energy_and_resources_minister_gerry_brownlee_5341374244Predictably, the Government is gearing up to backtrack on some of the more extreme and unpalatable elements of its mining proposals. At a National Party regional conference in Masterton at the weekend, both John Key and Gerry Brownlee signaled they may be prepared to pull back the throttle on carnage in our most protected areas. But they will still push on with mining conservation land, not all of which is “high value” according to Brownlee.

Hmm, interesting when you think about it. Hasn't the Government been saying all along that it wouldn't mine land of high conservation value? Is Mr Brownlee now admitting that the Government's earlier promises were untrue?

Is the impending backdown over schedule 4 even a good thing? If Great Barrier Island’s stunning Te Ahumata Plateau remains un-scathed, all the better. And if Coromandel locals don’t have to relitigate an anti-mining battle fought and rightfully won many moons ago, that’d be great. But the honest and broader answer is no, because it will not solve the problem that we face as a country under this administration.

And that is that New Zealand royally lacks an economic vision fit for the 21st century and a world facing a climate crisis. The mining plans are just a symptom of a very unseemly disease.

te-ahumataJohn Key et all seem to have nothing to offer us beyond a reversion to 19th century thinking and a focus on extractive industries. The schedule 4 plans are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Government’s hopes for a fossil fuel boom. It’s no exaggeration to say we are facing a new era of coal under this Government, at a time when the world is moving to find alternatives due to climate change.

Here’s some maths. Skip it if it bores you, but it’s worth considering. Total in situ coal reserves in New Zealand are estimated at around 15 billion tonnes of which, approximately nine billion tonnes is judged to be economically recoverable. Recoverable lignite deposits are estimated at over six billion tonnes. (Lignite is the cheapest, dirtiest , nastiest form of coal there is.) Sub-bituminous and bituminous in-ground resources are about 3.5 billion tonnes, although there is some uncertainty how much of this is recoverable.

Assuming we tap into this amount of coal and use it for energy (arguably Gerry’s idea of a wet dream) it will lead to total carbon dioxide emissions of 12.75 billion tonnes, over two times the annual CO2 emissions of the USA.

Half way through its first term, Key's Government is thinking Jurassically. And the electorate is understandably freaking out. Brownlee’s response to the massive anti-mining march turnout was to observe that not all the 40,000 plus people in attendance were protesting against the mining proposals. He observed that placards about climate change and other matters were also waved "and it may have been a good opportunity for people to air various different grievances”. Nice to see him finally get something right.

The current schedule 4 plans involve digging up 3,000ha of the stunning Paparoa National Park, for coal to be burned right here in clean green New Zealand. Tourists [read: a core component of New Zealand’s income stream] spoken to on the cusp of the park were non-plussed. . Plans to mine former conservation land in Central Otago for dirty lignite coal are also drawing opposition but again, the project is just an indicator of a disease eating 100% Pure New Zealand alive.

nzcoalBoth inside outside of the National Parks and conservation lands, the Government’s approach to fossil fuel mining looks set to blow out New Zealand’s emissions, undermine our clean, green reputation and leave the taxpayer holding the carbon bill. The current Government’s vision is to race Australia to the bottom of the mine pit– increasing our emissions (already 5th worst in the world per capita), and the corresponding financial liabilities. That is the kind of 19th century industrial thinking we used to do before the reality of climate change kicked in.

Is this honestly the best you’ve got Mr Key?