New Zealand's production and consumption patterns have resulted in a large ecological footprint based primarily on extensive land use, but also on the waste-absorbing properties of our water and air. As discussed in later chapters, land use pressures as well as absorption pressures from energy use and waste generation have had measurable impacts on the state of our air, water, soil and biodiversity (see Chapters 5 to 9).
So far, the small size of the New Zealand population and the relatively large land area and water resources at our disposal have allowed us to have our environmental cake and eat it too. In effect, the environment, particularly the indigenous wildlife (see Chapter 9), has partly subsidised our economic development by providing a succession of quarried resources and plentiful energy resources to use, and abundant land, water and fresh air to absorb our wastes. However, those subsidies cannot be sustained indefinitely and will eventually be reduced or withdrawn if we cannot manage our activities sustainably.
Given that our most important export-oriented industries (e.g. agriculture, forestry, fisheries and international tourism) rely heavily on the resources of land, water, and air, our stewardship of those resources will be critical to our ongoing economic development. Fortunately, New Zealand's environmental administration and law has been reformed within the past decade to give priority to the principle of sustainability (see Chapter 4). As a result, the nation is now well-placed to develop sustainable production and consumption patterns.