Toby Manhire
Toby Manhire on New Zealand

Toby Manhire: Risks in putting head above 100% Pure parapet

Photo / Natalie Slade
Photo / Natalie Slade

Blam Blam Blam have been on the brain this week. Specifically, There is no depression in New Zealand, their satirical anthem from 1981, intoning a Muldoonish party line in the face of a socially corroding, divided country. "We're as safe as safe can be. There's no unrest in this country."

An echo of that mantra can be heard in the serried efforts to slap down those who speak out against New Zealand's environmental record vis-a-vis the "100 per cent Pure New Zealand" tourism slogan. There is no pollution in New Zealand, they seem to be saying. We can all keep perfectly calm.

To reprise: in response to questions on the subject from an International Herald Tribune reporter, Massey scientist Dr Mike Joy noted our failure to meet a number of international benchmarks.

"There are almost two worlds in New Zealand," he said, "the picture-postcard world, and ... the reality."

Just 21 of Joy's words were quoted in the report, but after its publications on the IHT/New York Times website, hundreds of furious words followed.

First, a vitriolic email to Joy from lobbyist Mark Unsworth emerged. "Sabotage," he lurched, like a gate swinging off its hinges. Joy was on an "ego trip" that "can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism".

An editorial in this newspaper on Monday deemed Joy to be repeatedly guilty of "overstatement", made worse because "it can be picked up by the international media". The timing was especially unfortunate given the Hobbit spotlight. "Mr Joy's contradictory remarks could deter some big-spending American tourists from coming here".

It is not the first time criticisms of New Zealand's environmental performance have been cast as treachery.

Tim Groser, Minister for Trade and Climate Change Negotiations, has warned of "internal enemies" who will "find one cow in one stream and feed it back to environmental activists".

Just this week, Environment Minister Amy Adams blasted her opponents for "scaremongering and destroying our international reputation".

As for Dr Joy, he has received unequivocal backing from the NZ Association of Scientists, as well as the head of the Science Media Centre, who said that while his views were "mirrored by his colleagues", they had become a lightning rod for condemnation because of the global attention they attracted.

That attention can be traced back to a commentary last year for the Herald, in which Joy wrote, "We are delusional about how clean and green we are." Stephen Sackur put that charge to John Key in a BBC Hardtalk interview. The response: "In comparison with the rest of the world, we are 100 per cent pure."

Since then, the Prime Minister has crafted a more plausible riposte: it's a marketing slogan, no one expects pure perfection. He's right. The 100 per cent thing is clearly not to be taken literally. And yet neither has the slogan been plucked from the sky - the reason it works, and it does, is because it reflects the broad perception of New Zealand, here and abroad, as environmental custodian.

In tourism as in business more broadly, New Zealand's "brand value" is largely "based around world class environmental standards" - we can "leverage off our strong clean, green reputation". Those words are Groser's. But rather than besmirching scientists who question the veracity of that image, surely better we heed the advice of tourism boss Martin Snedden: "The [100 per cent Pure] campaign itself is right but what we have to do is live up to that campaign."

Dr Joy has cited the peer-reviewed PLOS ONE journal which ranks New Zealand as 18th-worst of 189 countries in its preservation of natural surroundings and in the bottom 25 per cent across all environmental indicators.

But the file bulges with other discomforts. To name a few: the WWF report that this year condemned New Zealand's "20 years of inaction" in environmental sustainability. The Fossil of the Day titles awarded New Zealand at Doha this week by the Climate Action Network in recognition of our "running away" from the Kyoto agreement. The extension of agricultural exemptions in the Emissions Trading Scheme. Department of Conservation budget cuts.

New Zealand's environmental record is far from being all bad. Where it is chiefly disappointing is in the trend. We are a young country, and have done too much harm in a short time.

In the calculus employed by the Prime Minister, we are 100 per cent dreadful compared to where we should be. Or, to throw another of Mr Key's favoured lines back his way: show us the science.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 24 May 2017 20:35:52 Processing Time: 560ms