About Marie

Science nerd

I’ve been dam well thinking…

…that for the money it would cost to dam the Mokohinui, you could retire the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter and free up the generating capacity of the Manapouri Power Station.

Manapouri is owned by Meridian and almost (?) exclusively supplies Tiwai with energy. Tiwai uses some 15% of the electricity nationally, as our largest single user.

Tiwai of course contributes millions to the Southland and national  economy and employs several hundred people, so I am certainly not suggesting this is an easy fix. But the future liabilities associated with Tiwai from a GHG emissions perspective have been well documented and maybe this is the time to jump.

We don’t lose one of our last wild rivers….New Zealand gets a reliable existing energy source made available to them….and Rio Tinto can finally weasal out of operating an aging aluminium smelter running at far from full production….

just a thought…be gentle

how to cook a ghost

So it’s official, the Department of Conservation is to lose 96 jobs. An already desperately underfunded organisation has just been hammered by the National government again. DOC will lose a significant proportion of it’s scientific knowledge with technical officers in the gun for 2012. This loss of intellectual capital will cook the ghost of the manager of one third of our landmass.

They will also be stopped progressively from their advocacy work. People simply do not understand how important the work of DOC is in a council setting. They are often the only ones advocating for a half-decent outcome in a consent environment. Their conspicuous absence from the recent Bathurst open-cast coal mine hearing is a sign of what will become the norm. So in many areas of the country where the non-vested conservation interests are tiny or silent, the projects proposed will zoom through without a holler.

Its a lot easier to do the wrong thing when you get rid of all the people smart enough to know what will happen.The DOC staff science resource is a resource for all New Zealanders to know that our conservation estate (lauded worldwide for the proportion of land it covers) is in safe hands. They advocate for Crown Property rights and ensure that a collective resource isn’t ripped, torn and screwed for pecuniary gain. Well, they did.

Budget cuts will continue with more staff to go next year and more losses of cashflow to protect what should matter to all of us….our natural heritage. To protect and prioritise areas for conservation on a shrinking budget, you need scientific expertise so DOC is expected to do a lot of magic with very few magicians. And now even less magicians…it’s a national disgrace….make that a National disgrace….

I shall keenly await a response…

Dear Minister Wilkinson

I delighted in the news of the bird transfers at Motutapu Island. As a former resident of Auckland and a keen conservationist I was very happy with the news, having seen the island of Motutapu transformed over many years. The efforts on the island are a great credit to the volunteers under the banner of the Motutapu Restoration Trust as well as the sustained effort and leadership from the Department of Conservation.

I note from radio and other media that you were quoted and I think it is marvellous that you were showing an interest in a world class restoration project. However, I note that your party is simultaneously removing a great number of resources from the Department of Conservation. The resources to be removed (they have names, I know them) are some of the reason for successes like the one you were celebrating today and many others. Ecological restoration is a nascent field globally and New Zealand has been a world leader, in large part due to the efforts of DOC and it’s predecessors. I am aggrieved that while on one hand the National Party has been systematically undermining the Department of Conservation while on the other celebrating it’s successes.

This would seem unfair and I request that you better represent the interests of New Zealanders on this matter and advocate for greater resources for DOC (or at least have those that were just taken handed back).

I would request a response detailing what would appear to be a disjunct between your values and the actions of your party with respect to the country’s key resource for meeting national and international commitments related to biodiversity. Regrettably, I am yet to recieve a decent response from the National MP desite having raised concerns in the past (chiefly with Minister Smith). I would thank you to steer clear of responding with a narrative as to how the previous government failed to an equal or greater degree along the same lines – that reductionist rhetoric would insult us both. I look forward to your response

Yours Sincerely

VSM…just sayin’

Eight years of paying student union membership leaves me with some authority to comment on the reasonableness of the concept. I do not support VSM and do not have a problem with a small portion of my fees (less than a hundred bucks of more than five thousand) going to the union. I don’t feel trapped, captured or aggrieved in any way. I find the blatant disregard of the weight of relevant public opinion on this by NACT to be dismal…another example of an abuse of democracy. VSM is clearly unpopular amongst the existing unions (obviously), students (you know, the ones paying) and tertiary institutions (unions pick up a lot of pastoral care work). I too am aggrieved to such an extent that I will run for my union this year just to pitch in to deal with this very rocky transition period (if the punters elect me of course)….

VSM is likely to sharpen up the performance of unions and to make sure they make it clear what they do well and what they offer. That is not of itself a bad thing – but there are other ways to correct past poor performance that some of the NACTs noted, that falls short of decimating the system. I also appreciate the arguments for the freedom of association, they have substance: but what concerns me most is that the introduction of VSM will be practically divisive.

The union activities and offers are presently available to all students on campus (barriung opt-outs). They are centres of activity and an important part of campus culture. The University of Waikato’s academic year is peppered with events run by WSU including weekly free lunches, concerts, club events and ongoing direct support of the many campus clubs and associations.

To destabilise this financial base and ensure that WSU benefits are delivered to only WSU members is likely to be adminstratively difficult, reduce the opportunities for unifying the student body and reduce the funding available to many fledgling clubs that seek to bring about involvement by people perhaps not otherwise engaged in campus life. I see grave practical outcomes that worry me….so I’ll stay on after VSM. I’ll pay my $90 for 12 months, I’ll cruise down and grab a free pig in a blanket now and then, and enjoy the great night that is Club Awards… I hope that the food bank, the student advocacy and the pastoral care offers will continue and I hope I won’t need them. And I hope students after have that choice…but it’s looking grim.

There are ways and means of addressing the issues NACT are crowing about…but this isn’t it. The unions allegedly collapsed last time VSM came in…why are we forever repeating history under this government? The $90 I pay is lost in the more than five thousand dollars I pay in fees…I spend more time wondering what the rest buys me really….

welfare = well fair?

Today the anticipated/dreaded welfare reforms of the Nats were announced at their conference. A key focus was addressing the high numbers of youths on benefits and not in any form of training. In typical National style, they are taking a sledgehammer to a walnut but….(at this risk of sounding like a raving tory) I tend to agree with some aspects.

There are certainly some down sides to this approach – ageist and the like are terms likely to whizz around with reckless abandon. On the other hand, they get free money when in many cases they have an alternative but they just don’t want it. Certainly there are those that for reasons of fate or circumstance need a benefit. And that’s fine…of concern to me are those that do not need one, but take one because it’s just that much easier than working. They piss me off, fair to say. I know a few and they are generally unapologetic about drawing a benefit instead of working.

To take a long term perspective, I draw on the basis of the green way…which is to build a resilient and healthy future. I would attest that you don’t build a strong and sustainable economy, society and nation on the back of welfare misappropriation any more than on the back of right wing baby-boomer politics. If we want to have the resources to protect the vulnerable, some of the strong gotta get off their butts. Welfare ought to be a safety net, not a career choice…so I am not in total disagreement with National’s changes…but hardly an advocate on all fronts.

flipside of the rhetoric

It occurs to me that it is very easy to trumpet what one individual or party has been doing in support of a concept like sustainability, but much harder to appear the epitome of the concept when you must recount what you have done that flies in the face of sustainability. I ponder this as I survey the pamphlet a certain local National MP circulated in Hamilton. Divorced of context, it cites a plethora of achievements that would warm the cockles of many hearts.

Then I review the Forest & Bird EnviroPoll in which the three major parties (yeah three, you read right) responded to six somewhat loaded questions on environmental management in New Zealand. Again, it showed that citing achievements can collaborate your rhetoric, even if your party’s policies are the antithesis of sustainability and all that that implies.

Perhaps to go beyond the rhetoric we need to look at what a party or individual has done that is antithetical to sustainability. Perhaps not ask them – one doubts they’d be forthcoming. But if you consider the example of say Hamilton City Council, you may find that the small gains that might be cited in such an assessment would be quickly offset by pots and pots of money being poured into giant (and shortly redundant) roads. The net outcomes will likely show that the wee poppets are firmly grounded in the Stone Age…

So maybe it isn’t what you do that’s good; it’s maybe what you don’t do that’s good: that is where the real losses are felt, and any gains are well-offset….


No mama, we can’t go back there…

I am not an economist (that much will become clear)….but seems to me that economic collapse is not a problem, rather it is a symptom. It is a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic model rolled out again and again, seemingly oblivious to the fact it is now obsolete. It also seems to me that it is becoming beyond us to treat the symptoms without addressing the sickness…

I am sure financial puppet-masters much cleverer than I are frantically number-crunching now to figure out a way to delay the inevitable. Subsidies, borrowing from (wait, who has money left? Oh yes, China) other countries, tax changes, further externalising of environmental costs all distort the growing recognition by society that something’s gotta give. But not forever.

My question is not how we are going to escape, avert, avoid or get through economic collapse globally, but rather to wonder what the endgame is. The rhetoric in the media and political circles would seem to be that we are waiting for ‘recovery’.

Recovery is defined by dictionary.com as “restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.”. Freedictionary.com defines it as “to get back: regain”. Urbandictionary.com defines it as “Eminems 7th studio album”….well, you get the idea.

Recovery is typically a retrospective process of restoration, the removal or galvanisation against a temporary ailment or pressure. The use of the fundementally flawed neo-liberal market model cannot be ‘recovered’ from. We cannot return to pre-2008 times, the old model just doesn’t work.

So when we talk about recovery and coming out of a recession – what are we going towards? Enlighten me….

Wait, go back…we missed something(s)

I was leisurely perusing the Convention on Biological Diversity site, no doubt a common activity of a Saturday evening? No? Right….anyway, I came across a rash statement, a forgotten goal and then recalled another reason to get a bit fresh…

In 2009, the hard-working poppets at Landcare Research published an Annual Science Report. In it, they identified that in the last decade, amid our pomp and toff about 100% pure and all that jazz, that the rate of loss of native vegetation was the fastest since Cook and his merry men arrived in the 1700’s, identified of course to be due to agricultural intensification (hear that Federated Farmers?!)[1]. So why then does the New Zealand profile on the Convention on Biological Diversity note than in the last 20 years the rate of ecosystem decline has slowed[2]? Other than perhaps in the arena of pest control, I see no real evidence of this. Am I missing something?

Our profile goes on to state that:

Marine protected areas are being created to address the threats of human activities on marine habitats, and the government has committed itself to protecting 10% of its marine habitats by 2010.

Let’s check progress shall we? The figures for this are possibly not even correct. It’s a lot easier to consistently fail in achieving ecological management targets when your monitoring is so inadequate that both failures and successes are never revealed. Nevertheless, the date has passed and let us see where we are at with the 10% goal. The Department of Conservation offers this analysis:

Collectively, these reserves protect 7% of New Zealand’s territorial sea. However, 99% of this is in two marine reserves around isolated offshore island groups (Auckland and Kermadec), and very little, in fact less than the area of our smallest National Park (Abel Tasman), in our mainland territorial sea.

So we are at 7%, 3% short of the target and the distribution of that protected area is highly concentrated in two areas. Add that to the fact that the goal was to protect 10% of our marine habitats one does get the sense that the spatial distribution is probably not in favour of representativeness. New Zealand also has a very large exclusive economic zone and it is perhaps worth noting that the total marine area in protection is actually 3%. Nuff said.

And let’s not forget the sterling example of nought short of corruption, when Chapter 13 was mysteriously deleted from the 2007 State of the Environment Report. Oddly enough it examined matters such as the influence of primary production on our ecosystems and did not paint a pretty picture. Thanks to direct pressure from the likes of the Green Party, said document was released, complete with begrudging and defensive preamble, see here: (http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/soe-reports/enz07-draft-conclusion-chapter.html). The report confirmed that intensive farming and it’s effect on our waterways was indeed our number one environmental issue. The usual hue and cry ensued of farmers crowing about being the backbone of the country. The fact is that the spine is damn near broke, and the only things getting rich here are the farmers, their suppliers and the nutrient levels of our precious waterways.

The issue here is that not only are we failing profoundly to protect and sustain what matters, but that we are purposely obscuring the fact. I am, it’s fair to say, somewhat aggrieved.

[1] Landcare Research (2009) “The Economy and the Environment” Annual Science Report Part 1, Landcare Research New Zealand p.12

Please allow us to show you the door

The dogmatic resistance of Federated Farmers to any measure to protect the environment is, rather than gradually ebbing as more evidence comes to fore, reaching a crescendo. This week one of their lunatic fringe (I say that because I know of many moderate members who were probably squirming like I was) appeared on television denying the link between dairy farming and poor water quality. Far from an isolated perspective, this is a view shared by the likes of the head of DairyNZ (a feature of ignorance more befitting an advocacy organisation than a legitimate research group) I put this level of denial in the same category as those who argue against anthropogenically forced climate change and for intelligent design. I see emotional rhetoric steeling them against hard science. Not only is it ridiculous but it is downright embarrassing.

That a nation known as being (allegedly) clean and green might get this far and have people in positions of power spinning this uttter claptrap is just plain painful. It perhaps does not help that our own Prime Minister the Rt Hon John Key doesn’t correctly delineate science and opinion. In his recent diabolical appearance on BBC Hardtalk he looked like an utter moron. Pulled apart effortlessly by a journo well-used to those who think they’re bulletproof. If only New Zealand’s media interrogated more deeply, it may have been apparent earlier that he is better a CEO than a PM. He did not choose his opponent wisely however. In dismissing the thoroughly reasonable views of Massey freshwater scientist Dr Mike Joy he has met his match. Long may that battle continue, I am enjoying watching it unfold.

But what is a man who spouts the value of science and innovation think he’s doing? What is the man behind the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes going to make his selection on? What is the man who triumphantly announced a significant focus on science and innovation think he’s paying for? What is the man who appointed the distinguished Peter Gluckman as his Chief Science Advisor think a scientific background means? Perhaps he may consider that pushing science aside under National Standards, dismissing empirical data of an eminent scientist and putting the upcoming hard squeeze on the technical corners of the tormented Department of Conservation may be slightly counter to that soapbox?

The point is really, that it’s time the old guard stepped down thanks. We have appreciated your efforts in raping and pillaging the nations resources for a couple of centuries and it’s time you toddled off. By the old guard, I refer not to age but to perspective. It is little less than frightening when someone barely out of their teens rabidly defends the right to destroy in the name of economic triumph. The fact is, if you continue to be of the view that the natural world is there for your use, no compensation payable; if you think you have the right to all you need and all you want, irrespective of what that means for ecosystems and those poorer than you; or if you resent regulation of your activities on your land where you destroy commonly owned resources for your own pecuniary gain, then I would like to show you the door. This is particularly pivotal if you are in a position of power….if you are a local body councillor who shields your mates (or yourself) from prosecution following repeated RMA offences…if you are a manager in lower government who intentionally disregards elements of your work portfolio that would see you give a voice to that which does not have one….if you are a scientist who is able to be purchased to advocate for an idea plainly wrong, that conflicts with the fundamental principles of your discipline….or, most importantly, a politician that leads a nation of sheep and livestock…then be warned. Because such perspectives are no longer valid, nor welcome. Please do this generation a favour, and allow us to relieve you of your duties. It is and you are, simply not good enough any more.

Why I vote Green

I spent the past few days at the Young Greens Winter Camp, a veritable hotbed of aspiration and inspiration. Young people like myself are a strong proportion of the party vote; under 35, highly educated and quite convinced that the status quo is simply not good enough. The time away galvanised my views (I have voted Green since I could) as to why I tick where I do, and I explain them below. I don’t explain them because I need to justify them, but to reflect that it is more than an ideological choice. That it is a choice made because, on balance, it is the only one that makes sense.

1. Conduct – it matters…

It has always struck me as odd that politicians (particularly those in Parliament) are expected to behave like cretins. It occurs to me that a society devalues itself by expecting the behaviour of elected representatives to be shocking, and to dismiss it with a roll of their eyes or a shake of their head. I expect leaders to behave with dignity, to treat others with courtesy, and to have a strong understanding of where their decisions will drive us. The reality is that most people don’t expect this and I want that to change.

We had the dubious honour of attending question time in Parliament on Thursday. Having only seen it on TV before, the crescendo of cat-calls and hooting was quite a lot louder than I had expected. The shouting between our two major parties was a total cringe-fest. The relentless babble from Trevor Mallard and Annette King reminded me of two impatient monkeys, who would perhaps better spend their time rescuing their ailing party than blockading intelligent debate. Paula Bennett’s bolshy and unhelpful squawking makes me think she ought perhaps to hang from the roof in a cage.  Most of the zoo-like behaviour was confined to Labour and the Nats, Roger Douglas was much too busy grappling with a crossword to engage too much. Messers Hide, Goff and Key were absent – but it is fair to say that I’d not expect them to impress me any further. Through the whole ‘shooting match’, the behaviour of our Green MPs was impeccable by contrast – and that’s why I vote Green.

2. Agents for change

Making decisions that protect our ecosystems, build societal resilience and galvanise our economy against the shocks that are just around the corner is not a pathway to popularity. The short term economic vision of most people and the commentators on the New Zealand economy mean that any attempt to take in the short term so that we may have in the long term is scoffed at. People continue to buy large, fuel-hungry vehicles because economists tell them a great surge in prosperity is moments away. People continue to buy houses in peri-urban and rural areas, steeling themselves for outrageous commutes that will be possible for only a few more years at most. People continue to buy low-quality housing with no insulation, no effective heating or cooling, no space for a garden and poor community connectivity, and saddle themselves with horrendous mortgage debt in the process.

The economic orchestrators of NZ Inc sit back on their heels and relax for another day every time someone does this too. It is plainly and absolutely not in their interests to warm kiwis off such lunacy…because the neo-liberal economic house of cards would fall much faster if NZ wised up. The Greens have comprehensive policies on all of this and more (we have long progressed from the ‘dope and light bulbs’ rhetoric our opponents trumpet) – and that’s why I vote for them. Because we have the blueprint for change and no other party has the least bit of interest in stealing it.

3. Fundamentals of fragility

New Zealand is beset by those that see no problem with destroying natural systems to derive short term profit. The costs to our country (the real ones) are significant from farming, forestry, mining and the like. Destructive short term industries with minimal regulation and a desire to strip what they want and leave the rest as intergenerational ecological and social debt. Am I of the view that such industries ought to be stopped in their tracks? Absolutely not. I have a lot of farming heritage in my family (like most of us) and I love the scenes of rolling hills, of skipping baby lambs in spring and am proud of the fact that New Zealand makes some of the finest quality dairy and meat exports on Earth. That’s fantastic. Our native timbers are incredibly for woodturning, and our climate for exotic timbers make forestry a tempting venture in New Zealand. Our landscape is full of pointy little homages to 25 year rotations, with many a retirement travel plan resting on a cloaked green hillside. New Zealand has rich seams of coal and minerals, including gold that have been drawing people to our shores since colonial time began.

However – this does not mean that I would support farming that chokes our rivers, accelerates anthropogenically-forced climate change, and strips the land of any scerrrick of indigenous presence. Neither does it mean that forestry nor the processing industry around it has any right to destroy our soils, turn our rivers black and so decimate our hillsides that they be rendered useless for generations to come. And finally, neither do I support irresponsible mining (and hell no on Schedule 4 lands thanks), the kind that turns waterways anoxic, removes whole mountains or leaves toxic tailings for future generations to look back at us and regard us with disdain for. I expect our farmers, our foresters, our miners and their customers (i.e. us) to understand that we can only move forward when we encapsulate the true cost of activities and base our cost-benefit analyses on those numbers. The Greens have (some individual members since time immemorial!) have fought for this and still do…and we still will. And that’s why I vote Green.

I will vote Green in the 2011 Election and I hope that you will too.