Sarah Thomson legal case on climate change action: can you help?

Climate change activist Jeanette Fitzsimons summarises the findings of the legal case brought in May this year to the High Court at Wellington.  Sarah challenged the then National government’s weak climate change targets.

 

Many readers will be aware of Sarah Thomson’s legal challenge to the National Government’s pathetic climate change target.  Although  the judge ultimately didn’t order a review of our 2050 and 2030 targets, there are still lots of wins to celebrate. Justice Mallon’s decision says:

–  the Minister had an obligation to review the 2050 target in light of recent science—in particular, the AR5 report—and failed to do so. She confirmed that ministers, whether for climate change or otherwise, have a duty to review important, long-term decisions when the science and facts underpinning those decisions change.

– contrary to the claim by the Crown’s lawyers that the 2030 target was in the realm of policy and ‘politics’, and beyond the court’s expertise, in law the 2030 target could be reviewed by the Court.  Even though setting an emissions target requires the weighing up of complicated economic, social, political and policy factors, the courts can still scrutinise such decisions.

In the judge’s own words:

The Courts have recognised the significance of the issue for the planet and its inhabitants and that those in the Court’s jurisdiction are necessarily among all who are affected by inadequate efforts to respond to climate change

…This approach is consistent with the view that justiciability concerns depend on the ground for review rather that its subject matter. The subject matter may make a review ground more difficult to establish, but it should not rule out any review by the Court.

The importance of the matter for all and each of us warrants some scrutiny of the public power, in addition to accountability through Parliament and Elections.”

In the end, Justice Mallon declined to order a review. In part, this was because our new Government has announced it will pursue a 2050 carbon neutral New Zealand.

This decision sets legal precedents for challenging governments on many other environmental issues. Many people recognised the importance of this and contributed to the Givealittle page for Sarah’s costs. However, although the lawyers generously donated their time, there is still a shortfall of $2,355 for court costs, travel, paperwork and other out of pocket expenses.

If you can help us clear this debt and take the burden off Sarah’s shoulders, please contribute on the Givealittle site

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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

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.

 

 

Teaching kids about climate change

Uma Campbell writes about how and why we must teach our children, even at a young age, about climate change:

 

Learning about the importance of climate change is important for every child. This may seem like a rather advanced project for kids, but there are ways you can tailor the topic to fit kids of all ages.

Why do kids need to learn about climate change at such a young age? Kids will be on this planet much longer than adults, so it is in their benefit to nurture and care for the Earth to protect it for as long as possible. Scientists believe there is still time to limit climate change to only 2 degrees Celsius, so now is the perfect time to teach kids how to live sustainably. How can you get started? Follow these tips:

Explain the tough concepts.

No matter how smart your child is, climate change is a difficult concept to understand, but there are ways to make it easier. One way is to visually show them different climate change concepts through science experiments. For example, take an empty aquarium tank and turn it upside in your backyard when it’s hot and sunny outside. Place a thermometer on the outside of the tank and one on the inside, too. Then, watch as the temperatures rise at different rates. Talk to your kids about how this is what is happening to the Earth, too. Gases (or in this example, heat) are trapped inside the atmosphere and causing our temperatures to rise as a result. When kids are able to see it demonstrated this way, they will be more likely to understand what you’re talking about.

Visit museums.

Find a museum in your area that has programmes designed to teach kids about the environment. There may be day camps for your kids to sign up for that will help them learn about the importance of saving the environment with other kids their age.

 Test their problem solving skills.

To make the concepts of climate change applicable to children’s lives, go through a kid-friendly workbook designed to teach kids about sustainable ways of living. In this workbook, children will have to answer questions such as “how would you reduce water use at your school during a drought?” or “what are the most important needs in your community involving climate change and global warming?” Tackle these questions together so you can help your kids apply what they know so far to their own lives.

Teach them green habits.

The sooner kids begin to adopt greener ways of living, the better off the planet will be, but it’s up to you to instill these habits in them at an early age. Show them how easy it is to make energy efficient choices, such as riding a bike or walking instead of taking the car when you’re just traveling a few blocks. Turning off the water as you brush your teeth and flipping the light switch as you leave a room will do a world of difference for the environment, so why not start now?

 

 

Future security priorities – military hardware or climate mitigation?

Frances Palmer from Auckland reflects on our current priorities and how little understanding there is of where the real threats are:

No military threats to our security were cited to justify a $20 billion upgrade to New Zealand’s military hardware over the next 15 years. It was stated that the last time New Zealand made such a major investment in military hardware was for the Vietnam War. Few of us want to be drawn into further military misadventures of empire. It is imperative that the world develops more humane and relevant notions of security for the 21st century – a broad understanding of causes of conflict and appropriate solutions.

Imagine how $20 billion would enhance our security if spent on health, homelessness and climate change mitigation? Evidently government doesn’t understand scientist’s warnings that climate change will become a key security issue if lip service in Paris is not matched by action. It will multiply risk for all other security issues. (Jonathan Boston) Priority investment is required now to reduce atmospheric carbon rises, which will generate disastrous impact chains on health, farming and the economy over forthcoming decades. Climate change doesn’t fit traditional definitions of ‘enemy’, but as security threats go, no other compares.  But military hardware won’t fix it.

What’s next for food prices?

In 2011, Time magazine ran an article predicting continued food price spikes as a result of rising population, increasing fuel costs and the increasing scarcity of water.

ECO asked a researcher, Aubanie Raynal, to analyse the article five years on to see what has happened since – are food prices still on the way up?  And what will happen in the next five years?

Here are her findings:

………………….

In his 2011 article, Michael Schuman showed how limited food production coupled with
growing population drove to food price spikes.

In 2011, the economic crisis which began three years earlier in 2008, was at its highest point with prices multiplied by two since 2005.

Schumann’s list of pressures on food prices includes:

  • More and more people to feed
  • Changes in our diet – more meat consumption
  • Higher demand on biofuel
  • Higher pressure on agriculture
  • Acts of nature
  • Irrigation, lowering of the water table

Nevertheless after 2011 we observed a drop of the food price index  in 2015 with even bigger falls in 2016.

Were Schuman’s predictions wrong? What changes / factors have driven down the prices?

According to the FAO, the decrease is mainly due to large stock and lower demand. For
example, the production of wheat, sugar and palm oil is higher than expected,
and with the slow trade activity – meaning more product for less demand – the prices are
being driven down.

For Gail Tverberg, the principal cause is what she calls the “high-priced fuel syndrome”.
Indeed, every kilogram of food is produced thanks to fuel (see Figure 3 on the Finite World link). The stabilization of the barrel price predict by analysts, due to high productivity in the USA (2), Russia and Saudi Arabia and their interest to maintain it below $100 should maintain food price stability for a few years.

Furthermore, the fuel price impacts on factors other than the direct cost of
food production. For example, the demand in biofuel is currently decreasing, which implies less land area devoted for biofuel, thus more areas for food.

If we look closer at the relation between food and fuel price we realise that their evolution
might be symmetric but not proportional. Between 2011 and 2015, when the fuel price dropped  50% the food price only dropped off 30% (3).

The difference shows that other factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more Western
one. A populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.
See: http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2012/update102

The food price evolution is a complex model where economic, human and environmental
parameters are linked to each other. We have to keep in mind that the 2010/2011 food
price spike was a warning and will strike again if we do not change the way we consume,
produce and regulate the food market.

In order to avoid the same scenario recurring, the solutions suggested by Michael Schuman (to increase the investment in R&D in agriculture, to control the food market and to improve food distribution) are more than ever necessary.

‘Enjoy your dinner tonight. While you can still afford it.’

 

References:
1 Editor of The Oil Drum , web article ‘High-Priced Fuel Syndrome’ Posted on September 26, 2012:
High-Priced Fuel Syndrome

2 Steve Austin, Managing editor of Oil-Price.net, web article ‘The top 6 reasons oil prices are heading lower’ Posted on May 7, 2015:

http://oil-price.net/en/articles/top-6-reasons-oil-price-are-headedlower.

3 Tim McMahon, , web article ‘Historical Oil Prices Chart’ Posted on April 30, 2015 :
http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Rate/Historical_Oil_Prices_Chart.asp
The difference shows that others factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more western
one. Such a populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.

Climate Change news

As ECO prepares for its annual conference in August, themed around climate change and water, we background some recent news stories on climate change issues.

Arctic sea ice falls to new low. Data published by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows that the Arctic sea ice was at historic low levels in May. Retreating ice is a problem because the exposed oceans absorb more heat rather than being reflected back into space.
Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was at the lowest level in 50 years this April.  Read more.

Warmest autumn in New Zealand since 1938. Niwa’s climate summary for autumn shows that the national average temperature for March, April and May this year was 1.4C above the autumn average, at 14.7C. Almost every climate station in New Zealand recorded higher than average temperatures for this time of year, which is attributed to warm seas to the west, some of the warmest seen in the last 100 to 130 years.  NIWA predicts an unusually warm winter also.

Successful trials converting CO2 to rock

A paper published in Science this month reports on successful trials in converting CO2 to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. The new method trialled works by dissolving CO2 in water to create sparkling water and then injecting it into basalt rocks 550m underground.  The CO2 cannot escape into the atmosphere because it is dissolved and cannot rise to the surface.
Such capture and storage methods may have to be part of the solution, if, as appears to be the case, we are entering runaway climate change.

Methane gas emissions at US natural gas plants under-reported – cover-up alleged

A not-for-profit in the US has alleged that a senior official in the US Environmental Protection Agency engaged in a cover-up of the true levels of methane emissions from fracking operations across the United States.
Other studies have shown much higher emissions levels but the EPA reports using the Bacharach measuring device always showed the emissions as lower – which the industry has used to justify their operations. The group NC WARN maintain that the senior EPA official has led an ongoing attempt to coverup the under-reporting by the Bacharach device. Read more.

 

New Zealand is trending towards net deforestation


A new report from Pure Advantage says that we are not planting enough trees here in New Zealand. They quote Environment Ministry figures which show that since 2008 our rate of forest removal has been greater than our rate of forest planting.

The 2015 Environment Aotearoa report showed that between 1996 and 2015 we lost more than 10,000 hectares of native and regenerating forest cover.

Planting the right trees helps our biodiversity to recover, helps to prevent erosion and improves the water quality of rivers. And of course trees absorb CO2, helping to reduce our net emissions of greenhouse gases.

This is happening because of ongoing conversion of forestry land to dairy farming – total intended deforestation by forestry owners is estimated at 67,000 hectares between 2014 and 2025. A staggering 91% of this intended conversion is for dairying.
Read more of the Pure Advantage report here.

Geology – returning to first principles

Geologist Richie Miller says it’s time to put down the drill and return to geology’s founding principles.

Richie Miller volunteers for ECO in his spare time.

The word ‘Geology’ is derived from Ancient Greek, simply meaning ‘the study of the Earth’. True, this is a pretty broad starting point for any study, however, it is precisely this idea of investigating the Earth’s form as a whole that makes it so fascinating. Founder of the modern scientific geological principles James Hutton believed the Earth should be viewed as a single organism, a planet that for millions of years has been, and continues to be, formed by cyclical processes and interactions between land, ocean and biosphere. Geology is a scientific discipline with its historical foundations firmly rooted in a holistic approach towards the Earth. 

Sadly, the word ‘geology’ these days has often become synonymous with the word ‘extraction’. Many geologists, as I did, end up working for the mining and fossil fuels industry which in contrast to Hutton’s idea takes an atomistic approach to the Earth, segmenting and removing the parts it can sell while frequently neglecting the often devastating knock-on environmental and social consequences, both locally and regionally. Funding of universities and research institutions by this industry has narrowed the focus of geological investigation towards these extractive activities.

When I left university I went to work in Australia as a geologist for a mineral exploration company. Many students from UK universities made this journey – extraction of metals, coal, oil and gas was where the jobs were. However, it was in Australia where I saw first-hand the violence committed toward the land on colonised territory at the open-cast ‘Superpit’ gold mine (the name says it all) in Kalgoorlie. I began to let go of my prior justification for extraction: ‘we need these resources, don’t we?’. I could no longer accept the trade-off: resources at the cost of the environment and a dignified existence for those who live on the land.

I moved to New Zealand looking towards a more conservationist use for my subject. I began working as a geologist for an environmental consultancy firm with clients from the oil and gas industry. Essentially my job was to investigate land and water for pollution caused by industrial activity and assist with any clean-up if the pollution was deemed a risk to the public or the environment. This sounds like a useful job and unfortunately it is a necessary one. However, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem: why should we accept the risk of pollution to our land, water and air in the first place? Environmental consultancies do not, after all, speak out to condemn the continued extraction of fossil fuels as the major contributor to the climate change crisis because these extractors are paying customers. Fossil fuels companies, like any other business, assess risk by using profitability as a measure. If the profit out-weighs the cost of a few ‘minor’ environmental clean-ups, then it was worth the risk. If a pollution event occurs, these companies can say they had the mandatory safety control measures in place and that they will do better to prevent the same happening next time. What if next time they’re extracting or storing fossil fuels in your neighbourhood? Is that a risk that you are willing to take?

I feel that my experiences as a geologist are indicative of how the extraction industry has cornered geological investigation for their own use to profit at the expense of the environment. This starts with our educational institutions where there is plenty of evidence showing the grip the extraction industry has on our brightest scientists.

New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes, such as Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), have commercial arms whose clients are fossil fuels companies. In November 2015 Greenpeace activists occupied NIWA’s ocean research ship Tangaroa in protest at its use for petroleum exploration surveys off the east coast of the North Island1. GNS on the other hand sells consultancy services to petroleum customers ranging from “regional assessments of permit areas right through to post drill analysis on your well”2. GNS also joined many other organisations including the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in sponsoring the 2015 New Zealand Petroleum Summit, a large get together of some of the dirtiest fossil fuels giants where they troubleshoot and discuss “petroleum investment opportunities in New Zealand”3.

New Zealand’s tertiary education is also locked in. University of Auckland’s School of Environment lists fossil fuels extractors Statoil, OMV Group and New Zealand Energy Corp within their research sponsors4. Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences offers a Masters degree in Petroleum Geoscience with a “full-time research project in conjunction with GNS Science or a petroleum company”5

The devastating effects of climate change are rapidly increasing in magnitude due to industrial pollution and the victims of this devastation are not the polluters. Endangered ecosystems are being destroyed to dig up more mineral wealth. Never before has it been so starkly clear the importance of viewing the earth in a holistic manner. We need to understand that human interference with the Earth in such violent ways has significant consequences.

Divestment in the fossil fuels industry is overdue across all our educational and research institutions. It is time for geology to put down the drill-bit, take a step back and once again recapture the holistic principles upon which it was founded.

References:   

 

  1. http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/290406/further-arrests-over-ship-protest-greenpeace
  1. http://www.gns.cri.nz/Home/Our-Science/Energy-Resources/Oil-and-Gas/Consultancy-Services
  1. http://www.petroleumsummit.co.nz/page/programme
  1. http://www.env.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-themes/natural-resources.html
  1. http://www.victoria.ac.nz/sgees/study/postgraduate-study/petroleum-geoscience#mscpetro

Carbon levels unprecedented in over 56 million years

The ice in the Arctic has set a new wintertime low for the second year in a row, at 1.12 million sq km lower than the average for 1980 to 2010, reports NASA scientists.

Carbon is being released into our atmosphere at a rate that far exceeds the last known mass carbon release event, 56 million years ago. The release of carbon – the cause is not known – was at the rate of 1 billion tons of carbon a year over 4,000 years  – but in 2013 alone, humans released 10 billion tons of carbon, on top of the natural carbon cycle, and that rate continues.
Scientists have been looking for a period in our history where the release of carbon may have equalled what we are doing in the Anthropocene in order to see how the Earth may respond to current warming, but nothing comes close to the massive geological upheaval caused by human activity in the last 60 years.

The New Scientist reports on the highest ever annual rise in CO2 levels, as recorded at Mauna Loa in Hawaii in February.

Is a beautiful, clean future within our grasp now?

Chris Livesey reflects on the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21) and what has been achieved.   What does the agreement mean for New Zealand, and there is now real hope that we can avoid disastrous global warming?

 

Following the Paris summit there is much greater international agreement about the destination, and the destination has been much more clearly defined. Each country now has the responsibility to do its bit to ensure that, collectively, we reach that destination.

That means that in New Zealand:

  • lots of hard work is needed to develop a national transitional plan and policies that ensure that the investment needed to give New Zealand zero net emissions by 2050 (or soon after) is required;
  • government, financial institutions, businesses, unions, cities, and citizens will need to contribute to make the plan and its policies effective and socially acceptable;
  • and lots of on-going political pressure will be required to ensure that the plan and its policies are developed and then implemented.

The momentum generated by Paris must be continued.

Below are a variety of what seem to me to be important perspectives that I have picked out from the plethora of reports following the conclusion of the Paris summit.

 

… the Paris deal will be a success if it provides a signal to markets and investors that clean energy is the future. We’ll see if that happens …..

(Coral Davenport of the New York Times, reported by Brad Plumer, Vox)

 

[The Paris agreement] sent “a powerful signal” that a low-carbon future and investment in clean energy were economically viable and could create jobs, [President Obama] said.

(Radio NZ)

 

… it’s worth keeping these talks in perspective. The Paris agreement can support ongoing efforts to reduce fossil-fuel emissions and curb deforestation. But whether Earth warms 2°C or 2.5°C or 3°C simply won’t be decided by this deal alone. That will depend on what future policies get enacted by individual countries, on how quickly we switch over to alternative energy sources, on how technology evolves.

… the Paris agreement can only encourage countries to step up their efforts. It can’t force them to do so. That’s the hard part, the part that comes next. Further action will ultimately depend on policymakers and investors and engineers and scientists and activists across the globe …

In other words, the Paris deal is only the first step. Perhaps the easiest step. To stop global warming, every country will have to do much, much more in the years ahead to transition away from fossils fuels (which still provide 86 percent of the world’s energy), move to cleaner sources, and halt deforestation. They’ll have to pursue new policies, adopt new technologies, go far beyond what they’ve already promised.

There’s ample room for skepticism about this agreement. Countries are offering up entirely voluntary climate pledges that are, so far, awfully flimsy. … The parties have only agreed to vague feel-good goals at Paris – limit global warming to 1.5°C, have emissions peak “as soon as possible” – without a well-defined plan for how to actually achieve those targets.

So, yes, there’s a chance that the Paris deal, and the processes it sets in motion, could prove effective. That’s the risk with any treaty based on voluntary actions.

(Brad Plumer, Vox)

Progressive as the outcome is by comparison to all that has gone before, it leaves us with an almost comically lopsided agreement. While negotiations on almost all other global hazards seek to address both ends of the problem, the UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.

In Paris the delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand, but at home they seek to maximise supply. …. Until governments undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.

(George Monbiot)

The biggest test will come in 2020 when countries are supposed to contribute new emissions-cutting plans. Will they actually do that? …….  If countries follow the Agreement and come to the table in 2020 with serious new climate efforts, Paris will have succeeded where Kyoto failed, and will establish itself as a more enduring international framework.

(Martin Levi, Council on Foreign Relations, USA)

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” [James Hansen] says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

…. according to Hansen, the [Paris agreement] is pointless [if] greenhouse gas emissions aren’t taxed across the board. He argues that only this will force down emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

Hansen believes China, the world’s largest emitter, will now step up to provide the leadership lacking from the US. A submerged Fifth Avenue and deadly heatwaves aren’t an inevitability.

“I think we will get there because China is rational,” Hansen says. “Their leaders are mostly trained in engineering and such things, they don’t deny climate change and they have a huge incentive, which is air pollution. It’s so bad in their cities they need to move to clean energies. They realise it’s not a hoax. But they will need co-operation.”

(The Guardian)

“Governments must now put words into actions, in particular by implementing policies that make effective progress on the mitigation pledges they have made. That is why my key message is to price carbon right and to do it now.”

(Christine Largarde, Head of the IMF; reported on Radio NZ)

 

“The diplomats have done their job: the Paris Agreement points the world in the right direction, and with sophistication and clarity,” [Jeffery Sachs] said.

“It does not, however, ensure implementation, which necessarily remains the domain of politicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers, and civil society.”

(reported on Radio NZ)

 

The most positive outcome of the Paris climate talks might have occurred outside the plenary rooms, Massey University Centre for Energy Research director Professor Ralph Sims said.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.”

(reported on Radio NZ)

Most importantly, [the Paris agreement] sends a clear message to investors everywhere: sinking money into fossil fuels is a dead bet. Renewables are the profit centre. Technology to bring us to 100% clean energy is the money-maker of the future.

History delivers moments when the wind shifts, you can smell it in the air. The best of us harness that power, using it to fuel the new path. Like our brothers and sisters in South Africa who won legal equality, LGBTQ members in the United States who won the right to marry the people they love, Gandhi’s non-violent movement that gave birth to a new hope for India, we are on the brink of that new, sweet wind.

Let’s harness it together, let’s fly together under the sail of a common humanity, across the oceans, rivers and lakes that divide us. Let’s take the promise of right now and deliver our children a beautiful, safe, and clean future.

(The team at AVAAZ)

Tell Fonterra To Stop Building New Coal Boilers

Despite New Zealand’s need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Fonterra is planning to burn more coal. Tim Jones from Coal Action Network JonesTimAotearoa asks for your help to stop them.  

No time to read? You can go to to http://www.actionstation.org.nz/nonewcoal and sign Coal Action Network Aotearoa’s open letter to Fonterra.

Fonterra quit coal

 

 

 

 

Many people know that the rapid expansion of the New Zealand dairy industry, egged on by global dairy giant Fonterra, has caused many environmental problems, including severe damage to many of our waterways and a major increase in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

But there’s something you may not know: dairy giant Fonterra is New Zealand’s second biggest coal user, burning more than half a million tonnes a year to dry milk powder. Its coal use has increased 38% since 2008.

And Fonterra is planning a big increase in its use of coal. It plants to build more coal boilers to let it dry even more milk powder.

Whatever you think of Fonterra’s economic strategy, Fonterra’s coal expansion plans have to be stopped. And that’s where you can help.

Fonterra wants to be seen as clean and green. It doesn’t want to be branded as a climate criminal. If enough of us speak up now, we can turn Fonterra’s plans around.

Fonterra doesn’t have to use coal. It could use wood waste instead.

Graphic: Action Station
Graphic: Action Station

Fonterra has just applied for consent to build a huge new milk drying plant at Studholme in South Canterbury with four new coal boilers. But there are other ways of getting the heat it wants.

In forests around the region, mountains of waste wood – branches, broken logs, prunings – are burned on site or left to rot. There are companies who collect this and supply it as fuel to industry. It is being used already in greenhouses, hospitals, schools, and other industries around the country.

Fonterra – like the rest of the world – needs to phase out coal. But the decision point is when you design the boiler. To get the best performance, and to be able to use the cheapest fuel, the boiler needs to be purpose-designed for wood.

Some boilers built in the 1970s are still being used to dry milk. Designing these four new boilers at Studholme for coal will commit Fonterra to increased coal use for at least another 40 years!

That’s why we have written an open letter to Fonterra Chair John Wilson – and why we’re asking you to sign on. Here’s what we’re asking Fonterra to do:

We call on you to commit to “no new coal boilers” – that is, to use wood waste, not coal, in the new boilers you’re currently planning, like at Studholme.

Then, we want Fonterra to commit to, and fully carry out, a programme to phase out coal boilers and move to wood waste at its existing plants as they age.

Now is the time to make a difference. The Studholme project doesn’t yet have consent so there is time to change design. The Fonterra Board meets in November.

Reflections on dairying from the ECO Conference on Freshwater

The problem with our waterways

Caroline Glassberg-Powell reflects on how dairy intensification is causing New Zealand rivers to become the most polluted in the world.

There were many themes at this year’s annual ECO conference. Perhaps the most controversial and eliciting the most outrage was how dairy intensification is causing our rivers to become the most polluted in the world. Dr Mike Joy presented on how bad the rivers are really becoming, and how governments are constantly changing the goalposts to deceive the general public. The deteriorating conditions of our rivers is impacting upon public health, as Dr Alistair Humphrey revealed, and all of this is needless given that intensification does not have a solid economic case as argued by Dr Alison Dewes. Even when the government admits there’s a problem, Al Fleming explained with his work on the Waikato, it’s still a fight.

The quality of New Zealand’s waterways is amongst the worst in the world, in no small part thanks to dairy intensification.

Before the Europeans arrived to NZ, one third of the country was wetlands.

Now, we have lost 99% of our wetlands, which means that whilst dramatically increasing our outputs into the environment, the environment’s ability to take-up and process those nutrients has all but disappeared.The intensification of dairying is putting so much pressure on our waterways that we are in a precarious position with degraded, dangerous rivers and streams which are barely safe to boat or wade in, let alone to drink or swim.

All of this is needless, given that the economic case for dairying follows the laws of diminishing returns: more inputs past a certain point do not lead to more profit. We have far surpassed that certain point, and are now crashing down the other side. Each cow produces waste equivalent to around 14 people, which means that, across New Zealand, cows are producing the waste of approximately 90 million people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The waste has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is invariably the waterways and ground water of Aotearoa.The impacts of the waste are numerous, but sedimentation, nitrogen (N), and phoshorus (P) in particular have far-reaching consequences. When a cow pees, if the land on which it pees is not at capacity, the plants and soil are able to absorb the content of the urine. However, when over-stocked, the plants are at capacity, and the excess nutrients spill over into local waterways where they cause many problems.

The solid content of urine and faeces when in rivers cause many problems. The solids dissolve in the water and are carried along by the currents, and once the waters slow down, the sediment is deposited. Both suspended and deposited sediment cause problems in their own right. Suspended sedimentation can clog fish gills, which suffocates them. The sediment also reduces the clarity of the water, which reduces the amount of light in the river. Not only does this render fish unable to see, but it blocks light from reaching plants, preventing their growth.

Reducing plant growth decreases insect and fish levels, and reduces the number of habitable areas. Deposited sediment also reduces the number of habitable areas by changing flow patterns, blocking migratory routes, and suffocating bed life. The detrimental effects of sedimentation are also being seen in ocean fisheries, which is impacting social and economic well-being.

N and P are also impacting the health of our waterways. Since they are growth-promoters, too much N and P causes algae to bloom, which covers the rocks in slime. The slime renders previous habitats uninhabitable for fish, leaving fish fewer places to live. The fish, in fact, are doubly affected by the algae blooms. As algae intensifies during the day, the water becomes saturated with dissolved oxygen. However, at night, photosynthesis stops and levels of oxygen become extremely low, which is deadly to aerobic organisms like fish.

A healthy river has stable levels of oxygen; an unhealthy river has wildly fluctuating levels and fish are unable to survive. Very low levels of N are required to see these patterns: as little as 1.2 mg / L. The oxygen-deprived waters also promote growth of bacteria which are deadly to humans. Cyanobacteria form thick mats in the river which, when ingested, have killed dogs, horses, and humans.

When we extract this water for drinking, as many communities across New Zealand still do, we are putting ourselves at risk. In particular, new-born babies can suffer greatly from the high levels of nitrogen in the water. Foetuses have a special type of haemoglobin which binds very tightly to oxygen. When a baby is born, it takes a few months to replace this special haemoglobin, and in that time they are susceptible to blue-baby syndrome.

Their haemoglobin binds to nitrates more strongly than oxygen, which means if they consume too many nitrates, they will no longer be transporting oxygen around their body, and they die as a consequence. Breast-fed babies will not be affected, but bottle-fed babies will be. This means that babies dying from the syndrome will be disproportionately poorer, born to working mothers.

Historically in this country there have been low cases of blue-baby syndrome because of good policy on nitrate levels. However, high risk areas are now expanding, in accordance with dairy intensification, and there’s no evidence to suggest the situation is improving.

As climate change hits, increased temperatures will further promote the growth of cyanobacteria, and more dairying will of course increase these issues. E.coli. is also a big player in waterborne pathogens. It is reported that 34,000 Kiwis are infected every year, although due to lack of reporting, the true figure could be much higher.  E.coli. can put people on dialysis for life, the cost of which can be astronomical. Treatment of water, caring for people made sick from poor quality water, and generally cleaning up after cows is extremely expensive.  A recent paper published by Dr Joy and others shows that cleaning up after the dairying industry costs more than the industry adds to our GDP.

The best solution is stop intensification.  Dr Dewes presented a graph which shows government thinking to be: more inputs = more outputs = more profits. However, the environmental effects of more inputs were “managed” out of the system somehow, tapering off at around the levels we are currently at. That thinking is not based on fact, but on a flawed ideology. As land becomes more degraded, more and more inputs are required to produce outputs. If we follow the growth agenda to the letter, more and more marginal landscapes will be exploited, which will lead to further sedimentation and run-off.

This has happened in Canterbury, and now 70% of the region is classified as deteriorating. Scaling down is the best economic and environmental decision farmers can make. Yet, this flies in the face of governmental advice which is to increase intensification and irrigation in the Canterbury region. Government priorities are set by GDP, which is a crude measure of the country’s success, and is gamed for short-term growth only.

The best level of stocking for the environment and the economy is approximately 1 cow per hectare. At this level, the system can provide for itself. Any higher and we need to import masses of protein, as New Zealand currently does, and we are now the world’s largest importer of palm kernel. This offshores a lot of environmental impacts, and contributes greatly to deforestation in the developing world. It is also extremely expensive for the farmers to import, and reduces their profit margins. As it is, it’s expected that most dairy farmers are running at a loss (http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/rural/278327/most-dairy-farmers-will-run-at-loss-this-season).

Stopping the destructive import, however, will reduce GDP because the palm kernel industry will be affected. That’s but one example of the crudeness of GDP, which fails to consider regional variation. Instead of taking remedial action to address these issues, the government has reclassified what it means for a river to be “safe”. The now accepted level of N in a river is 6.9 mg / L, well above the levels at which negative impacts start to occur.  Rivers which, by all accounts, should be on the lowest grade possible under this system, are scoring excellent or very good. The classification has come in simultaneously with changes in the ways that rivers are monitored. Instead of using continuous monitoring, measurements are only taken at times of day when the oxygen levels are at their best, which  prevents us from building a realistic picture of wildly fluctuating oxygen levels.

Additionally, sites which perform badly are simply taken out of the sites which are measured. Even the measurements taken skew the results: only suspended sediments are measured, not deposited sediments. All this bad science led to the government producing a document in 2013 claiming that rivers are stable, or even improving.  On complaining to the MfE, Dr Joy was met with an adamant refusal to clarify this with the public.

Even when the problem is acknowledged, and money is provided to clean up the waterways, resistance still abounds. There has been $210m set aside to clean up the Waikato, where 75% of the land-use is dairy. However, the bar has been set very low, to wadeable, not swimmable. Lake Waikare, for example, is very shallow with high sedimentation, hypertrophic, and water clarity is 1 m instead of its recommended 1.6 m. Yet, recent discussions for a moratorium on conversion from forests to dairy has been stalled as out of the scope of the restoration. Furthermore, an index which is globally recognised for measuring the health of waterways, the macro-invertebrate index, has been denied for use with the excuse that it’s a biotic measure, not a chemical one.

The state of New Zealand’s waterways is pretty dismal. We have a government insisting on intensification, against all mounting evidence which suggests this is a bad strategy, and they continually move the goalposts to mask the very real problems that we are facing.  Ecologically, socially, and economically speaking,we are finding dairy intensification is causing very serious problems, and no amount of reclassification can change that.  Now we know that, we should stop this land conversion until we find genuine solutions to the problems.  As Dr Joy said, “you can fool yourself, but you cannot fool the ecosystem”.

By Caroline Glassberg-Powell, September 2015

No Law is Just Law if it doesn’t Serve the Common Good

Symposium on Law, Responsibility and Governance

 

No Law is Just Law if it doesn’t Serve the Common Good (Kapua Sproat)

Aotearoa NZ, November 2014.  Written by Betsan Martin  Betsan Martin

‘Let us turn vulnerability into value’. The Pacific region is often viewed as vulnerable and distant, and defined by isolation. Yet Peoples of the Pacific, the Water Continent, are resilient and resourceful. Drawing from traditions of engaged governance, laws oriented to collective accountability, and capability of traversing and living from ocean environments we are at the frontline of sustainable societies.  Because environment is integrated with economies, climate is at the forefront, and public trust law could pave the way for bringing responsibility back to corporates and systems of government.

The Symposium was co-hosted by UNU RCE Waikato (Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development) and Te Piringa, Waikato University Law School. Betsan Martin and Linda Te Aho co-ordinated  this multidisciplinary engagement in a proposition for the governance of water. It works with an approach of responsibility for the ecological health of freshwater, provides for commercial use, and seeks to resolve Māori and general public interests.  Betsan, Chris Livesey and Diana Shand attended from ECO.

Get on board for a moment and watch this:  http://youtu.be/m6YaQFNKg80

Transformative Law

The direction was set by former chief judge of the Waitangi Tribunal and Judge of the High Court,  Sir Taihakurei Durie, setting out the radical orientation of responsibility for water governance developed through law of trusteeship. His proposal was developed in direct reference to the Charter for Human Responsibilities. Law of public trust in the US, and in Hawaii specifically, is the means by which waterways which were diverted for the sugar industry are being returned to their natural courses with flows which support original indigenous crops. Traditional agriculture was decimated by the industrial water regime. Hawiian legal counsel, and now academic Kapua Sproat gave a strong lead from her case law experience to set out prospects of law for public goods, including water and climate. Another law that deserves attention is the US Clean Air Act (1970), a federal law to address emissions of hazardous air pollutants. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency to give effect to the maximum achievable reduction of emissions with the use of technology. As Neetu Sharma said, law can be transformative as well as regulatory.

Pierre Calame gave fresh illumination to the philosophic, economic and policy dimensions of responsibility. Calame is President of a Foundation in France which has a leading role in working with a framework of responsibility internationally. Pierre’s presentation began with a challenge to the well-guarded belief in sovereignty with the proposition that the integrity of the biosphere is beyond sovereignty. This is not only nationally challenging – in New Zealand sovereignty has been invoked by the Crown to stifle indigenous sovereign authority and used to further the unjust imposition of British style sovereignty. In an earlier article Sir Taihakurei said

State responsibility, not the absolute power of that sovereignty implies, is more appropriate for the modern world. Indeed, if it is true that that Māori ceded sovereignty, then I think they did the best thing to give it away. It has simply been the cause of too much strife and war (Durie 1996. View Point: Taku Titiro.  He Pukenga Korero).

With attention to water and climate a starting point of policies to address pollution led into a critique of polluter-pays policies as a premise for incentivizing business, including agriculture, to manage land and water in accordance with ecological health. In reality, polluter-pays policies can simply be seen as a business cost that does not deter carbon emitting industry or other pollution producing systems. In other words, they serve as a right to pollute. For this model, regulation designed for responsibility for ecosystem health with management of inputs and incentives to optimise water bodies would be the imperative.  Pierre used the powerful idea that exchanging responsibility for money can be replaced by recognition of carbon wells, or carbon sinks, as a global commons. As such all individuals and territories would have equal quotas for emissions. Quotas would define the maximum carbon limit and be tradeable.

Water as a Public Trust

The move from ownership to stewardship strikes at the heart of the transformative proposal for water governance. Although the New Zealand government has a theory that ‘no-one owns water’, here, as in other places, water is managed under regimes of rights through allocated consents. These ‘use rights’ are effectively a form of ownership, and they do not impose the responsibilities of stewardship.  The Durie proposal for trusteeship  of water recognized Māori propriety interests and at the same time moves the issue of settlement to the arena shared responsibility for water as a common good. It inaugurates a governance regime  with responsibility  for ecosystem integrity, and has capacity to work with collaboration.  A  public trust regime would be managed through a Commission of representative trustees. A price for commercial use of water would generate revenue to be directed to land management to reduce contamination generated from agriculture, to restoration and to water conserving infrastructure.  Much of the detail is in development.

There is more magic to the Durie plan. It is designed to reconcile Maori indigenous interests as well as general interests. We don’t have borders in New Zealand, but this is a platform for cross-boundary agreement on shared responsibility for water.  Māori have had their traditional water –based food sources and authority over water taken during the British takeover, and redress is still being sought. Although there are many proposals to set standards for water, manage allocation, to settle Māori interests and even collaborative agreements for environmental and corporate interests, none are designed to reconcile different interests and claims through stewardship and responsibility.

Custodial Responsibilities and Contemporary Governance

A custodial voice is arising from the Pacific region with regards to common goods and climate justice. This is probing the traditions of the oceanic peoples which were founded on a ‘sacred balance between humans and environment where the environment was believed to be kin’.  This understanding of interdependence given by His Highness Tupua Tamasese, Head of State of Samoa, was further underlined by him: ‘it is my contention that in sidelining our indigenous reference we have made it easier to walk the path of environmental destruction’.  Tamasese spoke of bringing the values of forebears to the forefront of our minds, and re-energizing and re-casting them to suit the new global order. Tamasese drew on traditions of engaged citizen participation, the ‘Tulafono’ process for decision-making. New Zealand has examples of processes of dialogue, or collaboration, about to be legalised for fresh water, and Co-Governance arrangements for rivers and National Parks.

Climate impacts on Island nations are forcing a re-evaluation of industrial preferences.  In a move that turns vulnerability into value, the Small Islands Developing States Conference asserted the Pacific region as being on the frontlines of climate change  – because it is clear that resilience can only be achieved where economic development is aligned with environmental protection.

The Pacific is becoming known for the blue economy, with oceans as the main sources of food and sustenance and trade and connectivity across large water spaces.  The navigational skills of ocean voyaging are being re-activated as a message of sustainability.  Appropriately, just before we met for the symposium five traditional vessels sailed into Sydney harbour for the World Parks Congress.

Responsible Economic Development

Taholo Kami, Director of IUCN Oceania came to the Symposium after welcoming the vessels at Sydney, carrying a message of sustainability from Pacific navigational systems. Try a few seconds on the Pacific ocean voyage here http://youtu.be/m6YaQFNKg80  In December the five waka were in Auckland. Taholo travelled via Papua New Guinea where a new framework of Responsible Economic Development is being put in place. With climate change at the forefront 2015 is the opportunity for Pacific countries to take a lead in the responsibility approach for COP21.  Taholo envisages linking Pacific rim countries with Pacific Islands, which bear the risk and face annihilation from climate impacts coming from Pacific Rim economies.

Losing and Finding Responsibility

We were treated to a remarkable review of the Western legal tradition to discover the persistent thread of the concepts of duty and responsibility in law, and how these were overtaken by trade and capital interests, starting with the East India Company in 1600.  The colonisers saw the development of private property, individual political representation, and self-interest as the core of economic theory.  The accumulation of capital wealth, and even human rights, consistently privileged freedom over duty – freedom in this case meaning freedom from constraint as an incentive to market engagement. Professor Gay Morgan asked ‘ Where has the West Gone Wrong’ ? As trade and corporate industry grew from the 1700’s, gains were made for civil and political rights, but not civil and political responsibilities. Notions of collective duties were dropped and free reign was given to the individualised concept of corporate market capitalism.

Ways Forward

Activating engagement with the Durie discussion paper on water will involve seeking further commentary. Emerging issues are to work with Iwi, to seek advice from NGOs such as ECO, Forest and Bird, Land and Water Forum, and to further test the proposal with business, government ministries, and regional government agencies. Considerations of pricing, definitions of need, control of inputs from dairy and land activities and forestry, and the RMA, are all to be developed. Papers and videos will be published electronically and as a book.

Written by Betsan Martin

Thanks for commentary by Chris Livesey.  This article first appeared in ECOlink December 2014