A damning 450 page government endorsed report released about the state of the environment in New Zealand, unveils shocking details about environmental degradation. It fully exposed the farce of "100% Pure" New Zealand, which this country has been trying to present to the world. The report mentions that a fifth of all ground water is now unsafe to drink, 15% of fish stocks have been over-fished, and more than half the population is breathing sub-standard air. The country's roads are increasingly being clogged by more, older vehicles. In a young country of only 4.2 million people, why is it this bad?

Additionally the Green Party claims that a whole chapter of the report was left out deliberately. This chapter blames most of the pollution on pastoral land use intensification. The Greens accuse lobby groups of pressuring the government to remove the chapter, so as to protect farmers' green credentials. Federated Farmers president, Charlie Pedersen ,called the claim rubbish, pointing out that there are no agricultural products marketed on 'Clean Green New Zealand'. He said he was already aware of the environmental damage done by intensive farming. Clearly his argument is that, because farming industry doesn't care about a clean environment, there is no motive for them to pressure the government into covering up the damage they are doing. While his response clearly sidesteps the issue that farmers may face restrictions in order to limit pollution, what he says is in fact accurate. Time and time again, in cases around the world, industry has only ever paid lip service to the health of the environment where there is profit to be made. In New Zealand's case it is mainly the tourism industry which is able to profit from the green image, though only superficially, and they are certainly not willing to actually make any real investment to ensure that the image is an accurate one.

New Zealand is renowned for for its anti-nuclear stance, environmental activism, and its pristine landscapes, yet underneath the hype there are massive contradictions and double standards. Millions of tonnes of coal are being exported to China to be burned in coal power stations, and New Zealand imports more food than almost any other OECD country -- about 70% of processed food and 40% of total food, including 30,000 tonnes of meat. In such a sparsely populated country with four climatic zones, why can't it be grown locally?. There is very little investment in public transport, and recycling lags behind many European countries who have never been known for their green credentials, like the U.K. or Germany. It is all to obvious that New Zealand's green image is just that -- an image. The New Zealand government makes no serious commitment to the environment. Instead, it prefers to place more importance on the interests of big business.

Despite the fact that the dairy industry in New Zealand is currently making record profits, it does not significantly contribute to limiting the detrimental effects it has on the environment. As in other parts of the globe, the burden of environmental degradation and global warming is mostly placed on the shoulders of the working class. Everyone is encouraged to "do their bit", and the focus of the problem is narrowed to trivial actions like turning TVs off at the wall when they are not in use. Getting the public to concentrate on such insignificant issues only serves to frustrate them and distract them from the real cause behind the deteriorating environment: unbridled capitalism and its insatiable quest for ever higher profits and blatant disregard for the environment.

Already many New Zealand workers are under huge pressures just to get by in life. They are working some of the longest hours in the OECD, and struggling against a rising cost of living (ironically, driven significantly by the increased price of dairy products, the very culprit of most of the environmental degradation). Coupled with stagnated wages, earning a living and staying out of debt are challenging enough, yet on top of this, they are constantly told to take steps individually towards looking after the environment while big business continues its large scale destruction of the environment in its pursuit of ever increasing profit.

The contradictions of the "green" message go deep. On the one hand people are expected to use their cars less and use public transport more, yet the public transport system in New Zealand is disgraceful, if not embarrassing, by world standards. The government continues to pursue very car-centric projects like the proposed motorway tunnel in Auckland. Many kerbside recycling facilities are not widely available across the country, and those that are present only recycle a narrow range of materials. Those recyclable materials from which no profit can be made must be thrown out with the household rubbish, and there have even been cases during low market demand, where recycled material has been sent straight to the tip. In parts of the country a user-pays market mentality has been implemented in regards to refuse collection, which is many areas simply does not work and leads to fly tipping.

Many of New Zealand's houses are generally not properly insulated, and thus need more energy to heat in the winter. However because of high house prices, an increasingly large number of New Zealanders will never even have the chance to own their own home, much less insulate it. There is certainly no incentive for landlords to insulate the houses -- they are content simply collecting the rent, and the New Zealand government shows no initiative to encourage them to do so. The average New Zealand worker would never be able to afford custom built 'green' mansions like that of Green MP Jeannette Fitsimons' in the Corromandel region.

It is certainly important that people make some lifestyle changes, but in many cases they are unable to do so due to the conditions in which they live, as well as a lack of information. What is lacking is leadership and a socialist policy for the environment. The Labour government has continually shown its timidity to tackling big business over rampant disregard for the environment. Although the Greens base their party on a campaign for environmental sustainability, one question -- how do they intend to achieve this under capitalism? It would be like asking a leopard to change its spots.

If the government is serious about tackling the issues of climate change and environmental degradation, it should tackle the root cause of the problem: capitalism. Quite clearly, under capitalism the environment is not safe. Only under socialism, where workers own and run society, can the environment be protected and improved. A genuine workers democracy would ensure that the importance of the environment is at the centre of economic policy in New Zealand, and the world.

Socialist Appeal demands:

  • A Labour government with bold socialist policies.
  • Public ownership and control of the land and major industries, petrochemical enterprises, food companies, energy, transport, and primary production.
  • A genuine socialist approach to the environment.