Environment

Wai Māori

Poroti Springs. Image sourced from Waimarie Nurseries http://www.waimarienurseries.co.nz/Poroti_Springs.cfm

Simmering away for some years now and probably not too far off blowing its stack is the contention as to whether anyone owns the water, or if any group can claim rights over water. This debate will inevitably lead to the false claims that Māori want to exclude the average New Zealander from access to freshwater.

Water is indisputably an essential resource for the development and sustainability of all societies.  Yet, in countries like Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US (to name a few) where Indigenous populations have protected and relied on certain water sources for centuries, have had their access to most of these water sources snatched away through the process of colonisation. Many of the newer generations ignore the vital role of water to these communities.

The continual use of statements like no-one owns the water derives from the assumption that ownership as they understand it – as an exclusionary concept, is synonymous with the concept of ownership from Indigenous perspectives. For Māori, the rights over water include use rights but also rights to kaitiaki which allows hapū and iwi to keep water sources clean, and to avoid exploitation to preserve aquifers for current and future generations in the event of scarcity.

Water scarcity arises through both natural (drought, flooding etc) and human forces (commercial exploitation, waste, pollution etc). According to the UN while there is “enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people” its uneven distribution and the extent to which water is  “wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed” affects around 748 million people in the world.

Those of us living in developed countries have for the most part, uninterrupted access to water. Some countries going so far as to drill into prehistoric reserves to service industry needs.

 The NZ Herald recently reported that the government has rejected a bid by the Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) for rights over freshwater. Minister Nick Smith has indicated that the government may instead “compromise by allowing regional councils to do local deals with Māori”.

The government love the no one owns the water message. Firstly, it polarises public opinion and plays to NZ’s largely nationalist base, which concomitantly supports the government’s unwillingness to grant water rights to Māori. Secondly, it obscures what is happening in the background to the negotiations between the Crown and the ILG – the privatisation of water by regional councils for sale in overseas markets.

For example, the Northland and Whangarei District Councils have collaboratively sidestepped consulting with the Whatitiri Māori Reserve Trust, the owners of Poroti Springs, and have approved the expansion of earthworks by Zodiac Holdings for “a commercial water bottling plant across the road from the springs”. This ought to greatly offend the same nationalists likely supporting the against Māori having water rights brigade given the end product is intended for overseas markets. Yet it won’t. Because parse the message and we get Māori cannot own or have rights over water.

To deny rights to Māori over freshwater while empowering regional councils who have failed to protect these water sources from pollution or exploitation illuminates the racism underlying the governments rhetoric. This is not about ‘no one owning the water’ this is about the Crown stamping its racist little iron feet on Māori.

The actions of these councils also indicates that the governments vision of  cooperation between Māori and Regional Councils is not only flawed but disingenuous since the government is well aware that commercial interests will supersede the rights and interests of Māori native to the particular rohe, especially where investment in those regions is necessary.

Escaping government and the nationalist public considerations is that hapū and iwi have occupied these regions for centuries. During this time, they have cared for the waterways ensuring reserves were not exploited and that they remained free of pollutants. Every single New Zealander has benefited from the kaitiakitanga of our tūpuna over our waterways.

In Aotearoa, access and availability is interrupted usually only as a result of drought (scarcity) or flooding (pollution), and through private ownership of water sources granted to corporations by the government.  For Māori some water sources are taonga from a wahi tapu perspective.

But water is also a vital source of economic security. Access and availability are necessary for growing food, drinking water, health, hygiene and sanitation. It comes as no surprise then that the ILG would seek rights over freshwater in Aotearoa, when the Crown have systematically privatised water systems and allocated rights to public entities in this respect which has led to spiritual, environmental, and economic detachment for many hapū and iwi.

The fact that the government and regional councils seem prepared to draw down on the principal of our water for short term relief should worry all of us. Not because the water is to be shipped offshore, but because we should be mindful of the uneven distribution of freshwater globally and the need to protect against water scarcity in Aotearoa for current and future generations. We should also remain alert to the harmful rhetoric employed by the Crown that intends to entrench a divisive public to reinforce its own power over all us.

[Editors noteThis is the revised version of the original post]

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#Herecomesthesun: The Greens Solar Home project

Firstly, there is some magic in using a Beatles song as a hashtag to promote your policy on solar energy. On one hand, it will resonate with the diehard Green voter given that its a criticism of corporate life. On the other hand, one can’t help but smile when listening along given its folky beat. And its The Beatles, well, more correctly George Harrison. Maybe its just me, I don’t know. But I think that its use is some political psychology gold.

Secondly, the Greens Solar Home project is the kind of radical policy that the Greens need to reinvigorate their voting constituency. Its a bold move amid their neolibral-lite policies, to encourage consumers to ‘take the power back’. Another pun from a band also likely to resonate with the diehard Green voter and anti-state renegades. But pertinent since it implies that the consumer has the power both in terms of their energy source (no more bills to Mr Deep-pockets) and their choice on how best to manage their energy needs (self-determination).

BUT there is a ‘but’ when considering the specifics of this policy and I’m hoping my critique doesn’t minimise the clout of the overall message.

The thing about political parties is that they seem to abhor revision. In the face of criticism, parties often dig in their heels – even if that means advocating bad policy. I hope the Greens can internalise the feedback from Green voters and even non-Green voters and use it to show that they are open to revision where necessary, which is in itself conducive to participatory democracy, and in line with the underlying message of solar project – self-determination.

For ease of reference the Greens policy document can be located here.

In it you will see, that the Greens offer low interest loans to homeowners to install solar panels. The repayments are made through the homeowners council rates. That is, the loan is to be repaid at $900 per year on top of their rates. The interest on the loans is said to be about 4.1% p.a, although this interest figure is subject to change.

The Greens envision a savings of $100 per year for homeowners. Given interest must also be paid on that loan per year, its unclear if the Greens will require the interest on top of the $900 repayment, in which case, the savings figure of $100 is false. Or if the interest is included in the $900 per year, which means the term of the loan is longer.

Some argue that at least the repayments aren’t going to a foreign-owned company. But the loans are made through a foreign bank and provided to the consumer via the government. So in effect, the repayments go to the worst of them all. The Bankers.

What about the effect on homeowners? Its true that some homeowners will benefit from solar power, particularly those who live in the homes they own. Depending on social preferences, house prices may rise if solar is viewed as an improvement to the property. Which is fine for those who tenant their won properties.

What about the renters? landlords may decide to install solar to improve the value of their properties. The effect, is likely to see the rent increase for two reasons: the market rate for solar homes will increase if there is demand for solar powered homes, and the landlord will need to repay the loan for the installation of the solar panels. So for low income renters, this may be a negative, since renting can already place a large burden on those individuals or families. If landlords are prevented from passing on the costs of the loan to install solar, then fewer rental properties will have solar, which affects a large proportion of the lower socio-economic demographic who are the people who need access to soalr the most. Also, it diminishes the purpose of the Greens policy.

Also, the idea that excess power generated could provide a return to the homeowner is a bit disingenuous. If the uptake is significant then power prices will fall. This means that the price at which you can sell your excess power is probably negligible. In addition, the Greens NZ Power policy, intends to drive down the price of power!

This article by  George Monbiot  (h/t to @gtiso) suggests that solar panel installation ‘is the ideal modern status symbol, which signifies both wealth and moral superiority’ [in the middle class], ‘even if it’s perfectly useless’. The suggestion is that the policy either intentionally or inadvertently operates as a wealth transfer to the middle class. Similar could be said of the Greens policy.

What about disposal? It was pointed out that solar panels are difficult to dispose of because they contain toxic materials. Solar panels are estimated to have a life span of about 25 years. The policy is unclear on how the Greens intend to dispose of the panels at the end of their life spans. If they will create landfills in NZ, then there are additional costs involved in setting up a land fill for this purpose, not to mention issues with dumping toxic materials into NZ soils. The alternative is to export the waste material and have some other community deal with the effects of solar panel pollution. Admittedly, I’m not very clued up on how to dispose of toxic materials or the extent of the toxicity in solar panels, so this worry of mine could be completely unfounded.

So I have outlined my gripes, so let me just reiterate that I wholeheartedly support initiatives to address climate change and moves towards decentralisation and clean energy. So  one way I see for improving the policy is implementing the combination of LVT and UBI (see my post on the benefits of UBI here).

LVT as mentioned multiple times in previous posts, brings land (broadly defined to include all natural phenomena not produced through human exertion) into common ownership – distinct from collective or private ownership. The economic rent collected is pooled and can be redistributed via a UBI. Income taxes are abolished (or significantly reduced during the transition) giving workers and non-workers (due to UBI) the ability to invest in their choice of clean energy (if that’s what they desire).  It might even be that communities decide to reduce the UBI for each person and use the remaining amount to invest in infrastructure and clean energy. Who knows. But that is self-determination. It extends this policy and makes it fair for all.

National signs NZ up to Ethiopia land grab

A media release from the National Party states that NZ have signed a Food Security Cooperation Arrangement with the Ethiopian government.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully states that NZ’s involvement is:

…to assist in the development of commercial scale agriculture in Ethiopia, and build food security partnerships in the region.

Indicatively, the food security arrangement is less about feeding one of the poorest countries in the world, and more about commercial agri-business gaining access to millions of hectares of land in Ethiopia.

Fred Pearce explains in his book The Landgrabbers that:

The [Ethiopian] governments five year plan promises to lease 3 million hectares for large scale mechanized agriculture by 2015, much of it in the rebellious tribal border lands of Gambella (chapter 1, p.12)

Pearce also points out, the development of commercial-scale agriculture has devastating effects on those regions where the land is most sought by commercial interests. In order to get land ready for commercial agriculture, the government collects the dispersed local inhabitants (predominantly tribal groups) into state-designated villages while foreigners get exclusive use rights of their land, forests, fields and hunting grounds through arrangements like the Food Security and Cooperation Arrangement.

The effect on the inhabitants, the ecosystems, the wildlife and biodiversity in general is disastrous. In addition to being forced from their lands and into a lifestyle they are not accustomed to, they have their livelihoods snatched from them as their fields and forests are cleared, waterways diverted and lands enclosed.

Many end up working on the farms for low pay because they are now required to pay rent in the village they did not freely choose to live in to a landlord who took what had been freely available to them. Moreover, because they work on the commercial farms, they are unable to tend to their own food crops which makes food security even more difficult than their previous subsistence living.

The governments and commercial enterprises that participate in these land grabs often proclaim their businesses will lead to prosperity and jobs for locals. This is rarely the case. In Ethiopia, the companies bring in foreign nationals and the highland Ethiopians to do the technical work, while limiting the local lowland Ethiopians  opportunities  to unskilled  very low paid work. Despite that its the lowland Ethiopians whose land is most often subject to these land grabs.

To make matters worse these companies export most the food grown on these commercial farms. The locals lose their own ability to feed themselves through loss of land and an inability to buy expensive imported food, so that commercial agri-business can use their lands to feed foreigners for profit.

McCully’s media release highlights the commercial advantages for NZ in signing the agreement, pointing to Ethiopia’s proximity to key markets in the Gulf, but it is vague on the issue of food security.

Food security is defined by the WHO ‘as existing when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.’ However, given the signals in the media release focusing on commercial scale agriculture I am doubtful that the arrangement concerns food security for the most vulnerable Ethiopians.

The National governments acceptance and support of commercial agri-busness in Africa is evidence that the colonial past lingers on.

This is exploitative, destructive, neo-colonialism. We should be ashamed that our Government would make us complicit in a practice that intentionally destroys the lives of already marginalised people for profit.

The Greens and the implication of exponential growth

So I was reading one of the Greens newsletters this week which left me feeling extremely confused about their economics. My criticism is not because I think Dr Norman is incompetent but rather that I think his commentary is in conflict with what I understood to be ‘sustainability’, an ethic that the Green’s advocate and that in fact the party was founded on.
 
Dr Norman this week criticised the government for a decline of 0.6% GDP in the tradable sector of the economy. He also stated:

 “A shrinking tradable sector combined with a strongly growing non-tradable sector means only one thing – increased borrowing and a ballooning current account deficit”.

I’m curious, wouldn’t a reduction in the tradable economy sit well with Green politics. For instance, he mentions that ‘manufacturing is a key sector for driving high, value-added exports and creating well-paid jobs’ yet the reduction in this sector would surely be an environmental advantage? I mean, less carbon emissions, smaller ecological footprint, ability to restore the now unused land to forest or other environmentally friendly business that would contribute to reducing carbon emissions e.g. industrial hemp farms for various products such as paper, building products, fabric and so on?
 
My question is: Shouldn’t the Green’s be advocating for reductions in exports and imports and promoting wider support for local trading – which could also create well paid jobs by enabling local business owners to employ local workers as well as minimise environmental impact? I’m not saying here that there is no room for exports in a sustainability framework, only that continued steady growth of our tradable sector is unsustainable and therefore the outcome will be no different to that of the neo-liberalism the Green’s have openly advocated against.
 
Dr Albert A.Bartlett states that ‘the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function’. The exponential function is a tool used to measure steady growth patterns, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The benefit of understanding exponential growth is to inform ourselves of how long it will take for steady growth to double; using a simple calculation and this gives us the ability to interpret what that level of growth will mean for our society. Dr Bartlett focuses on the use of exponential growth in relation to population as this is where he sees the function as being most important due to its understatement at both the local and global level. My purpose is to show why the Greens focus on economic growth is not in line with their principles of sustainability – the very value that gave birth to the party.
 
GDP is often used to indicate the standard of living in a country and so it follows that the more economic growth the better the standard of living. But the exponential function can dispel this myth.
 
Exponential growth is measured by a constant (fixed fraction) over a fixed period of time. In 2012, NZ’s GDP was recorded as 2.5%. Dr Bartlett indicates that if it takes a fixed length of time to grow, in NZ’s case 2.5% then it follows that it takes a longer fixed period of time to grow 100%. This longer fixed period of time is called the doubling time. The doubling time (T2) is calculated  as follows: T2 = 70/(% growth per unit) = time.
 
What we can say is that if NZ’s economy continues to grow at 2.5% then in 28 years our GDP will double to 5% (Calculation: T2 = 70/2.5 = 28). This may not seem so bad, but consider the growth rates for the 28 years following each of the preceding periods:
  •          2012 = 2.5%
  •          2040 = 5%
  •          2068 = 10%
  •          2096 = 20%
As Dr Bartlett points out, we need to understand that “the growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth and that modest growth rates give us enormous growth in modest periods of time”.
 
My conclusion is that if Dr Norman is concerned about sustainability then criticising the government for the decline in growth in the tradable sector is not particularly consistent with the principle of sustainability. If modest amounts of growth in that sector will give us enormous growth in a modest period of time then this will require major depletion of natural resources and massive increases in waste to sustain growth at those levels. I wonder if perhaps Dr Norman should instead be encouraging local trading (within NZ) to improve job prospects and the prospects of local business owners and support the reduction in exports rather than advocating a position that has an apparent conflict with Green Party values. 

Kiwisaver – I want out!

I’ve become more concerned about my commitment to the Kiwisaver Scheme over the past few months. I’ve previously written on it regarding the limitation on providers available. I neglected to consider what in fact investment means and how it affects society in general.

We are told by political parties no matter what their ideologue that Kiwi’s need to prepare for their retirement. That’s true. There are even some parties considering that Kiwisaver become a compulsory scheme. The argument is that its the socially responsible thing to do – invest for your retirement. I disagree. It is wholly irresponsible to compel people to invest or to treat investment itself as somehow for the betterment of society. And I will explain my discontent below. 

Of late, I’ve been reading and watching a few documentaries on land and resource grabs. This is where foreign investors (either state or private or both collaboratively) buy up vast quantities of arable land in developing countries at dirt cheap prices and develop large scale commercial farms to export food back to wherever the investor pleases.

The theory is that the land is underutilised and who best to develop it than the rich nations that can afford to. Hold up – wtf? Underutilised? This underutilised narrative is simply a way of skipping around the fact that corporates have identified that there are land and resources available for exploitation by capital rich nations.

What’s this got to do with Kiwisaver? Well, do you know where your funds are invested? I don’t. I know how they are invested but not where….specifically. 

Because of the long term nature of retirement or superannuation investments, whichever you prefer, investments are usually made in projects that have a long term return. Denmark, for instance, invests its superannuation funds in land grabs in Africa. That’s right, the Danes super-annuitants are funded by investment schemes designed to rob local communities of their own ability to use the resources they have relied on for generations to sustain their communities. 

So why are land and resource grabs the new flavour? Global food shortage. Another manufactured crisis to legitimise corporate takeover of foreign land and resources. Casting our mind back to the food crisis of 2008 where food became a commodity subject to financial speculating  driving up prices causing some countries to hoard large quantities of food products and sanction exports such as rice which in fact created the illusion of scarcity all to make a profit. It was mostly those in the developing nations who suffered. 

Moving on, the fact that once we opt in to Kiwisaver we are compelled to continue is already hideous on so many levels. I want out. Unless the law changes, I am legally bound to allow my funds to be invested in these land and resource grabs – either directly or indirectly. If I choose to have a cash only fund (I cant recall the specific name of it), my funds sit as capital in the bank. What do banks do when they have capital? They lend. Do I have any control over who the Bank lends to? No. So indirectly, my funds sitting in a bank creates an asset that allows the Bank to make a loan to whomever it chooses even if the loan is intended to invest in one of these land grabs, that I am personally opposed to. 

I was naive, went with the group mentality and signed up for a life sentence of contributing to a system that destroys the livelihoods of other people. But at the end of the day, that was my choice – even if I didn’t fully appreciate the consequences of my choice when I signed up. In fact, I was completely financially illiterate, I’m still a novice – but even with the extremely limited understanding I have now, these unintended consequences of my actions are exactly why a compulsory Kiwisaver scheme is unjust.   So compelling a generation or future generations to do this, is abhorrent. There is no responsibility in forcing people to invest, when they cannot be sure what it is that they are investing in and whether it accords to their own values. 


Post Script: I know this is short, and there are probably many flaws, so leave a comment. I may take a while to respond due to a heavy workload but I will reply eventually. 

Connected Capitalism?

In the first week of 2013 I decided to begin the year by reading a book that promotes capitalism. Why? Because my goal this year is to read outside my comfort zone. 

The book of choice:  Neville Isdell & David Beasley “Inside Coca Cola: A CEO’s Life Story of Building the World’s Most Popular Brand” (2011, St Martins Press, New York).

Why this book? Well, last year my sister and I argued about the benefits and problems of capitalism which in itself is not unusual because we both agree to disagree about most things political especially when it comes to money and society. Anyhow, we were discussing how we had quite polar opposite views and ended up in a slightly heated discussion about Coca Cola (Coke).

Prior to this particular discussion I had watched a documentary on the depletion of water tables in rural India that the local communities blamed on the production of Coke in their area. However, my sister had just read the book cited above. She insisted I read the book before bagging Coke. I was at her house just a few days ago, saw the book in a pile and took it as my holiday reading. Its at least an interesting perspective. 


In this book, Isdell (former CEO of Coca Cola) argues that there was no proof that Coke created the depletion of the water tables in India and that the report he’d read indicated that depletion was the result of overuse by farmers in these areas and that the water tables have continued to decline at the same rate since Coke has withdrawn from the area. What Isdell does not say is – who funded the report, how were the water tables measured before and after Coke operated in the region, how was water use by farmers measured, what was the amount of water required to sustain the Coke plant to name a few questions. 

Given he states he has an explicit bias to Coke, I am still not willing to take his word for it. 

Additionally, he promotes Coke as a moral corporate citizen. Whatever that means. In his mind, it appears to mean that certain percentage of Coke’s profits are redistributed to the communities within which Coke operates. I was amused to see him argue (and to be fair, he argued well, even if I do disagree), that spending $25 million building a Coke bottling factory in Afghanistan was more beneficial to the community than building a Hospital.  His reasons were simply that the Coke bottling plant would provide 350 jobs which meant the government could collect employee and company taxes to build and sustain their own Hospital and employees could afford to pay for medical treatment. So his argument is that 350 employees would sustain the building and operation costs of a Hospital in Afghanistan so that they could then pay to use the services they have already subsidised through their taxes? Oh, right. 

Moreover, introducing an unnecessary product into a destabilised country claiming some moral victory when this was simply for profitability and acquisition of majority market share in Afghanistan is not responsible. What about the waste caused by the production of coke (including the plastics in which the drinks are sold), the extraction of resources to develop the technology used to make the product saleable, the lack of health benefits to a country that is suffering…I could go on. 

But Isdell claims that this is necessary to alleviate poverty. No. Building Coke bottling operations in developing countries is not in the best interest of the community, no matter which way you view it. It creates more problems than it solves. It uses precious water resources in these countries to make an inferior product and then charges those communities for the consumption of the inferior product even though the superior product – water, is or at least ought to be freely available. 

Isdell calls this ‘connected capitalism’ – the partnership between corporations, NGO’s and governments who work together to create profits in order to resolve poverty. There already exists terms for this kind of partnership – ‘Crony Capitalism’ and ‘Fascism’. Business and government should never be in partnership with each other since history tells us it leads to bribery, corruption and the implementation of the Police state as corporations force governments to enact laws that protect their business interests. It creates class divisions and ensures that poverty always remains to legitimise corporate profit making. 

An analogy: bio-engineered salmon

Recently I tweeted that “As an indigenous person, I’m feeling a little like a bio-engineered salmon”. This may seem a little random, but while attending the recent World Indigenous Lawyers Conference this made sense, to me at least.

Let me explain. In the very first seminar, Rebecca Tsosie gave an example about the backward way in which we approach a crisis. Instead of taking a precautionary measure to preserve the environment in its natural state, we intervene. She spoke of an example where salmon populations had depleted because of climate change. The waters were warmer and became inhabitable for the salmon that had a history of breeding in those waters. This affected not only the salmon migration patterns, but also affected the availability of a food resource for the indigenous people in that area. The suggestion (and I am unclear on whether this actually happened or whether it was simply a suggestion or merely a hypothetical) was to bio-engineer the salmon to adjust to the warmer waters. The consensus is that climate change is a result of excessive carbon emissions. The peculiarity is why we would bio-engineer a species to adapt to worsening environmental conditions, when we could simply change human activity that adversely affects the environment. Prevention or precautionary measures are more sustainable and therefore, better in the long term. 

How does this relate to my statement? Well, the example stayed with me throughout the whole conference – in every seminar I attended, whether it be about education, politics, banking and so on.

Lets talk about the banking seminar. The issue was: Do we need a Maori bank or do banks need to be more Maori? It was claimed that a key factor in accelerating Maori success in business was overcoming issues of access to finance. The suggestion was that the banks need more Maori in banking roles and to be more Maori – this being more Maori was about ‘pastoral care’ of whanau and Maori enterprise to improve the Maori experience of banks. Personally, I seethed throughout the whole seminar. My view was: in what ways was it conducive to tikanga Maori to promote capitalist structures to trap Maori in a fake credit system? Encouraging Maori to take on debt in order to fit within the structures of a society that has a different modus operandi so to speak – where success is measured by the profitability of a business or personal wealth is not particularly tika in my view. I am not here suggesting that business and profitability are negative in all aspects. 

My view is that as indigenous peoples, Maori should be very careful about conforming to an economy that conflicts with Te Ao Maori (the Maori worldview). So here’s where the salmon analogy comes back in. Prior to colonisation Maori had a very productive economy. It may not have been capitalist, but it functioned in a way that was beneficial to all its members. Since colonisation, Maori have been forced to adapt to the ways of the colonising empire in all aspects. This adaptation is analogous to the bio-engineered salmon example. Instead of recognising that Maori had an economy, that they had rights and interests in natural resources and allowing them to continue to operate in that way, a way that was sustainable and a way that every member was cared for, deculturating Maori prevailed.

Additionally, instead of educating Maori in Te Reo, in an environment that was suitable for their learning and in subjects that enabled individuals to find their own talents and roles in Maori society, the education system assimilated Maori. Maori were and predominantly are taught in English, taught subjects important to those in power and are taught to behave according to the norms and values of a foreign culture.  Bio-engineered salmon. Suffice to say when sitting in the politics seminar on the last morning of addresses, I realised that we Maori, as indigenous peoples, enable the deculturation. The status quo is that the key is to be at the table. My opinion, this buys into the bio-engineered salmon. The disharmony at the moment over consultation as to water rights and interests shows that while the government can divide Maori, Maori will remain politically modified to fit within a system that refuses to recognise Maori indigeniety and the rights, interests, duties and obligations that come with that indigeneity.

The conference also helped me make sense of a reading that I had done prior to the conference. It was from an International Environmental Law paper I am doing, the chapter comes from a book called “When two worlds collide” written by my lecturer Klaus Bosselmann. In this particular chapter, Klaus sets out a planetary calendar from the beginning of time to the possible moment of the extinction of the world in which we have to make a radical choice to prevent the decimation of humankind . It is very dramatic but reminded me of the presentation given by Justice Joe Williams, who told a similar story but more specific to Maori about there being two scenarios in the future for Maori which depends on a common vision within and between Maori. Those scenarios were a dystopia and a utopia, with the former being a world where our indigeneity was simply seen as an experiment and has no value in that world with Maori continuing to dominate the negative statistics, while the latter is a world where Maoridom is embraced by all New Zealanders and is integral to national identity (I will discuss this further in a later post).  

While the bio-engineered salmon analogy impacted how I understood and interpreted the seminars I attended, another statement also had a profound effect on my thinking. Bentham Ohia shared a statement made to him by Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I am not a capitalist, I am not a socialist, I am Indigenous”. Bentham shared this with the audience because it resonated with him. I am pretty sure it resonated with every indigenous person in the audience. 

The key ideas, that I took away from the conference are as follows:  

(i) Recognising the struggles of indigenous peoples as being analogous to struggle of the salmon and the foreign solution – to bio-engineer; and  

(ii) Acknowledging that I am an indigenous person and that I need not subscribe to a dichotomous political spectrum that does not appropriately recognise my idigeneity. 

NOTE: The World Indigenous Lawyers Conference 2012 was the first ever held and was hosted by Te Hunga Roia o Maori Aotearoa. I will write more on these seminars when time permits. My understanding is that Maori Lawyer Joshua Hitchcock intends to do a write up on this conference so keep an eye out: http://roiamaori.wordpress.com/ 

Population control

Apparently, a possible solution to our current environmental crisis is population control, that is, reduce our reproduction levels. I’m not convinced that this is a solution. Whilst population control seems like a logical response, it is in my view a flawed solution. Call me a cynic, but so long as there is a demand for products and services that continue to degrade our environment, commercial entities will continue to meet that demand. I am not here claiming to be the most environmentally friendly user of our planet, nor am I trying to justify my own indulgences, I am simply reiterating the point so aptly made in the Robots (2005) movie that captures the commercialisation of society: see a need, fill a need.

The argument for population control in short proposes that a reduction in people will lead to a reduction in our ecological footprint (EF) which will in turn assist in resolving our environmental crisis.   However, in a capitalist economy,  commercial entities and society in general will justify any increases in their EF on the basis that there are less people so there is more room to move in respect of their EF size. Consider an example using what I will call the ‘pay day mentality’:

X is a student. She gets a student allowance every Thursday. Its Tuesday and X has $20.00 in her bank account. X walks past a bakery at lunch time and contemplates buying her lunch which she calculates will cost her $9.50. X has a packed lunch in her bag. X decides not to buy her lunch since she already has lunch in her bag and she might need that $20.00 for something else.

Its now Thursday and X has been paid. X walks past the bakery, but this time she decides that she will buy her lunch, even though she has a packed lunch in her bag because she has more money in her bank account, and is not in the same position she was on Tuesday.

This is analogous to the ‘less people more room to move’ argument posited above on the basis of the following reasoning: when there is risk people will act more cautiously, and when the risk is lessened they will act more freely. Additionally, where it appears there is no risk, people act indulgently and this is the problem with asserting that population control will reduce the global EF, because people will assume once the population is reduced to a particular level, whatever that level might be, that there is no longer a risk to the environment and therefore, room to act indulgently.

Additionally, population control implicates a raft of other problems. Firstly, instituting a regime similar to China’s one child per couple rule as a global standard will indirectly affect the many minority cultures that form part of our global community and could potentially lead to the extinction of some of those cultures. Secondly, it raises issues as to whether the global standard of such control could justify forcing people to use contraceptives. Thirdly, it does not tell us what happens when a person has more than their ‘quota’ of children, that is,  do we resort to the practice of infanticide and  if so, is it the role of the family or the state to carry out the act of infanticide, or alternatively, will the state simply reduce the quota of other citizens to recalibrate the imbalance and how will the state decide who will be penalised because of another persons excess? Finally, it is unclear how we are to determine the desirable population size.
There are more questions posited here than answers, but the general point is to bring awareness to the many problems faced by supporting a population control policy as a means for resolving or attempting to resolve the environmental crisis.








The Left – Green politics makes sense

Gone are the days where the policy defining the Greens was decriminalising/legalising marijuana. Just read a simple quote that sums up the reason why Russel Norman and Metiria Turei have made the Greens a viable voting choice:
This Budget is full of poor choices: borrowing for tax cuts for the wealthy, subsidising polluters, and unneeded roads while cutting support for students, reducing the number of teachers, and doing nothing for the environment.” (Russel Norman, MP)
Green politics should resonate with all New Zealander’s as it represents the interests of all people – protecting the environment and the vulnerable, promoting equality and democracy and ensuring that economic policy is compliant with all these matters. Ignore Don Brash’s ‘one rule for all’ its a logical fallacy – you cannot have a ‘one rule for all’ without creating inequality because not everyone has the same starting point. The vulnerable require more assistance to bring them up to an equal starting point. That is why it surprises me that the Maori Party took to National when it’s fundamental values are more closely aligned to the Greens. Tikanga Maori is inherently green politics – its about the people, the environment and the collective responsibility of the people in response to the environment. Its about reciprocity and balance and protecting the vulnerable. How then do the Maori Party see a conservative agenda fulfilling these values? Puzzling.
Mana sits even further left than the Greens and while many see it as a party for Maori and extreme politics its no further left than Act is right. Mana get unwarranted bad press  – the scaremongering of the media typecasting who the party stands for, FYI New Zealand, Mana stands for you all – it is indiscriminate politics. Yes it promotes policy that seeks to improve the opportunities for Maori, but when you look at the stats, it is predominantly Maori who feature in all the negative ratios. Don’t we want to fix this?.
You’d be correct if you thought that the kind of policy promoted by the Greens and Mana means to undermine the gap between the rich and the poor, but don’t buy into the conservative view that the left want the rich to subsidise the poor to the extent that they become the poor! Its an illogical and irrational fear fuelled by conservative idiots, creating class divisions to protect their own assets by exploiting the vulnerable. The Greens and Mana are probably the only 2 true left parties – and underlying all their policies is to stop the exploitation of the vulnerable for the benefit of the rich.
Its time for the Greens and Mana to really step up and show NZ why the left is worth voting for since Labour are failing miserably.