Tenure review to get a deserved ending


On Thursday, Minister for Environment Eugenie Sage made an announcement that New Zealanders had been hoping for. After 20 odd tortured, ill thought out, highly controversial years of the land tenure review process, Ms Sage finally announced its impending demise.

When it started in the 1990’s Land Information New Zealand (L.I.N.Z.) was in a bit of a bind. It wanted – and in many respects needed – to get a host of high country properties worth millions of dollars a piece off its books, no longer being able to be the ideal landlord. So, the Government looked at a process that could discharge responsibility for the land, give the lease holders (farmers)more responsibility, which they were asking for, all the while maintaining access for the public.

The idea sounded great – the Government no longer has responsibility for land it could not really manage; the farmers who are the leaseholders would be given greater control over the land in return for making it accessible to the public as far as farming operations permitted.

But the execution of it was appalling. It quickly became obvious that the Overseas Investment Office did not really know what it was meant to be doing, if anything, in terms of regulating the sales that happened. Little screening was done of potential buyers, what they intended to do with it and how suitable as non New Zealanders they were to be in possession of some of New Zealand’s finest farm real estate.

Farmers became frustrated because the sale of properties to buyers became mired in politics. There were several high profile cases with a variety of controversies attached. They include the sale and resale of land in the Mackenzie Basin which became the subject of intensive dairying (and equally intense controversy about the spoiling of high country charateristics with false greenery in a naturally arid area). Another was the sale of the large Lillybank station near Mt Cook, which was bought of Tommy Suharto, the son of Indonesian dictator Suharto. Mr Suharto’s business partner bought a station that Mr Suharto had spent $7.5 million in 1992 purchasing.

Access campaigners also became concerned. Much of the high country farmland had access routes to key camping areas, fishing spots and tramping routes. Many of those who succeeded in deals to purchase such farms often give no hint as to whether they would permit the access to these spots to continue, or recognize the Queens chain. Some were also concerned that those spots would become degraded by non compliant land use.

Many of these concerns were well founded. Some of the buyers indicated little interest in the well being of the communities nearby or for the conservation values held by New Zealanders. As this stoked resentment it was inevitable that controversy should arise.

In the end, with so many frustrated by the way the tenure review was being carried out, the review found itself with few allies. Except for the very few people who had managed to conduct sales of property and whose finances had done very well out of them, there was little support. 30 leases are still in progress, but one has to ask whether it is appropriate for them to continue given tenure review is now at an end.

 

Chinese warned against visiting New Zealand


The Chinese New Year holiday is in progress, with Chinese tourists streaming in all directions, visiting nations across the world. With about two weeks left before most of them return to their daily routines in China, it is a busy time for the tourism, rental car, hospitality and airline sectors as well as individual tourist attractions.

New Zealand for the most part has not been an exception. Just as in previous years, the wave of tourists radiating across the globe from China has reached New Zealand no problems. However thanks to concerns by Chinese officials about New Zealand’s stance on the case of Huawei being denied the right to supply 5G broadband equipment, it is suspected that China does not want its citizens visiting New Zealand.

This has led to what appears to be a dip in tourist numbers coming from the Peoples Republic. Business in the sectors linked to tourism have been reporting steady traffic rather than the normal high level of activity.

Chinese Government officials are thought to have warned their citizens against visiting other countries, and New Zealand is not an exception. In order to maintain control and not let Chinese develop a view of the west that is not favourable to their authoritarian overlords in Beijing, an element of concern or distrust is deliberately injected into government broadcasts. Due to the lack of information in China other than what comes through official sources, Chinese do not get the diverse array of general information and news that western countries are able to tap into.

Not surprisingly, for fear of causing economic damage, National and A.C.T. are trying to claim that this is causing Sino-Kiwi relations undue stress. They ignore though the fact that National has an M.P. who trained in the Chinese military to be an intelligence officer. Jian Yang who entered Parliament. They also ignore the considerable environmental impact that tourism is having on New Zealand and that maintaining a clean sustainable environment is high on the agenda of many people.

Increasingly New Zealand is finding itself no longer able to sit on the fence regarding Chinese activity. Some would argue that the same can be said for American activity (which is beyond the scope of this article). Contrary to popular opinion China is not our friend, and we need to keep Beijing’s foreign policy in mind when we consider how to try to get the best out of the dragon without unduly upsetting the bald eagle.

Ultimately though New Zealand needs to strike out on its own direction. Politicians need to start seeing the global footprint of China and our contribution to its rapid – and unsustainable – growth. Contrary to the simplistic left-right analysis of political thought most commonly used, New Zealand is capable of forming its own.

 

Insectageddon can be avoided: But does human kind have the will power?


Earlier this week I alluded to the large scale extinction of insect species around the world and the consequences for human kind if this is allowed to continue. After 48 hours and some reflection, I see a window of time in which this could be thwarted, but like a real window, this one has a clearly defined frame outside of which it will be too late.

Whilst insectageddon – the name given for the mass extinction of insect species currently in progress – has terminal consequences for human kind, that is not to say the demise of humanity is imminent, though that is an eventual certainty. Humanity’s survival is dependent on radical action to protect the global biosphere, starting as fast as we can.

Humans created this catastrophe, just as we made possible the massive and on going large scale destruction of the biosphere. And at the same time the solutions to this and insectageddon are of human manufacture as well.

The real question is will power, and whether moneyed up interests can be put aside for what is – irrespective of social status, wealth, nationality or any other common denominator – a problem that affects quite literally every single person on this planet. We all need the biosphere to enable what my Year 9 science teacher said is M.R.S. G.R.E.N.

M(ovement) R(espiration) S(ensitivity) G(rowth) R(eproduction) E(xcretion) N(utrition)

All living things do it. All of us excrete. Somehow that all needs to be broken down, consumed and not left to contaminate the biophysical environment around it. Among the important crawlies that assist in this matter are dung beetles, which are pretty much world wide except for Antarctica.

Not all of the work saving our insects and their place in the food chain will be done by insects themselves. Human kind can contribute massively to this by changing how they do pest control on crops, stop the large scale deforestation for development of farm land. It is more simple than one thinks. Alternative sprays and other pest control agents to those proposed by agrichemical companies such as Monsanto are easy to devise. Another is to put honey bee hives in your back yard so that they can continue pollinating plants.

There will need to be a political sea change in thinking. Before one can have human activity, the humans must be well enough to do things. Before one can have human beings, there must be a biosphere that can support them. And before that biosphere can exist, there must be insects to pollinate our plants, clean up our excretement – who knew the dung beetle was such an important creature? – and so on. But do we have the will power to make that change?

The clock is ticking.

The research that has sparked concerns that the insect population might be wiped out is not new either. It was first suggested in 2017 that, based on prolonged decline of all species types, in the last 25 years in Germany, that ecological armageddon could be a thing in the near future.

But the interest in it becomes more serious knowing now that the demise of so much insect live will have catastrophic impacts on the entire food chain, with insect eating species such as spiders and fish being next.

 

Big shake up for Polytechnics


The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins has announced a potential merger of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics, as part of a major overhaul of the education sector.

Mr Hipkins says that the strong labour market is encouraging people to move straight into the workforce instead of continuing formal education.

It might be, but we need to have a look at the reasons for this being the case. National and Labour have both spent years putting down postgraduate research by either under funding it or removing incentives such as the Postgraduate allowance. Such short sighted thinking does little to help students who want to participate in higher learning. Likewise Labour’s failure to offer a fully supported apprenticeship scheme when it was last in office has contributed to the poor state of organisation around apprenticeships.

I have also wondered on occasion what a wananga could do that a polytechnic could not. What is the difference in terms of courses and management? What differences in teaching practices would there be among the staff? Not having been to a wananga or know anyone who has, I honestly do not know. Wananga were the cause of considerable controversy under the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark and I recall various Opposition M.P.’s grilling the Minister for Tertiary Education in the House.

A third problem has been because of the lack of effort across the economy to invest in high tech/high skilled jobs, there has been less incentive to go to University and complete higher study. Outside of farming we are in many ways still a hospitality/retail/service driven economy, shown by the fact that many people – myself included – still earn less than $20/hr before tax.

I completed last year a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management from the Open Polytechnic. It cost me about $7,000 across two years. It had a research paper that was worth 1/3 of the whole Diploma. During that time I had support that I never had whilst studying at Massey University, both in terms of getting the coursework done and administrative issues caused by having to bail out of a paper before I incurred an academic penalty.

I had thought about going back to University of Canterbury to do a Diploma there, but there were several really off putting factors, not least the cost. Also the set timing of university courses meant I would have had to change my work hours significantly or stop altogether. And finally, University of Canterbury Geography did not sound too keen to have me back based on my academic record, which was admittedly not the greatest.

I noticed that the Open Polytechnic teaches a range of other qualifications as well. It teaches social work to environment, from legal (law) to engineering. It has a campus in Wellington, but I did mine via distance learning whilst holding down a 40 hour a week job. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps New Zealand simply has too many non university tertiary institutions, in which case scaling down the number would make sense, but not to the extent Mr Hipkins is suggesting.

 

 

End of the humble insect?


Yesterday I saw something truly terrifying on the news about insects. The humble six legged friend, nuisance, pest in all its many forms is in mortal danger and we not so humble human beings are playing a leading role in insectageddon.

The implications of this for ecology, for the planet and for humans is difficult to over estimate. Insects perform so many tasks that we simply do not recognize or understand. No doubt in cruder conversations you have probably heard the phrase “eat crap”. Insects eat that so humans and other species do not have to.

It is funny and yet sad that on one hand we have figured out how to use weapons to annihilate the human population and an awful lot more within a matter of hours – my extremely crude estimate of how long W.W.3 would last once the missiles start getting airborne – yet so many simple yet fundamental to the existence of the ecological system are not understood. Or they are understood, but the supposedly smartest species on the planet elected to ignore that understanding. Whatever the case the consequences are alarming in a way that climate change, whilst disturbing simply does not match.

We wipe out billions of insects each year. We have pesticides to control aphids, and other damaging insects. We have fly spray that we use on flies, wasps and an encyclopaedia range of others around our homes. We have invested millions in ensuring that cars, houses and so forth are bug free, using a variety of methods – repellent devices that plug into a wall socket, insect spray, netting on windows to stop them getting into the house.

The mayfly that you see buzzing around the river as you fish is no threat. Indeed its presence is used as an indicator for a healthy aquatic ecosystem, as they are prey for fish, beetles and other predators. The humble housefly that we kill millions of each summer, annoying as it may be and often is, important for the break down of nutrients in the natural environment. The cockroach, loathed by many and in popular culture as a disgusting creature has been depicted as being able to survive a nuclear war, are resilient and have a higher tolerance of radiation than do human beings.

But what if all of this and so much more is wiped out by human activity? Where does that leave the ecological system, the environment, and most importantly for human beings, humanity? What if I told you that 100% of all insect life could be dead in 100 years?

Well, that is I heard yesterday.

Doomsday much?