Recent actions by the New Zealand government to improve water quality in rural areas, to establish more natural areas (SNAs) to preserve New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and to improve environmental decision making when human development occurs, have incurred the wrath of rural communities across new Zealand.
Less than 150 years ago most of New Zealand was covered in indigenous forest with a predominantly bird and insect population and just a few species of mammals- (seals, bats and ‘native’ rats (kiore). Within a few decades of European settlement, most of the New Zealand landmass had been cleared of trees for agriculture, leaving a few pockets of native forest on private farms and some larger national parks. Native bird and other indigenous animal specie’s populations plummeted – largely because of habitat loss, but also because of the introduction of European predators like black rats stoats and feral cats along with European species of plants and trees and birds and accidental imports of insects.
With the introduction of beefs and sheep, large areas of New Zealand, including many parts of the mountainous “high country’, have been maintained in grasslands which are frequently sprayed in chemical fertilizers herbicides and insecticides to encourage grass growth. Soil fertility and water quality has consequently plummeted and erosion has become even more common. In many areas rainfall has also substantially declined with the loss of permanent forest, and often its replacement with North American pines for short -term timber production (pines which also dry and acidify the soil) and are then clear-felled, creating enormous damage to ecosystems.
As global temperatures rise, New Zealand as a southern Pacific island nation, is impacted significantly by ocean temperature and ocean current changes and the de-icing of Antarctica . As is occurring throughout the world, parts of the country, particularly eastern areas, are now more subject to both drought and sudden deluges.
As rain decreases overall, farmers rely more and more heavily on rivers and groundwater reservoirs to provide for their ever less sustainable farm management practices. Dairying, with its very high water requirements particularly, has exploded in recent decades in New Zealand.
In response, the New Zealand government has developed a rather half-hearted and inadequate response to the looming environmental catastrophe New Zealand and the world faces. The rural sector, by necessity, is one of the prime targets for changes to environmental processes in the hope that the inevitable environmental catastrophe can be at least delayed.
However, New Zealand’s comparatively rapid increase in human population and urban areas (from a very low base even 100 years ago) has also significantly impacted on the environment. Low land areas near the coast are particularly impacted by housing developments which totally destroy the natural environment and create major polutants, while draining areas of swamp and natural riperian areas with storm water drains – increasing the ocean’s toxicity
Naturally, the rural sector, mostly conservative by definition, rejects both the need for change and the changes themselves and see themselves as unfairly targeted by a predominantly urban voter based government. The proposed changes by this government will inevitably impact on their often substantial incomes by reducing stock numbers, changing to more expensive and holistic farming practice, and reducing the farming and fishing catchment.
Conservatives often believe that what is the reality now , was the reality in the past and will be so in the future. The current and developing Global Environmental Catastrophe will rapidly prove that viewpoint wrong. If the current intense heat and forest fires in North West America and in Siberia and extreme floods in Europe are not enough warning of what is to come- then nothing will- till we fall off the cliff.
Global markets will inevitably begin to retreat and collapse as the risks to global transportation exponentially increase with more frequent climate events, and their consequent insurance, become too costly. Countries will begin to retreat into their own internal trading milieu, state revenues will implode as ‘production’ begins to rapidly decline everywhere. Costs to national governments to preserve coastal urban areas from sea level rise, to relocate populations from at risk areas, and to compensate for more and more adverse climate events, will all impact on the capacity of national economies to ‘grow’ and a dawning realization that a steady state no-growth) economy is the only feasible option.
It is true that no matter what we do to reduce carbon emissions, we will see rapid increases in global warming. But we can start to mitigate the environmental destruction, loss of biodiversity and provide some cushioning from the ever increasing heat our living world will endure, by undertaking large scale plantings of indigenous forest which will not be logged, marine areas will not be bottom dredged and despoiled, but left to store carbon for millenia. And by holding on to our remnants of indigenous ecosystems for the future we ensure those indigenous forests will become precious storehouses of life and knowledge for the millenia ahead.
Farmers and others in the rural sector who simply see the need for the protection of our remnants of biodiversity as a short-term profit and loss equation that they are not prepared to face, are blind to the realities which confront us all.
Rather than face rapid and cataclysmic change resulting from unstoppable environmental pressures, because we think we can ignore the realities of environmental damage, we are all going to be far safer by systematically adapting to a rapidly evolving environment.