Fix our farming to restore our environment. An opinion piece by Derek Broadmore

Derek Broadmore was an early director of the Environmental Defence Society, a lawyer in Wellington for 35 years and Chair of both BioGro and OANZ at different times. After leaving law he concentrated on his certified organic orchard and farm in the Wairarapa. He is currently living in Auckland and consulting within the organic sector.

 

According to investigative journalist and author Alfred Henry Lewis (in 1906) “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy”. Food, with shelter, is the most basic requirement for human survival. In New Zealand the impact of food production on our natural ecosystems is the biggest environmental issue that we face but we have tended to shy away from tackling it head on. We can’t afford to continue to do that.

I have been involved, in various ways, in the environmental movement for more than 40 years. I think we have tended to regard the “environment” as our rivers, mountains, forests, lakes and coastlines. We saved, or tried to, Manapouri, Pureora and other forests, rivers lakes and wetlands. We protested against dams and tried to stop developments on sensitive coastlines. Somehow we did not get that the tracts of land that connected all these bits of the environment, farmland, were being dramatically changed.

The post second world war green revolution, made possible by synthetic chemicals, changed the way we farmed. And not in a good way. For 70 years now, orchestrated by the global chemical and seed giants and as a matter of economic survival, our farmers have had to produce more and more just to stay afloat. Chemicals and irrigation have given them the tools to do that. The assault on our soils and the degradation of our rivers happened insidiously over time, but the consequences are now obvious.

New Zealand is unusual in the developed world in that 49% of our green house gas emissions are from agriculture. They are the biggest single contributor to our greenhouse gas profile topping the energy sector by nearly 10% (NZ Ministry for the Environment NZ greenhouse gas emissions profile). We are doing almost nothing to reduce them. We have even excluded agriculture from the only (weak) initiative we have taken to meet emissions reduction targets, the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Despite our emissions profile, the climate change protest movement in New Zealand has tended to mimic the overseas protests with a focus on energy and fossil fuels. Our catch cries are the universal “divest” and “keep it in the ground”. We don’t shout “keep it in the cow” about milk, or “diversify” about industrial farming monocultures. Of course, globally, it is important to shift from a fossil fuel based energy system but in New Zealand we have a bigger problem.

It is well known and understood that conventional farming practices degrade our soils. We cannot wholly replenish those soils with chemical fertilisers. Maria-Helena Semedo the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Deputy Director –General recently told a forum organised to mark World Soil Day that it takes 1,000 years to generate 3 centimetres of top soil and that if current rates of degradation continue, globally all of the World’s top soil could be gone within 6o years. She also said:

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960”.

Soil degradation through industrial style conventional agriculture is only one side of a double edged sword that is destroying our environment at a fundamental and possibly irreversible level. The other is irrigation. The demand for more and more production to stay economically viable has meant a huge and increasing demand for water. By way of example, and there are various estimates, but 1000 litres of water to make one litre of milk is an often quoted figure. Water is a finite resource. Farming in New Zealand already demands far more of it than the rest of our ecosystem can afford to give.

If the price we have to pay for our primary industries to remain economically viable is the fertility of our soils and the destruction of our rivers and aquifers then we need to change the drivers for viability. We need to find a production model that works economically at much more sustainable levels of input.

Regenerative organic agriculture does give us a model for a low input, sustainable method of food production. We can preserve the fertility of our soils and vastly reduce our demand for water and still, economically, produce sufficient food to sustain the growing global population. This article is not the place to detail the economic, environmental and health benefits (the business case) of organic food production but I am happy to do that, with the evidence, for anyone interested.

There can’t be any doubt that the greatest threat to our natural environment as we know it is climate change. If we are serious about making a meaningful contribution to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and, if we are serious about restoring our natural environment in New Zealand then we need to tackle the way we produce food.

ECO has done a huge amount over the years to advocate for our natural environment. I think primary production is an area that it has tended not to focus on although it has certainly been concerned about some of the consequences, particularly as they have affected water ways. It is past time to go directly to the source of the problem.

Given the importance of farming to our economy it is not surprising that environmental groups have tended to shy away from a direct attack on farming methods, focussing instead on trying to ameliorate their effects. However we will not restore our natural environment unless we effect fundamental change to our current farming methods.

 

ECO Submission Summary: Biosecurity 2025.

The Ministry for Primary Industries released a discussion document on directions for biosecurity in New Zealand and called for public comment.  You can read the discussion document here and ECO’s full submission on our website.

ECO reviewed and provided suggestions for the the Ministry for Primary Industries’ direction statement for biosecurity. The Ministry defined biosecurity as the exclusion, eradication, or effective management of risks posed by pests and diseases to the economy, environment, and human health. The document proposed 5 strategic directions for biosecurity in New Zealand, which are for all New Zealanders to participate in biosecurity, to invest in science and research to revolutionize biosecurity, to have free-flowing information highways, to work towards effective leadership and government, and to build a capable and sustainable workforce and infrastructure.

ECO agreed with the Ministry’s approach of widening the scope of biosecurity to include all New Zealanders. However, ECO noticed that there was no discussion in the proposition regarding who will pay for all of these biosecurity improvements and is wary of a “victim pays” approach. As a solution, ECO proposed a biosecurity import levy. ECO also noted that the document focused on plants and animals while overlooking fungi and micro-organisms which are also vital to New Zealand’s natural environment.

ECO suggested that the Ministry draws on literature and evidence about what inhibits pro-environmental behaviour in order to strategise actions that could change and harness these attitudes. On a related note, ECO was wary of the Ministry’s focus on investing in the sciences and suggested also engaging the social sciences. ECO also suggested caution regarding free-flowing information highways because many rural New Zealanders are protective of their privacy and this strategy could be interpreted as a loss of autonomy or privacy. In general, ECO agreed on all of the strategies proposed by the Ministry with some minor suggestions for improvement.

ECO Submission Summary: the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap

The Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment are working together to identify the areas of scientific knowledge which will be required by government over the next 20 years for decision-making for conservation and environmental policy and management.  This is known as the “roadmap”.

Submissions from interested groups and individuals were invited and ECO made a submission in response to the government discussion paper, which is on the DOC website.

We have summarised our submission below.  The full text of the ECO submission is available on the ECO website here.

Submission Summary:

ECO provided suggestions for improvements to the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap. The roadmap is a document outlining 12 topics related to environmental science and the ways in which the government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals can make positive decisions regarding the environment. ECO believes that regarding climate change, the listed goals are too weak and that the roadmap places too much emphasis on raising awareness. The roadmap should encourage a real programme of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emission, such as a goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 rather than the proposed 30% reduction.

While ECO understands the appeal of new environmental technology, it opposes carbon capture and storage because the environmental impacts are not fully known or understood and because it could be used as an excuse to not de-carbonize the economy. ECO also criticized the overarching goal of protecting “highest priority” populations as not being ambitious enough; by referring to some species as “highest priority” it implies giving up on others and this is unacceptable to ECO. ECO also notes that it supports the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori but cautions against the vigorous assertion of Maori property rights at the expense of the health of the environment itself.

Other topics covered in the roadmap included the ecosystems and processes of freshwater, land, coastal and marine, and urban environments as well as biosecurity, and the social and economic dimensions of conservation. In general, ECO felt that the roadmap was too sensitive and had too much “spin” and could benefit from being more blunt or direct. ECO also recommended the addition of topics such as the atmosphere, environmental legal and policy research, and the study of energy alternatives.

Summary written by ECO volunteer Adena Maier

How Drones are Helping Conservation Efforts

Author Emma Mills is a wildlife enthusiast and writer who came across a site where drone footage is made publicly available, including that of nature and wildlife.  Emma considers the many uses of this drone footage for conservation and safer tourism – and what we in New Zealand can learn from it.

Could New Zealand learn something from big game conservation in Africa? Up and down the continent, governments and NGOs are working on integrating drone technology into their conservation efforts. For two centuries or more, magnificent animals such as lions, rhinos, and elephants have been hunted to near extinction levels for their pelts, tusks, and horns. Drones are now becoming part of the effort to save those still existing in the wild.

A New Tool Against Poachers

Drones combine relatively discrete movements with the ability to access difficult locations and create film footage. The main use of drones in Africa is to help protect so-called big game from poachers who want to sell body parts on the black market either as trophies or for pseudo-medical purposes. Some parts of the middle east also want big cat kittens as pets, which usually means the killing of their parents. Drones provide a flexible and easily moved means of monitoring wildlife populations and scouting for potential poachers. This allows conservationists to better deploy their police and gamekeepers to combat them.

Protecting Gamekeepers from the Animals

Big game in Africa does not know the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Looking after, protecting, and monitoring large animals such as these is a dangerous business. Animals can be surprised, defensive, or just plain hungry. By using drones, governments have been able to monitor their movements, health, breeding, feeding, and other aspects of their lives without disrupting them, startling them or endangering gamekeepers.

Drones Promote Safe Tourism

Most people recognize drones for their ability to produce stunning aerial and sweeping video footage. This footage is not just useful for conservationists, but also in promoting ecological and ethical tourism on the continent. Wildlife videos can inspire new generations of people to help Africa’s wildlife, as seen on social video sharing sites such as YouTube and AirVuz.

What New Zealand Can Learn From This

We Kiwis may lack big cats, rhinos and elephants, but ecological conservationism is just as important to us as any other country; perhaps more so. Africa is using drones for a positive future to protect endangered species and monitor animals in remote, hard to access areas. It is also reducing the risks presented to conservationists and promoting correct tourism. New Zealand can learn from this to correctly utilize drones for less accessible areas, to maintain the integrity of easily disturbed animals and birds. However, if utilized, an impact study should be conducted to ensure the drones themselves will not disturb the animals, which some studies in America have shown.

The Environmental Impact Of Cigarette Litter

Daisy Poe from Quitza draws our attention to the immense threat to our marine environment and air quality caused by smoking and discarded butts.

Quitza is a non profit where users from all over the world support each other while quitting smoking using Quitza’s custom made social support network. Quitza combines the social support with real time progress tracking technologies where users earn awards when they reach milestones throughout their quit. These are then shared with the community for further support.

 

According to the WHO there are currently over 1 billion smokers globally.

Six million of those smokers will die each year from a smoking related illness.

The negative consequences of smoking range far from just the health effects on the individual. The environmental impact caused by improper disposal of cigarette butts is as large as it is concerning.

Each year 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded improperly around the world. They are the single most littered item in existence, ever.

It is in our towns and cities that the vast majority of cigarette ends are discarded improperly. With the help of wind and rain they are often blown or washed into our waterways. They then either remain in our lakes and rivers, make their way to the ocean, or get washed up in our natural spaces.

While in our waterways cigarette butts can often be mistaken for food by aquatic life. If a human adult ingests a cigarette butt they are likely to have some mild health consequences such as vomiting and a upset stomach. Imagine the pain and suffering ingesting a cigarette butt would cause to an animal the size of a fish. (Symptoms include vomiting, respiratory failure, and often death.)

If the cigarette butt gets washed out of our waterways onto a riverbank or onto the beach, non marine life faces the same issue. Land animals will also mistake it for food, ingest it, and receive the same potentially lethal consequences as aquatic life.

To make matters worse, (contrary to popular belief) cigarette butts are not biodegradable. They can take up to 25 years to fully degrade. While they do so they are releasing over 4000 toxins into the soil or water that surrounds them

It would be tempting to discount this issue due to the small size of a cigarette butt. However a study conducted by SDSU found that a single cigarette butt placed in a 1 litre tank of water killed half the fish in the tank.

When we remember our initial statistic of 4.3 trillion improperly discarded cigarettes butts each year, the cause for concern arising from these toxic chemicals entering our ecosystem becomes apparent.

So what can we do to reduce the amount of harm caused to our environment by cigarette litter?

 

Various research organizations and public health bodies around the world have proposed a variety of solutions to this issue. However one main common solution to the issue is commonly agreed upon.

 

Many people are simply unaware of just how large the problem of improperly disposed cigarette litter is. They are unaware of how harmful it is to the environment.

 

Through education and awareness campaigns it is possible to reduce the amount of cigarette litter that is improperly disposed of, reducing the scale of the problem.

 

It’s time to start treating cigarette butts like the toxic waste they actually are.

Climate Change and Mitigation  –  Low Carbon Auckland

Frances Palmer considers how Auckland can move to a lower carbon future

The 2015 Climate conference in Paris generated international pledges to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Can we do enough at the local level to achieve that goal?

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a network of megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These cities comprise 500 million people and account for 25% of the world’s GDP.  In 2015, Auckland became the 83rd city invited to join C40 and membership will give Auckland global access to 82 like-minded cities who are implementing innovative solutions to the climate challenges affecting us all.

Cities account for 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Auckland’s vision is to be the world’s most liveable city.  Auckland’s Low Carbon 2014 plan outlines short and long term goals in transport, energy, built environment, waste management, and forestry that will allow the city to reduce gross GHG emissions by around 5.3 million tonnes.

low-carbon-auckland

 

Auckland’s emission profile (above) shows which sectors need most attention.  Land transport is a major emitter and improvements to public transport networks are underway, with significant funding from Auckland Council’s overall budget. Only 10 % of Kaipataki Local Board residents take public transport to work. The Beachhaven project2 used individualised travel plans to transition hundreds from private to public transport.  There is potential for more ‘transitioning’ city-wide, as bus and rail services improve.

‘Energy’ [RE] was bypassed in Council’s ten year budget even though ‘stationary energy’  generates 30.8% of Auckland’s emissions  and the city is NZ’s largest industrial centre with industry producing 34.1% of local emissions.  ATEED (representing over 30 tourism and events companies) aims to double turnover in five years3.  If reduced emissions in some areas (eg transport and waste management) are countered by emission spikes elsewhere (eg in industry) then Low Carbon goals are stymied.   Without broad-based intervention, Auckland’s emissions could rise 46% by 2025.1

Most of Auckland’s electricity comes from the South Island. Costs are increasing and energy supplies reliant on hydropower are at risk in a warming world. The Council must urgently address local renewable energy such as solar power, and budget to implement this crucial aspect of its Low Carbon plan.

Waste accounts for just 5.9% of emissions. Better management has reduced emissions, but with 50-60% of food waste still going to landfill, there are still significant gains to be made.

Given intense pressure to increase Auckland’s housing  sectors of ‘built environment’, agriculture and forestry must be monitored, especially given current threats to areas of treasured heritage bush (local carbon sinks).

On an individual level your choices can make a difference 4

  • One return flight Europe – Auckland produces 10 metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger
  • New Zealander s emit an average 19.4 metric tonnes of CO2 /person/year (global average is

4 metric tonnes /person/year)

  • To prevent a 2 degree temperature increase requires CO2 emissions below

1 metric tonne/person/year

On a community level the upcoming Council and local board elections present opportunities to vote for people committed to environmentally astute policy. Let’s make the most of that chance.

If you are attending any meet the candidates meetings you may like to ask:

  1. Do you see LC (low carbon) as important for a liveable Auckland?
  2. What does low carbon Auckland mean to you?
  3. What are 3 top priority actions to make LC a reality this decade?
  4. What budget allocations do you estimate are required for each action?
  5. What are the key challenges to Auckland as a C40 city?
  6. Please outline your commitments and achievements in this field.

Frances Palmer

 

  1. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/planspoliciesprojects/plansstrategies/theaucklandplan/Documents/lowcarbonauckactionplanexecsummary.pdf
  2. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/planspoliciesprojects/plansstrategies/theaucklandplan/Documents/brightspotbeachhavencommtransport.pdf
  3. Industrial Process Emissions Inventory 2011 (published 2015)
  4. Carbon Neutral by 2020: How New Zealanders Can Tackle Climate Change’,

Ed by Niki Harre & Quentin Atkinson, 2007, NZ

 

Reprinted with permission from Forest & Bird, North Shore Branch

Key evils of neoliberal free market economics: climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, increasing homelessness

Opinion piece by George Preddy.

George Preddey is a former atmospheric physicist (DSIR), futurist (CFF), tertiary teacher (VUW), disaster manager (MoCD), chief adviser (MoE), and international tertiary education consultant (ADB, ILO, OECD, UNESCO, World Bank).

 

Two contrasting colour illustrations on the back cover of the NZ Listener (July 2-8) are disquietingly reminiscent of contrasting sketches that appeared in a 1981 report on climate disaster by the Commission For the Future, 35 years ago.   These illustrations and sketches feature the Beehive as in 1981 and 2016 and as inundated later this century by rising sea levels, now unequivocally attributed by climate scientists to climate disruption.

image[1]

A conjecture that CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause climate disruption was published 120 years ago in 1896 by the Swedish physicist Arrhenius.  Unequivocal proof of Arrhenius’ conjecture has been provided by decades of peer-reviewed science consolidated in the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR5, 2013).

A strong driver of climate disruption and sea level rise is neoliberal free market economics, in many respects an ideology rather than a science.   A truly “free market” is a myth since free trade in child labour or heroin would be unacceptable, even to economists, as should free trade in carbon.   The belief that the so-called “invisible hand” will optimally match supply and demand defies rational explanation.   There is compelling evidence that the so-called “trickle down” theory simply doesn’t work.   Indeed data recently released by Statistics New Zealand shows that the divide between the rich and the poor is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In 2016, some 305,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty, some in cars.

Another driver of climate disruption is outlined in the Limits to Growth (L2G) report published by the Club of Rome in 1972.   L2G describes a set of computer simulations of a future Earth.   Its business-as-usual (BAU) projection predicts overshoot and collapse of the global economy, environment, and human population from about 2020 onwards.   L2G’s central argument, rejected by most economists and politicians but self-evident to most scientists, is that growth within any closed system including the Earth’s closed biosphere is ultimately unsustainable and inevitably leads to overshoot and collapse.   L2G’s BAU projection has accurately tracked 40 years of subsequent statistical data collected by many international agencies, and accordingly should be taken very seriously.   So too should the warning of a preeminent scientist in 1954, at that time describing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that continues unabated today but equally applicable, in my view, to climate disruption and to overshoot and collapse from about 2020 onwards.

 

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

(Professor Albert Einstein, 1954)

 

Another indicator of overshoot and collapse is the increasing global divide between the rich and the poor demonstrated by global increasing homelessness.   This divide is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty (2013) argues that the divide between the rich and the poor will continue to widen as long as political decision-makers continue to tax income rather than wealth.   According to Piketty’s reasoning, New Zealand should progressively shift from taxing income, especially of low wage workers, to taxing wealth, especially wealth derived from capital gains (currently tax-free).

 

Climate disruption is a compelling example of overshoot and collapse.   AR5 predicts emissions growth driven by population and economic growth (without “additional mitigating measures”) will result in a mean global temperature increase of 3.7 to  4.8 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, contravening the agreement among 195 nations at the 2015 Paris climate summit to limit global warming to 2°C without actually specifying any “additional mitigating measures”.   UK Met Office, NASA, and NOAA data all confirm 2015 as the hottest year on record since systematic reporting began in 1850; a new world record is likely to be set in 2016.

 

According to AR5 (2013), unabated emissions by 2100 will eventually cause a 2.3m sea-level rise per 1°C of mean global temperature increase.   However AR5 is not the whole story.   Radar soundings of Antarctic glaciers have revealed troughs under the ice sheet that when inevitably flooded by relatively warm sea water will trigger major ice sheet collapses sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 10m.   An improved ice sheet model in 2016 predicts major ice sheet collapse over the next few decades in response to currently predicted levels of global warming.   During the Pliocene era 4 million years ago when the planet was 2-3°C warmer than today, sea level was 20m higher, attributed largely to collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

 

The Royal Society of New Zealand recently hosted a screening of “Thirty Million”, a documentary film about the devastating consequences of sea level rise for the low-lying nation of Bangladesh over the next few decades: refer http://www.thirtymillionfilm.org.   “Thirty Million” is the number of climate refugees predicted to be displaced by sea level rise by 2050 from Bangladesh’s current population of 160 million.   About 200 million climate refugees globally are predicted to be displaced by 2050: hundreds of times greater than the current influx of refugees into Europe driven by drought and ongoing conflict.

 

“We have enough knowledge to act, but it is the collective acting that is required now

…If we are not careful then we will be definitely suicidal if not evil, a word attributable

to those who have the power to act and have not used it.”

(Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, 2016)

 

New Zealand’s current population (4.5 million) is 0.061 percent of the global population (7,400 million).  Its annual refugee quota of 750 was recently increased to 1,000.   In my view, the revised quota should be increased to at least 0.061 percent of 200 million over the next three decades: i.e. 5,000 annually, especially from low-lying Pacific Island nations.   Even a five-fold increase does not fully compensate for New Zealand’s relatively large per capita contribution to climate disruption nor for its evil policy choices.

New Zealand’s response to climate disruption reflects poorly on the integrity of a Government that achieved pariah status including a “Fossil-of-the Day” award at the 2015 Paris climate summit.   Its commitment to an 11% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared very unfavourably with the commitments of the European Union to a 40% reduction, the United States to 28%, and China to 20%.   Equally unacceptable, under current policy settings New Zealand’s net emissions are officially projected by the Ministry for the Environment to increase by 159% by 2030, not to reduce by 11% by 2030 as promised at Paris, nor to reduce by 50% by 2050 as promised by the “50-by-50” election slogan used shamelessly by National during its successful 2008 election campaign.   The National Government to date has not been held accountable for this broken election promise.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s climate protection policies ranked fourth worst among 60+ countries according to a reputable Climate Change Performance Index (2015) and its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) ranked 25th of 26 countries according to a World Bank review (2014).   Accordingly, New Zealand’s ETS should be scrapped entirely in my view and replaced by:

–   a carbon budget that emphasises essential outcomes determined by robust science rather than by shonky carbon pricing inputs based on spurious and possibly fraudulent economics; and

–   an inescapable increasing carbon tax/charge applied at points of fossil carbon extraction, importation or emission and remitted in full to the public to compensate them for increasing fossil energy power bills.

Increasing homelessness is one of the inevitable consequence of a rampant neoliberal free market economy in my view.   In Bangladesh the immediate driver is sea level rise.   In New Zealand the immediate driver is property investment, often by speculators who are manifestly increasing their wealth through huge, tax-free capital gains.   The solutions to increasing homelessness, both locally and globally, in my view are for political decision-makers including the National Government to:

–   consider whether neoliberal free market economics is a fundamentally flawed ideology that may have evil consequences;

–   consider Professor Einstein’s warning about the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that, in my view, is also applicable to climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, and increasing homelessness;

–   increase New Zealand’s annual refugee intake quota five-fold to at least 5,000 climate refugees annually;

–   accept Piketty’s rationale for taxing wealth rather than taxing income, and, having the power to act, use it;

–   enact appropriate tax regimes including a carbon tax/charge to address climate disruption and a capital gains tax to address increasing homelessness.