S W O B   The Soft DOC Blog

SWOB - Simon's Web Only Blog*
18 February 2010 Paramedic Media Stars against mining in conservation areas

My best mate, the Paramedic Media Star, is also strongly opposed to more mining in conservation areas. He has also written to the Government.

Dear Minister

I am extremely concerned about the Prime Ministers statement to Parliament that the Government intends to make "significant changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act ... to increase economic growth and create jobs".

By definition the land covered by Schedule 4 is of the highest conservation values and includes National Parks - "...areas of New Zealand that contain scenery of such distinctive quality, ecological systems, or natural features so beautiful, unique, or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest." National Parks Act (1980).

The Prime Minister then stated incorrectly that only 40 square km of land is mined in NZ. That figure is straight from the website of the Minerals Association. The correct figure is over 200 square km (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment), not including the land area for access requirements in the form of roads. The fact that the Prime Minister has used an incorrect figure from an association representing private sector mining companies, rather than his own Commissioner, is telling.

The economic benefit of mining is a one off with an on-going cost of the environmental clean up. Contrary to the PM's assertion that it is surgical mining analogous to keyhole surgery, the vast majority of mining is not of this nature and the huge issue is pollution of waterways in particular. Tourism and the intrinsic worth are sustainable; extractive mining is not.

Pristine wilderness areas such as those covered by Schedule 4 can only diminish as the world demands more resources. New Zealand is one of the few countries with legislation permitting mining to occur in National Parks. This has tarnished our reputation amongst international conservation organisations. Indeed, Australia, our closest neighbour held up as wealthy because of its mineral resources, bans mining in National Parks.

As Minister of Conservation, what are you doing to up hold the National Parks Act, that " [National Parks] shall be preserved as far as possible in their natural state...in perpetuity for their intrinsic worth"?

Our company worked on the film Avatar which was mostly filmed at Peter Jackson's studios in Wellington. Avatar is proving to be one of the most popular and profitable films in history connecting with mass audiences all over the world. One of the keys messages in Avatar, as the bulldozers destroyed the pristine wilderness of Pandora to mine the precious mineral "Unobtainium", was -"can't you see - the real wealth doesn't lie underground, but above the ground - it is all around you (in the eco-system)."

It appears that the National Government is ignoring this message.

Yours sincerely
Johnny Mulheron Sideline Safety Ltd

Johnny will no doubt also go on the list of people that John Key's office will advise to expect a considered answer from the hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

17 February 2010 Sierra Club and IUCN say 'mining in conservation areas: WTF?'

Metiria Turei and the Greens have highlighted that the Sierra Club has formally written to the Government to say what on earth are you doing thinking about mining in conservation areas. The Greens have made public a copy of the Sierra Club's letter.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has also commented on what message is sent by New Zealand, a relatively wealthy country, considering resource extraction from areas set aside for conservation of biodiversity.

I guess John Key's office will advise both groups that they can soon expect a considered answer from the hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

15 February 2010 John Key owns shares in a mining company

I have just realised why John Key's private secretary has forwarded my email about mining in conservation areas to the Hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

It's to avoid conflicts of interest!

John Key owns shares in a mining company.

Hat-tips TV One's Q & A current affairs program Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament: Summary 2009. Scroll through to page 36.

This has generated a few headlines.

Key criticised over shares in uranium mining company.

Key steps into a political minefield.

Actually, I think this is a side issue to the main issue that Key and Brownlee are using factually incorrect information to argue for mining in conservation areas.

14 February 2010 Russell Norman compares Key to the 1984 bad guys and Brownlee to the Avatar bad guys

Russell Norman, the Green Party Co-leader, has the best one-liners on on Key and Brownlee's intention to open up more conservation areas to mining.

As John Key said "it is my expectation that the Government will ...make significant changes to Schedule 4" (the schedule of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 that prohibits mining in some conservation areas).

Recall that Key had said that the natural environment could be improved by the combination of more mining and a new conservation fund. In his address in reply speech, Norman described Key's language as 'Orwellian', that Key's logic was; ...to save the environment we have to destroy it.

Back in January, Norman compared Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee to the bad (mining) guys in the film Avatar, because of Brownlee's enthusiasm for mining conservation areas.

Way to go, Russell!

13 February 2010 More cognitive dissonance from the PM's office about mining

I posted a couple of days ago about emailing the Prime Minister John Key to express my disapproval of more mining in conservation areas. Yesterday, I received this email from the PM's private secretary.

From: "Briane Smith (MIN)" To: johnsonr1@paradise.net.nz
Subject: Re: Comment on PM's 2010 Statement to Parliament and mining
Date: Friday, 12 February 2010 4:51 p.m.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, Hon John Key, I acknowledge your email concerning potential changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.
As the issue you have raised falls within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister of Education, I have forwarded your email on to the office of Hon Anne Tolley for her consideration.
Briane Smith Private Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister
Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail

What else can you say but WTF? Since when is mining in conservation areas or Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act anything to do with the Education portfolio or the hon Anne Tolley?

John Key's greenwash of mining 10 February 2010.

John Key's statement to Parliament of 9 February 2010 proposes more economic growth through more mining in conservation areas. He states that mining uses only 40 square kilometres of land which is less than 0.015 percent of NZ's total land; that new mining will meet strict environmental tests and that increased mining will improve the natural environment via an "off-setting" conservation fund. I have included his words at the end of the post

I immediately sent this email to John Key.


Dear Mr Key,

I have just read your Statement to Parliament about economic goals. I am absolutely shocked and disappointed that your Government intends to increase mining on conservation lands via a review of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. That policy is completely contrary to the statutory conservation management purpose of those lands.

I am astounded that you as the Minister of Tourism cannot see how damaging this is to 'Brand New Zealand', our clean and green image.

I am also completely unconvinced by your assertion that mining will have to meet strict environmental tests and your comment that mining only occupies 40 hectares of land in the whole of New Zealand. The area of land occupied is not a good indicator of the level of adverse effects of mining. Have you not heard of acid mine drainage, the water pollution from heavy metals which flows out from mines and into rivers? Does your quoted return per hectare from mining include rehabilitation of water ways?

It is clear to me that of all land uses in New Zealand, mining has the highest adverse environmental impact per hectare. It is simply nonsense to suggest that this damage can be either mitigated or compensated for.

I urge you instead to do two things.

The first is to provide statutory protection from mining for all conservation land as if Schedule 4 included all conservation land.

Secondly I urge you to follow up on the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's recommendation that current mines on conservation land be required to replace their antiquated mining permits that have no environmental safeguards with adequate consents with up to date mitigation conditions.

Yours sincerely

Here are the paragraphs of his statement concerning mining in conservation areas.

"There is also extraordinary economic potential in the mineral estate residing in Crown-owned land. Mining in New Zealand uses just 40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area. The export value of that land however is $175,000 per hectare, which makes mining an extremely valuable use of land.

The Government will shortly be releasing a discussion document for public consultation on potential changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. Schedule 4 is the part of the Crown Minerals Act which prohibits mining or prospecting on specified areas of Crown land.

The discussion document will recommend that some areas of Crown land be removed from Schedule 4 and in addition that some areas currently not in Schedule 4 be added to it.

Notwithstanding the public consultation process, it is my expectation that the Government will act on at least some of these recommendations and make significant changes to Schedule 4. This is because new mining on Crown land has the potential to increase economic growth and create jobs.

I know some people have expressed concern about increased mining but I can assure New Zealanders that any new mines on conservation land will have to meet strict environmental tests.

Moreover, the Government is also proposing to establish a new Conservation Fund, potentially drawing on royalty revenue from mining operations on Crown land. The Conservation Fund would resource special conservation projects around the country. That means that if there is an increase in mining activity, New Zealand’s natural environment would also be improved."

6 February 2010. New Zealand's climate change policy takes us down the Yale Environment Performance Index

Kiwiblog notes that New Zealand ranks 15th in the Environmental Performance Index 2010. No Right Turn notes that New Zealand's rank has fallen from 7th to 15th.

Rather than blog about it I thought I would graph it. Note that New Zealand is doing worst in all the climate change categories. That high score for agricultural subsidies, fourth in the list, is because the taxpayer is going to subsidise the agriculture sector under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme.

To see or download the dotchart, it is on Wikimedia Commons.

23 January 2010 Seventy percent fossil fooled

Quite often I hear politicians or journalists say that New Zealand can't really be expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels as 70% of our energy is renewable, due mainly to our hydro power schemes. A typical recent example was business journalist Fran O'Sullivan, writing in the New Zealand Herald on December 9, 2009.

O'Sullivan wrote this about NZ's positioning on climate change prior to the UNFCCC summit at Copenhagen.

"Where the Government negotiators will focus is on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score"

The trouble is this 'truism' is not only a bad reason for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is also factually incorrect. As the barchart shows, renewable energy including Hydro power supplies 30% of New Zealand's energy supply. Fossil fuels supply 70%.

So, I sent Fran an email.

"Fran, You state; "Where the Government negotiators will focus is [in respect of climate change negotiations] on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score, and that agriculture makes up 50 per cent of emissions." I think you are confusing electricity generation with NZ's gross energy supply. Only 30 percent of NZ's gross energy supply is renewable. Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_New_Zealand and the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 energy figures. Kind regards"

Fran replied the same morning "Yes you are right. Real oversight on my behalf, will get it corrected on website".

As I write this, six weeks later, the '70%-renewable' statement is still on the NZ Herald website. We seem doomed to be seventy percent fossil fooled for a while longer.


The source of the data for the barplot is the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 Energy File. I created the barplot with the R programme. The commands were:

engy<-c(83.1, 280.8,159.9,80.3,113.2,47.4, 1.2)
names(engy)<-c('Coal','Oil','Gas','Hydro','Geothermal','Other renewable','Waste')
cols <- c("brown4","green","green","brown4","green","brown4","brown4")
png(file="NZ_Energy4.png",pointsize = 14,width=650,height=550)
barplot(sort(engy),horiz=T, las=1,xlim=c(0,300), border=1, space=0.8,col=cols)
legend(165, 4, c("Non-renewable 69%", "Renewable 31%"), lty = 1, lwd=4,col = c("brown4", "green"))
title(main="New Zealand Primary Energy Supply 2008",xlab="Gross Petajoules")
mtext(side=3,line=0.25,"Source: Ministry of Economic Development")

I have uploaded two versions to the Wikimedia Commons website; an SVG chart and a PNG chart.

9 January 2010 More on the Story of Cap and Trade

This post will also appear on the Project Rameka blog. It includes the Story of Cap and Trade video again.

My friends Jonathan Kennett and Bronwen Wall set up 'Project Rameka', a carbon sink project near Takaka. I am one of the trustees of this project.

The three of us are climate-change junkies and we have been going to some talks about climate change hosted by Victoria University of Wellington.

Jonathan has posted on a talk by NIWA's main climate scientist David Wratt and on a talk about sea level rise and the Antarctic 'Andrill' ice-core drilling project.

Usually, we grab something to eat afterwards, and have a yarn about what we thought of the talk.

One talk I went to by myself was about the NZ emissions trading scheme. I caught up with Bronwen and Jonathan soon afterwards and filled them in on the talk. They both thought I should post on the Project Rameka blog about the NZ emissions trading scheme (or "ETS" for short), as it has implications for the carbon credits that Project Rameka, as a carbon sink, will be eligible to receive.

Also, shortly afterwards, Climate Issues Minister Nick Smith rammed through some major changes to the 2008 Labour version of the ETS, in a big rush so New Zealand would look like a country with a good climate change policy at the UN climate summit at Copenhagen. Yeah, right!

I have been trying to write this post for a while now. It's a massively complex scheme and I had been struggling to come up with something readable about it. Jonathan has said, correctly of course, that it's got to be short and easy to read, each post no longer than about 500 words, and not too technical. 'Mission impossible', I thought, then I joked to Jonathan: "What say I sum it up in a cartoon?"

But, joking aside, I found a video about emissions trading! That's got to be easier to take in than reading some jargon-heavy blurb about economics and climate change! Here it is!

The video is called The Story of Cap and Trade from Annie Leonard who was behind the Story of Stuff viral video.

'The Story of Cap and Trade' gives us a nice simple definition of an emissions trading scheme.

  1. There has to be an annual limit on carbon emissions, a 'Cap'.
  2. The 'Cap' is the total number of 'permits to pollute' or emissions permits.
  3. The 'Cap', and obviously the number of permits, declines over time.
  4. Within the 'Cap', innovative companies that reduce their emissions can sell permits to other companies, the 'Trade'.

Annie Leonard says 'we get rich and we save the planet! What's not to like'.

But, seriously, Annie Leonard says there are several pretty major things not to like about emissions trading:

  1. Free 'giveaways' of permits to the polluters (which undermines the price incentive not to emit).
  2. Offsetting - polluters may buy unverified permits that do not represent valid emissions reductions, so emissions don't reduce.
  3. Climate injustice to less-developed countries, where many 'offset' projects are set up.
  4. The lack of internationally agreed Caps.

Consequently, Annie Leonard concludes that 'Cap and Trade' is a distraction from real policies that reduce emissions, and is really about maintaining 'business as usual'.

There is also a 'Story of Cap and Trade' annotated referenced script (PDF), and a FAQ.

What do you think of the video? I think it's great explanation of a hard topic.

23 December 2009 The Story of cap and trade

I have been meaning to write something about emissions trading and the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme for a while. Instead here is a video by Annie Leonard which describes emissions trading in a fairly simple way.

The Story of Cap & Trade from Story of Stuff Project on Vimeo.

Leonard's main criticisms are:

  1. emission permits will be given away free to emitters, in effect, rewarding them for causing the problem. That will certainly be the case in New Zealand, where billions of $NZ worth of permits will be allocated to agriculture and trade exposed and emissions intensive industries over an 80-year period.
  2. emission offsets (carbon offsets) will be fraudulently obtained, thus undermining the cap on emissions.
  3. caps on emissions are essential to a cap and trade scheme, but there are no internationally agreed caps.
  4. emissions trading is a distraction from the real measures to decarbonise economies, and as such it encourages 'business as usual'.

Kate Sheppard, writing on the Mother Jones website says that Leonard grossly simplifies emissions trading. I am not so sure

2 December 2009

Today, at 11:00a.m., Mrs Johnson and I interred Robin's ashes at Karori Cemetery. Robin's ashes had been sitting at home for over a year in an octagonal-sided wooden container. We left home in a steady misty drizzle (typical Wellington in December!), but 'Huey', the mountaineer's weather god was also in attendance and the drizzle had stopped while we were at Karori Cemetery. The container doesn't go into the bed of the rose garden, it goes into a hole in the grass next to the bed. A Wellington Council employee placed the container in the hole. Mrs Johnson placed a trowel of mulch on top and I filled the hole in with a spade. It seemed the right thing to do. I signed a form and we left. Huey also departed, and the drizzle started again. Mrs Johnson and I then had a latte and Muffin at the Boutique Dining Room Cafe on Karori Road.

23 July 2009

At Robin's funeral we had a 'memory board' - a display of photos of Robin. Based largely on the same photos here is an image gallery to Robins webpage.

18 July 2009 One year

Today is the 18th of July 2009. It's the first anniversary of Robin's death. I marked the day by walking from Karori West via Makara Road and Johnston's Hill to Mt Kaukau, along the ridges just west of Karori, Wilton, Chartwell and Ngaio. Although I had not walked to Mt Kaukau for at least fifteen years, Robin and I had walked from Mt Kaukau many times.

The overcast weather cleared as I walked and the afternoon became fine and warm until the final gentle climb to Mt Kaukau when the sun was low over the Tasman Sea. There was no wind and no movement of the Makara 'West Wind' turbines. The Ohariu valley farmland was a gleaming shade of green in the low winter sun.

When Robin and I first walked from Mt Kaukau to Johnston's Hill, in the 1970s, the walk was an informal route mostly over private farmland. Now, Wellington City Council has negotiated formal access for both walkers and mountain bikes, the route is sign-posted as are the ways off the main route to the suburbs, and it has a name. "the Skyline". Robin just used to call the walk 'Mt Kaukau to Johnston's Hill'.

I left home in Allington Road at 11:30am, started 'the Skyline' route at 11:45am at Makara Road, and reached Mt Kaukau at 3:15pm. I walked down to Nairnville Park (Cockayne Road) and caught a No 44 bus to the Railway Station then a No 3 bus back to Karori.

15 April 2009. Otako Forks Mt Hector and Elder Ridge

On Sunday the 12th and Monday the 13th of April 2009, I went tramping from Otaki Forks in the Tararua Range with friends Jonathan and Bronwen.Our route was Field Hut, Kime Hut, Mt Hector, Aston, Elder Hut, Renata Ridge and Waiotauru River

The rest of 2008.

Well, my father had terminal liver cancer. On 5 May I went to Wellington May to help him and my mother. My sister came over from England. Robin died on 18th July 2008 and his funeral was held on 4 th August. After that, I managed Robin's estate and stayed with my mother. In November, I left Lyttelton permanently to be in Wellington full-time. SO, some year.

7 May 2008.
I spent the last week of April and the first few days of May helping with a project called the Project Rameka.
18 February 2008.
Why am I not surprised that farmers in the Waikato are using this summer's drought as an excuse not to fence off their waterways as required. Have a look at the TVNZ news website Farmers accused of using drought excuse or at WebCite® here,

Feb 18, 2008 1:12 PM. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says Waikato farmers are using the region's drought as an excuse to shirk their responsibilities. It is angry at the number of farmers who have not fenced off their paddocks which back onto waterways. Stock with access to waterways can cause considerable trample damage to riverside vegetation and pollute waterways with their faeces. The region's livestock exclusion ruling was passed in 2000, but it says the vast majority have ignored it.

21 January 2008.
I went tramping to the Taipo River in the weekend.
1 November 2007.
The Court Of Appeal has released a ruling that Thames Coromandel District Council could use the RMA planning status of "prohibited activity" for mining in the Coromandel peninsula that is conservation land, and in coastal areas.Refer to the Herald article Court win on mining gives veto to councils. The group Coromandel Watchdog was supported by the Auckland regional Council and the Auckland City Council. ARC Chairman Michael Lee said in a 2005 Press Release " "The ARC believes that it is vitally important that councils across New Zealand are able to use the prohibited activity tool in the way we believe Parliament intended.
24 September 2007.
I have moved SWOB to the front and put the old Soft DOC website into a page off the header and navigation bar. I think it still has some historic and reference value.
16 September 2007.
I have been recently tinkering with the wikipedia entry on the RMA.
6 August 2007.
The environmental performance of the dairy industry, well, the lack of it, seems to be in the news. Farmers should fix their effluent image for the good of the industry says the president of Waikato Federated Farmers, Peter Buckley, after Environment Waikato finds almost 25% of 100 dairy farmers discharging effluent to streams and drains.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, says dairy farmers are not paying enough for the pollution they cause and a price needs to be put on water.

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons hit out at the dairy industry today, saying it did not pay for its impact on the environment.

5 August 2007.
Pike River Coal have their own website. They even have a photo gallery showing their intrusions into conservation areas.
25 July 2007.
Would anyone be surprised that Solid Energy has gone to the High Court to suppress the Save Happy Valley Coalition's spoof Solid Energy Annual Environmental Report?
12 July 2007.
I have just been to Wellington for a long weekend. And I reset the counter.
15-16 January 2005.
Kirsten MacKay and I went to Pfeiffer Biv.
22-24 December 2004.
I went tramping with Jonathan and Brownwen near Mt Owen, Kahurangi National Park.
11-12 December 2004.
I went with Kirsten MacKay to Mid Styx Hut in the Styx River. I swallowed a fly and coughed. Kirsten said "Why am I a fly in Si?"
5 December 2004.
I have just got back from Dave MacFarlane and Mandy Tocher's wedding in Moeraki.
19-23 November 2004.
I went to Wellington to see baby Jack, Johnny Mulheron and Jo Richardson.
26 November 2004.
I had laser surgery on my eyes so I don't need to wear glasses. I am still getting used to it.
13-14 November 2004.
I tramped to Devils Den Biv and out via the Sylvia Tops in Lewis National Reserve.
10 November 2004.
Johnny Mulheron and his partner Jo Richardson had a baby on 1 November 2004.
1 November 2004.
I have just been for a tramp to Healey Creek Hut, above the Mikonui River. On the way back I stopped on SH73 west of Otira, and took a series of photos of Aickens (where my father and I once flagged down a train after crossing a high Otira River).

Kirsten at Devil's Den Biv

24-25 October 2004.
I tramped to Devil's Den Biv with Kirsten MacKay.
17 October 2004.
My parents, Ruth and Robin, came to stay for the weekend.
12 October 2004.
The cherry tree in the churchyard has blossom.
9-10 October 2004.
I tramped to Lake Man Biv, up the Doubtful River off SH7 in the weekend.
5 October.
I have added my latest complaint to the Ombudsman about Carter's Pike River Coal Mine access decision.
3 October.
I have just been to Dunedin to see Grant Harper and Jo Joyce and Felix and new baby Rata (3 weeks). And I visited Dave Macfarlane, Ruth Goldsmith and Kelvin Lloyd.
26 to 29 September.
I went to Wellington and caught up with friends.
21 and 22 August
I went tramping in the weekend - from Andrews Shelter - lunch at Hallelujah Flat to Casey Hut then back over the snow at Binser Saddle.
16 August 2004.
It snowed today in Lyttelton, on the River Avon and in Kranmer Square.
28 July 2004.
After prompting from the Ombudsman DOC West Coast have coughed up the Pike River compensation amounts that Carter originally withheld. I have added some Lord of the Rings images and a section about grazing concessions, DOC's equivalent of "dirty dairying", based on an article I wrote for the FMC Bulletin.
17 and 18 July 2004.
I went up the Waimakariri River to Crow Hut in Arthurs Pass National Park.
10 July 2004.
I went to Grant Harper's 40th birthday in Dunedin in the weekend. It was good.
3 July 2004.
I have added a new index utilising frames and the home page with photos.
13 June 2004.
I uploaded the site again. The new feature is Minister of Conservation Chris Carter's 'soft DOC' decision to allow a coal mine in the Pike Stream in the eastern Paparoa Range, West Coast.
3 May 2003.
I have done a major 'makeover' of the site incorporating the 'Soft DOC' logo.
29 January 2003.
I have added articles from the FMC Bulletin about the Routeburn Rage running race concession and Lord of the Rings filming. I have reworked the flowcharts of the concession process in the Conservation Act. And I expanded the introduction.
25 and 26 January 2003.
I went up to Arthurs Pass in the weekend. I stayed at the Mackay's batch. On Saturday I scrambled up Mt Philistine. 12.00am at the carpark, 3pm at the summit and back to SH73 at 5.45pm. I was pleasantly surprised to find a ground-trail going up the bluffs above Warnocks Knob. We couldn't find it June 1993.
12 January 2003.
I got the site up while house-sitting a house overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. The first version of "Softdoc" consisted of three papers, the FMC Wild Lands conference paper, and the two papers that were in the Butterworths Resource Management Bulletin.

* SWOB originates from an article in VUWTCs Heels mag written by Ian Marshall years ago... Last updated 2007-08-06