Kicking the Habit/Not the Hobbit

Go Joy


The forcefully expressed views of environmental scientist Dr. Mike Joy are obviously beginning to influence public perceptions about the hollowness of our tourism advertising.

Why else would the political, corporate and the conservative media be moving in unison like a pack of hungry wolves to try to silence him and by extension others who are prepared to whistle-blow the hypocrisy that stands for our tourism industry PR? Perhaps it’s the timing of Joy’s questioning the political and commercial deceit of the 100% Pure NZ campaign that Tourism NZ is piggy-backing off the Hobbit release with its $10 million campaign "100 per cent Middle-earth, 100 per cent Pure New Zealand". Perhaps it’s the temerity of Joy’s questioning no less than the Prime Minister and Minster of Tourism, the apparently unchallengeable John Key to face up to the vivid contradictions that exist between his economic and environmental portfolios. Perhaps it’s the fact that Joy’s research points to our largest primary industry (and industrial lobbyists) – dairy farming – as the main reason behind the last decade’s dramatic collapse of our fresh water ecosystems.

Whatever the reason, there seems no doubt that there is a concerted campaign to discredit Dr. Joy that holds just short of accusing him of treason. Yet his critics have consistently failed to address the actual scientific findings upon which his opinions and statements are based. The issue doesn’t seem to be whether he is right or accurate, but whether he is unpatriotic, disloyal, selfish or even mentally unbalanced.

It starts with Ad agency DraftFCB's managing director of media Derek Lyndsay laying out the economic rationale for curbing Joy’s public utterances, “a lot of tourists, particularly the big spenders, came from the US so having writers for the New York Times contradict the campaign's claims could be potentially damaging for tourism”.
Follow that up with Mark Unsworth, of government relations consultancy Saunders Unsworth who, rather than addressing Dr. Joy’s facts, wrote instead about his supposed character flaws, saying that Dr Joy had "let his ego run riot worldwide" while risking jobs and incomes from decreased tourism”.

Apparently lumping Dr. Joy with all other environmental scientists and academics who have the cheek to question long-term economic advisability of misleading the international touring public with dishonest PR manufactured by people like himself, his invective continued: "You guys are the foot and mouth disease of the tourism industry. Most ordinary people in NZ would happily have you lot locked up, "Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York. And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery - its more accurate.”

Well that’s really getting down to hard facts isn’t it?

John Key himself, (of course wishing to be seen to be above tacky character assassination attempts such as this) simply noted that “New Zealanders had to be careful not to run the country down with research which might not be factually correct". He didn’t name Dr. Joy specifically, but noted: "I think you've had one or two academics in New Zealand who have presented a view and I think as the Herald editorial pointed out some of them might have been factually incorrect."

The assertion that the facts were wrong (without telling us what these facts actually were) was itself built not on facts, but on a further assertion by the Herald that was itself fact-free, and riddled with innuendo: While willing to acknowledge that “Dr Joy has half a point”, in saying that: "Some overseas tourists are doubtless nonplussed to be greeted by signs stating a river is unsafe for swimming”, and that the Hobbit-associated imagery might be a bit misleading, the Editorial went on “… the reality of New Zealand is also a long way from the bottom half of the countries of the world in terms of pristine environments. Whatever its deficiencies, it is nonsensical to place this country in the company of the world's more polluted nations”.

It goes on to accuse him of extreme exaggeration (there’s that character attack again!) in claiming that that "far from being 100 per cent pure, natural, clean, or even green, the real truth is we are an environmental/biodiversity catastrophe". The Herald Editorial notes in turn, “This implies a situation where there is great damage or suffering. On no account could that be considered close to reality.”

Is this statement backed up by factual evidence? No!

So let’s look instead at the actual facts. Take for instance the facts offered in Dr. Joy’s excellent article “Watering Down the Image” published in the Ecotourism Guidebook, Organic Explorer last year(1).  There, we find (without having to wade through pages of statistical analysis) that in almost every measure the state of our environmental diversity is indeed, catastrophic. Take for instance the facts that:
• 35% (2788 species) of all our native plant and animal species are now listed as being at risk of extinction, including:
• All of our terrestrial mammals and frogs(2)
• 50% of the bird, macro-algae and bryophyte species(3)
• 60% of reptile and native fish species
• 33% of the freshwater invertebrate species(4)
• 25% of our marine fish species 
In addition, New Zealand is home to an abnormally high number of introduced species that compete with our indigenous species for habitat and food resources
• There are now twice as many introduced plant species as native species
• About a third of freshwater fish and birds are introduced(5)
All of this relates only to animal and plant species. When it comes to environmental diversity, the picture is even worse:
• More than 68% of all land ecosystems are classified as threatened and only 10% of our wetlands now remain(6)
• Although a great deal is protected as National Parkland, this is invariably in inhospitable alpine areas
• Wetlands and lowland forests are almost all gone
Dr. Joy’s specialty is in freshwater ecosystems, and it is here that his comparative facts are most telling:
• A massive 43% of all monitored river sites regularly fail bathing standards
• Between 18,000 and 30,000 people contract waterborne diseases annually (at what cost to our health and employment system?)(7)
• 60% of native fish, freshwater crayfish and mussels are threatened with extinction (the Global average is 37%, Britain 42% and the US 37%)
• While (introduced) trout are protected, the Koaro and Torrent native species are commercially harvested as whitebait and have no legal protection
• The government-sanctioned and “managed” commercial harvesting of longfin eel (including in the South Island Conservation Estate) threatens their existence.(8)
It may be that one of the main reasons for the current attempt to discredit Mike Joy, is that he places the blame for this predation of our environment squarely on the politicians with their cosy relationship with the dairy farming industry. He points out, for instance, that the escalating degradation of our lakes and rivers coincides precisely with the move towards intensive dairying that has taken place over the last 20 years. His research reveals that:
• In the last decade the use of nitrogen fertilizer has increased by more than 700%(9)
• Together with the increased importing of palm kernel (the production of which is itself devastating much of the world’s indigenous forests), this has allowed a seven-fold increase in the number of cows in the South Island and an increase of 60% in the production of milk solids per hectare(10)
• In the last year alone, cow numbers milked increased by 105,500, or up 2.3 per cent, to 4.6 million(11)
• Average herd size is 393. The national average herd size was only 271 cows a decade ago, a 45% increase.(12)

The nitrogen and pathogens from this many cows and this much fertiliser leaches into our water systems, creating high-nutrient levels, that dramatically increase the presence of invasive weed and algae populations, reduces aquatic oxygen levels. Cleaning up the pollution caused by such intensive dairying is a cost that every New Zealander has to carry.

Compared to this, in the past five years, our primary dairy producer, Fonterra posted $2.3b of before-tax profit on $86b worth of revenue – and did not pay any tax. Instead, they claimed $198m worth of tax credits.(13)

Dr. Joy is to be commended for his civic courage in confronting such entrenched and powerful political and corporate interests, instead of being vilified as a threat to our tourism industry. At a time when academia is increasingly so economically wedded to corporate power that socially-responsible research is all but impossible, in a time when acquiring academic promotion increasingly requires ideological quiescence to free market conditions and environmental consequences work such as Dr. Joy’s stands out and honours the important tradition of the University acting as the conscience of society. Mike Joy’s stand is something to be celebrated and admired rather than condemned. Attempting to suppress his professional opinion is neither democratically appropriate nor realistically possible.

We live in an electronic age. The news that New Zealand’s lakes and rivers are significantly polluted cannot be contained through repressive political pressure on hard-working and conscientious researchers. Indeed, coupled with the country’s poor environmental record in other areas, it is clear that the environmental genie is already out of the bottle. It’s a matter of public record that:
• There are more than 8000 undocumented toxic waste sites throughout New Zealand posing an unknown danger (14)
• NZ has increased its greenhouse gas emission by 22% since signing the Kyoto Protocol in 2005. The protocol binds signatories to a 5% average decrease on their 1990 levels over five years. The Government has recently opted out of the Kyoto agreement.(15)
• The NZ Government has exempted the farming industry (the biggest polluter) from all compliances with our Carbon Trading scheme.
• NZ has a per head of population emissions total 60% higher than Britain(16)
• NZ has the 12th highest emissions in the world per head of population(17)
• NZ has the 9th highest rating of household waste(18)
• NZ has the 13th highest in energy consumption among the 30 OECD countries(19)
• NZ has the 6th highest ecological footprint in the world(20)
• NZ has the 8th highest car ownership rates (2.5 million cars for four million people, including children.(21)
• NZ has one of the least serviced by public transport with only about 2% of our journeys by bus and fewer than 1% by rail. (22)
• The passenger rail service has been effectively stunted
• For every $1 the Government spends on bus, rail, walking or cycling it is spending almost $7 on building or maintaining more roads.(23)
• In the face of impending oil shortages, there is no governmental plan to reduce our dependence on oil, which accounts for 16% of our imports and 99% of our transport fuel.(24)

You would imagine that given all of these dire statistics, New Zealanders and particularly the Government would be strenuously trying to reverse these dangers to our tourism industry and to the economy as a whole. Instead, it has
• Significantly reduced the budget of the Conservation Department
• Proposed the opening up of the remaining Conservation lands for prospecting and mining
• Sanctioned offshore exploration and deep-drilling for oil and natural gas in pristine areas (without any infrastructural systems in place to cope with a major spill or blow-out).
• Approved and encouraged the practice of “fracking” that is now environmentally discredited in several European countries and US States.
• Increased production of “dirty” lignite mining and briquette manufacture in the South Island
• Moved to sell our remaining state assets - inevitably to overseas buyers (mainly China) who care nought for the NZ environment and whose profits benefit New Zealanders only minimally).

Given its responses to the widespread environmental deterioration, it’s hard not to conclude that the Government doesn’t actually value our tourism industry and the revenue that it generates. Tourism currently contributes NZ$23.4 billion a year to New Zealand's economy and employs, directly and indirectly, almost 1 in 10 New Zealanders. This is an important industry to protect – but not by covering up our environmental record rather than cleaning up the environmental threats to its long-term survival. It is our current economic development policies that are creating, rather than solving, our tourism problems. The long-term economic health of our important tourism industry can be achieved only by taking seriously the messages of researchers like Mike Joy and implementing new and environmentally sustainable policies. Instead we shoot the messenger.

A recent report The State of the Gulf, by the Hauraki Gulf Forum concluded that the Gulf was deteriorating very rapidly along almost every indicator, and suggested that New Zealand needed to “move away from an economy based on exploitation”. The idea that Auckland had to balance environmental concerns with economic concerns was “flawed”.  The report concluded that if ecosystems were returned to a healthy state, it would improve the outlook for tourism, recreational and commercial fisheries and farming. Investment in a Gulf Marine Park would have a direct benefit to industry.


“It’s not about balancing… International studies show that the benefit of maintaining healthy environments outweighs short-term economic use by five-to-one.”


(1)   Joy, M., “Watering Down the Image”, in, (eds). Johnsen, L. and Ward, A., Organic Explorer, Whakatane, 2011, pp. 48-51.

(2)   See: Newman, Donald G. , Bell, Ben D. , Bishop, Phillip J. , Burns, Rhys , Haigh, Amanda , Hitchmough, Rodney A. and Tocher, Mandy(2010) 'Conservation status of New Zealand frogs, 2009', New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 37: 2, 121 — 130, First published on: 13 August 2010 (iFirst) http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03014221003685856

(3)   See: Miskelly,C.M, Dowling, J. E.,Elliott, G. P., Hitchmough, R. A., Powlesland, R. G., Robertson, H. A., Sagar, P. M., Scofield, R. P., Taylor, G. A., “Conservation status of New Zealand Birds”, Notornis, 2008, Vol. 55: 117-135, Royal Ornithological Society of New Zealand. See also (http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.conservation.gen.nz%2Fupload%2F64697%2Fbird-conservation-status-2008.pdf&ei=tYi2UPfNM4m8iAeNkIHgAw&usg=AFQjCNFDnnCODymF0EcFcKpErklsJwftbg&sig2=TF7GOax3ppiAHb5JnN9cnQ)

(4)  See: Hitchmough, R. 2002. New Zealand threat classification system lists. Threatened Species Occasional Publication 23. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Hitchmough, R., Bull, L., Cromarty, P. 2007. New Zealand threat classification system lists 2005. Threatened Species Occasional Publication. Department of Conservation, Wellington. See also: Allibone, R., et al. (2010), 'Conservation status of New Zealand freshwater fish, 2009', New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 44 (4), 271-87.

(5)   See, New Zealand Biodiversity at: http://www.biodiversity.govt.nz/picture/doing/nzbs/part-one/challenges.html#figure1

(6)  See: Anne-Gaelle E. Ausseil, “Rapid Mapping and prioritisation of wetland sites in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, New Zealand”, Lancare, at: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/6539651_Rapid_mapping_and_prioritisation_of_wetland_sites_in_the_Manawatu-Wanganui_region_New_Zealand

(7)  See: Ministry of Health, Estimation of the burden of water-borne isease in New Zealand. (http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/estimation-burden-water-borne-disease-new-zealand-preliminary-report)

(8)   These statistics are also cited in Mike Joy’s article “Watering Down the Image” published in Organic Explorer NZ: (3rd edition) Eds. Leonie Johnsen and Tony Ward, pp. 48-51. See: http://www.tonywardedu.com/content/view/491/123/

More information can be found in Dr. Joy’s keynote presentation to the 2011 Annual General Conference of the Royal Forest and Bird Society. See: http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/what-we-do/events/agm-2011

(9)   See: Ministry for the Environment, Managing Hazardous Waste, Nov. 98. at:


 (10)  See: http://www.lic.co.nz/lic_News_Archive.cfm?nid=371
 (11)  See: http://www.lic.co.nz/lic_News_Archive.cfm?nid=434
 (12)  See: http://www.lic.co.nz/lic_News_Archive.cfm?nid=434

 (13)  See: http://blog.labour.org.nz/2011/09/22/fonterra-and-tax/

 (14)  See: Ecological Solutions and Environmental Education at: http://www.ecoes.co.nz/waste/

 (15)  http://unfccc.int/ghg_data/ghg_data_unfccc/items/4146.php. See also: See: Fred Pearce, The Guardian, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/nov/12/new-zealand-greenwash

 (16)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/nov/12/new-zealand-greenwash

 (17)  Climate Change Information NZ, at: http://www.climatechange.govt.nz/emissions-trading-scheme/about/what-it-means-for-me/brochure-sme/

 (18) See: Statistics NZ at: http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/government_finance/central_government/nz-in-the-oecd/environment.aspx

 (19) http://www.mfe.govt.nz/issues/energy/

 (20) See: World Wildlife Fund, Living Planet Report at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

 (21) See: Ministry for the Environment at: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/transport/vehicle-km-travelled/total-vkt/

 (22) See: Ministry of Transport. Transport Indicators. http://www.transport.govt.nz/ourwork/TMIF/Pages/TP002.aspx and http://www.transport.govt.nz/ourwork/TMIF/Pages/TP003.aspx

 (23)  See: New Zealand Transport Agency. NLTP 2012-15. Pgs 16-19 http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/national-land-transport-programme/2012-2015/docs/website-screenshots.pdf

 (24) See: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Oil.  http://www.med.govt.nz/sectors-industries/energy/energy-modelling/data/oil