Solar eclipse

There was this time when I was a kid and I was riding my bike off to my piano lesson. Riding along, I noticed something weird. I had two shadows, kind of like a 3D movie image without the glasses. I looked again. Still there. I got off my bike, feeling like Peter Pan, with this extra shadow stuck to me. What the hell!

Well, nothing I could do about it. I carried on, slightly spooked, sat through my lesson, slightly distracted, and rode home, weirdly, with the mystifying effect vanished.

Later than night, there was a news item, some kind of eclipse.

There’s one happening now, as I type this, you can watch it here, and right now (9.50 am, NZDT) it looks like this:

eclipse

ETNZ update: pedal power

Grant Dalton copped various blames for Emirates Team New Zealand’s loss to Oracle in the 2014 Americas Cup: in particular, his agreement to the lay day and his on-board role drew flak. There’s little chance we’ll see him crewing on the new boat, the lay day is no-doubt a learning experience. And one other thing is noticeably different in this edition: ETNZ’s media output.

In 2014, they crowed about their quantum developments in foiling. Armchair sailors like me watched avidly as ETNZ made thrilling breakthroughs that reinvented sailing almost as much as Russell Coutts’s new multi-hull formula.

In fact, Coutts’s contribution – to ditch slow, heavy monohulls for light, fast catamarans – was only half the story. ETNZ did the work to get foiling happening, and also, to prove that the losses in directional stability were more than compensated for by overall speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if – lacking a resident billionaire – ETNZ told an open-media story for the benefit of existing and potential sponsors.

But of course, it also gave ETNZ’s opposition an open window to gaze through. Months ahead of their own build commitments, the defender and the other challengers could all see which way ETNZ was heading.

This time round, there’s less crowing about breakthroughs and more general backstory: team member profiles, sponsor plugs, and time lapse videos of the bits in between: rigging, crew briefings, people in hi vis and rocking their multi-tools. Occasionally, there’s a bit of sailing, but usually only a few frames, and often in the distance.

So it was a cool surprise to see learn something tangible about the new boat just three months out from AC racing proper: they’ve replaced the coffee grinder winches with foot pedals. Ok!

cycling-etnz

It’s hard not to imagine their feet driving little propellors when you see them lined up like The Goodies. So what are they about, really?

Things are different these days. It’s not just a matter of a sheet to control the sail angle, and a few lines to control sail shape. Much of the critical configuration from moment to moment is adjusted through hydraulic pressure. Racing yachts have used hydraulics for decades, which is fine by the rules as long as the hydraulic pressure is human generated.

But in these new catamarans, with wing sails and hydrofoils, hydraulics are bigger than ever. For example, ETNZ’s near capsize in San Francisco was a direct result of failed hydraulic pressure. In the middle of a tack, the wing ran out of hydraulic pressure and back-winded on the new tack, causing the massive stall-out.

And hydraulics are critical for fast, efficient foiling. This is – all competitors agree – the name of the game. The one who foils best will probably sail fastest. The primary speed goal for all crews is to sail an entire race without anything but foils in the water. Once they achieve that, they’ll have a big speed advantage over anyone who can’t.

And, once achieved, those who crack the holy grail of continuous, non-stop foiling will then move on to new areas: initiating foiling in lower wind conditions; foiling safely in much higher wind conditions; optimising their course-made-good (because these boats are so fast, they never sail straight downwind, but across the wind, making for complex geometry).

In San Francisco, Oracle’s ultimate speed edge was achieved through the installation of flight controllers which could adjust the pitch, angle and cant of the foils in the same way they do on a commercial jet: frequently, constantly, and super-accurately. And that takes power.

So, the hope for ETNZ will be that by delivering more power to the foil controllers, they’ll be able to control the foils faster and more accurately. Not only that, but the foils themselves may be faster too. It could be that with more power, the crew can get more lift out of a smaller foil with less drag than a bigger foil.

Someone always comes up with some radical innovation in the America’s Cup. Australia II revolutionised keel design. Another Australian boat had a super bendy mast that created a few square feet of extra (stretchy) sail area. New Zealand’s first attempt in 1987 made use of new construction materials. And in 2014 New Zealand pioneered hydrofoils.

Some critics have said they’ve looked at pedals, and discarded them due to ergonomic loss. I think what they meant was, these boats are fiddly enough at the best of times, so the last thing you want to do as you run for your life from one side to the other is to insert yourself into some kind of bike-like contraption. Maybe there is a cost in power-generation coming out of the tacks and gybes. Well, if nothing else, that could make the start sequences interesting.

At any rate, one thing is clear. At the end of ETNZ’s own video for the launch of the new boat, there’s a single, uninterrupted shot of the boat sailing. It’s foiling along nicely. Then it bears away a few degrees, picks up speed and goes through a perfect, foiling tack. It feels like a little statement to fans and competitors.

I wish we could see more. But it looks as though that’s going to require a Sky subscription, which I really can’t be bothered with. So those of you who have one can expect some visits from me in three months time.

 

 

 

 

2016, it was a very good year.

It got off to a great start with a push from the United Nations, who declared it International Year of Pulses. From the Wikipedia page dedicated to the cause:

  1. Pulses provide a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe, ensuring food security.
  2. As part of a healthy diet high in fiber, pulses fight obesity.
  3. Pulses also prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions, and cancer.
  4. Pulses are an important source of plant-based protein for livestock.
  5. Pulses pull nitrogen from the air into the soil, increasing soil fertility.
  6. Pulses use less water than most other protein crops, making them a sustainable agricultural choice.
eight_col_02-flaming-2016

From Toby Morrison and Toby Manhire at Radio New Zealand. Used without permission but with maximum respect!

In other food news, it was a great moment for livestock when heavy hitting environment writer George Monbiot came out as a part time vegan, not out of taste, or any sense of animal welfare, but because – as every environmentalist knows – the planet simply can’t afford to keep dishing up animal protein to humans any longer. So, actually, it was a good day for everyone when he did that, including all the non humans who will benefit from his reduced footprint.

In February, North Korea launched a long range rocket into space. Awesome! They incurred the wrath of the United Nations, but then, they were already out the back door with that lot, so who cares. OK, it sucked for the rest of the world to see North Korea kick its nuclear programme along, but I never said this was going to be all about everyone-except-the-North-Koreans, did I? Anyway, we’ve got our own Rocket Lab, so there.

In March, Congolese Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba was found guilty of war crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. The war crimes were hideous. But the case outcome was described by a director at Physicians for Human Rights (via the Guardian) as “a critical turning point for the thousands of men, women and children who were victims of Bemba’s orchestrated campaign of rape and murder.” Significantly, it was the fist verdict within the ICC to “recognise rape as a weapon of war.” Which also meant it recognised the act of rape within the command structure with front line assailants acting under Bemba’s authority.

Bemba got 18 years. The same month, former Serbian leader Radovan Karadjic copped 40 years for his part in the Bosnian war.

Slightly less great, from the point of view of most people, was the Brussels bombings in March by what I think is called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But of course, it was great for them. I never said this would be all about everyone-except-Daesh. I wonder how many Daesh guys will ever end up in front of the ICC. Hopefully, lots.

In April, Nicky Hager and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke out the foreign trusts documents. Again, it was one of those good things (knowledge, awareness and the impetus for change) that came out of a bad thing (places like New Zealand creating laws especially designed to facilitate the laundering of improperly secured moneys).

That may become a bit of a theme for 2016. Dark clouds and silver linings. Prevailing justice.

In June, Britain voted to leave the EU. That’s “great” in the sense of being “huge”. But not in any other way as far as anyone can tell. In fact it might not even be legal, or even possible. So, not that great at all, really.

Speaking of Rockets, NASA put a space craft into orbit around Jupiter. That’s cool, and we’ll need a bit of cool stuff, because Trump’s just announced he’s closing down NASA’s climate research. Fuckin’ eh!

Then, in August Peter Burling and Blair Tuke took the gold medal in the 49er class at the summer Olympics. I rather love these two. They’ve won every event in their class since the last Olympics, in which they got silver. In 2012, gold went to Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. The win matters, because Outteridge and Jensen sail in key positions in team Artemis, who compete against Burling and Tuke in the America’s Cup, so it’s nice to have them squared away firmly in second place.

I know, there were some other good wins in the Olympics too. Fiji. Yay. So much for sport. I hate boxing. But that’s another song.

In September, there was quite a bit of clapping due to COP 21 climate accord in Paris, which even got the US and China onside. That was great. But now it appears that America is going to shit-weasel the whole thing. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

On September 28, CO2 levels exceeded 400 ppm, a suspected new all time high.

November 8, Donald Trump. Like Brexit, Trump is the wrong solution to the right problem. His protestations about a corrupt political industrial complex were bang on, even if he is part of them, as such brain boxes as Noam Chomsky have discussed (but not in reference to Trump). Chomsky’s contributions, both in his writing and in his recent film, are along the lines that we’re now witnessing a sort of endgame of civilisation, or, as Jello Biafra once put it, “bedtime for democracy.”

Oh, this just in. “I wouldn’t compare [Trump America] with Weimar Germany. Hitler was a sincere, dedicated ideologue.”

I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with Trump or Brexit. You know what’s wrong with them both. What’s right with them is that millions of disaffected people felt a surge of power and kicked the shit. Sure, it’s a lousy outcome. But it felt good to those people.

Trump’s victory of course was also a bad day for democracy. New Zealand went through all that years ago, when Muldoon won more than one election with – like Trump – less than the majority of votes. Good luck taking that message to them.

America needs electoral reform, and so do lots of countries, including England (or whatever that place is called). But the only reform America is likely to get right now is a constitutional amendment abolishing the two-term presidential limit.

And then, just over a week ago, something really great really did happen. A Prime Minister who did enjoy a strong public vote resigned for no apparent reason. John Key was nothing but bad for New Zealand. Under his watch, public assets got flogged, eradicating debt but reducing income by more, costing the country a net $94m a year.

Womens refuge centres and support services for family violence were closed down or forced to shut under budget cuts.

Farmers have polluted and been allowed to continue doing so. Although Labour were the first to get that ball rolling.

Inquality has flourished under John Key. Then he shit-weaselled his own party!

His resignation is a good thing. On the few occasions when John let Bill English off the leash, I’ve thought he doesn’t always sound like he’s talking complete tosh (of which John Key was the master). But then, he is apparently the economic architect of the current economy, so, so much for him.

I’m glad John Key’s gone, I think Bill will provide a stable pair of hands until whenever the election is. I think most people will see through him and his repulsive deputy (I mean, politically repulsive, like, she repulses anyone from taking the same career trajectory she did).

And I look forward to a change of government sometime in 2017. That’s a really great year.

 

 

National 08-16: economics

Someone reckoned I was being a bit partial in my previous post about John Key. Whatever. Who isn’t? Anyway here’s a slightly more detailed analysis of the last 8 years. We’ll start with the economy.

The government reaped about $4.7b from the partial sales of Mighty River, Genesis, Meridian and Air NZ . Just two side notes on all that. First, I was surprised to see Air NZ in the list. I thought that was taken off the table. Seems not. Second, total revenue from all asset sales since Labour came up with the idea in 1988 is about $23b.

The lost revenue (from dividends and retained profits) from this government’s asset sales is conservatively estimated at $360m per year. The reduced interest on debt enabled by that revenue is about $266m per year. Asset sales therefore cost us $94m per year, based on current pricing (as of 2014) etc.

The current surplus is about $1.8b. Clearly, asset sales have something to do with that. But as the Greens were keen to point out, assets earned more than the cost of servicing the government’s debt: we made money out of them. Reducing the debt also reduced our income.

Unemployment has reduced from 6.5% to just under 5% since 2010. Under Labour it came down to an all time low of just over 3%. But we can’t take away from National the fact that – since the GFC – unemployment has trended downwards.

unemployment-10yr

Over the same period (2008 – 16) employment participation grew about 2%, which equates to about 50,000 jobs (as a % of 2.5m working kiwis).

And the economy is growing. The Reserve Bank recently identified growth to be higher than the 20 year average, going steady at about 3.5%, while inflation, unemployment and current account deficit as a share of GDP are all lower than the 20 year average. In the same document linked above, Governor Graham Wheeler describes the growth as ‘longer but weaker’ than previous growth cycles. Maybe that’s a god thing. At what rate of growth do economists get jumpy?

On the other hand, some people say any growth is bad: a finite economic resource (e.g. planet Earth) and infinite economic goals (aka continuous growth) are indeed hard to reconcile. But that’s another song.

Wheeler (and plenty of others) identify construction, tourism and migration as the main drivers. Dairy is nowhere. The 2.5% rise in job numbers may look even more impressive against a 5% rise in the total workforce. But it’s not. In fact, there’s a gaping problem.

Productivity is ‘particularly week’, says Wheeler. Historically, productivity has tended to correlate with investment. But capital investment has trended upwards in the last 5 years, and productivity has not increased in proportion to that. It would appear that lower value jobs are increasing while higher value jobs are retrenching.

I’ve spent quite a while looking at this, and discussing with my friend and economist Russell Lerew.

productivity

Since 2011, labour has made an enormous contribution to GDP which is still growing. Capital has made a modest contribution to GDP and is level. And total factor productivity is slowly but steadily disappearing. That means more people are working harder for less reward.

Wheeler’s explanation for this seems a bit glib. To summarise: we’re small and far away. But that’s no different now than ever (and wasn’t the internet supposed to cure all that?). What’s different is that the current upswing doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of capital behind it. It’s being driven by labour, not investment.

I believe this also means there are more low value jobs , and fewer high value jobs. Which is where immigration comes in. Increasingly, New Zealanders can not afford to take the kinds of jobs which the economy is providing. Employers need to bring people in from lower wage economies to do them for us.

According to last week’s Herald, the Skilled Migrant Category has allowed roughly 15,000 chefs, cafe managers and retail managers into the country in the last 10 years (in addition to more skilled types such as tradies, medics etc.). Migration makes it easier for employers to employ more people for lower wages, and increases New Zealand workers’ exposure to competition from low-wage, low-value economies.  It’s hard to see how that’s of any long term value.

Under National, record net migration was at a record high every month for two years from October 2014 to October 2016. Immigration is one of the big cogs in what some call ‘the two speed economy.’

The other big cog is housing. If you own a house, and can afford to keep it, and – better yet – use it as collateral to buy another one, you’re probably doing ok. Home ownership has reduced steadily through all governments. A quick search gave me a chart going back to 1972 when home ownership was at 73%. It’s currently at 64%.

Many politicians have regarded home ownership as a vital component of healthy communities. That’s easy enough to grasp. But I also wonder if it’s hopelessly unrealistic. There must be plenty of healthy neighbourhoods around the world where none of the residents can afford to own their own home. If not, we probably  need to figure out how to do that, now.

Immigration can only put more pressure on housing, as does the extraordinary policy to allow anyone, anywhere, to buy anything in the land. Supporters of National say ‘people want to come and live here, because the economy is strong, so that’s a good problem.’ But it’s completely disingenuous. The ‘good problem’ is that New Zealand residents and citizens are being undercut by foreign workers, while – at the same time – being out-bid by foreign investors. Where’s the good part in all that?

More jobs? But increasingly, those jobs don’t pay enough to pay the rent. High employment is not the sunshine. It’s the silver lining.

Both Key and Andrew Little have used the phrase ‘blunt instrument’ to describe capital gains tax. I don’t know why they’re so fussy. It’s not keyhole surgery. We know that most New Zealanders’ capital is tied up in non-productive housing, and we can see (above) that however capital is being used, it’s not in a way that is stimulating productivity.

Capital urgently needs to be diverted into more productive economic activity. It’s not the workers’ fault. It’s the investors, who are simply doing what government policy is telling them to: trying to make money out of nothing (aka a second hand rental house).

Meanwhile, National fiddled with the minimum Kiwisaver contributions of both employees and employers. The contribution levels have changed, but have remained lower under National than at any time under Labour. National’s argument was initially that this gave more flexibility to both workers and bosses at a time when it was most needed: the 08 – 09 credit crunch. But since then, we’ve heard time and again about the rock star economy. So when do the benefits flow directly to the people?

Now that the housing market is spiralling ever upward, there are signs that household debt is doing likewise. It’s currently at about 90% of GDP. That might or might not be a problem, depending on who owns it, and what their chances of defaulting are. Wealthy Switzerland’s ratio is up at about 125%, and Norway, Australia, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands are all higher than us on this factor.

But the enforced savings of KiwiSaver might at least provide some options for a few of those people who get caught out (either through turning 65 or by appealing under hardship to access their KiwiSaver). Having reduced their KiwiSaver contributions will not have helped them in any way. It will simply have given them more money to spend, and less to help them now.

So we can thank John Key for at least keeping the economy intact while many others (Australia, Canada, UK) are still bogged down with lag factors, most of which sheet back to the GFC. But it’s wrong to say that New Zealand has triumphed where others have failed. Key’s strategy was to keep employment high by driving down wages. More people are working harder for lower returns.

It’s not that the average wage is going down. It’s not. It’s that everything else is going up, especially accommodation. I don’t have very recent data on this, but there’s a beauty from 2014 over at Transport Blog.

Key – or more specifically, Bill English – also increased GST from 12.5% to 15%. So not only are people’s earnings reduced, but at the same time, the cost of living is going up. No wonder the government’s now in surplus (two years later than Key and English promised). And GST is regressive, because the 15% on a loaf of bread is harder to afford if you’re poor than if you’re rich. The higher your GST, the harder you hit your workers.

Indeed, many rich people don’t pay much GST at all, because much of what they buy, they buy through their companies, for whom much of the GST is rebated.

There is a very clear list of outcomes that the government needs to prioritise:

  • Investors need to be motivated into something more productive than second hand housing
  • Employers need to be motivated to find more high value employment opportunities

Some of the specific levers to achieve this could include

  • Reducing immigration
  • Raising the bar on the Skilled Migrant Category (which is starting to happen)
  • Restricting property sales to New Zealand citizens and residents
  • Incentivising high value adding activity (such as the R&D tax break, scrapped by National)

The last of those needn’t be all that abstract. The growing appetite for sustainable solutions to our lifestyle problems is emerging as one of the zeitgeists of our age. You only have to look at Elon Musk and the Tesla car marque to see one example of that. That’s potentially one of the biggest losses of the sale of state energy companies: the motivation to exploit the green energy revolution.

Let’s look at that, next up.

On John, gone.

John Key’s departure illustrates nothing quite so much that he was never a career politician, and never pretended to be. He was always only ever having a shot at it, which makes it all the more remarkable that he’s made them all – on both sides of the house – look largely incompetent at the politician’s core business: winning votes.

I’ve never voted for him, and I disagree with almost everything he’s ever said or done. So I’m not sorry to see him go, and I give him no credit for going now. Sooner would have been better.

But you don’t have to look far to see some really, truly, lousy conservative political leaders, who make Key look like a genius. Key versus Cameron? Key versus Trump? Key versus Turnbull? There’s no comparison.

marketvolatility

Key promised and delivered consistency, or “strong, stable government” as he and his acolytes put it. Never mind the state of the country. Strong, stable government. He promised it time and again, and served it up every single morning without fail. Even when he lied, and said that he lied, and then corrected his lie and said now we can trust him… it’s the most bizarre measure of success you could imagine.

Line up Cameron or Turnbull against the criteria of stability and there’s simply nothing in it. They’re a mess. And Trump’s not even sworn in yet and he’s already infuriated the largest nation on earth.

So in the name of stability, Key let housing slip out of the financial reach of more New Zealanders than anyone thought possible. Under stability, we’ve seen the wealth gap grow and grow and grow. Under stability, Key financed tax cuts for the rich out of a miserable concoction of asset sales and debt. And under stability, Key’s government has presided over an increase in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s all just for starters. Never mind water quality; immigration; domestic violence; foreign ownership of houses, land, businesses and farms; conservation cuts; public broadcasting freeze; state care child abuse; Saudi bribes; a shit flag … we simply haven’t room for the parts of New Zealand that Key has failed. Maybe next week.

Strong, stable government. And a strong, stable top tax tier. Never mind the rest.

And so, in the name of stability, the government has achieved its main agenda: the protection of wealth, and precisely not its distribution. Pretty much any other conservative government around the world could take a master class.

So we can say we’re not Brexited Britain, or Trumpeted America, or even multi-prime-ministarial Australia. Or can we? There is of course a significant trading bloc that has died before it was even born: the TPP.  We’re told it’s not going to happen, and I’d take Key’s resignation as proof of that.

When he said “there’s nothing left in the tank” I wonder if that’s what he meant? His forth term would have been all about the TPP. Its ratification next year and then – according to him – the good times that would flow from it. Even if treasury couldn’t see any more in it than 1% of GDP per year. It would have been all yuss! and selfies galore.

The other card up his sleeve is – was – TiSA: the Trade in Services Agreement, which does for services what the TPP did for goods, only more so. My understanding is that Trump has not ditched this. Most likely, that’s because it will enable his globalised manufacturing businesses to enjoy further gains from vulnerable, low wage economies.

But maybe it too is coming unstuck. Many European countries are going cold on TTIP: the European version of TPP. Maybe Key’s resignation indicates that TiSA is headed the same way. I hope so. Still, now would be a good time to sign this Avaaz petition about it.

Speculating further, maybe Trump’s anti-China rhetoric is  putting us in the line of fire. Will push come to shove? Who are we going to be friends with? It wouldn’t surprise me if Key’s run some scenarios and simply hasn’t found one he can work with, or that doesn’t put New Zealand meat in the Pacific sandwich.

I’ve said before that Brexit and Trump are both the wrong solutions to the right problems. But if they mean the end of global, invasive treaties giving unprecedented and unwarranted rights to corporates while removing them from citizens, that’s more than a silver lining. That’s a good outcome.

Maybe he’s worried about Max. I would be if I was related to him. Maybe he took a look at Dirty Politics, and the 2017 election, and thought, fuck doing all that again, even with teflon undies.

Maybe there’s something sordid, but I doubt it. With Max, more likely. At least Steph’s artwork is an attempt at cultural critique. Maybe he’s got a better offer, as per the Herald’s suggestion that he’s tipped to run the IMF.

Either way, it’s easy to take some glee at the prospect that Key’s departure will precipitate instability in the strong, stable government, and that this will in turn precipitate its demise. While that’s an attractive scenario for National haters, it might not work out. Volatility tends to benefit conservative parties, because it motivates their voters, while disaffected people with most to gain from progressive policies become more likely to stay home.

So, what’s worse? A National government that knows what it’s doing? Or one that doesn’t?

The lost children

 

Newspaper vandalism. It’s a rich, longstanding cultural tradition that’s on the verge of extinction. As newspapers’ circulation spiral into oblivion, so too does the once-proud art of scribbling obscenities on the faces of public persons printed therein.

Not only is this important cultural practise teetering on the verge of extinction, but in most cases, the victims themselves aren’t even aware that it’s happening. Children as old as thirty barely even know that such things as newspapers ever existed.

Many of the children who might be gleefully defacing our national heroes are instead sourcing their cultural expression through digital channels. It’s hard for the old-world, artisanal crafts of the newspaper men and women to compete with the glossy, clickbaited world of YouTube Minecrafters or Kawaii potato.

And yet, some households still pay good money – a dollar a day! – for the peculiarly old fashioned indulgence of having a newspaper delivered to the door. This not only only feeds the insane belief in the customer’s mind that perhaps they’re supporting a journalist somewhere, it also enables hours of holiday-time creative expression for the household infant. Occasionally, the newspaper also delivers reliable information about the world we live in, thanks mainly to the journalist which the newspaper keeps locked in a cupboard.

Here are some recent examples by Stella, aged 7, with commentary.

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“I just thought we could cheer him up a bit.”

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It seems not all newspaper vandalism needs to be obscene scribble. 

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Not sure about Hillary’s Alice Cooper eyes, but I think Stella’s drawn on Donald’s character nicely with the kissy lips: he’s always at it. And check out that hair ribbon. You’d think his stylist would have thought of it. Such an improvement.

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“That’s a cat so I turned it into a cute cat.” Who needs clickbait when you can draw your own? Anything is automatically cuter if it’s tongue’s hanging out.

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The best newspaper vandalism always works with the material, and not against it. From the ground up, we’ve got kawaii shoes, for cuteness. Exposed knee bones, because models put it all out there. Hairy legs, because she’s only human, after all. A fart, nicely complemented with a happy poo emoji poking out the top pocket. While not necessarily at home in the world of high fashion, the fart makes perfect sense given the slouchy attitude of the model. “I *heart* drugs” is tattooed on the right forearm, and you couldn’t be closer to the heart and soul of fashion than with a statement like that. Elephant ears. Easy. A broken heart, cleaved in two with a stick for good measure, also makes a nice interpretation of the model’s pose. And in the thought bubble, we see that the model dreams of murdering someone who looks a bit like her. Who among us hasn’t felt like that from time to time? Again, overall, a colossal improvement on the original artwork.

 

 

Troubled Water

The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) and Fish and Game (F&G) are challenging Horizons Regional Council in the Environment Court. The environmental groups are frustrated that Horizons’ consenting process is not fulfilling the legal requirements of the One Plan.

Whatever the outcome, in the midst of an election, Horizons incumbents need this like a hole in the head.

 

Dreadnought Cows.jpg

Cows near Ohakune. 2013. Photo frmo Water Action Initiative (NZ).

Horizons is responsible for a large region from Horowhenua in the south to Waitomo in the north, a span of almost 300km. It also extends the entire breadth of the North Island, between Manawatu in the west and Tararua in the east.  It includes Palmerston North, Whanganui, Tongariro National Park and part of Taupo region, connecting a lot of people, a lot of farms and some very delicate native forest.

When the One Plan was first ratified about ten years ago, it was celebrated as an innovative, forward looking document that put agricultural requirements in the context of environmental needs.

CEO of EDS Gary Taylor commented: “we are concerned Horizons hasn’t been implementing its regional plan lawfully, particularly when dealing with resource consent applications for intensive farming and dairy conversions.”

Horizons responded with a PR of their own, here, in which they catalogue numerous improvements in the region’s water quality since the adoption of the One Plan. They also point out that EDS is “small” and “Auckland based” and – somewhat redundantly – that Fish and Game is a fishing and hunting group.

I think Horizons should be worried. Even if the Environment Court throws out the challenge, it’s a very clear demonstration of the standard of water quality management New Zealanders expect. This isn’t new. What’s new is the deplorable state of New Zealand’s rivers.

Fish and Game are custodians of imported species for the pleasure of hunters and fishers. You can’t actually get a more conservative group of environmentalists than that.

And Gary Taylor isn’t exactly an environmental wall flower either. He’s previously run Watercare, Auckland Regional Transport Authority, and the Hobsonville Land Company, a sub of Housing NZ. Unhappy with the Greens’ perceived left wing bias, in the 90s he joined forces with other right wing environmentalists to form The Progressive Green Party.

EDS and F&G are being coy about whether they think it’s the right plan with the wrong roll out, or whether the plan itself is at fault. Certainly, there are others who believe the plan is inadequate.

One such is John Chapman, a candidate for Horizons in the Ruapehu constituency. A large part of Chapman’s campaign has been drawing attention to discrepancies in the One Plan, chiefly, that it does not list all the rivers in its own region.

For instance, the Makotuku, which is the primary water supply to Raetihi, is excluded*. In a recent Facebook exchange, Bruce Rollinson – who currently sits on Horizons in the same seat contested by Chapman – told me:

one-plan-rivers

Which – translated – means that, despite his “correction”, he agrees with me: the One Plan does not include all watercourses. I’d also have thought that regardless of the permanent width of the river, if it feeds a town of a thousand people, then it would warrant the highest level of protection possible, and  inclusion in the One Plan.

There is of course the smaller Ruapehu District Council, and perhaps it is up to them to manage the smaller watercourses in their rohe. But that is meaningless unless they also have the power to approve or decline agricultural permits.

Regardless of the extent of rivers within the plan, economist Geoff Simmons points out  some more, deeply problematic aspects (with the help of a spectacularly honest farmer, Andrew Day): the nutrient levels at the time the One Plan was set have all been grandfathered, which means, as Geoff put it, “the amount you leached in the past is the amount you’re allowed to continue to leach in the future.”

And the trouble with that is that – with a cap on the total nutrient level available to everyone – it’s effectively first in, first served: the opposite of any kind of reasonable management system. Says Day: “It actually incentivises people to pollute more, rather than less … I’d say [the plan] has been hijacked by vested interests in the most intensive parts of the dairy sector.”

Rollinson is of the view that regulation should be a last resort. Which is all very well, but just how bad would it have to get before he took up that last resort? Further north, the farmers in Waikato are complaining that their council is being too aggressive in cleaning up the country’s largest river. The time frame? 80 years.

Regardless of how the EDS/F&G challenge in the Environment Court plays out, this is an issue that does not look like going away any time soon.

*Update: John Chapman has advised that technically, the Makotuku is nominally included in the One Plan, but it is not a “priority catchment”, which it would need to be for Horizons Regional Council to monitor and manage its nutrient levels. Currently, Ruapehu Distict Council filters the greeblies at the point of extraction, and would still need to do that even if the river was pristine. But that doesn’t remove the taste of algae. Nor does it do anything whatsoever for the river’s ecology. More likely, it discourages positive action.