With only the most backward openly saying that we can keep trashing the planet to grow the economy it can be harder to distinguish between the rhetoric of genuine environmental commitment and greenwash.
The language of “balance” has reappeared. In a speech to Federated Farmers’ conference in Auckland president Bruce Wills talked about the need to balance the environment and the economy. He acknowledged that famers need to do more to take care of the environment. He also supported farmers ramping up production and opposed any restrictions on farming.
Bruce Wills stressed that we can’t focus on the environment unless we have growth and prosperity. This is turning sustainable management on its head. Other short-sighted self-serving myths in the agricultural sector which hinder progress to sustainability include:
- That we need to keep growing exports in quantity rather than quality.
- That we have to feed a hungry world (actually most of our products are consumed by middle classes).
- That we can easily fix up environmental damage – like removing nitrogen from aquifers.
- That our future markets are not interested in quality throughout the supply chain.
- That nobody will investigate the truth of our “100% Pure NZ”.
- That our tourist sector won’t be damaged by polluted waterways.
- That the public doesn’t care if rivers are not fit for fish or recreation.
- That monocultures are resilient.
- That genetically modified products give us a market edge.
- That indigenous biodiversity is irrelevant to agriculture.
- That action on climate change is not urgent and won’t affect us.
- That fuel and fertiliser will always be cheap.
The list goes on, providing sustenance to avoiding real change and encouraging more short sighted think big projects such as the Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke’s Bay.
The ongoing financial crisis is the most open manifestation of the broken economic paradigm of neoliberal capitalism. We have used up the Earth’s cheaper forms of natural capital. Exploiting nature rather than knowledge as the major platform for economic growth is an end game for the planet. It creates environmental debt for present and future generations in the form of a rapidly warming climate, polluted rivers and aquifers, and unswimmable rivers.
A sound survival strategy for the NZ economy and NZ Inc. is to use our human capital more and to develop truly sustainable management of natural resources. That means recognising that natural capital – our forests, wild lands, rivers, soils, and climate are the basis of our agriculture and tourism industries. It means acknowledging that there are limits to growth in terms of cow numbers and intensive agriculture given their impacts on water quality and the climate. That’s Resource Management 101.