MOJO MATHERS: Destroying conservation for coal is a cheap joke

New Zealand’s birdlife, insects and plants are like nothing else on earth. Biologist Jared Diamond once described New Zealand’s biodiversity as ‘the nearest approach to life on another planet”.

Over the past 100 years successive generations of New Zealanders have fought to protect our unique and wondrous wild places by placing them within the conservation estate.

Conservation has always been challenged by private development interests, but its survival is a testament to the many New Zealanders who want to protect our natural heritage for future generations.

Many Kiwis were therefore shocked this week to hear that the Government is thinking about allowing coal mining to take place on conservation land in the Denniston Plateau.

The Denniston Plateau is nationally significant, home to unique plants found nowhere else in the country as well as nationally threatened species like the great spotted Kiwi, Fern Bird and West Coast green gecko.

What is galling about this proposal is that the Government is considering sacrificing all this for so little in return.

Our conservation estate is being held in trust not just for us, but for future generations. In contrast, we know that coal mining and its economic gains cannot last beyond this generation. Coal mining permanently and significantly alters the nature of these ecosystems for the sake of a relatively small, short term profit.

To pretend that coal mining will bring economic prosperity to the West Coast ignores lessons from the past, as well as the current reality of the coal industry. The price of coal today is volatile. Cheaper and cleaner renewable energy, as well is natural gas, has seen the price of coal to plummet globally. Coal is a sunset industry that New Zealand should be exiting.

Coal is also one of the dirtiest, most dangerous sources of energy. The science is clear; it is no longer possible to burn the existing stocks of fossil fuels, let alone new ones, without threatening the stability of our climate.

Whatever way you look at it, the case for destroying long-protected conservation land on the West Coast for coal mining is fundamentally weak.

People on the West Coast deserve economic development that’s based on 21st century not 19th century thinking. The future of the West Coast needs to be in sustainable industries, that offer lasting benefits and that help to restore rather than degrade the region’s natural beauty. 

Mojo Mathers is Green Party MP and Conservation spokesperson.