Our pure jingoistic enviro-hobbit puffery

21:35, Dec 02 2012

You may remember Charlie Anderson, a fine reporter for this paper until January 2011, when he left to seek his fortune overseas. He's now a multiple award-winning journo working for the Sunday Star-Times, but he's on a break from his regular duties at the moment on an Asia New Zealand scholarship, as an intern at the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong.

Two weeks ago he wrote an excellent, well-timed story contrasting New Zealand's "100% Pure" enviro-hobbit puffery with the sad reality of our ongoing environmental destruction. The story, "New Zealand's green tourism push clashes with realities", appeared online in the IHT's sister paper, The New York Times. Maybe you've heard of it.

"General s... stirring," he said when he posted the story on Facebook. And what a foul stench he's cooked up.

"While the spectacular and seemingly untarnished natural backdrops, stunning waterscapes and snow-tipped mountains might look world-class on film, critics say the realm New Zealand's marketers have presented is as fantastical as dragons and wizards," he wrote.

Strident Massey University environmental scientist Mike Joy said there were "almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality".

He's right. More than half the country's freshwater recreational sites are unsafe to swim in, 90 per cent of our wetlands have been drained, and per capita, New Zealand is 18th worst out of 189 nations when it comes to preserving its natural surroundings. We slipped 14 places between 2008 and 2012 in the Yale-Columbia Environmental Performance Index, and "won" both first and second place in the Fossil of the Day awards at the United Nations Climate Change Conference talks in Doha, for nations most actively hampering international progress - to name just a few examples.


Since that story hit New Zealand, accusations and protestations have been flung back and forth, hitting their highest level and stupidity apex this week when Prime Minister John Key defended the "100% Pure" marketing campaign by comparing it with McDonald's' "I'm Lovin' It".

"I'm not sure every moment that someone's eating McDonald's, they're loving it . . . it's the same thing with 100% Pure. It's got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt," he said.

If Mr Key didn't see the irony in comparing our environmental record with the industrial food giant to end all giants, then I despair - I really do. I only hope he was doing it deliberately to irritate his opponents.

Anyway, according to some, you are unpatriotic and trying to take down the economy if you disagree with the marketing, which is veering dangerously close to American-style jingoism.

Dr Joy's name has been dragged through the mud in all this, but many have come out in support of all him.

But what really gets me is that Dr Joy and many others have been saying this, and the facts and figures have been widely reported, for years. Years. It's just that our awful national inferiority complex means it takes The New York Times saying it to make us cower and pay attention. I suppose there's a valuable PR lesson here: get noticed by overseas media to make it in your own country.

As usual, the argument was summed up best on Twitter, this time by Richard Langston: "Yes, Mike Joy has made it all up. A glass of Manawatu River water, anyone?"

When will we admit that we only got to our happy state of not-really-green-but-better-than-most because we were one of the last countries in the world to be settled? We haven't had nearly as long as others to bugger up our environment, but we've been doing a very good job of catching up.

When construction finished on Rome's Colosseum, New Zealand had only birds. As has often been said, our unspoilt landscapes are our answer to Europe's cathedrals.

We've all caught a lucky break living in this country, and with such a good head start, we should be doing all we can to preserve and restore it - not hiding behind marketing slogans as we let our cows wander into the rivers.

Now, let's look again at Sir Paul Callaghan's idea to create a pest-free New Zealand. If we can get someone across the world reporting it, things might actually start happening. Charlie?