WE DID IT!
I'm doing a Snoopy Happy Dance here at home, after the government today announced they were backing down on their plans to mine our National Parks.
Looks like I'm not going to have to chain myself to the bulldozers after all. Well, not right this minute, anyway.
Thank God there's someone in the National Party who's able to see that they got it really, really wrong - and that it would be political suicide to continue with their plans in the face of such enormous opposition.
Mind you, that person is most definitely not Gerry Brownlee - spinning the announcement madly this evening by saying that this is nothing less than a mandate from the people to go ahead and mine the shit out of the rest of the country instead. Just go ahead and try it, Gerry - and I think in many places you'll find the opposition is just as strong as it was for the Schedule 4 areas.
I emailed Gerry Brownlee, John Key and Kate Wilkinson when this whole thing blew up. This is what I said:
I am outraged. How dare you???
Our National Parks and conservation areas are our taonga. They are what makes us special, and unique, and what many of the tourists who spend $9billion a year here come to see. Not for nothing do our many visitors call New Zealand "the most beautiful place in the world".
And you want to dig them up and destroy parts of our precious heritage for ever - in the name of profit - most of which will go to the mining companies? Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation from a mining industry consultant - and without seeking any advice on the impact of mining on our tourism industry? Unbelievable.
You selfish, small-minded, greedy bastards. Yes I'm angry - I'm downright furious. I'm currently listening to Ms Wilkinson ranting on in parliament. My God. If she's the Minister for Conservation, then God help the environment.
"Surgical mining"? Is that like 'scientific whaling' by any chance? Don't lie to us - some people may be fooled, but the majority are not - and for many of us, me included - this is our line in the sand.
I'm sending you this message from the Forest & Bird website. I joined the organisation yesterday - I've never been a member before - specifically because you are trying to prevent DoC staff from discussing mining with F&B. How pathetic. What are you afraid of? They've revealed nothing that isn't true.
In the space of just a few months you have turned me back into a political activist - after 20 years of relative political inactivity. Good for you. I suspect I am not the only one. I also suspect that the passion you have unleashed in those of us who care about our environmental heritage will be far stronger than the vague feelings of greed you have stirred up in those poor deluded fools who actually believe your lies and spin.
National and ACT - the parties that know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Prepare for a fight, because that's what you're gonna get. We're not going to let you do this.
Back when I wrote that email I didn't know just how much opposition there would actually be. I was hopeful - I knew yer average Kiwi was proud of our beautiful National Parks, and I knew there would be many people who were, like me, outraged at the prospect of parts of them being destroyed for 30 pieces of silver - but I wasn't 100% sure that there'd be enough of an outcry to make them stop.
I knew we had to hit them hard and hit them fast - it's much easier to stop plans like these at an early stage than it is to try and stop them when you've reached the chaining-yourself-to-the-bulldozers stage.
I will be forever grateful to the Green Party, Forest & Bird, Greenpeace and all the other groups who joined forces under the banner of 2precious2mine - and who all utilised the power of the internet, social networking, online organising and online submission-making to get 47,000 signatures on the Greens' anti-mining petition, 40,000 people demonstrating against the proposals in Auckland in May, and 37,552 New Zealanders making submissions, the vast majority of which opposed the government's plans. Now that's people power in action.
I was banking on something I mentioned in my email - I suspected that the passion felt by those who opposed the mining would be much stronger than any vague feelings of greed in those who either didn't care about our environmental heritage, or who believed the government's spin that mining was the only possible solution to our economic woes.
From that perspective, I felt that even if we were in the minority, we'd work until we dropped to make sure the mining didn't happen - and that we'd be able to win through sheer force of will, even if we didn't quite have the numbers.
Turns out I underestimated my fellow Kiwis just a bit - and that a majority were opposed to mining anyway, which is awesome - and that a HUGE number of people felt passionately enough about it to get off their asses and make themselves heard - which is extremely awesome.
I think in retrospect, the tipping point was probably the sheer number of National supporters who were also horrified by their party's plans. (Well, that and John Key's desperate need to retain his Mr Popular image). I don't think Brownlee et al saw that coming at all - although, honestly, if they couldn't see the NIMBY vote coming out in full force in Auckland to protect their beautiful playgrounds in the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island, then they're more stupid than I thought.
I was struck by a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is generally "All National, All The Time". We rarely talk politics these days 'cos we never agree and we'd rather stay friends than fight - so I was completely amazed to be discussing the mining proposals with her and to be hearing her say how outraged she was, and how untrustworthy she feels her party has become, and how she doesn't believe much of anything they say any more - and how if there was an election tomorrow she might not be able to bring herself to vote for them!
Holy hell! For me, that was huge. I have no doubt that National's pollsters were well aware of the backlash from their party faithful, and I'm betting that that had a major influence on their decision to do a 180. It's one thing to stir up anger and protest in a bunch of lefties and greenies who are never going to vote for you anyway - and quite another to offend your own party members to such an extent that they begin contemplating not voting for you any more...
I see two dark clouds on the horizon of this otherwise sunny day of celebration.
The first is that the government is changing the rules so that the Energy and Resources Minister will now be included in decisions regarding access to conservation land. Currently those decisions are made by the Minister for Conservation alone.
The fact that the guy trying to promote mining now gets to influence decisions made by the woman who (in theory at least) is supposed to be standing up for the rights of the environment is a big concern, and one which has not escaped the notice of environmental groups, including ECO (Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand):
The Government decision not to take areas from Schedule Four is welcome, but the Government decision to give the Minister of Energy and Resources effective control over mining access to conservation land was a major step backwards, the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) said today.
ECO co-chair Cath Wallace said the decision on schedule 4 protected land is a victory for all those who made submissions, marched and signed petitions against the proposal to open up further conservation land to mining. “The government deserves credit for listening to them.”
“The Government should now listen to those submitters and not include the Minister of Economic Development (Gerry Brownlee) in making decisions on other conservation land.”
Ms Wallace said the process showed that neither Gerry Brownlee nor his Ministry understood the real values of conservation areas and the attachment New Zealanders have to it.
The second dark cloud is the direction in which Gerry is already spinning this:
"From my perspective this has been a valuable exercise. I suspect few New Zealanders knew the country had such considerable mineral potential before we undertook this process, and I get a sense that New Zealanders are now much more aware of that potential and how it might contribute to economic growth.
"Essentially the discussion process identified where the minerals industry can and can't go. As many people have pointed out, around 85 per cent of the country is not protected by Schedule 4, and a great deal of that land has mineral potential.
"New Zealanders have given the minerals sector a clear mandate to go and explore that land, and where appropriate, within the constraints of the resource consent process, utilise its mineral resources for everyone's benefit," Mr Brownlee said.
The government has also decided to undertake a significant aeromagnetic survey of non Schedule 4 land in Northland and on the West Coast of the South Island to learn more about which areas have the highest concentrations of valuable minerals.
"I am delighted to announce that the aeromagnetic survey in Northland will be conducted as a partnership between central government and the various agencies of local government in Northland.
"It is our expectation that when that data becomes available there will be an escalation of mineral exploration and extraction in those areas, which will be of benefit to the economies of both regions."
Only a politician could spin an outcry against one thing into a "clear mandate" in favour of something quite similar but not exactly the same.
It was completely obvious to anyone with half a brain that the government never had any intention of mining in the Coromandel or Great Barrier Island - they'd have lost Auckland and therefore the election if they'd pursued that goal - but at the time I figured that these were just a smokescreen.
I figured they'd back down with great fanfare on one or both areas, "Hey look! Aren't we democratic? We listened to the people!" and then go quietly away and mine somewhere else instead while people weren't looking.
Which is essentially what they are planning to do, if Gerry's spin is anything to go by. I thought they'd go away and mine another bit of Schedule 4 land (Paparoa or Stewart Island) so I'm massively pleased that they've also backed away from those plans - but I'm VERY concerned about the "85 per cent of the country [that] is not protected by Schedule 4" which Gerry already has his beady little eyes on.
Northland and the West Coast are definitely at risk now - and I see it as cynical in the extreme to target areas of the country where the population is under-employed and economically vulnerable - and therefore less likely to examine the true economic cost of allowing mining to go ahead in their backyards.
We won the battle today - but we didn't win the war. I don't think we'll ever win the war, to be honest, because there will always be greedy bastards out there anxious to rape and pillage our precious lands, and there will always be greedy shareholders looking to increase their dividends at whatever cost - but we have to keep on fighting - for ever - to protect what's important to us.
To me, that's always been the underlying truth of environmental activism. We fight because it's the right thing to do, not because we know we will always win. We won today, but we return to battle tomorrow.
Technorati tags: mining, mining National Parks, Schedule 4, Gerry Brownlee, backdown, Kate Wilkinson, conservation, environment, 100% pure NZ, greenies, Greenpeace, Green Party, Forest & Bird, 2precious2mine, protest, environmental activism, WebWeaver's World, webweaver.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
WE DID IT!