Expanding dairying is certainly good for the economy, but will come at a cost, writes Sir David Skegg, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, in the New Zealand Herald (also published in the Otago Daily Times).
An excerpt (read in full here):
David Skegg: We must choose: riches or water?
Unless New Zealand takes urgent steps to slow the expansion of dairying, many more rivers and lakes will be degraded. Every New Zealander knows that one of the worst threats to our natural environment is the degradation of rivers and lakes. Some fresh waterways that were previously clean and inviting have become choked with weeds, slime and algal blooms – with adverse effects on insects, fish and birds.
Two other facts are widely known. First, a major reason for the pollution of waterways is the expansion of the dairy industry. Second, dairy products are New Zealand’s biggest source of export dollars. Every one of us benefits from the success of the dairy industry. Without its recent expansion, our economic situation might be gloomy today.
Driving through the South Island, I have seen small towns that were dying rejuvenated by local dairy conversions. And I am conscious that the sectors in which I work – health, education and research – are crucially dependent on a vibrant economy.
In November, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issued a report in which she concludes that New Zealand faces “a classic economy versus environment dilemma”. Dr Jan Wright’s advice is worded diplomatically, but her message is blunt. Unless New Zealand takes urgent steps to slow the expansion of dairying, many more rivers and lakes will be degraded. None of the steps being taken to lessen environmental impacts can reverse this trend in the near future.