Ardern meets Trump

The handshake was not a crusher. Unlike the potentially crushing power of the office of the man who shook Prime Minister Jacinda Arderns hand earlier today. As T.P.P. negotiations roll on we look at the major issues where New Zealand and America might dis/agree on.

It will be interesting to see how a decidedly left leaning New Zealand Government will get on with the most far right Government America has ever had. Mr Trump stands for a lot of the things that Ms Ardern and her Labour/New Zealand First/Green Party coalition balk at point blank, such as considering military spending as essential to the economy, cutting taxes, rolling back environmental laws and getting out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Mr Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement within a couple of days of taking office in January. Despite most of the Labour Party grass roots and both of her support parties being totally against the T.P.P.A., Ms Ardern seems content to sign the agreement with a few more concessions. Mr Trump is on this rare occasion on the right side of history, whereas New Zealand and the other countries negotiating are going to end up on the wrong side.

Mr Trump’s administration might not yet be fully aware of New Zealand’s attempts to get some of the refugees from Manus Island. How much it impacts on a supposed deal being negotiated between Australia and the United States remains to be seen. It would not be the first time New Zealand has interceded on Australian refugee. We took some of the refugees from the M.V. Tampa, a freighter that the John Howard Government claimed was carrying terrorists and baby drowners in 2001. Those refugees turned out to be quite an asset, with all contributing substantially to their adopted New Zealand communities, setting up small businesses and becoming doctors and lawyers. Hopefully Mr Trump sees the Australian xenophobia for what it is and offers to take some instead of being sucked into Peter Duttons hate machine.

New Zealand is a small bit player in the North Korean issue, but a potentially valuable one. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has had prior experience negotiating with North Koreans and they invited him to visit Pyongyang, something that few other leaders have been offered. Aside from supporting the rule of international law at the United Nations and trying to get all sides to dial down the rhetoric, there is not realistically much else that New Zealand can help the United States with on this topic. No one will win if a war starts on this.

On the subject of climate change, New Zealand needs to stand firm, invest heavily in renewables and look at what sorts of environmentally responsible technologies it can develop, patent and export overseas. In short it needs to go in the opposite direction to the United States, which will find itself isolated by the international community in some respects – something New Zealand cannot afford to do.

Mr Trumps performance on the world stage, including his bellicose rhetoric against North Korea and Iran will also be watched closely. When he tweets the world takes notice just incase it is a foreign policy announcement. No doubt Ms Ardern and her press secretary keep close tabs on @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS.

America’s black and white view of the world ignores many, many shades of grey. New Zealanders seem to understand that they exist, but not why. Understanding those shades and where they fit into the spectrum – whether we agree with their purpose being another story altogether – is important, as is getting past the left-right political spectrum which is thoroughly redundant. Perhaps the most important thing though is not following this nonsense of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Whilst this remains the thinking in Washington, we need to keep America at arms length, something I think Ms Ardern understands, but Mr Trump does not.

The need for science based environmental policy

Science is loved and hated, respected and ridiculed in equal measure. For those such as myself who are interested in the natural world around us it is a means to discover the form and function of the natural systems that make our planet tick. It is a means to discover the limitations of humanity and the activities of humans, how it impacts on us and how we impact on it and how those impacts change the form and function of the natural environment.

To a significant extent it is true that both overseas and in New Zealand, science and scientists do not have many friends. Or those friends generally tend to be “friends of convenience”, who are “friends” for the duration that they are useful to the agenda of the Government of the day and then drop out of sight or are dumped when that is no longer the case. Researchers working in climate change and fresh water ecology come to mind in terms of supplying the research, whilst natural resource planners come to mind conceiving the plans that are based on the research.

Without a doubt then, one of the most testing areas for science is when it comes to being the basis for sound environmental policy. Whether it is dealing with the effects of increased carbon in the marine ecosystem, particulate matter in air pollution or recording river flow discharge, the data collected and analyzed is the basis on which theories are founded. The scientific community is then engaged when the research is published in journals to see how solid it is.

Despite their assertions to the contrary, I did not find the previous National Government to be sympathetic to science or the technological and theoretical advances our common knowledge can gain. In 2010, the only time science got a boost, there was  a story about the then Prime Ministers standing aside so that  Given that the National led Government was one advocating a “brighter future” in which New Zealand and New Zealanders would grow wealthier, this is some what surprising.

But hard data is the common building block of good policy. It has been tested by experts, who might have made slight adjustments, but which are on the whole sound. For example, Environment Canterbury as part of their river flow network operate a number of telemetered rainfall and river flow gauges. The data recorded every several hours – and more frequenly during heavy rainfall and/or flood events – is used to track what is falling in river catchments. Do flood watches or warnings need to be issued; is the river likely to get out of its banks? All of these questions and others can be answered if the flow regime of the river and the key characteristics of the river catchment in question is known. To the public, planners appear to be constantly revising the return periods for floods and some suggest that it is impossible to have confidence in the science when the scientists are seemingly unable to come up with consistent figures – without either realizing or understanding that the flood regime knowledge of the day is only as good as the data on which it is based.

Likewise, scientists are struggling to understand the Alpine Fault, New Zealand’s biggest and probably most dangerous fault. It is broken into four sections with two making up the cental part of the system. At 650 kilometres long and an average return peirod of 300 years.Knowing this and how the next quake is likely to affect infrastructure and so forth, enable planning rules to be set down, for Building Code criteria to be set down and collaborated. In other words to save lives and minimize disruption. One way of finding out more about its history has been to drill into the fault structure and extract samples of rock to determine the heat and pressure it is being subject to. Unfortunately this has brought about the ire of some members of the public – perhaps just trolling for attention or cause mischief, or perhaps genuinely (!) misinformed – who believe that the scientists are being reckless cowboys endangering themselves and New Zealanders.


Not so obvious effects of climate change to affect N.Z.

People debate the serious nature of the potential effects that climate change may have on the economy, on the environment and on people. But what threat does it pose to our health and society? Below are just some of the risks that we may face for not actively encouraging awareness of changes in the environment.

One of the less obvious problems that is likely to more noticeable is the proliferation of noxious and potentially dangerous pests. Noxious pests are already banned in New Zealand under the Biosecurity Act and individual regional councils will have an inventory of all of the potentially damaging or dangerous animal and plant species that are not allowed in New Zealand. As the climate becomes drier in the east of New Zealand, it is thought that poisonous spiders which currently find it too wet, could become established. If this were the case, such species as the Australian Redback, which is already found in Otago around vineyards may spread further north into places such as the semi-arid Mackenzie Basin. And due to its proximity to New Zealand, it is likely that Australia will continue for the foreseeable future to be our no. 1 source of pests (figuratively and otherwise!).

Another risk animal that New Zealand is already seeing occasional localized incursions by are fire ants. These little red ants can decimate our bird life, cause huge amounts of damage to vegetation. Once established they can breed easily, do not seem vulnerable to climate change. Their nasty sting is lucky to cause a surge in doctor complaints.

A second prospect in wetter parts of the country is that the combination of moisture and humidity will enable the breeding of mosquito species not yet seen in New Zealand. Some of these may be containing diseases or viruses such as the Ross River virus. Mosquitoes generally breed their larvae in stagnant water, which needs to be warm and shallow.

Other changes that are considered likely to affect New Zealand are seasonal illnesses. Hay fever is often advanced in spring as the ready availability of pollen aggravates peoples allergies. As drier weather takes hold, the water level in rivers, streams and other fresh water systems may lower. The combination of sunshine reflecting in a shallow pool of water during summer periods may give rise to cyanobacteria, which is potentially lethal in dogs and may pose a threat to human health as well.

I look forward to seeing what discussion papers come up with about these threats. And whether or not calls to action might eventually persuade New Zealanders that man made climate change or not, we have a responsibility of care to look after our economy and environment, some of the effects are already here.

The need for a Kermadec ocean sanctuary

I was disappointed to see in the Sunday Star Times today that New Zealand First have shown resistance to the idea of an ocean sanctuary. The comments in the Sunday Star Times, which allegedly caught the Green Party unawares, point to a potential hurdle in the future that the new Government will not be able to bypass.

New M.P. and former Labour M.P. Shane Jones, who is a potential cabinet member of the new Labour led minority Government, disclosed before the election that Sealord and Talleys were bankrolling his election campaign in Whangarei. Mr Jones who has extensive links to Iwi and backs customary fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and fellow New Zealand First Members of Parliament have been described as close to the fishing industry.

Given the lack of regard shown for the marine environment around the world, there is a strong case for an ocean sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when the outgoing National Government in 2015 announced that New Zealand would commit to an ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands. It would not permit mining, oil extraction or fishing. The sanctuary would cover the oceans around islands such as Raoul and Curtiss Island.

This is also why I support the need for a blue water navy. Defence policy aside, New Zealand has a vast economic exclusion zone that is prone to being raided by illegals who have no legitimate business in New Zealand waters. The proposed ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands would not be exempt from the potential ravages of these raiders. A blue water navy with appropriate surveillance, backed by a strong judicial system would show raiders that if they conduct their illegal business in N.Z. waters, there will be a price to pay.

Despite the Green Party saying that they are confident that an appropriate outcome can be achieved, I have concerns about how any agreement will be passed into law, and whether it will be effective in protecting the marine ecosystem.


State of New Zealand Environment – 20 years after *the* report

Its length is about 3/4 that of the Resource Management Act. At 650 pages, the report released in 1997 entitled “The State of New Zealand’s Environment” was a systematic effort at covering all of the major issues in the environment of New Zealand as it was understood then in a single publication. 20 years on, how are we going?

Whilst there has been progress, there are numerous significant issues that need to be dealt with in the near future – next 10 years (or the duration of one Long Term Plan under the Local Government Act 2002). They are:

  1. The e-waste bomb – a problem growing at 80,000 tons per annum, not at all well understood by New Zealanders or the media (in fact slipping well under the radar)relating to the huge pile up of unwanted and unprocessed electronics in our waste
  2. Fresh water quality (and quantity) – a dual challenge to improve the use and treatment of our freshwater resource, the natural ecosystem in it as well as the humans who use it
  3. Ecological footprint – this seems to have been forgotten or somehow overtaken by the carbon footprint, but it essentially relates to the area and amount of resources consumed to meet the material needs of an individual human being, as that of the average New Zealander is one of the largest in the world
  4. Man made emissions – whether one agrees with climate change or not, these emissions are having a huge impact on the environment, with oceans affected by the large scale release of carbon into them, acidifying the water and threatening the well being of anything with a CaCO3 (calcium carbonate)body structure
  5. The large scale extinction of mammals, birds and fish species from over use, a failure to check poaching and the consumption of habitat

These are not in order of importance. I will leave that up to you, the reader to decide how they should be ranked and whether I have missed any.

Like other nations, New Zealand is going to suffer significantly if it does not take considerable and sustained action to address its short sighted economic growth first/environment second approach to life. There is nothing left wing or right wing – or anything resembling a point of being on a political spectrum – about ensuring that future generations are able to enjoy the same environment conditions we enjoyed and used. There is nothing improper about making sure that future generations do not have to pay exorbitant rates to drink clean water. There nothing Greenie tree huggy liberal about making sure that the food chain is not poisoned with americium, cadmium and God knows what else because we were too lazy, too money obsessed to address the e-waste bomb and stop ourselves from getting cancer.

In fairness, we have managed to keep the Resource Management Act alive – its success is best identified by the fact that political parties on both sides of Parliament want to meddle with it because they do not understand (or want to)that it was not written appease politicians. We have managed to – with U.S. help –  set in place the initial framework for a vast Marine Protection Area over the Ross Sea.

Like I said the next 10 years are going to be critical. What happens in that time will have long term implications for New Zealand and New Zealanders.