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?

National slumps; Greens-Labour could govern alone


The headline says it all – almost. A new poll out today shows National having fallen behind Labour for the first time since Labour lost office in 2008.

The latest Newshub/Reid Poll shows that Labour are up to 47%, which would make them the largest party in Parliament at 56 seats. That is the number that National currently hold. Combined with the Greens who are steady on 5% and entitled to 6 seats Labour could govern without its other coalition ally, New Zealand First.

All parties except A.C.T. shed seats to Labour in this rare instance. The Greens lose two, to become a 6 piece caucus. New Zealand First disappear completely and National are down to 50.

This must be sobering news for New Zealand First. It has been consistently under the 5% threshhold to have a presence in Parliament without an electorate seat. At 2.9% it would suffer an even worse defeat than that which was inflicted on it in 2008. Whilst the party has seen bad luck before, much of that was not of its making but the work of dirty politicking by other politicians. That does not apply in February 2019.

New Zealand First shed supporters, including myself after it supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But other people left, expressing concerns about the internal state of the party, which has had to deal with dwarf throwing, the collapse of its South Island support and also the activities of Shane Jones. On one hand Mr Jones who is Minister for Regional Development is proving popular because of his work with the regional development fund, but on the other his refusal to allow cameras on board fishing vessels has sparked the ire of labour rights advocates.

It must also be sobering news for National. For the first time since 2008 it is less popular than its arch rival. At 41% it would get 50 seats in the House. Combined with the solitary seat of its natural ally A.C.T., it would have 51 seats and be well below the threshhold of being able to govern.

National find themselves in a difficult spot. Environmental issues have clearly become more important than many National Party Members of Parliament and their constituents want to admit. The worsening effects of having so much carbon in the atmosphere and in the sea is leading to an increasing pressure for comprehensive reform, except that neither party really knows how – and the Green proposals are seen as too radical and out of touch.

But it is National leader Simon Bridges who must find this most sobering. Mr Bridges has been over taken by Judith Crusher Collins in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. This will excite her fans on the solid blue right wing of the party. Ms Collins, despite her dismissal as a Minister of the Crown for corruption and links to the Oravida scandal, remains a darling of the right wing of New Zealand politics who are itching for a deeper shade of blue than what was offered by Messrs John Key and Bill English.

For Labour and the Greens though, this must be a welcome breath of fresh air. It comes after concerns about the slowing economy, the failure of Kiwi Build and the ongoing concerns about justice, health, among other things. Labour will be wanting to build on this as it looks towards the 2020 election.

Time to regulate freedom campers


Bex Hill is a tour operator in Dunedin. The other day she saw a people mover turned freedom camper vehicle with a self containment sticker on it. The problem is, it was not self contained.

If there is an issue that divides New Zealand during the summer tourism season, it must surely be what to do about “Freedom Campers”, campers whose transport – often an old Toyota Previa or similar – doubles as their home, and who refuse to camp in regular camping grounds. For many such campers the vehicle is also where they claim to have a toilet, so that they are able to access camping grounds without sanitary facilities.

The majority of them are no problem and will comply with requests. However it needs to be said that there will always be a small percentage for whom no amount reasoning will work – they think that by some higher entitlement they can be in a particular place and do as they wish. New Zealand, contrary to popular belief – does have minimum standards for self containment in vehicles – they just are not that well known or enforced. They are set out in full below (see New Zealand Motor Caravan Association):

A SUMMARY OF THE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTIFIED SELF-CONTAINMENT

The Standard requires sanitary, safe installations:

  1. Fresh water tanks: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum); eg. 24 litres is required for 2 people for 3 days & 48 litres is required for 4 people for 3 days;

  2. A sink: (via a smell trap/water trap connected to a water tight sealed waste water tank;

  3. Grey/black waste water tank: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank);

  4. Evacuation hose: (3 m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank;

  5. Sealable refuse container (rubbish bin with a lid).

  6. Toilet (portable or fixed): Minimum capacity 1 L per person per day (3 L net holding tank capacity per person minimum);

A portable toilet must be adequately restrained or secured when travelling. The portable toilet shall be usable within the motor caravan or caravan, including sufficient head and elbow room whenever required, even with the bed made up.  Where permanent toilets are installed, this shall be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and comply with the sanitary requirements in section 3 of the Standard (plumbing requirements).

When these conditions are met, a portable toilet may be used externally e.g. within a toilet tent or awning, where it is appropriate and convenient to do so.

I had time for them, but now my patience – and I think that of many many New Zealanders – is running out. It is time to regulate their vehicles as being supposedly fit for over nighting in places where camping is generally forbidden is often not what one thinks it is. Far too often we now hear of campers becoming aggressive when challenged about the suitability of their vehicle to be parked in a non camping area. Far too often we find freedom campers parked in parts of towns and rural areas where they should not be.

Aside from being disgusting and unsightly in the extreme to see other peoples faeces, it is a particularly poor look on the part of a country that prides itself on being clean and green. Yes everyone needs to answer a call of nature at some point and that there will most certainly be cases where it cannot be done in a proper toilet.

Is it inappropriate to remind them that they are in New Zealand and are therefore expected to comply with New Zealand law (which admittedly needs to be clarified and tightened up, but that is beyond the scope of this article)? I think not. When other campers cannot get access to a particular site because it is blocked and the campers are aggressive, whose fault is that?

I do not believe I am being unnecessarily harsh when I say that the only vehicles that should be permitted for this purpose should have an enforceable certificate of self containment. But before we do that, there has to be a regime with appropriate agencies involved and a way of making the enforcement stick. This will require the co-operation of rental car and other rental vehicle agencies, the N.Z.T.A. and local councils.

Then, may be people like Bex Hill will not have to see such sights again.