Eco-pragmatism, not protest

Do new mining plans simply prop up the way we do things now? Or is it to make investments in all our collective futures over the long term?
Peter Salmon


The government’s proposal to open up a small part of the conservation estate to mining has caused consternation, with many people looking upon the idea as sacrilege and potentially damaging to New Zealand's clean, green image.

But before tying ourselves to trees and waving protest placards, I wonder if there is a disconnect between natural sustainability and the kind of sustainability we may need if we want to live here for the longer term.

Rather than leap up and down about digging holes in the ground, I’m much more interested in knowing exactly what we’ll use the new-found wealth for.

Is it to prop up the way we do things now? Or is it to make investments in all our collective futures over the long term? If it’s the former, then leave it in the ground. If it’s the latter, then I say bring it on!

Shouldn’t the point be how we turn national assets into national treasures that benefit us all into the future?

If there’s one thing in life that’s a constant, it’s change. The financial turbulence of the past 18 months is proof of that, and there may be more chop to come in the future.

I recently saw world-renowned inventor Saul Griffiths stroll onto a stage carrying an IV drip filled with crude oil. He said he needed one of those every 15 minutes to maintain his current lifestyle. He went on to say that we need to replace and build about 14.5 terawatts of energy from renewable or known climate-friendly technologies if we want to remain within a +2° climate temperature threshold. And we have about 25 years to do it in.

The scale of this build is mind-boggling. It equates to 100 square metres of high-performance solar cells, 50 square meters of solar thermal and four Olympic swimming pools of genetically engineered algae every second for the next 25 years.

Add to that a 100-metre wind turbine every five minutes, three 100-megawatt steam turbines a day and a three-reactor, three-gigawatt nuclear power plant a week. It all adds up to a machine about the size of America ... call it Renewistan!

The point is we are in for some profound change whether we like it or not.

So before seizing the protest signs, can we take a dose of eco-pragmatism and maybe ask some better questions. What are we digging this up for? And, if we don’t, who will? And when?

Perhaps the challenge lies in innovation not in protestation. Let’s stop stopping and start starting.