Story: Economy and the environment

A typical New Zealand farmer, on the cover of the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, September 1946

Much of New Zealand’s economy is based on its natural environment – from agriculture to forestry, electricity generation and tourism. But using the environment’s resources has often had detrimental effects, and New Zealand’s clean, green image is not entirely justified.

Story by Eric Pawson
Main image: A typical New Zealand farmer, on the cover of the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, September 1946

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

The major industries in New Zealand’s economy use the natural environment, for example:

  • farming
  • tourism – people come to New Zealand to enjoy the landscape
  • mining – digging coal, gold or other minerals out of the ground.

From bush to grass

In the 19th century settlers burnt bush or tussock and planted grass for farms. This was the first major change people made to the environment for economic reasons. But it also damaged the environment – without trees, flooding and soil erosion became a big problem.

From the 1940s laws were passed and organisations set up to try to reduce flood damage and erosion.

Electricity generation

Electricity is generated in a variety of ways such as using water, coal or wind. All can affect the environment by causing pollution, or changing the natural landscape by flooding valleys or building wind turbines.

Economy versus the environment

Until the 1970s the government thought the economy was more important than the environment, and so allowed projects that caused pollution or damage. Public opinion began to change, and under the Resource Management Act 1991 developers must avoid damaging the environment.

Clean, green New Zealand?

New Zealand is often marketed as a clean and green country, particularly since people have become more concerned about the environment. But New Zealanders have the sixth largest ecological footprint (the land and sea area required to support the lifestyle of a country’s population) in the world. One reason is because New Zealanders drive cars a lot and there is a high rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Protecting the environment

New Zealand has signed the Kyoto Protocol, which means it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and there are other programmes and government policies to protect the environment.

Environment-friendly products

Many companies market their products as being environmentally friendly. Sometimes this is from a real concern about the environment, but may be simply a marketing strategy.

How to cite this page:

Eric Pawson, 'Economy and the environment', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/economy-and-the-environment (accessed 11 December 2018)

Story by Eric Pawson, published 11 Mar 2010