast has the highest suicide rate in this country - the country with the highest suicide rate in the OECD

o.. we lose a sustainable industry (name one that is more sustainable) and lose government funds that could have been used to fund environmental protection, education, health, regional development or social services p.. we lose the marketing, processing research, and FSC certification muscle that could have meant positive environmental, social and economic outcomes for private forestry initiative q.. we have rewarded a failure by almost any standards (environmental protection in this country under DOC) and sacrificed a scary and heretical potential solution (scary and heretical at least to the preservationists)

To which I will add a last: a.. We lose more international credibility in environmentalist matters. I would be most interested if anyone can provide any positive outcomes from this whole environmental charade.

Chris Perley

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