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Groundhog Day: New Book Shows History Is Repeating Itself

The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) is this coming week launching a book titled Environmental Defenders: Fighting for Our Natural World which tells the story of the Society’s 50 years of operation since the early 1970s. Published by Bateman Books, the richly illustrated full colour hardback relates how the law has been mobilised to protect some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most precious places.

“When I was writing the book, I didn’t realise that events in the 1970s and 80s would become so relevant to today’s environmental controversies,” said book author and EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart.

“In those days, government thought it knew best, and sought to avoid being held to account under the law. If we press fast forward to today, we are entering a similar phase. The current government doesn’t want to be hamstrung by environmental protections so is seeking to bypass, weaken and even remove them.

“Environmental Defenders describes many situations where such an approach would have resulted in irreversible environmental loss without the intervention of EDS and others.

“Places like the Karikari Peninsula in Northland, Waikawau Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula and Haraotonga on Aotea Great Barrier Island would have been cut up and turned into major resort developments.

“Otāma beach and its associated wetland on the Coromandel Peninsula would have been a massive dump for toxic mine tailings. And we could have seen the last truly wild river in the North Island, the Motū, dammed.

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“Those are places that many New Zealanders now seek out for their holidays to get away from it all and enjoy the natural wilderness. That would not have been possible if government and developers had had their way.

“It is not just our environment which is threatened, when government gets above itself, but people’s health and well-being. Without EDS’s intervention, property owners at Matarangi would likely now face the loss of their houses due to coastal erosion and there would have been a hazardous LPG storage facility close to thousands of workers in Manukau.

“Even the National Development Act did not seek to override existing environmental law to the extent that the Fast-track Approvals Bill is proposing. And as a quid pro quo for that legislation, the Muldoon government passed the wild and scenic rivers amendment which enabled the Mōtū, Rakaia and Ahuriri Rivers to be protected with water conservation orders, protections which are themselves now under threat.

“The narrative the current government is running, that the economy needs to be at the expense of the environment, is patently false. As a country I thought we had got past that kind of narrow, short-termism thinking.

“If we can learn anything from the past 50 years, it’s that extremism on behalf of the government comes at considerable cost to New Zealanders and future generations. My hope is that through recording EDS’s history we can avoid the environmental mistakes of the past,” concluded Ms Peart.

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