World Wildlife Fund International has just published its Living Planet Report 2008, an exhaustive effort to quantify the ecological health of the planet and the strain we humans are placing on its biological capacity.

They’ve developed two key indices — a Living Planet Index and an Ecological Footprint — which are composites of extensive trend data measuring everything from species diversity to energy consumption. If you really want to dig into the data, the report is described and available for download here.

A country’s Ecological Footprint is the sum of all the cropland, grazing land, forest and fishing grounds required to produce the food, fibre and timber it consumes, to absorb the wastes emitted when it uses energy, and to provide space for its infrastructure. Basically, you don’t want a big footprint!

New Zealand has the sixth worst ranking in the world in terms of per capita Ecological Footprint (behind United Arab Emirates, USA, Kuwait, Denmark and Australia). The US, China and India have the biggest absolute footprints, collectively draining 49% of the planet’s biocapacity. Humanity’s footprint first exceeded the Earth’s total biocapacity in the 1980s; this overshoot has been increasing since then.

But my intent here is not to delve into the substance of the report. Rather, it is to sound a warning about the impact this report will have on perceptions … perceptions of which countries are walking the talk when it comes to sound environmental stewardship, and which are guilty of false advertising.

World Wildlife Fund International is one of the most cautious, conservative and respected environmental organizations on the international scene. These aren’t folks who chain themselves to trees! Their Living Planet Report will get considerable international media exposure … it will be covered by all thought-leading media.

And what will readers, viewers and listeners discover? That “clean green” New Zealand isn’t such a model citizen after all.

One report like this will not shatter the New Zealand “clean green” image — which as even John Key expounds — underpins this country’s two most important economic sectors, agricultural exports and tourism.

But it’s like the pebble that knocks a tiny chip out of your windscreen. After awhile, if you don’t fix it, and another pebble strikes or you hit a bump in the road, the entire windscreen shatters.

I wonder if our political contestants — especially those in the two major parties contending to run the country — have any clue as to how many pebbles have already hit the NZ windscreen … and how close it might be to shattering!

National can’t find space in its eleven “key commitments” to even mention the environment, but relentlessly blames the Resource Management Act for blocking prosperity in NZ. While Labour hardly rates as an environmental evangelist, instead seemingly content to make the minimum environmental bribes required to keep the Greens in tow.

John Key wants to be Minister of Tourism, so critical is nurturing “Brand New Zealand” as he sees it. Helen Clark spouts similar rhetoric … maybe she’s reserving the Minister of Tourism portfolio for Winston Peters, given that he appears to be able to sell any story!

Who knows what or when the tipping point might be when the countries we expect to buy our exports and send us visitors decide New Zealand is running a scam?

Selling New Zealand as “clean green” is getting harder by the day, beautiful vistas from luxury seaside golf courses notwithstanding. Soon the story might be too incredulous for even Winston and Julian Robertson to sell.

Tom

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