I had an interesting conversation with an American traveller this week who speculated that New Zealand is not quite as green as its image makes out.

She was of course referring to what has been in the media these past weeks regarding our Government's decision to look at mining ("surgically" they say) some of the pristine, "protected" national conservation areas.

It is a bitter irony to me that the very image of NZ which entices the rest of the world to our doorstep - tracts of untouched country and its unique eco systems, miles away from big Global industry and development - is about to be gutted "surgically", leaving only the odd "thumbprint".

I do not pretend to be a mining expert. I also do not wish to present an hysterical response. I understand that there are assurances and promises for Africa (all the diamond mines in Africa no doubt) that the "what's", "where's" and "how's" are to be considered, debated and decided upon with the utmost integrity and diligence.

Perhaps this may happen, perhaps it won't, and to what level who knows? But what this represents in the big picture is what frightens me.

We are on the cusp of environmental and ecological disaster as a planet and as a result there is a fast-growing, new way of viewing future economic growth and development.

The economic leaders in the 21st century will be those who use new clean, green technology as a way to move forward while protecting what little untouched world we have left.

The National Government's draconian plans for our National Parks seem like something from another age, completely out of step with where the rest of the world is heading.

I grew up in the South Island. I have spent a great deal of time on the West Coast. I love its remoteness and its wildness. I love knowing that most of it is quiet and empty. I love knowing that part of my country has an enormous intrinsic worth, not because of the dollar value sitting below the ground, but because it just "is". Romantic? Perhaps. But it's what New Zealand's international image is built on, and that also has a dollar value, a big one.

Sadly however, as my American friend pointed out, that image is slowly fading.

I truly hope there won't be a time when I feel embarrassed to say "Hi, I'm Robyn Malcolm, I'm a New Zealander". We got women the vote 20 years before the rest of the world, We said "No" to nuclear powered warships when the rest of the world was scared to, we used to be a courageous, forward- thinking green little country, but when the going got tough we gave in, now we are just like everybody else: uncaring and motivated by short-sighted, short lived and unsustainable financial gain.

We could have been a 21st Century leader, but we're not.