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Green or Gold?

Entry 1095, on 2009-10-05 at 22:16:52 (Rating 3, News)

A controversy has recently erupted here regarding mining on conservation land. The previous government was fairly dedicated to preserving New Zealand's natural features - often at the expense of industries such as forestry, farming and mining. The new government has been accused of moving too far in the opposite direction because it is planning on opening up protected areas to mining.

So the question here is, considering that New Zealand's natural image is important but the economic benefits of exploiting resources are also important, what is the best compromise? Many people accuse me of being an idealistic greeny or of being anti-business so it might be a surprise to know that I am actually not against mining in these areas - but only if there are very significant conditions attached.

It is possible to run a mining operation with minimal impact on the environment but its usually more expensive to do that so, unless there is some incentive or some form of regulation involved, most companies will take the cheaper, less environmentally friendly approach. Another issue is that many mining companies are foreign owned and we should make sure that majority of the benefits come back to the country, and preferably the community where the mine is located, rather than going to rich foreign shareholders and company directors.

If mining companies want to explore and mine in conservation areas they will have to accept that its going to cost them a lot more. A guarantee of minimal environmental impact and a high standard of restoration would be essential but the most important thing is that the Department of Conservation should get a payment it can use in conservation projects. That way conservation is increased as a result of mining activities.

A TV program on the issue last night interviewed the government minister involved and a representative of the green movement. The "greeny" did sound very idealistic and inflexible I'm afraid. She insisted that a "win-win" situation was impossible when mining conservation land which I don't think is true if the ideas I listed above are followed.

Its people like her that give the green movement a bad name. Everyone should realise that compromise is everything and that is why, even though I think green issues are very important, I can never fully support organisations like Greenpeace or political parties like the Greens (although I do usually vote for them).

While its easy to criticise inflexible conservationists I would also have to say that the government didn't exactly come off well either. The impression I got is that they are determined to open up these areas to exploitation and think there will be gains on both sides, but don't really know how that can happen. If exploitation is going to be allowed then the compromises should be worked out first, not as an afterthought.

So in answer to the question green or gold, I think it can be both. The concentrations of gold (and other minerals) in some conservation land are so great that the mining companies should easily be able to make a significant extra payment for the right to mine there. But the government needs to step in and make sure that happens because no private company is going to give up a significant part of the extra profit if they don't need to.

Unfortunately my prediction is that this government will be as much pro-business as the previous one was pro-conservation and we might not get a reasonable compromise. Just because something is possible doesn't mean it will happen especially, when politics is involved!

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