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.