The attack on New Zealand’s oceans


The oceans across which our ancestors and tangata whenua sailed to reach Aotearoa/New Zealand, and which thousands of New Zealanders fish from, sail through and swim in every year are under attack. The attack, a sustained assault on the sea and its natural bounty, has left the oceans reeling. But there is some good news in an otherwise bleak state of affairs for our marine environment.

As a nation surrounded by sea water, and being the surface 12% of a sunken continent, New Zealand has intricate and inextricable links with the sea. As a nation where one of the major industries is fisheries, the well being of the marine environment is more important than the emphasis we currently place on it. With this borne in mind, there is room for significant improvement on how we treat the marine environment, the species that live in it and the quality of the sea water.

Notably fisheries have improved. The fisheries crisis peaked about 20 years ago when about 650,000 tons was being caught. The annual catch has been less than 450,000 tons since and that rate continues to improve. 84% of fisheries were being harvested at a rate considered to be acceptable. That sounds good, but it is offset by 16% of unsustainable fisheries, some of which have completely collapsed and must close whilst stocks replenish.

Our extractive activities such as oil and gas are not sustainable. In the 9 years of National being in office, despite a global example of oil rig mismanagement occurring in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deep Horizon well incident, no serious effort was made to improve our ability to handle a large scale blowout. That caused large scale disruption to fisheries in the Gulf, as well as to shore based activities such as tourism, and the oil washing up would have closed beaches heading into the peak tourist season. New Zealand had then, and as far I am aware, still has no capacity to handle such an event. Even the running aground in 2011 of the freighter off the entrance to Tauranga Harbour sorely tested our ability to handle a marine environment emergency.

Our ports are handling more cruise liners and other shipping. Due to the increased tonnage passing through, the likelihood of ballast water containing invasive species is increasing, as is the likelihood of non-compliance with harbour regulations about dumping of waste or ships running into submerged obstacles such reefs, wrecks and so forth.

Coastal development is increasing. Projects to facilitate coastal development such as dredging, land reclamation, removing of coastal vegetation – which used to come right down to the sea prior to European settlement – and residential development, among other activities are all increasing. Their impacts have included increasing siltation, disruption of seabed environments.

Whilst the fisheries report is encouraging, the rest of it is grim. New Zealand needs to develop a comprehensive plan for dealing with maritime emergencies and appropriately resource regional authorities with the means to deal with them. It needs to more closely monitor the coastal development going on and if necessary revise planning documents such as the Coastal Policy Statement to cope with these changes.

 

 

Extinction Rebellion protests not helpful


Yesterday 200 activists from Extinction Rebellion caused disruption in central Wellington. They occupied an A.N.Z. bank branch, blocked intersections and formed a group outside the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (M.B.I.E.). The protests which were part of a 60-city world wide disruption campaign were not well received by the Police, Prime Minister or members of the public.

Activism that is peaceful is perfectly fine and there are many examples of peaceful activism that have drawn impressive results. But activism where disruption involves illegal activity such as trespassing or causing nuisance, whilst gaining media attention, is not a great way to get public support.

Whilst being an activist myself, there is one thing I will not do except in exceptional circumstances: break New Zealand law.

The one instance where I believe breaking the law might be necessary is in the improbable – not impossible – event that indefinite martial law is declared or one of the core Acts of Parliament that form the basis of our constitutional framework is suspended. But as this is talking about the realms of the quite improbable, I see no need to break New Zealand law.

But to Extinction Rebellion an organization established to protest government policies that they say are leading humanity to its nadir, it is apparently okay.

The protests yesterday are not their first. A few weeks ago protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion trespassed into the railway corridor in Christchurch to stop coal trains. In doing so they delayed the transit of four freight trains for several hours. In doing so they interfered with railway track that would have had to be checked over for potential damage before trains could be allowed to pass over it.

I said I am an activist, and I am. I have much time for peaceful activism and believe that there are stronger ways of getting messages across than participating in activity that disrupts for the sake of disrupting. Extinction Rebellion could have had a protest outside Kiwi Rail offices, or crowd funded an advert in the media or handed out flyers.

More surprising was the belief of some at the Amnesty International New Zealand office, that such disruption as that caused by the railway protest was okay. Based on what I have been told in the past, this stance sounded like a departure from their normal law abiding approach.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly said that the A.N.Z. protesters were doing no one any favours. Disrupting a bank where people are trying to carry out their legitimate financial procedures is not likely to curry any favours with the New Zealand public, or the Police who probably thought they had better things they could have been doing.

The awareness of climate change is here. Now who does the planning?


This is an acknowledgement of Greta Thunberg’s climate change protest movement. It is also an acknowledgement that simply willing her and her movement to shut up and go away is simply not going to happen and – despite my reservations about how New Zealand is/is not tackling climate change – it would be a bad thing for youth if it did.

Ms Thunberg and those helping make her campaign possible have done an A+ job of mobilizing the youth of the world along with a lot of adults. The young Pakistani lady Malala inspired human rights activists, but Malala did not succeed in a large scale mobilization of youth despite being only a similar age to Ms Thunberg when she was shot.

Ms Thunberg’s job is not finished. Not by a long shot. Now that the protesters are mobilized, the challenge will be to keep going and convince the politicians that this is an issue that we are running out of time to make a meaningful attempt at resolving.

But now that the activists are mobilized and demanding change, there is a major question looming on the horizon. It is one that I honestly do not think policy makers, analysts or the sectors that are going to be affected by the change being demanded have addressed. In fact I wonder how many of them have even thought about it?

Who is going to do the planning? Who is going to work out all of the areas that are going to be affected and establish meaningful contact with the leaders in those sectors?

Do they even know how to start? Maybe, maybe not. So here is a suggestion on what they do, except I expect it to be much more advanced planning than the brief S.W.O.T. analysis I have done below:

STRENGTH

  • More than just an environmental gain to be had
  • Social justice and better equality
  • Economic gains

WEAKNESS

  • Partisan politics
  • Divisive individual voices
  • Little thought currently been given to associated planning matters
  • Passing legislation and enacting it takes time
  • Lack of long term vision

OPPORTUNITY

  • Green tech
  • Not all solutions have to complex or costly
  • Opportunities for significant job creation
  • Biofuel industry?

THREAT

  • Conservative denialism
  • Anti-science and anti-technology agendas on the left
  • N.I.M.B.Y.’ism from some environmentalists for certain infrastructure
  • Political corruption
  • Lack of trust in data

A plethora of questions can arise out of this, such as (but definitely not limited to):

  1. How will we go aboutĀ  establishing steering groups to manage different aspects of the planning – I see one for the social planning such as getting schools, hospitals and essential services off oil and gas, one for the broader economy, one for industry, one for law makers, a third for public input; who will oversee these individual groups.
  2. What time table are we going to working towards – the 2030 time frame by which it will be too late or the 2050 timetable for getting New Zealand off oil and gas?
  3. Who will work with individual sectors to identify their needs and help develop work around’s that are acceptable to government policy?

I wish Ms Thunberg and her campaign all the best, but I hope that the adults will talk to the protesters in good time about the need for a multi-partisan response. I hope that they talk about the compromises needing to be made. I hope that it is made known that the same science that is showing such alarming carbon readings can be the basis for some great social, environmental, economic and technological outcomes.

But to do that, we have to have a blue print of how to go forward.

And right now we have nothing.

The need to keep National on board with climate change


Every nine years (the average for the last 30 years)there is a change in Government. With it there is the inevitable change in policy focus, emphasis on what is important, what will become – in the words of former Treasurer and Prime Minister Bill English “nice to haves”. Some fields of policy that needed further progress will stall, whilst other areas of importance will get more focus on them.

In the case of National, there is the sure fire certainty that a new National led Government will have a strong economic focus. Just as we would expect Labour to focus more on social issues and the Greens on the environment, we should know to expect by now that National will have an economic focus whether we like it or not.

One catch is recognizing that an M.M.P. environment requires compromise. In an M.M.P. environment you need allies in Parliament. These are parties that will become potential coalition partners. As such National is unlikely to want to dispense of A.C.T. and therefore there will always be an element of outright denialism in any government that forms. The only way to get rid of it would be to persuade Epsom voters that A.C.T. is a liability.

The same environment that stops fringe parties hijacking the discourse is the same one that is discouraging, with the aid of a lingering “Think Big” hangover, really visionary policy making. New Zealand has shown a real adversity since the late 1980’s to introducing really forward looking policy and the matching steps to make it happen. We need visionary policy with those matching steps if we are going to tackle the environmental monster being unleashed.

This is not to say I support National. I do not. But National is not as far on board with climate policy as people would like to think and this is showing in the announcements being made by its leader Simon Bridges. It is showing in the rhetoric coming from some Members of Parliament like Matt King who believes that the whole thing is a green conspiracy. Farmers who make substantial contributions to the economy through dairy, meat and wool product are largely National supporters. National is not going to come on board without some concessions regarding economic growth, which I believe would probably include slowing down the timetable for phasing out emissions. There will be concessions on transport and/or farming and/or industrial emissions.

But this is not to say that all is lost and that we should give up now. We should not – I have long said that even if one is not entirely convinced about climate change, there are enough other environmental problems being caused by the huge resource consumption that we need to act now.

There are areas though that we can invest in which might help to persuade National Party voters to consider putting before their M.P.’s:

  1. Hybrid vehicles have a future – rather than ban petrol vehicles outright and possibly provoke a resurgence of the far right in New Zealand politics, lets phase out anything over say 15 years old
  2. Introduce a common standard of biofuel for vehicles – the investment and research that would be needed would be a potentially substantial job creation exercise in its own right
  3. Help the building industry explore things like hemp crete, which absorbs carbon
  4. Help airlines such as Air New Zealand research biofuel development – Air New Zealand has already started, but it might need a helping hand
  5. Allow businesses that put solar panels on their buildings to keep any savings in power tax free
  6. Put bulk goods on rail – milk from dairy plants, petroleum and so forth

For New Zealand to address climate change successfully we need National on board. Without National on board, New Zealand’s efforts at addressing climate change will fail.

“Over tourism” in New Zealand?


Recently reporter Brook Sabin opined about a New Zealand that he says has gone from being a nice little country off the beaten trail to being over touristed mecca that has lost or is in the process of losing its glory. His opinion piece for Stuff detailed a number of festering problem areas in New Zealand, which got me thinking about whether New Zealand is over touristed.

When I was doing Year 13 Geography at school, we had to look at an “economic process” as a class and were given the choice of one of the following: industrialization, tourism and a couple of others. At my school we did tourism. The tourism process focussed on two areas of interest – Queenstown and the Gold Coast. We examined the pull factors such as the mountains and scenery in Queenstown, and the beaches and warm climate on the Gold Coast.

One memory that stands out from the Queenstown segment of this study was being shown a progress chart for the foreseeable future. It showed Queenstown on an accelerating curve up to the end of the 20th Century (given that this was taught in 1999, I think it could be classified as foreseeable future). Once it passed the 20th century the chart showed continued acceleration for a few more years before breaking into fourĀ  different potential directions. One suggested growth would just keep on going; a second suggested it would slow down, but not stop completely; a third suggested it was going to flatline indefinitely in the near future from physical limitations and the fourth suggested things would start to run in reverse before very long. I think in 2019, the second possibility is the current front runner followed by the third if we are not careful.

Queenstown has a number of major problems that are increasingly interconnected:

  1. It has used up nearly all of the flat land available to it and is now starting to put pressure on neighbouring places such as Wanaka. In turn Wanaka has gone from being a sleepy town that becomes active during holidays and every second year for the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow to effectively a dormitory suburb of Queenstown. The same goes for Arrowtown, a sleepy picturesque town known for its lovely autumn photography of deciduous trees shedding their leaves.
  2. The rapid growth has not been matched by infrastructure. Queenstown roads, water and sewerage networks are under increasing pressure to the point that Queenstown Lakes District Council recently applied for permission to discharge sewerage directly into Lake Wakatipu, which is half of the overall tourist attraction.
  3. Tourists, tourists, tourists. We need tourists to come and spend money and go home with great memories of a friendly nation, but many attendant problems such as freedom camping, dumping of waste and ignorance of protocol around tourist attractions.

It is not just Queenstown though, that is struggling. Whilst Queenstown has become in some respects a victim of its own success, there are many other tourist attractions as well where the numbers of tourists are reaching problematic levels. One such place is the Tongariro Crossing in the middle of Tongariro National Park/World Heritage Area. Day in day out in all weather, good and bad there is a steady line of tourists snaking across Mordor. Most come prepared and have an idea of what they are getting into, but some come thinking its just a couple hours walk and get stuck. With the tourists also come litter problems, people having to airlifted off because they ignored warnings about track conditions and so on.

Small locations like Franz Josef on the West Coast and Tekapo in inland Canterbury, where the permanent population is only a couple of hundred people struggle with over crowding. Franz Josef has the busiest helipad in New Zealand sending dozens of flights up to the glaciers each day almost from dawn until dusk. Down at the small airstrip near the Waiho River single and twin engined light aircraft are coming and going constantly flying over the glaciers and Mt Cook. Numerous tourist buses trundle through daily, plying the same route. Once a sleepy town at the foot of the Southern Alps, like Wanaka, it is no longer quiet unless the Waiho River has knocked out the bridge.

New Zealand prides itself on its environmental sustainability. Compared with many nations we are comparatively clean and green, but the notion we are 100% pure clean is so wrong, I have actually tried complaining about it being misleading advertising. We are most certainly not 100% pure and the faster that silly campaign ends the better. People coming to New Zealand expend significant carbon just getting here, never what they do once they have arrived. The waste that comes out of rental cars is considerable – food, tourist advertising, abandoned clothing items among other stuff which will fill a skip within a week.

I initially actually thought Mr Sabin was being a pessimist, but unfortunately there is more truth to his words than I think most of us New Zealanders want to admit.