WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
MIKE JOY: The Manawatu Standard Person of the Year.
The 2012 Manawatu Standard Person of the Year is a polarising figure.
The past year was not the first time Mike Joy has come under fire for daring to speak out about the state of New Zealand's environment.
It's a message not everyone wants to hear, and certainly not one everyone agrees with.
But what is beyond dispute is that Dr Joy is a passionate advocate for the environment, and has stood up for his views in the face of withering criticism.
Those views hit the New York Times on November 16, when Dr Joy was reported to have said: "There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality."
Dr Joy told the paper that for a country purporting to be so pure, New Zealand seemed to be failing by many international environmental benchmarks.
It is essential that academics are free to express their opinions - a key facet of a democracy is the right of educational institutions and their staff to speak independently of the state.
But, as should be expected, the backlash in New Zealand was swifter than an effluent-laden river.
An editorial in the New Zealand Herald said Dr Joy was exaggerating to push his agenda.
"But such overstatement is the stuff of advertising, not academic observation," the paper wrote.
In an email to Dr Joy, lobbyist Mark Unsworth accused the professor of going on an "ego trip" by airing New Zealand's environmental issues in the international press, labelling it tourism industry "sabotage".
Dr Joy had his defenders, including Green Party MPs and the New Zealand Association of Scientists, who publicly declared their support.
Prime Minister John Key waded into the discussion, too, comparing New Zealand's tourism marketing campaign to selling burgers.
"It's like saying ?McDonald's, I'm loving it'.
"I'm not sure every moment that someone's eating McDonald's they're loving it.
"It's the same thing with 100% Pure. It's got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt."
Mr Key and Dr Joy had tangled via the media before.
In 2011 on the BBC programme Hardtalk, journalist Stephen Sackur used an opinion piece by Dr Joy to question Mr Key on our country's 100% Pure credentials.
Dr Joy had, after referencing several scientific studies, declared New Zealand "an environmental/biodiversity catastrophe" in an April edition of the Herald.
Armed with that, Mr Sackur repeatedly questioned Mr Key about New Zealand's environmental record.
"He's one academic and, like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview," Mr Key said at one point.
There is no denying that Dr Joy's views are polarising, and his message can be delivered rather abruptly at times.
He challenges the way Kiwis view their country. We believe, or at least the marketing campaign tells us, that we live in a clean and green paradise of forested valleys and clear mountain streams.
But Dr Joy's views challenge that, and that makes people uncomfortable.
It is not nice to be told that our waterways are unhealthy or that our native species are under threat.
But being uncomfortable can be a good thing. New Zealand needs to have a serious debate about how we treat our environment, especially our waterways.
Dr Joy has provided a spark for that to happen.
Whether Dr Joy's methods are 100 per cent purely correct is uncertain.
But what cannot be denied is that he is 100 per cent pure in his conviction.
For that he is the Manawatu Standard's person of the year.
- ? Fairfax NZ News