At one Coromandel tourist spot I visited last year with my family I was invited to donate gold coin for stop-mining bumper sticker.
This possibly sums up our ambivalence about mining. The catalyst in my hybrid car may use platinum, but I’d like to be able to use it without any mining.
The mining industry’s perfect example of why behaving sustainably is crucial to an industry’s future. And why the industry is having such hard time selling the idea of mining high-value conservation land.
At the same time another issue has been raised by the debate: what is an adequate reward to the country for extracting its mineral wealth? majority of voters for all political parties don’t think the industry is paying enough.
While government decision may have been made by the time you read this on what, if any, areas of high-value conservation land are to be removed from Schedule 4 protection so prospecting and mining can occur on case-by-case basis, the massive nationwide debate on this issue throws sustainability issues into sharp focus.
Only 35 out of every 100 New Zealanders think the industry has responsibly managed its effects on the environment and local communities in the past. Some 34 percent think they have been irresponsible. This is despite some mining companies having world-leading sustainability practices.
Do they trust the industry to fully restore Schedule 4 areas after mining is complete? Not by long shot: 63 percent say no, 13 percent yes, according to nationwide ShapeNZ survey.
Do they support Schedule 4 area mining subject to normal Resource Management Act procedures? Some 46 percent say no, 36 percent yes.
New Zealanders fully understand the national and local economic and employment benefits, short and long term, of mining Schedule 4 areas. But they don’t support that happening. Why?
Perhaps it’s mix of past experience of mining, distrust over future performance, desire to protect the 100% Pure brand and its benefits (even though few believe the environment here is pure). Added to this is deeply-held desire to protect the quality of life in New Zealand.
New Zealanders want economic growth, protected environment and decent society – and believe they can have all three.
The Schedule 4 proposals crossed that line.
Kiwis are yet to be convinced, not of its economic benefits, but of the Government’s and the mining industry’s ability to manage sustainably.
Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development aims to make society not just better off, but better altogether.
Another definition, this one from the British government says: “Sustainable development is about ensuring better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come.” This focus of sustainable development on improving quality of life is becoming more widely accepted.
A quality of life focus makes the concept more aspirational, and it changes the tone and content of the sustainable development debate so that the emphasis is more on solutions than problems.
The miners’ economic benefit arguments are well understood and supported. But they haven’t so far offered enough evidence of effective solutions to the environmental and social issues thrown up by mining.
They’ll find it hard to win over majority of the public unless they authentically take truly sustainable approach.
If the successful stool has three legs – economic, environmental and social – the Schedule 4 one so far has one. It’s pretty hard selling one-legged stool to New Zealanders.

Peter Neilson is the chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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