Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Naomi Kumar

to truly belong

Michael King in  “ Being pakeha now” recalls  living for a time in Papua New Guinea and  the shock of finding himself for the first time in his life part of a tiny, white obvious minority among a vast black majority.  Something, he wrote, that every European should experience.     I agree.   

My own moment of epiphany was many years ago on the South Side of Chicago where for the first time  I was entirely surrounded by Black Americans.  I returned to my privileged life in the majority culture but have never forgotten the experience of standing out in a crowd in this way.

Hamilton’s cultural diversity was plain to see at Council’s citizenship ceremonies yesterday when we welcomed almost 100 new citizens.  Naomi Kumar represented the Youth Council at the morning ceremony.  She recently won the national Race Unity speech contest in which she told of the everyday experience of being on the margins, of being the newcomer,  not always directly discriminated against but not fully included either.  Her dream is that it will be different for her children.  They will truly belong. 

Listen to her speak:      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIO8L8IoRto


Monday, April 22, 2013

It is time

 “In the future I envision,  we are not defined by ethnicity.  We are enriched by it, certainly.  But it is never a measure of our value as individuals.”  

These wise words were part of Hillcrest High School’s Naomi Kumar’s winning speech at the national Race Unity competition. 

We could equally well say that we should not be defined solely by our sexuality.  It is part of us certainly but it is never a measure of our value as individuals. 

The Marriage Amendment Bill  which passed last week legalised same sex marriage but had important broader benefits.   

·         The conscience vote in parliament and publicity on the issue gave greater visibility to those who are often marginalised and discriminated against.  Their personal stories, sometimes bravely told,  gave us a greater understanding of their everyday reality and experience and the need for change.
·         A strength of the campaign was the involvement of young people across the political spectrum.  For many it was their first engagement with the political process. 
·         Locally,  the Legalise Love group campaigned with commitment, style and energy along with  savvy use of social media.  They showed us it is possible to campaign for a serious issue and have some fun along the way.  Importantly,   their group included people across the sexuality spectrum. This made their advocacy powerful and compelling. 

As a result of the campaign and passing of the Marriage Amendment Bill,  people in the gay and lesbian community are now better able to stand tall in our community.   It is time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

in the poo

My first balloon flight ended in a farm paddock just south of the city.   The quantity of manure on the paddock was such that we needed to lay out large squares of plastic before we could deflate and pack the balloon. I haven't seen so much manure outside of a cowshed yard.  It was a graphic reminder of the reality of increasing cow numbers.

We are only now beginning to understand the extent to which intensive stocking degrades the soil whereas the pollution of waterways from dairy farm run-off is obvious.  We welcome the economic benefit  from intensive dairying  but it comes  at an  environmental cost and could be ultimately unsustainable.  

This is a recurrent theme in global and national conversations.  I will be interested in the results of the Waikato  Regional Council’s recent survey on attitudes to balancing economic and environmental  considerations.   

In 2006 Lord Nicholas Stern warned of the effect of global warming on the world economy.  The main conclusion of the Stern Report was that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change would far outweigh the costs of not acting.     In February of this year he said that he had under-estimated the risks in view of the rise of global temperatures.   Scientists are predicting more extreme weather events as a result of climate change and  in this summer in New Zealand we have experienced an unprecedented  nation-wide drought which could become the norm.

Nationally, the government proposes in the latest RMA reforms  to elevate economic benefit above environmental considerations;  the discussion paper on Freshwater reforms, while having some positive aspects, does not address the shortcomings of the ‘first in first served’ approach and even includes the option of balloting for freshwater allocation. The Commission for the Environment describes the current ETS regime as a farce.  The Minister of Housing and Conservation speaks of ‘jobs not environment’ ,  has cut Department of Conservation staff numbers and in chasing the holy grail of housing affordability fails to factor in the overall costs of urban sprawl. 

 A group of prominent New Zealanders, Wise Response,  has called for a cross-party approach to address the issues we face more responsibly    (see  www.wiseresponse.org.nz    and On the Brink  (Peta Carey)  NZ Listener 13 April )   Massey University’s Vice Chancellor, Steve Maharey  in Defining  NZ  2050  (Jan. 2013)  writes  ‘now is the time to arrive at a common vision of the sort of place we want New Zealand to be and to set to work on making it a reality.’   To do so may involve some politically unpalatable decisions in the short term but prove responsible in the long term. 

On a more positive note, locally,  it was encouraging to see that the Waikato Times of 23 March with eight articles on environmental topics,  most substantial.   And to hear John Innes from Landcare delight the large Pechakucha audience at the Summer Gardens Festival on the topic of birds and their predators.

The city’s Sustainable Hamilton Strategy speaks of changing the way we live for a better future.  We will do so through working together and showing leadership to improve our natural and built environment and reducing our impact on the environment through a whole raft of actions. The Action Plan to implement the strategy is possibly ambitious, necessarily multi-faceted and relies on ongoing commitment of Council and our partners to do so.   Establishing an external panel to monitor how we are doing will give us an independent view on how we are tracking in a way that we might struggle to do ourselves. 

Council  is undertaking to take a more considered approach to sustainability through its own Sustainability Plan.   

We have now notified the Proposed District Plan which has many  inter-related sustainability aspects especially around land use, water, energy, design, hazards  and transport.   In addition to regulation , incentives and education are important components of the approach taken in the Proposed District Plan. 

There is much to do.