ECO Member GE-Free New Zealand asks for your help

Claire Bleakley of GE Free New Zealand has been at the annual conference for the GM Free Alliance, a group of NGOs representing Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. She has sent us this report:

GE free activists in New Caledonia have been very successful in stopping the importation of GM seeds into New Caledonia and they are looking to find places where they can access knowledge and seed for seed saving.

As the Pacific is being hit by climate disasters regularly it has been found that the indigenous small farmers are being hit hard.  Aid donors are giving them hybrid, often GMO seeds to plant for the next season.  When they are given these seeds they expect that these will be able to be saved and replanted, not realising that they are for one season only.   Local farmers have no concept of hybrid one- season seed growth and do not have the money to buy the seeds annually.    

Unfortunately there is no regulation in these countries relating to the importation of GM seeds and they often follow the US and FSANZ approval recommendation for GM foods. The conference decided that to combat this we would like to set up a support package that provides heirloom, open pollinate seeds to the islands in such disasters, as well as information on the differences between the various seeds. The islanders are mostly subsistence farmers who grow with the seasons and without chemicals.

If you or your organisation can help with know-how for seed saving and are willing to be be part of a New Zealand aid and response package for New Caledonia please contact Claire Bleakley on  to discuss. Thank you!


New Zealand is trending towards net deforestation

A new report from Pure Advantage says that we are not planting enough trees here in New Zealand. They quote Environment Ministry figures which show that since 2008 our rate of forest removal has been greater than our rate of forest planting.

The 2015 Environment Aotearoa report showed that between 1996 and 2015 we lost more than 10,000 hectares of native and regenerating forest cover.

Planting the right trees helps our biodiversity to recover, helps to prevent erosion and improves the water quality of rivers. And of course trees absorb CO2, helping to reduce our net emissions of greenhouse gases.

This is happening because of ongoing conversion of forestry land to dairy farming – total intended deforestation by forestry owners is estimated at 67,000 hectares between 2014 and 2025. A staggering 91% of this intended conversion is for dairying.
Read more of the Pure Advantage report here.

In grateful memory: Bob Fantl

Founding ECO executive member Robert (Bob) Fantl has died in Wellington, aged 92. He brought the New Zealand Institute of Architects to the ECO table and worked closely with Dr Ian Prior, noted public health specialist, and Sir Alan Randall, heart specialist, and others who shared his passion for the environment and mountains.

Bob was a Holocaust survivor from the Kindertransport, and lost almost all of his family in the Holocaust.  He arrived in New Zealand in 1940 and with his sister made a new life here, raising a family in Wadestown, Wellington. Bob was amongst those who founded the Wellington Architectural Centre in 1946, a year when an independent New Zealand culture established a firmer footing, of which the Centre was a vital part.  He maintained close friends in and beyond the Wellington Jewish diaspora and was part of the European cultural influx that came with that.

Bob was a co-founder of ECO – then known as CoEnCo – in 1971, and served on its Executive until 1992.  He was Chair or Vice-chair in 1985-86.  With his professional office across the corridor from the ECO office, his kindly and willing presence was always there for ECO.  His primary interests were in establishing protected areas, protection of nature from threats, and in urban and domestic architecture and design.  He was a dedicated environmentalists, skier and tramper.

In his time on the ECO executive he pushed to retain Wellington’s natural and urban heritage, including opposition to the motorway cutting through the Bolton St cemetery. He led the successful effort to establish the  Environmentalist Memorial Garden at Bolton Street cemetery in Wellington, now maintained by Wellington City Council.

ECO people knew him as a kindly, calm and deeply caring and supportive person who strove to protect the environment and to maintain cultural values in the face of Think Big and other manifestations of Philistinism.  ECO’s executive sends its love and deep sympathy to Bob’s family and wide circle of friends.   Bob will be remembered as a tireless champion for the environment and for conservation.


  • written by Michael Pringle and Cath Wallace

Geology – returning to first principles

Geologist Richie Miller says it’s time to put down the drill and return to geology’s founding principles.

Richie Miller volunteers for ECO in his spare time.

The word ‘Geology’ is derived from Ancient Greek, simply meaning ‘the study of the Earth’. True, this is a pretty broad starting point for any study, however, it is precisely this idea of investigating the Earth’s form as a whole that makes it so fascinating. Founder of the modern scientific geological principles James Hutton believed the Earth should be viewed as a single organism, a planet that for millions of years has been, and continues to be, formed by cyclical processes and interactions between land, ocean and biosphere. Geology is a scientific discipline with its historical foundations firmly rooted in a holistic approach towards the Earth. 

Sadly, the word ‘geology’ these days has often become synonymous with the word ‘extraction’. Many geologists, as I did, end up working for the mining and fossil fuels industry which in contrast to Hutton’s idea takes an atomistic approach to the Earth, segmenting and removing the parts it can sell while frequently neglecting the often devastating knock-on environmental and social consequences, both locally and regionally. Funding of universities and research institutions by this industry has narrowed the focus of geological investigation towards these extractive activities.

When I left university I went to work in Australia as a geologist for a mineral exploration company. Many students from UK universities made this journey – extraction of metals, coal, oil and gas was where the jobs were. However, it was in Australia where I saw first-hand the violence committed toward the land on colonised territory at the open-cast ‘Superpit’ gold mine (the name says it all) in Kalgoorlie. I began to let go of my prior justification for extraction: ‘we need these resources, don’t we?’. I could no longer accept the trade-off: resources at the cost of the environment and a dignified existence for those who live on the land.

I moved to New Zealand looking towards a more conservationist use for my subject. I began working as a geologist for an environmental consultancy firm with clients from the oil and gas industry. Essentially my job was to investigate land and water for pollution caused by industrial activity and assist with any clean-up if the pollution was deemed a risk to the public or the environment. This sounds like a useful job and unfortunately it is a necessary one. However, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem: why should we accept the risk of pollution to our land, water and air in the first place? Environmental consultancies do not, after all, speak out to condemn the continued extraction of fossil fuels as the major contributor to the climate change crisis because these extractors are paying customers. Fossil fuels companies, like any other business, assess risk by using profitability as a measure. If the profit out-weighs the cost of a few ‘minor’ environmental clean-ups, then it was worth the risk. If a pollution event occurs, these companies can say they had the mandatory safety control measures in place and that they will do better to prevent the same happening next time. What if next time they’re extracting or storing fossil fuels in your neighbourhood? Is that a risk that you are willing to take?

I feel that my experiences as a geologist are indicative of how the extraction industry has cornered geological investigation for their own use to profit at the expense of the environment. This starts with our educational institutions where there is plenty of evidence showing the grip the extraction industry has on our brightest scientists.

New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes, such as Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), have commercial arms whose clients are fossil fuels companies. In November 2015 Greenpeace activists occupied NIWA’s ocean research ship Tangaroa in protest at its use for petroleum exploration surveys off the east coast of the North Island1. GNS on the other hand sells consultancy services to petroleum customers ranging from “regional assessments of permit areas right through to post drill analysis on your well”2. GNS also joined many other organisations including the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in sponsoring the 2015 New Zealand Petroleum Summit, a large get together of some of the dirtiest fossil fuels giants where they troubleshoot and discuss “petroleum investment opportunities in New Zealand”3.

New Zealand’s tertiary education is also locked in. University of Auckland’s School of Environment lists fossil fuels extractors Statoil, OMV Group and New Zealand Energy Corp within their research sponsors4. Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences offers a Masters degree in Petroleum Geoscience with a “full-time research project in conjunction with GNS Science or a petroleum company”5

The devastating effects of climate change are rapidly increasing in magnitude due to industrial pollution and the victims of this devastation are not the polluters. Endangered ecosystems are being destroyed to dig up more mineral wealth. Never before has it been so starkly clear the importance of viewing the earth in a holistic manner. We need to understand that human interference with the Earth in such violent ways has significant consequences.

Divestment in the fossil fuels industry is overdue across all our educational and research institutions. It is time for geology to put down the drill-bit, take a step back and once again recapture the holistic principles upon which it was founded.




Carbon levels unprecedented in over 56 million years

The ice in the Arctic has set a new wintertime low for the second year in a row, at 1.12 million sq km lower than the average for 1980 to 2010, reports NASA scientists.

Carbon is being released into our atmosphere at a rate that far exceeds the last known mass carbon release event, 56 million years ago. The release of carbon – the cause is not known – was at the rate of 1 billion tons of carbon a year over 4,000 years  – but in 2013 alone, humans released 10 billion tons of carbon, on top of the natural carbon cycle, and that rate continues.
Scientists have been looking for a period in our history where the release of carbon may have equalled what we are doing in the Anthropocene in order to see how the Earth may respond to current warming, but nothing comes close to the massive geological upheaval caused by human activity in the last 60 years.

The New Scientist reports on the highest ever annual rise in CO2 levels, as recorded at Mauna Loa in Hawaii in February.