Many are convinced that protecting the environment is synonymous with sacrifices to economic growth.

Certainly when it comes to politics (from either side of the mainstream spectrum) more weight is given to short-term job creation and archaic, irrelevant measures such as GDP that attempt to align a generic idea of wellbeing with disposable income, than long-term economic sustainability. I have discussed this before, noting that GDP simply measures movement of money not actual growth, particularly due to the fact that GDP goes up during a natural disaster.

To me, looking after the environment is actually improving our economic growth by protecting it for years to come.

We need to understand that future economic growth is not all about those of us who are currently in charge of the planet getting rich quick, but about the longevity of economic benefits. I am more concerned about whether there will be jobs for my two-year-old daughter when she finishes school than I am about me enjoying all the mod cons.


This debate came to a head recently when, much to the disgust and shock of those submitting the application an extractive-industry proposal to mine the seabed was turned down by the Environmental Protection Agency. The proposal described the area, where thousands of people catch fish, not far away from classic New Zealand surf breaks as a "barren ironsands wasteland".

When it comes to extractive industry, I accept that when there is a local demand for materials (such as steel), that I would prefer that we produced it for ourselves to reduce our reliance on imports from China and the burden of transporting through ships like the MV Rena that burn filthy heavy fuel oil.

But I believe that exporting non-renewable resources in return for minimal jobs and a small slice of royalties should face a tougher test.

The reality is that when big applications for development are submitted there is an inherently uneven playing field. Firms whose owners come from far away lands employ professional lobbyists to strategically take on local mum-and-dad community groups.

Until last year, at least there was government support available for those opposing applications through the Environmental Defence Society, but that is no longer available to opponents to development as of right.

To make matters worse, firms understand that if they tactically apply for more consents that they actually want in the first place, then they are likely to be granted a pared-back concession. This was the case of the salmon farm expansions in the Marlborough Sounds. Local groups had little time to fight the development, three farms were granted consent and one denied.

At least with aquaculture there are significant local jobs created and while the farms will have an impact on the ecology of the area, if they can supply the fish with feedstock from the land (rather than the ocean) they could be classed as somewhat renewable.

What I think is really needed in these discussions is a robust analysis of the long-term externalities that are associated with new proposals so that the real costs (including loss of natural capital through extractive industries, the environmental risks and emissions associated with transport) can be taken into account.

It would also help to even the playing field if some assistance was provided to those who have to take on the powerful lobby groups to look after their back yard. The money to pay the lobby has, after all, come from our land in the first place. Perhaps some should be set aside to protect it?