Categories
agriculture ecology water

Intensive agriculture: an industrialised town turned upside down

Mike  Joy

My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.

He wades in rivers so fish (and you) can swim in them. And he isn’t afraid to talk about who is to blame for what he finds there. Dr Mike Joy is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology in Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment.

Talking points

Our rivers are special – sadly really special now as we have the highest proportion of freshwater fish species of any country in the world.

More and more of our species are threatened species, yet we have this bizarre situation where they are threatened species but we commercially harvest them and we eat them. Most New Zealanders don’t realise that when you eat your whitebait fritter you’re eating threatened species. It kind of doesn’t fit with the New Zealand way. We get all upset with Japanese whalers and people shooting tigers, but for some reason – may be because we don’t know – we harvest and expert them, we sell our threatened species to other countries.

As indicators, fish integrate the health of the whole river, the whole ecosystem.

There are really clear patterns in relation to land use – intensively farmed areas, lowland rivers…really really bad.

The best habitats are the least available.

Because they are mostly migratory, most of the fish species are found closer to the sea, but that is the area where we have done most of the damage. Most of the conservation estate is unavailable to the fish.

We do have invasive species spreading through. In a pristine NZ river these invasive species wouldn’t do well at all, it is because we have changed our lakes and rivers to be much more like the kind of degraded, eutrophic, highly nutrient enriched habitats that these fish came from – we made it like that.

It’s a death by a 1000 cuts.

A combination of multiple impacts that accumulate down river. That’s the thing with rivers, all of the impacts just pile up – everything that happens on the land, eventually gravity takes it down to the river.

I used to have a chemistry lecturer that said “the solution to pollution is dilution”, but that is such an old dinosaur view of the world. Now that we dominate the planet we can see that dilution isn’t a reality – it doesn’t just go away, it accumulates somewhere. What I tell my students is “the solution to pollution is assimilation”. If the ecosystem can’t assimilate it, then you’ve got to stop putting it in.

Massive costs to engineer solutions to do what the river would have done for you if you hadn’t messed with it in the first place. It costs us so much more to do what nature would have done for us for nothing.

I realised that I was publishing well cited papers…but all I would end up doing is cataloguing the decline. I wasn’t just going to do that.

The only way to change is if public are aware of what is going on.

I use disaster (in the title of 2015 article “NZ Freshwater Disaster”) because if you look at the facts, there’s no way you could call it anything other than a disaster. If you look at the statistics then that’s quite moderate language, probably an understatement.

But at the same time as the public awareness is going up, we haven’t seen any improvement in the decisions that they’re making.

It’s getting worse, and we’ve had a big backdown on the protection as well. You can characterise what’s happening in freshwater as more and more money and more and more effort goes into public relations and communications staff – making things sound good. And hidden underneath all that is the reality that things are getting worse and the protections are being weakened.

People claim improvement (in the state of rivers), but that is wrong. There is no net improvement, there’s a couple of rivers that point-source discharges have come out of – pipes from meat works – improvement there but at the same time a net worsening.

Forget drinking water, most of our rivers you can’t drink, but even swimming – 62% of all of our rivers are unsafe to swim in.

The government response to that has been to shift from a Ministry of Health standard called “contact recreation”, that’s to protect you from getting sick if you get some water in your mouth, that’s 260 coliform units per litre of water. Now, it’s 1000, and they call it “wadeable”…you’re safe if you’re in a boat or have got waders on is the new norm.

They’ve shifted the goalposts to go from a map that’s mostly red to a map that’s mostly green. Shift the baseline…they did the same thing with nitrogen – from a protection of half a milligram of nitrogen per litre, and they’ve shifted it to 6.9mg/l. My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.

Almost every industry, if it had to cover the true cost of clean up, it would be more than it purports to make. We’ve covered that up for generations, but it’s all coming home now because we are paying the price.

Dairy is the major driver on the health of the waterways.

It is so dependent on external inputs.

Just think about how unsustainable it is to make make milk out fossil fuels.

Planetary Boundaries – at a global level the planetary boundaries are exceeded seven fold when it comes to global nitrogen use.

We’re all part of that sad unfortunate sad reality that we’re feeding this massive population by using energy that was stored over the millennia. We’re living way past what the earth can handle.

Just counting the dairy cows, we’ve got a population of 90 million people equivalents. This puts it into balance, sure there are impacts of cities and so on, but it is tiny compared to just the dairy cows.

It’s like an industrial town turned upside down. Imagine Victorian England – all those chimneys pumping out smoke and the issues that came from that – flip that upside down, it’s the nutrients that leak out of the bottom of our farms through the soil that are the problems, but we don’t see them. If it were smoke coming over us we would all be so aware of it, but because it just goes down and through our waters we don’t see it.

It shocked me, waking up to hear John Key on National Radio saying that swimming in our rivers is aspirational. If someone says something that we take for granted and think part of being a New Zealander is suddenly aspirational , then where will we go next? Breathing without a respirator be aspirational? It’s a slippery slope.

Farms could make more money with half the cows, for a third of the pollution.

From an individual farmer’s profit point of view, they are losing money through overstocking. But they’re being driven by the industry to maximise production, not maximise profit.

You can see the limits of biological system, that production have gone up but profits haven’t.

There is a huge cost being paid here, but it is being paid by someone else.

What we are doing now is not conventional, it is very unconventional industrialised farming. Sustainable farming…backing off from the intensity, thinking about soil health, animal health, pasture health…biological farming, and the profits are much much higher.

Commodity market…the competition globally to make the cheapest product…the competition to have the weakest labour laws, the weakest environmental laws…we don’t want to win that race.

We need to maximise value by ensuring that people pay a premium for high quality food that is sustainably farmed. In the longer term animals have to come out of the human food chain.

A government that wanted to make a change would have to price externalities. We talk about this market economy, we supposedly have a market economy, so if we want a market economy the costs have to be borne by the people and organisations who are making the impacts.

(Success) I’m excited about Landcorp’s Environmental Reference Group. Industry has to lead the way.

(Motivation) A sense of injustice and anger.

(Activist) Yes I am, I give the Alice Walker quote at the end of my talks – that’s the price we all pay for living on the planet is to be active. We can’t sit back any more. If we sit back and think someone else is going to fix it for us, then we’re doomed. We have to all become active to change this. There’s some pretty big powers that are doing very well out of this and its hard work to take them on, so we all have to be active to do that.

As an academic it is part of my job. I have a role under the Education Act to be a “critic and conscience of society”.

(Alan Mark describes lobbying to remove him as an academic). I do know from the Vice Chancellor that Federated Farmers have regularly called for me to be sacked. But I’m still here. It is crucial for society that we have the ability to speak out.

(Challenge) Trying to get change, trying to show the way.

We get portrayed as a Luddite “you want us to go backwards”. But the reality is a sustainable world would be so much more fun, so much more exciting than a dirty world.

(Miracle) A government that actually had legislation for the people not for a few. And that would mean prioritising environmental protection over the profits of a few.

(Advice) The most effect you could have as an individual is to try and take animal agriculture out of your diet. But that is not enough, you have to be active, you have to stand up for your future and your children’s future, which means stopping the destruction.

Note. This interview was recorded just before the release of the NZ State of the Environment Report. Mike’s comments on that report, along with other leading scientists, can be found here.

Categories
agriculture community community garden food tourism transition towns

Strengthening community

Anisha Lee

My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things.

Anisha Lee is involved in community development in Oamaru. We talk about her experiences in farming, geology, botany, tourism, environmental farm plans and community gardens. we talk about all of these things, along with plans to bring Ooooby to Oamaru.

Talking points

From a personal responsibility level there seems to be a change in the dairy industry – this is beneficial for everybody if we take responsibility for the decisions you take.

The environment will win in the end if you destroy the thing that is feeding your business – the soil – but it will take casualties on the way through.

No one wants to do bad. But they only know how to do good in the context of what they know is good. People do listen to their managers, but it’s an apprenticeship system without regulation – they think they’re doing good, but they’ve been taught by people who didn’t know either. All genuine people who believe they are doing the right thing.

The best way to bring about change is to get farmers who are doing a great job to run groups – to build a sense of community people who know and are doing a good job of environmental management.

International visitors hear “clean and green” don’t realise that it is provided by an irrigator – it’s not naturally green around here. They realise we have a genuine problem, that we’re not as environmentally friendly as we look on a postcard. It is definitely going to damage tourism is we don’t stop saying something we’re not.

They see environmental mayhem with a small reserve on the edge and are appalled at we call a clean green country.

If we take care with what we do to meet our animalistic desires and requirements, then the other stuff might come a bit easier

Making sure we’re not polluting and are supporting an environment that will keep producing food and preventing poverty and assisting in communities being healthy, more rounded people as well as looking after the facilities around us that provide us with food.

Seeing beginning of the tipping point.

But we’ve been removed as society from understanding what is really important to us.

People are starting to realise that what we eat – where it comes from is really important. It is easier to drive to the supermarket, but in the long run that is not better for everyone.

Helping people have more connections within the community.

(Success?) Graduating. Being involved in the fantastic and enriching Summer School

(Activist?) If it means someone who screams and yells outside and doesn’t do much else, then not really. If it means someone who takes action, then yes.

(Motivation?) I like helping people, being around people, seeing people happy. I see a lot of non-happiness in the world, and I try my best to change that.

(Challenges?) OOOOBY, Education material for the cape re-vegetation project.

(Miracle?) My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things. Happy people, that don’t have to deal with poverty and an unhappy environment around them. Coming up with a solution that means we’re not reliant on petroleum for everything. And getting back to our roots without having to lose too much of that comfort that we’ve managed to acquire.

The smallest thing that anyone could do that would make the biggest impact is to go and talk to your neighbours. Get to know the person who lives next door and be pleasant to them. We’ve all got to live together, whether we like it or not.

(Advice?) Be nice to everybody. Have some compassion, everybody has their struggles. They might tell you what they need and you might be able to help if you’re just prepared to listen.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
government labour politics

Regional development

GrantRobertson-01

Pillaging the planet for every last ounce of resource in the hope that we can continue to live our lives exactly as we’ve always done is not sustainable growth.

Grant Robertson is the MP for Wellington Central. He is Shadow Leader of the House, he is Labour Spokesperson for Economic Development, Spokesperson for Employment, Skills and Training and Associate spokesperson for tertiary education, the SIS and Arts, Culture and Heritage. He grew up in Dunedin and was student president at University of Otago. He was visiting Dunedin wearing his Regional Development cap.

Talking points:

I think the legacy of this government will end up being around cronyism

No politician should ever feel that they are above the law

Willful blindness is not acceptable

I think I’ve got a good sense of right and wrong, and when I see something that is wrong I don’t like sitting by

(on Labour introducing student fees in the late 1980s as part of neo-liberal reforms) I wasn’t a member of the 4th Labour Party then and I wouldn’t have voted for them either – those things took New Zealand in the wrong direction…The Labour Party of today – and indeed the Labour Party of the Helen Clark government – is very very different. I recognise that we do have to re-earn the trust of those people, but I’m from a different generation. I opposed those things, I marched against them and I’ve done my best to undo them.

(Why don’t students protest so much now?) I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, education has become very commodified, the people that can afford to be there are there and the people that can’t afford to be there aren’t. Students are trying to get through in the shortest amount of time possible to incur the least amount of debt.

(As a staffer in Helen Clark’s government) Interest free student loans made a huge difference…
I felt a real emotional sense of having wound something back, we were able to bring it back to something better.

(On student allowances) We’re moving to everyone getting an allowance.

20 cuts to loans and allowances in this government, the most insidious cut is the cutting of post-graduate allowances… New Zealand needs more people doing post-grad study not less…mad!

We’ve created a situation where 37% of our population lives in Auckland, projected to get as high as 45%, there is no capital city or large city in the developed world that has that level of the country’s population. It’s not good for country, we’re seeing the problems today and they’ll just get worse.

we desperately need regional economic development…we need a spread across New Zealand in the way in which jobs are created.

Dunedin is an example of a city with huge potential and opportunity, it just needs some support to catalyse that.

The strategic advantages for Dunedin are education, ICT and health.

When you’ve got a regional development policy with a government as an active partner, then you’ll start to solve some of the problems.

(Coal on the West Coast) The Labour Party knows that we have to transition off fossil fuels…we have to go there, the world’s gone there already, its about timing and about phasing, it’s about saying how do we use the resources that we have available to us…we have to have a plan for transition, while the resources are there the Labour Party believes that we should use them but is has to be part of a planned transition.

(On differences with Greens) Resolvable tensions

I’m both cautious and doubtful about oil and gas…it’s being promoted as an amazing silver bullet…but they haven’t found anything. That’s because now they are having to desperately drill in places they never would have thought of drilling, depths they never would have thought of drilling because we’ve reached peak oil.

New Zealand needs to think very carefully about (oil and gas), we don’t have the response capability, and while accidents are uncommon, they are catastrophic. I’m not comfortable unless we have stronger regulation…a regime more similar to the RMA…improve the response capability…health and safety…with all of those changes it it possible for it to be done, but it’s by no means a blanket agreement that it should be. Seismically, areas around the east coast of New Zealand are not appropriate, maybe it is OK over in the Taranaki Basin. But I’m very cautious and very doubtful and it’s certainly not where I think the future of New Zealand lies.

Growth is possible but we have to rethink what growth means

Pillaging the planet for every last ounce of resource in the hope that we can continue to live our lives exactly as we’ve always done is not sustainable growth.

It is growth, but it’s not unfettered growth.

We can’t grow the economy on dairy alone. Paul Callaghan calculated that to keep out standard of living now based on growth in dairy alone, we would have to quadruple our dairy output – well we’re not going to do that we’d destroy our country if we did that. Primary industries have got a place, they’re very important to us, but he future well-being of New Zealanders is in other sorts of industries that are added value, that are lighter on the planet.

We can do so much better to capture value.

There’s a core to me, fairness, opportunity and spreading the benefits of economic development more fairly, more evenly in society…giving all people opportunity regardless of their financial or family background.

At the UN the principle of fairness was key…with the caveat of the Security Council…it is one country one vote, on the floor of the General Assembly Swaziland is as important as the United States – I like that.

It’s quite clear to me that Labour and the Greens will be able to work well together. The Greens have taken a different attitude this time around, they want to be in government…a big call for them but we know there is scope for negotition.

75% of voters who gave their electorate vote to the Maori Party gave their party vote to Labour. I have no idea what the Maori Party is doing on the right – they haven’t got much out of it, I think they’re part of a government that has potentially damaged Maori and Maori aspirations.

(on the Green’s Carbon tax versus Labour’s support for the ETS) I don’t think they are major differences, both of them are aimed at reducing emissions, both set a price on carbon, one’s a market based mechanism, the other is a tax…in end we can talk that through. we both want to do something, we both know that we urgently need to do something.

The current government has utterly undermined the ETS – failed to include the sectors that we needed to include to make it a real scheme…done terrible things to the forestry sector. we need a proper functioning ETS, but we can work on a climate tax.

Other differences (Labour and Greens) resource extraction issues – manageable but quite different policies, minor differences around taxation, but the spirit is OK, and I think the values of the party are ones that the Greens can look at, and say ‘we can work with these’, we are different parties…we work work with the people, more often than not we’re working closely with them, every day.

It’s coopertition, we are cooperating, but we’re also putting our own platforms forward and asking people to vote for them.

(On people not voting) We have to make politics relevant and making our campaign positive, our biggest problem in 2011 was we told people what we were against, not what we were for…we’re talking about the kind of country we want to be.

Non-voting is a global trend and it comes back to the nature of how we do politics…

Social media…is a conversation…it’s hard for politicians to make the time…but I’m keen for it to be me, not someone pretending to be me

The younger generation are interested in issues as opposed to parties (political!)…if you give young people issues that they care about, they’ll get involved.

Activist: Yes.

Challenges: child poverty, economic challenges around sustainable growth and jobs in the regions

Advice: Vote. It does matter.

Resources
Labour’s Policy Platform

Categories
water

Saving lakes and rivers

Limnologist Marc Schallenberg knows lakes. And rivers. He also knows the terrible state they are in. And why. And what we have to do about it. He tells us all these things on a fascinating session with Sustainable Lens.

Shane’s number of the week: 1,000,000,000,000. That is over $1 trillion in subsidies for areas ranging from fisheries to fertilisers and fossil fuels, wrote Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP in the OECD’s Development Cooperation Report: Lessons in linking sustainability and development

Much of this money is actually fuelling environmental decay, such as climate change; engendering collapse of fish stocks and damage to coastal systems and aggravating social and economic challenges.

The report goes on to say that

Removing these distorting, environmentally harmful and socially under-performing subsidies would completely change the incentive structure, promoting sustainable consumption and production and freeing up to 1-2% of global GDP every year.”

The report published this week by the OECD says that green growth is the only way forward for rich and poor countries alike to achieve sustainable development because of tremendous economic and livelihood losses from severe climate change and the depletion of natural resources and that climate change is hitting the world’s poorest people the hardest.

What is striking though is the report is using language like “collosal” and “collision ‘and ‘alarming’. Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary General uses surprisingly strong words:

We are on a collision course with nature

(OCED 2012)

“It is time for a radical change. If we fail to transform our policies and behaviour now, the picture is more than grim, Our current demographic and economic trends, if left unchecked, will have alarming effects in four key areas of global concern – climate change, biodiversity, water and health. The costs and consequences of inaction would be colossal, both in economic and human terms.”

What is so frustrating – and when I say that I mean tear your hair out this is totally insane frustration – is that more and more organisations and groups are saying that we are on a path to utter disaster and yet our leaders do nothing…

So that is my number $1 trillion pa in subsidies to things that are actively destroying our world.


Development Co-operation Report 2012 | OECD Free preview | Powered by Keepeek Digital Asset Management Solution