By Nathaniel Rich
Photographs and Videos by George Steinmetz
AUG. 1, 2018
“While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.”
University of Auckland’s Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond responds to the OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance with suggestions on how the fresh water crisis might be tackled
The OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance is crystal clear. New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation is at immediate risk from the degradation of many New Zealand lakes and rivers. International media, buyers of New Zealand products, tourism interests and public opinion polls have all been ringing alarm bells, and now the OECD itself has joined the uproar.
As the report notes, “fresh water is a fundamental asset underpinning New Zealand’s economy”, in primary production as well as tourism and many other industries.
While leaders in national and local government and primary production have tried to shut down freshwater scientists and others warning about the damage to New Zealand’s waterways, they can’t ignore this message from the international community. Decisive action to enhance the state of many springs, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and aquifers across the country must be taken.
Although much was hoped from the Land and Water Forum, which for almost a decade has brought key stakeholders together to agree on ways of taking care of New Zealand’s water courses, the government has not listened to most of the Forum’s recommendations. At the regional level, too, collaborative processes have often been hijacked by powerful commercial interests.
In addition, iwi claims to proprietary interests in ancestral waterways have been upheld by the Waitangi Tribunal. In response, the government has argued that “no one owns the water”. Conversations between the government and iwi leaders about this are conducted in private, despite acute public interest in how fresh water in New Zealand should be managed.
The OECD recognises that iwi interests in waterways have to be resolved if freshwater management in New Zealand is to move ahead. The report highlights the need for the application of national standards at the catchment level to be independently monitored. It also notes that charging for the commercial use of fresh water and polluter pays charges might be considered.
Sir Eddie Durie and the New Zealand Māori Council have suggested that in order to bring greater consistency to the management of waterways across the country, and to recognise iwi interests in fresh water, an independent Waterways Commission might be established. If closely linked with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, this would have a number of advantages.
If charging for the commercial use of fresh water is introduced, it is imperative that this income flow is not privatised. All New Zealand citizens have a stake in the country’s waterways, and if water charges are introduced, this funding should be dedicated to improving fresh water quality for the benefit of all, including iwi projects to enhance ancestral waterways, as in Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act.
The visionary recognition in Te Awa Tupua Act of the rights of waterways themselves could be extended to other waterways. Rivers, springs, streams, wetlands and lakes existed long before people arrived in New Zealand, and as both the Whanganui people and the OECD recognise, human beings depend on freshwater ecosystems for our health, prosperity and survival, as much as the other way around.
While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.
The legal rights of all citizens to enjoy waterways across New Zealand should underpin the work of a Waterways Commission. It is vital that the application of national standards for fresh water is nationally monitored by an independent body, to ensure that the management of waterways and any funding from water rights are not hijacked by private interests.
The OECD’s report is a call to action. Declining standards for fresh water in New Zealand must be decisively tackled. A Waterways Commission – one that is truly independent and well resourced, reconciles the rights and responsibilities of iwi with those of other citizens, and takes good care of our waterways – would bring urgency and national oversight to this task.
Dame Anne Salmond is the Patron of the Te Awaroa: 1000 Rivers project. She was the 2013 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
22nd December 2016 Commercialisation has poisoned all areas of contemporary life, and together with its partner in crime, consumerism, is the principal cause of man-made climate change.
Operating under the suffocating shadow of neo-liberalism, the market forces of commercialisation act blindly and indiscriminately. The presiding deity is money; the goal of endeavour quick profit and limitless growth – no matter what the human or environmental costs may be. And the consequences to both are great, long-term and far-reaching: global climate change, with its numerous effects, and the wholesale destruction of the natural environment being the most significant.
The Earth is our home, “our sister”, as Pope Francis calls it in his ground-breaking Encyclical letter, “On Care For Our Common Home”. But we are poisoning and raping her; polluting the rivers and oceans, destroying the rainforests, coral reefs and natural habitats; the treasures she has given us to care for. It is unchecked human behaviour that is lighting the various fires of destruction. Unless there is a change in the unsustainable, overindulgent way we are living, the
prospects for the planet are bleak.
The interrelated environmental catastrophes are the greatest threat to human and non-human life, and they affect the economic and social crises facing humanity. And they highlight the need for a new imagination to meet the challenges we face.
Our abuse of the Earth, together with what many believe to be a growing threat of nuclear confrontation, has, as Noam Chomsky makes clear, brought about the most serious crisis in human history. It has motivated millions of concerned people throughout the world to unite against government apathy and destructive actions, but is being met with complacency and arrogance by ideologically-driven politicians and the corrupt corporations, who, to a greater or lesser extent, determine policy.
Pope Francis expresses the view of many when he says that, “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”. He goes on to point out that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”, resulting from the wide-ranging effects of climate change and global warming.
While man-made climate change resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is due to various factors, a lifestyle based on rapacious desire for all things material is the key underlying cause. This is made clear in a University College London (UCL) research paper, which states that, “although population and demographics are considerable factors in carbon emissions and consequent global warming, consumption patterns remain the most significant factor. It adds that consumers, rather than people, cause climate change,” although in the world of big business and among some governments these appear to be synonymous terms…
A world of exacerbated consumption
Consumerism is the life-blood of capitalism. It is an engineered pattern of behaviour that functions and is perpetuated through the constant agitation of desire for pleasure, a transient state that is sold as happiness.
The consumer culture has been manufactured. Human beings are not naturally rapacious but have been coerced into it. Through manipulative advertising and marketing strategies corporations have promoted the false idea that happiness and contentment will be discovered on the next shopping excursion, inside the packaging of the new gadget or video game.
The designers of the consumer game know well that no such peace will be discovered in the material world of make-believe, and so discontent is guaranteed, prompting the next desire-fuelled outing. And so the cycle of inner emptiness, perpetual longing and dependence on transient appeasement through consumption is maintained…
The consequences of this are ever-greater energy demands, oceans of landfill waste, deforestation, contaminated air that kills millions every year, and widespread environmental destruction.
Consumerism is a Western way of life, another toxic export – together with fast food, obesity and diabetes – that is now finding its way into the cities of some developing countries. It is not the billions living in poverty in the towns and villages of sub-Saharan Africa, or rural India and China, who are indulging in the voracious consumption that is crippling the planet. The poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population is, according to Oxfam, responsible for a mere 10 per cent of “total lifestyle consumption emissions”. The cult of consumerism is predominantly the pastime of the spoilt and bored – with access to easy credit – in the developed nations of the world. Europe and America, for example, with a mere 12 per cent of global population, account for over 60 per cent of worldwide consumption…
Unrestrained consumption and perpetual growth are essential to the success and profitability of the neo-liberal project, which without such consumerism would collapse. And so insatiable desire for material possessions is virtually insisted upon by governments obsessed with economic growth, and businesses that depend on sales. This itch, which is constantly excited by persuasive advertising, a culture of comparison and narrow definitions of the self, feeds an urge to continually consume…
The extreme capitalist system that is demanding such behaviour is inseparable from wealth and income inequality, climate change, displacement of people and environmental degradation. All of these are interconnected and increasingly recognised to be so…
All forms of life are mistreated in such a world because nothing has any inherent value; everything has fallen prey to the curse of commercialisation and is seen as a commodity, including human beings. Rivers, valleys, forests and mountains all are commodified. They are bought up by large companies who see such natural treasures in terms of an end product, a source of profit when sold in the shopping centres and homogenous high streets of our towns and cities.
In the rush to drain the Earth of all goodness, huge numbers of indigenous people are displaced, the land ruined and beauty lost. Where the corporate hand of mankind is found, all too often one witnesses exploitation, destruction and waste…
Impelled by a restless appetite to conquer everyone and own everything, “capitalism,” as Naomi Klein rightly states, “is at war with life on earth”. And if triumph is to be judged in terms of destruction and degradation, at the moment it is winning.
Heating up the planet
Climate change brought about by greenhouse gases and the resulting warming of the planet dates from the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th Century. According to analysis by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times”. Two thirds of this increase took place since 1975, and it’s intensifying. Nine out 10 of the hottest years on record occurred since 2000 and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this sharp increase is “due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations”.
As Naomi Klein puts it, climate change “has less to do with carbon [and other polluting emissions] than with capitalism”. An extreme form of capitalism that only prospers when certain negative aspects of human behavior are elicited: selfish, materialistic tendencies, which the ideological disciples, who benefit from this divisive way of living and believe in its dogma are committed to encouraging. Honing in on Ms Klein’s statement further, we can say, as Pope Francis, UCL and others have concluded, that the most significant cause of man-made climate change is the food and drink of capitalism – consumerism.
The logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness
Worldwide, awareness of climate change varies from region to region. In a Gallop poll of 128 countries taken in 2008, it was found that overall 61 per cent of the global population were aware of global warming, of which only 11 per cent felt they “knew a great deal about it”. Europe was the region where awareness was highest, 88 per cent being aware, with 70 per cent knowing “something about it”. This figure drops in the Americas (North and South) to 64 per cent and plummets to 45 per cent in Asia, 37 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 42 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.
Even where some acceptance of climate change exists, people are often reluctant to change their lifestyle and make the required sacrifices – for example, stick with their existing mobile phone, buy less stuff, reduce the use of electricity/gas, give up that diesel car or use public transport.
Awareness of climate change is a beginning, but understanding of the underlying causes and effects is needed to change behaviour, as well as a major shift away from selfishness and greed. Such tendencies create separation – from oneself, from others and from the natural environment – desensitize us and lead to complacency. These ingrained patterns of behaviour are strangling the purity out of the Earth and stifling the humanity in us…
Knitted firmly into the heart of this culture and the crises facing humanity is neo-liberalism – an unjust system that needs to be laid to rest and replaced by one that flows from the recognition that humanity is a family and that all human beings have the same needs and the same rights to live secure, dignified lives…
Moving away from the present unjust economic model would create the possibility of purification taking place: purification first and foremost of us, of the way we think and act…
Purification of our internal lives, in which we break the addiction to material goods, cease to look externally for happiness and reduce our levels of consumption, will lead to purification of the natural environment.
A massive education programme is needed to bring about such a shift in thinking and behaviour, one that inspires a shift in consciousness away from the idea of the individual as the centre of all activity, determinedly competing with everyone else, to recognition of one’s place within the whole and the responsibility that goes with that…
Otherwise, the model of consumerism will continue to advance, and with it the further contamination of the Earth, the destruction of ecosystems and the heightened threat to human life.
The choice is ours.
© Scoop Media
Each year, I look so forward to Eid Al Adha – the holiest holiday for Muslims worldwide – but not this year. As I watched my daughters prepare for the celebrations with joy, I learned of a horrific crime. A 36-year-old woman dressed in traditional garb was set on fire on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. She was the same age as me, walking in the city where I was born and raised. This comes at the heels of two Muslim women in Brooklyn who were physically assaulted by a woman as they pushed their babies in strollers. As if this news wasn’t enough, we also learned that a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, which Omar Mateen reportedly used to visit, had been set on fire. They had to cancel their planned holiday celebrations as a result. How could I enjoy the day without thinking of them? Instead of celebrating as planned, the community in Florida has to explain to their children why someone would intentionally set their place of worship, their sanctuary, on fire the night before the highest holy holiday. These horrific acts follow the execution style murders of an imam and his assistant in Ozone Park, and the stabbing of a 60-year old Muslim woman in Queens. These are only the stories that make the headlines. I don’t think we know the extent of the impact, trauma and pain of Muslim communities nationwide. Muslim Americans found themselves caught in a conversation about how close Eid Al Adha was to the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Pundits wondered whether Muslims would alter their annual Eid celebrations for sensitivity purposes. This insinuation both disappointed and outraged me…
DEEP SEA MINING: AN INVISIBLE LAND GRAB
July 20, 2016
By Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue
Thousands of meters beneath the azure ocean waters in places like the South Pacific, down through a water column saturated with life and to the ocean floor carpeted in undiscovered ecosystems, machines the size of small buildings are poised to begin a campaign of wholesale destruction. I wish this assessment was hyperbole, but it is the reality we find ourselves in today.
A deep sea mining machine.
After decades of being on the back burner owing to costs far outweighing benefits, deep sea mining is now emerging as a serious threat to the stability of ocean systems and processes that have yet to be understood well enough to sanction in good conscience their large-scale destruction. Machines tear up the seabed producing minerals sent up to a capture boat.
Critical to evaluating what is at stake are technologies needed to access the deep sea. The mining company, Nautilus Minerals, has invested heavily in mining machinery. However, resources needed for independent scientific assessment at those depths are essentially non-existent.
The layout of a mining operation.
China is investing heavily in submersibles, manned and robotic, that are able to at least provide superficial documentation of what is in the deep ocean. Imagine aliens with an appetite for minerals flying low over New York City taking photographs and occasional samples and using them to evaluate the relative importance of the streets and buildings with no capacity to understand (or interest) in the importance of Wall Street, the New York Times, Lincoln Center, Columbia University or even the role of taxi cabs and traffic signals. They might even wonder whether or not those little two-legged things running around would be useful for something.
The International Seabed Authority, located in Jamaica and created under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is currently issuing permits for mining exploration. At the very least, might there be ways to issue something like “restraining orders” owing to the lack of proof that no harm will be done to systems critical to human needs? Or also at the very least protecting very (very, very) large areas where no mining will be allowed?
Do you see life in this picture? I do.
The role of life in the deep sea relating to the carbon cycle is vaguely understood, and the influence of the microbial systems (only recently discovered) and the diverse ecosystems in the water column and sea bed have yet to be thoughtfully analyzed. If a doctor could only see the skin of a patient, or sample what is underneath with tiny probes, how could internal functions be understood?
The rationale for exploiting minerals in the deep sea is based on their perceived current monetary value. The living systems that will be destroyed are perceived to have no monetary value. Will decisions about use of the natural world continue to be based on the financial advantage for a small number of people despite risks to systems that underpin planetary stability – systems that support human survival?
Please read more at the link below.
n January this year, I visited friends in Miami. One of the most urgent topics of conversation was about what they saw as the greatest problem faced by the city – rising water levels, and a long-standing reluctance on the part of government and business to take the necessary steps to control the extensive damage. From inundated homes, shops and roads, to fresh water pollution and sewage being forced upwards, the impacts are widespread. In a Christian Aid report (pdf) published last week, Miami ranked ninth in a list of cities most at risk from future coastal flooding as a result of sea level rises. Supported by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, projections for the year 2017 suggest that Kolkata and Mumbai, both in India, are most exposed to coastal flooding. Bar Miami, the top ten cities are all in Asia. Facebook Twitter Pinterest A woman walks through a flooded street in Miami Beach, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images As global water levels rise, as parts of Florida experience the heaviest rain since records began, as the flooding and salination of farmland in Bangladesh increases, the risk to coastal cities can be seen for what it is – a sign of the apparently inexorable effects of a high-carbon economy on a fragile environment. It is not a demand for economic stagnation, nor a matter of having some sort of anti-business agenda But what is also clear from the Christian Aid research is how ecological disaster intensifies inequality. In prosperous nations it is the poorest who are most at risk from environmental changes such as those Miami faces because they have the least means to cope with or move away from the problem. In developing countries, coastal cities and their surrounding regions have even less in the way of defence. Business as usual – that familiar and illusory process – will simply deepen the gulf separating the economically secure from the insecure, at least in the short term. In the long run, to paraphrase Keynes, we are all insecure. There are measures that can be, and are being, taken with the help of NGOs and other civil society groups to limit the damage. During last year’s flooding in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for example, Oxfam distributed water, hygiene kits and cash grants, and worked with other international NGOs to coordinate the humanitarian response. But the underlying question is becoming more and more pressing: what is it about our prevailing global model of economic growth that apparently blinds us to the cost of the high-carbon system? A process of so-called growth that inexorably increases the distance between rich and poor in one way or another ought to look nonsensical to us. Philippines investigates Shell and Exxon over climate change Read more Economic activity is still so often defined in terms of an unending upward spiral of consumption in a materially limited environment. Are we looking hard enough at the contradictions here? Are we asking what kind of economies are sustainable? The launch this week of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, headed by Professor Tim Jackson who wrote the groundbreaking 2011 report Prosperity Without Growth, looks to galvanise a more urgent discussion of these issues.
“Academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust,” declared Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who helped expose the Flint water crisis. In an interview published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Tuesday, Edwards explained how the pressures put on academics to secure funding are forcing scientists to abandon work done in the public interest and that similar financial motives are causing government science agencies to ignore inconvenient truths—like high levels of lead in public drinking water. He said he’s “very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty.” Edwards describes the culture as a “hedonistic treadmill,” with “extraordinary” pressures to pursue funding, publication, and academic clout. Meanwhile, he said, “the idea of science as a public good is being lost.” Edwards, whose research also uncovered high levels of lead in the Washington, D.C. water supply in 2003, was tapped by Flint residents to help test their water after officials with both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) ignored their concerns. The cases of Flint and Washington, Edwards explained, illustrate how the failure of government scientists to acknowledge a problem, coupled with academia’s refusal to question their judgement, can drive serious public health crises. He said: In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.
If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.
Edwards said that practicing “heroism” within the scientific community can be a lonely pursuit and that he has “lost friends” simply by asking questions.
“I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way,” he said of the Centers for Disease Control’s widespread misreporting of lead levels in Washington D.C.
“If I am the river and the river is me – then emphatically, I am dying.” Whanganui elder
Across New Zealand, people from many different backgrounds have a deep and passionate connection with their waterways. From children who grow up swimming and playing in and beside streams, rivers and lakes, to those who fish for whitebait, eels or trout; from iwi with powerful connections with ancestral waterways, to kayakers, rowers and waka ama paddlers, rivers run through our lives. Rivers, waterfalls and lakes are part of who we are as Kiwis. When streams or rivers dwindle and disappear; or are choked with sediment and forestry debris; or become toxic with algae and too dangerous to fish and swim in, many of us experience grief or anger. This was evident in the videos filmed by the ‘Choose Clean Water’ group of young people who travelled around New Zealand over the summer, talking with Kiwis in many different communities about the state of their waterways. They collected thousands of signatures on a petition to Parliament, asking that the Government ensure that our streams and rivers are safe to swim and fish in. In response, the Minister for the Environment said it was not practical to achieve this, an answer that dismayed many Kiwis. Anger has also been aroused by stories about private companies extracting millions of gallons from local aquifers for derisory sums, selling the water offshore and making vast profits in the process. read more..
In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”. Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control. He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness. Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible. Solastalgia is not a malady specific to the present – we might think of John Clare as a solastalgic poet, witnessing his native Northamptonshire countryside disrupted by enclosure in the 1810s – but it has flourished recently. “A worldwide increase in ecosystem distress syndromes,” wrote Albrecht, is “matched by a corresponding increase in human distress syndromes”. Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants. Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. And what a signature it will be. We have bored 50m kilometres of holes in our search for oil. We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain. The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads. Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally. The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries. We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Rainforest burning in Brazil, 1989. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of “deep time” – the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come. Conceptually, it warrants us to consider once again whether – in Fredric Jameson’s phrase – “the modernisation process is complete, and nature is gone for good”, leaving nothing but us. There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare “the end of nature”. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through. Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Read more…