An excellent blog by David Young at Pundit:
On Friday, all of New Zealand’s main online media outlets reported the news, with headlines like “New Zealand forest ecosystem crisis” and “New Zealand’s forests disappearing“. The rationale for the story was that US environmental group Conservation International had concluded that our forests are currently “the second most threatened in the world”.
Radio New Zealand reported, “Only Myanmar is reportedly worse than New Zealand and countries often criticised for deforestation – such as China and the Philippines – fare better.”
The media’s attention appears to have been directed to this startling news by the Green Party’s Kevin Hague, who issued a press release (“World’s eyes focus on New Zealand’s disappearing forests“) that said, “New Zealand stands at the brink of losing some of our most precious plants and animals unless the Government works smarter to protect them”.
Sounds awful doesn’t it. Only nasty old Burm is worse than us.
I went in search of what Radio New Zealand and Mr. Hague called the “report” that sparked this reportage. It turned out not to be a new research paper, but a press release issued by Conservation International to bring attention to the launch of the International Year of Forests.
I always try to read the source report also, when something comes out ranking NZ. Unless you know the criteria they use, the ranking is useless.
First of all, I thought this might be because of Conservation International’s measurement criteria. in determining which forests in the world are the most at risk of disappearing, Conservation International didn’t measure anything as obvious as current deforestation rates. It didn’t count the percentage of forest that was protected.
What it claimed to have done was to calculate New Zealand’s “original” forest cover. Which it considered to be 100% of New Zealand. Then it claimed that only five percent of the “original” cover is left.
Another criteria for inclusion in the list was that forests have at least 1,500 endemic plant species.
And that combination was apparently how we ended up second.
So the ranking was not based on any current deforestation rates. It is all based on the fact we have lots of plants and 150 years ago lots of trees got chopped down. We’d have that ranking regardless of anytthing we are currently doing.
But even setting this objection aside, the numbers appeared plain wrong. About 6.5 million hectares of New Zealand is covered in native forest. That’s close to 25 percent, and a long way from 5 percent. Even Conservation International’s own figures don’t match the claim.
So. even on their stupid criteria, they also got the data wrong. Will they admit this? they they have said:
CORRECTION: The press release distributed originally in February 2nd reported erroneously that New Zealand was #2 in the ranking, when New Caledonia is actually #2.
So it turns out that we are not even in the top ten. Will mainstream media report this correction?
It’s disturbing that neither the Green Party MP who trumpeted the news in New Zealand, nor the media who reported it, seemed to spend any time looking at the “report” itself.
Neither Mr. Hague, his press secretary, nor a series of reporters and sub-editors stopped to think that the figures might be just a little counterintuitive. They just shared the grim news.
Well done David Young for actually reading the report.