10 April 2010

Wilderness asks Should we mine?

I usually enjoy having a look through a copy of the outdoor recreation-oriented magazine Wilderness.

The March 2010 edition included an article titled 'Should we mine?' by one Paul Hersey.

That title is fairly indicative. I found it to be verbose "middle-way" waffle tentatively suggesting that trampers and climbers could compromise on mining within National Parks. Hersey starts this in his second sentence: "Maybe MP Gerry Brownlee has it right when he states that mining can be done efficiently and with a minimal environmental impact on protected lands."

I hate this sort of contrarian concern troll compromise approach bullshit. As Gary Taylor of the Environmental Defence Society said recently, 'compromise' with mining is pretty useless for conservation, as "Victories are temporary and defeats are permanent".

So I wrote a letter to the Editor of Wilderness.

Dear Sir,
In response to Paul Hersey's article 'Should we mine?' in the March 2010 edition, I will try not to assassinate him and I will try to debate rationally whether there is some middle way where "mining can be done efficiently with a minimum enironmental impact".
However, to look at the middle ground, I will borrow someone else's ideas - those of business commentator, Rod Oram, not someone we are likely to meet in a tramping hut or handing out anti-mining postcards.

Rod Oram has recently written on the mining issue in the Sunday Star Times of 28 March 2010 (http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/business/3512763/New-Zealand-stuck-between-rocky-riches-and-hard-truths).

I recall Oram telling National Radio some months ago that he was in favour of doing a stocktake of mineral-rich conservation areas and having a reasoned debate on environmentally-responsible mining and value-added processing in NZ of the minerals.

Oram says he used to think:
"We could be leaders in environmentally responsible mining, the science around it and the high-value downstream products and services flowing from it. Then we could prove that the economy and environment, treated well, can enhance each other."

However, Oram now says he has changed his mind because of the divisive and adversarial way Government Ministers have pushed the proposal and the poorly researched sound-bite analysis they have provided in support of the proposal.

For example, Oram considers that National could have transparently started the debate at the 2008 election by outlining the proposal then. Instead it was deliberately vague about its mining intentions. So there is no real electoral mandate for the proposal.

Also, the estimated total mineral value, $194 billion, is so 'back of the envelope' that it is not a rational basis for any debate on weighing up the costs, risk and benefits of additional mining. Oram considers this is because Brownlee only takes advice from mining industry insiders.

Oram also thinks that claims of 'surgical' mining have not been credibly backed up by real examples. So he concludes that the assertions that environmental impacts will be minimal and tourism will not be harmed are not credible.

So the middle ground on the mining issue has already gone.

So that really only leaves the 'greener' than middle view espoused by Paul Hersey's postcard-carrying friend. This is New Zealand's traditional conservation politics favouring protection of conservation areas and opposition to threats to conservation areas. After all, it is such conservation advocacy that achieved legal protection for our national parks in the first place.

Ultimately, the protection of native species and their habitats (and the ecosystem services provided to us such as water quality) should drive the decision on allowing more mining in conservation areas. And so should climate change.

The proposal includes taking 3,000 hectares of native lowland forest near Inangahua out of north-eastern Paparua National Park to allow coal mining. According to the Ministry of Economic Development, 83% of NZ's coal production in 2008 came from open-cast mines. It is therefore highly likely that any new Inangahua coal mine would be open-cast.
And remember, James Hansen of NASA says we need to leave coal in the ground to stop the warming effect of more carbon dioxide getting in the atmosphere.

I think we need to be very clear about this issue. There is no middle way on the Government's proposal for more mining in conservation areas. It needs to be strongly opposed. I encourage all Wilderness readers to send a brief submission to the Ministry of Economic Development opposing the mining proposal.

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