By DAVID WILLIAMS – The Press, from Stuff.co.nz, 08/10/2010

New Zealanders are “trashing” nature and a radical economic rethink is needed to “save ourselves from ourselves”, says Department of Conservation director-general Al Morrison.

In the 12th annual state of the nation environment address at Lincoln University yesterday, Morrison said New Zealand “doesn’t have a brilliant track record” of protecting biodiversity, and “something has to give”.

“We are degrading ecosystems and destroying species to a point where the services that nature provides, that we rely on for our sustenance and that determine our prosperity are being run down and out,” he said.

“Even in New Zealand water has become a serious issue, the carbon deficit is hurting and the impact from the destruction of natural catchments, siltration and nitrogen runoff are hurting business.”

A goal of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, written a decade ago, was to halt the decline in the country’s indigenous biodiversity, he said. But Landcare Research’s annual report, presented to Parliament this year, said intensive farming was destroying native plants at the fastest rate since European colonisation.

A study last month found more freshwater fish species than ever were under threat.

Morrison said creating an environmental mess was “good for GDP”, but massive environmental subsidies condemned future generations to meet the costs of “our lack of concern”.

“If GDP is failing as a measure of both social stability and environmental sustainability, then surely that is a powerful incentive to find a new construct that measures true progress,” he said. “It will require radical change in public policy and management, economic thinking and business practice.”

The department, which had recently set up a commercial business unit, was looking to business for significant new investment in conservation, he said.

Morrison’s speech departed from the Government’s economic development line, exemplified by Prime Minister John Key’s mantra that the country had to balance its “environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities”.

Morrison said living sustainably and in harmony with nature “is not apart from the economy, it is a key component of it”.

The country’s clean and green image was more about good luck than good management, he said.

“We are as guilty as any party of depleting and degrading our natural capital.”

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Morrison’s speech was “brave” and challenged the Government’s “extractive” economic development strategy.

Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said his views were similar to Morrison’s.

“Everywhere in the Western world we use the land, sea and the view for 100 per cent of the basis of everything to do with the economy.”

He questioned whether humans had gone too far, adding: “What is too far and what was the tipping point?”

Lincoln University public policy lecturer Ann Brower said the department should engage with the private sector, but relying too heavily on businesses was risky.

“You can’t count on the private sector unless they’re mandated to do something. If they’re not required to do something, chances are they won’t.”

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