There are numerous challenges to New Zealand’s reputation as being clean and green which New Zealand needs to deal with proactively if it is to maintain good perceptions overseas. I have opined in previous posts about the poor state of fresh water quality and which receives a lot of press in the media, especially from the Green Party. It is however not the biggest threat, though it has the potential to become so. The larger problems could cause long term damage include:
- The potential for a major oil spill affecting large tracts of our coastal ecosystem, which may in the worst case take years to fully recover from
- Our electronic waste disposal – by dumping unwanted electronic goods without removing their components, toxic substances such as Americium, Radium and Cadmium are finding their way into potentially our drinking water, soil and ultimately our own bodies
- The need for an international agreement on the dumping and removal of waste from ocean going craft
- Acidification of the oceans from excessive carbon-based gas discharge
- The need to work with the major economic sectors on a long term blue print for sustainability
In 1989 a tanker called the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska. ExxonMobil, which owned the tanker spent over $2 billion cleaning up the spill, which decimated marine life and the bird species that fed on it. Although no spill in New Zealand anywhere near that size has happened, New Zealand has a number of aggravating factors that make this a high risk possibility, not least poor occupational health and safety regulations and weakened Resource Management Act obligations.
We all use electronics, but the tonnage of electronic waste that is created each year will amaze people. New Zealand produces an estimated 80,000 tons per annum or roughly the weight of a United States Navy fleet aircraft carrier minus aircraft, personnel, munitions and so forth. Of this, probably still less than 1% is disposed of through a proper recycling programme with broken, unwanted devices sent to an authorized location to have the components which have quite toxic substances in them such as Cadmium and Americium, but also substances such as Lithium and Radium as well.
In the centre of the Pacific Ocean there is a very large collection of man made waste that has either fallen off ships or been illegally dumped. Called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is floating plastics, paper and other assorted material that has been moved along by oceanic currents to converge on a central location. This mass of waste is allegedly visible from space. As one of the nations on the Pacific rim, New Zealand like every other nation has an obligation to reduce that collection of garbage and the influx from ocean going craft as far as it reasonably can. If that means an international agreement by nations to make sure ships hold their waste until they can reach land, all the better.
Acidification of the oceans is something I have mentioned in other posts. However, it is useful to know how acidification works and the effects it has.
Although New Zealand is very fortunate to have the Resource Management Act with its provisions for the long term sustainability of New Zealand, it is not much use if the economic sectors that employ people and create income are not actively integrated into the sustainable use, development and management of our natural and physical resources. It becomes clearly obvious that integration is not happening when one looks at – for example – the website of Tourism New Zealand, which promotes a “100% Pure New Zealand”, something that I think could be construed as misleading advertising. Another example would be the saga of the Oyang fishing trawlers that operate out of Lyttelton, which were caught in breach of New Zealand maritime law dumping fish, ballast water and operating boats that were not fit to be at sea. The crews alleged mistreatment by the officers of their ships and in August 2010 one sank with the loss of several lives. Clearly a number of industry sectors have work to do before we can really claim to be 100% Pure.