A word to John Key & co. about the RMA

Dear John, Amy, and the other people running our country.

I heard you were planning some changes to our Resource Management Act. I’m not actually sure how I heard it; after all, you kept it pretty quiet. I suppose that’s good – we don’t want a fuss. Especially not from those environmentalists, they can be a real pain. Like that time when about 40,000 of them said that mining in National parks is a pretty stupid idea. It gets in the way of progress, you know.

This isn’t exactly a sexy issue. You know, I normally avoid anything with the words act/law/legislation in it, because it’s usually boring as hell. But I thought I could help you out here by providing some scientific reasoning to point out why your proposed changes are, well, stupid.

A whole lot of people in the beehive seem to want to change the law to make development easier for the bigwigs, to help boost the economy. I like the sentiment. But painstaking as it is, these developments need to be very carefully considered if we don’t want to screw the environment. If we make development easier, then we risk messing it all up.

Messing it all up how? Let’s start with a slightly extreme example of what has happened historically when resources have been used unsustainably. – Society has collapsed, that’s what. The Mayans, the Pitcairn Polynesians, the Easter Islanders. Maybe we should learn from thousands of years of evidence that we need to take care of our resources.

What resources? Mmmm…fisheries is a good example. You banned trawling on the Chatham Rise to protect orange-roughey. That was good. They would have been in deep trouble otherwise (no pun intended). But these changes to the law would bring us one step closer to mining the Chatham Rise seabed. Now, seeing as I’m supposed to be writing about science, here is some science for you: Orange-roughey live ON the seabed. If you’re going to mine their habitat, the fish will DIE.

I have a little problem with the change that allows “minor exemptions” to be made to some resource applications. Now I know these changes aren’t saying, “we will allow more water to be taken out of rivers”, but what if one farmer gets a minor exemption to take a little bit more water? Then another will want one too. And another. Now, here’s some maths for you: A little bit of water + another little bit of water + some more water = a big bit of water.

Then the river level drops, the fish suffer (read: die/starve/can’t migrate), the tourists stop coming and New Zealanders get mad. Are the tourists really going to want to keep coming here if we’re not “clean and green” or “100% pure”?

You say that taking the words “protect” and “preserve” [natural resources] out of the law will “reduce uncertainty”. I’m pretty certain that these words are quite important in a law about the environment. If you’re uncertain though, you can read the definitions here.

And you say you’ll replace these words with “recognise” and “provide for”. So now we’re going to “recognise” our natural resources. Yep, that’s much more certain than “protect”, mmm, not ambiguous at all. I’m glad you clarified.

Not every opponent to these reforms is an “out of touch” environmentalist. Most are quite reasonable, and genuinely want to protect our country for the future.  I hope you’ll see reason too.


Lydia McLean.