Environmental negotiations ??!!??

By Rebecca McLeod 05/10/2009

Well here we go again – the stage is being set for another battle of “the environmentalists” versus “the developers”. This time, the battle grounds are numerous, and share one thing in common – conservation land status. As the Government prepares to conduct a stock take of the mineral deposits in conservation land around the country, mining companies and those wanting continued protection of our conservation estate are shaping up for a fight.

Last night on the current affairs show Sunday, “the developers” stated that they were prepared to negotiate with “the environmentalists”, so that everyone could come out a winner. In my opinion, this argument is complete nonsense – how can there possibly be negotiation when the two sides are dealing in completely different currencies? The developers are dealing in dollars, as developers tend to do. But what currency are the environmentalists dealing in? Do they even have  a currency? Well, I don’t believe that they do – apart from a sense of guardianship, the environmentalists are not set to personally gain from protecting our conservation land from development. This might seem like an obvious point to make, but therein lies the difference.

It heartens me to see such battles being waged around the country – where big, well-funded developers who set to gain financially from environmental exploitation are going into battle with small community groups, Iwi and environmental organizations that are fighting to protect our environments and the ecosystems they support. These groups typically do not have the large pool of resources required for a fair battle with the developers, and so rely on the generosity of volunteers (including scientists) to put together cases for environmental protection. It has a distinct David and Goliath feel about it – and has me wondering what can be done to make these fights more even. Often what these small environmental groups need is scientific advice, and better yet, research to support their arguments – but they can’t afford to fork out for consultants. I am aware of a number of situations where environmental scientists are giving their time and expertise to advise and support these small environmentally-focused groups. The community groups obviously benefit enormously from this interaction, and I believe that the scientists do too – what better way to gauge that the science you are doing is relevant?!

Unfortunately, when it comes to the possibility of mining conservation land, the environmentalists have more than just the developers to deal with: in this case it seems likely that they will be going head to head with the National Government – and that seems like a lopsided battle indeed.