Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Can you 'greenwash' an entire country?

New Zealand. I know I'm banging on about it, but hear me out. It's got a clean, green, eco-friendly image that most countries would die for. Its tourism sector trades on, and partly depends on, just those clean-air imaginings.

But how much of that is justified? Less than you'd think.

Not only are New Zealand consumers greenwashed all the time in the supermaket - confused by 'eco' this and 'green' that on the packets of otherwise pretty toxic material, while their farmers go on spraying pesticides on their crops. It's worse than that. Because they are in the middle of the ocean, and there are so few of them, the air and the sea seem pretty clean.

But per capita, they're busy polluting away like very few other countries in the OECD. The Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions? The New Zealand government has ripped it up, a decision that has appalled environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund. Carbon trading? The price of polluting gases has crashed on the government's own official exchanges. Sea pollution? Even effluent discharge from New Zealand's cities isn't all that clean.

The truth is that Kiwis drive a lot in a rural country, they are partly dependent on a not-particularly-clean agricultural sector, their mines are anything but environmentally friendly, and even their domestic environmental standards are a lot laxer than they like to tell themselves. A visit is a bit like driving into one of those BP garages with a great big light green flower symbol above them (above, all rights reserved). You know they're busy heating up the world - to potentially unsustainable levels - but somewhere, in some recess of your unconscious, you think, 'ah, they must be doing something to make their fuels cleaner'. Which they are - a little bit. But not enough, that's for sure.

It's the same in New Zealand - which is a shame, because the country is one of the world's most beautiful and friendliest places.

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