The Trouble with ‘Toxic’

This was published as a guest column in Fairfax titles Northern News and The Bay Chronicle this week:

The mining debate is being hijacked by an emotive and misleading slogan, argues Peter Heath of business communication firm Due North.

Words matter. Which is why we should treat the phrase ‘toxic mining’ with suspicion.

The phrase has been given life by the anti-mining lobby. They say it doesn’t mean they’re against all mining. Just specific mining practices involving some chemical processes.

But last week I asked 10 random people in Kerikeri and another 10 in Kaikohe what “no to toxic mining in Northland” meant. Of those, 18 said it meant that ‘all mining is bad’. Full stop.

Only two said it meant what the anti-mining lobby claims it means.

Miners and organisations responsible for growing this part of Northland’s economy have been rubbish at coming together to tell their side of the story in a credible way.

We’re being conditioned to believe that mining, generally, is “toxic” to Northland. It’s a misleading slogan. I’m sure the anti-mining brigade aren’t losing sleep about this. The more opposition they can create by using the T word, the better.

It’s a great phrase. Snappy. And highly emotive. Much more effective at whipping up opposition to an industry than, say, “No bad mining practices.”

The simple truth is: mining, done properly and using modern closed-loop processes, isn’t “toxic”. Mining with chemicals, many of which occur naturally in the environment anyway, can be done safely and in a way that avoids harm.

It’s like everything. Done badly it has negative consequences. Done well, it’s fine and could benefit our region. Surely our focus should be on identifying best practice for the types of mining likely to be undertaken in our region, and then enforcing that?

Miners and organisations responsible for growing this part of Northland’s economy have been rubbish at coming together to tell their side of the story in a credible way. The anti-mining bunch have been brilliant at telling theirs. So the rational discussion we should be having has become distorted and unbalanced before we’ve even started.

We should recognise this and refuse to be brainwashed by one side’s simplistic slogan. 

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