You can't eat money
The quote below can be found all over the internet with varying attributions of who actually said it.
It's true money can't be eaten. That was never the plan. Money as we now know it was designed as a common means of exchange. It became a bit troublesome having to figure out how much corn was worth so much chicken or beef, then having to have enough corn to buy a whole cow when really one was only after a tenderloin and a bit of mincemeat. Money was set up as a common means of exchange for goods and services. So far it's done a good job.
An assumption seems to have developed where people believe there's a choice, black and white, to be made between thriving economies or thriving environments.
It would follow the worst environments in the world must be found in the countries with more money than Scrooge McDuck, and the best environments can be found in the countries where seven hundred million people in the world who are still living in extreme poverty get by on the old mantra, "money can't buy happiness".
Issues like climate change and loss of biodiversity aren't to be taken lightly. New Zealand alone has close to 4,000 endangered species and as an island nation inhabited around the edges will know sea level rise as well as anywhere when it comes. The biggest threat to New Zealand's endangered birds like takahe and kaka, or plant species like rata and native mistletoe, comes from rats, stoats, and possums, and only active pest control will solve this. This won't come cheap. Globally there is a clear link between healthy balance sheets and healthy environments.
ENVIRONMENTAL performance index
Judging how well a country's doing environmentally is best left to the experts. Each two years since 2002, Yale and Columbia University have been putting together the Environmental Performance Index. New Zealand has always ranked in the top 20 and was number one in 2006. Other winners over the years include Switzerland (2008), Iceland (2010, Switzerland (2012), Switzerland (2014), Finland (2016), and Switzerland (2018). The majority of countries in the top 20 are by and large, rich countries, and the bottom 20, poor countries.
EPI 2018 TOP 20 COUNTRIES
EPI 2018 BOTTOM 20 COUNTRIES
CARING MORE AND SPENDING MORE
How to achieve the balance between looking after the environment and making a living is the question of our times. Going merely off what we spend, despite the skill and best efforts of those who work in conservation in New Zealand, at the rate we're going many of our native species will be extinct on the mainland of New Zealand by the end of this century if not much sooner. In the 2018/19 budget, about 0.6% of the government's $86,023,500,000 was allocated to the Department of Conservation to manage our conservation estate, which makes up about a third of New Zealand's land area. On top of protecting endangered species, DOC is expected to engage in feel good exercises with schools, businesses, and communities, provide tourism infrastructure, and cater to the recreational needs of New Zealanders who see a network of tracks and roughly 900 huts in the back country as no less than a birthright. Interestingly Auckland has the smallest area of conservation land in the country, yet the highest number of DOC staff per hectare. The West Coast and Southland have the more conservation land than any other region, yet the lowest number of DOC staff per 10,000 hectares.
Meeting the challenges of declining indigenous biodiversity and climate change will require deep pockets. Addressing these issues means caring more and spending more (and smarter). This can only be done by earning more, or at the very least not earning any less. This is true at both a regional and a national level. Regions like the West Coast need a diverse mix of industries, that includes mining, tourism, dairying, drystock farming, cropping, horticulture, and manufacturing. Markets mean these industries will perform better in some periods than they do in others, having a varied economy makes it more resilient to shocks, much like any ecosystem.
By many measures though, the economy's loss will not be the environment's gain.
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MWC's full time manager and part time writer. Come here for occasional news and musings on mining, conservation, and regional economics.