Dirty Dairying

I suppose the somewhat restrictive title is a bit wide of the mark but I used it because it was part of the introduction to a very good little documentary film on TV#’s ’60 Minutes’ last night- the fact is that any stock farming may be responsible for the degradation of water quality in streams and rivers throughout New Zealand. Of course dairying is by far and away the most destructive simply by sheer weight of numbers- Fonterra and the NZ dairy industry is our major agricultural producer and is supported by some 4 million grazing, farting, peeing and defecating bovines, a significant number of who, it would appear have free access to wild rivers and streams.

The documentary was focussing on two people in particular, and their efforts to change matters and save their waterways.

One was Grant Muir, a quiet-spoken ‘son of the land’ who, with his dogs (un-named) and son James goes to the streams river whenever he sees cattle and moves them away. Of course it is a somewhat thankless task if his only measure of success seems to be offending farmers selling up and moving away. I’m sure he would be much happier and the river more permanently helped if the offending farmers undertook to create riparian zones and guard these margins with fencing. It wasn’t made clear whether or not this has happened but given governments’ aims and claims with regard to guaranteeing  improving water quality it would seem logical (to me) that some assistance would be made available to farmers for this purpose (much as it irks me to suggest this!)

The other was another quiet-spoken Kiwi, Bernard Ruka who, with his Uncle Henry putters up and down waterways in The North in his little boat, life-jacket and all and collects evidence of infringements of local by-laws designed to protect waterways from the negative effects of stock. He takes photos, shoots videos, makes anecdotal records and quietly passes the evidence to the Council without any sense of a ‘name & shame’ victimisation, just an expectation that the Council will enforce the policies they have enacted for their region.

It was heartening to hear the new CEO of Fonterra (one of the world’s foremost dairy producer-marketers) Theo Spiering make some very positive noises about ‘sharing and caring’ and waterway protection but I’m afraid my cynical side has me wondering how the positive attitude might morph a bit if production levels are at all threatened by ‘sharing and caring’.

What DID come out during the doco was the fact that a significant proportion of rural councils are dominated by farmers. Coincidence that water quality controls aren’t being properly enforced?

I suppose it was no coincidence that this documentary aired on the weekend that the follow up report after 20 years of government action (or otherwise) after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit a report that has been VERY scathing of the lack of progress New Zealand has made, despite all of our best protestations of “100% Clean and Green”.

(I bagz that TV3 air James Muir’s film, “River Dog” as soon as possible.)


Just A BIG Drop.

The South Island of New Zealand seen from the International Space Station

This is quite mind-boggling. We look at our world and can’t but agree with those who call it the ‘blue planet’ given that such a huge area of the surface of it is covered by oceans and seas, somewhere in the region of 70% in fact.Add to that we have thousands of rivers,and thousands and thousands of lakes.Don’t forget, too, our ice-caps in the Arctic and Antarctica, to say nothing of the snow capped mountainsand glaciers all over the world.We can also look up and on many, many days we will see cloudsand of course clouds are…? And finally we have stupendous volumes of ground water, water we seldom see until it’s fiercely ejected as geysersor bubbles up in springs, or is sucked up by farmers to dowse their thirsty crops. Water. So it’s clearly fair enough we call it the ‘blue planet’.

But! Look!This great graphic illustrates how big a bubble ALL of the water on Earth would create. Yes, it’s a BIG bubble but it’s only around 860 miles or 1400 kilometres in diameter. Yes it’s a VERY big bubble but it is just the driving distance from Whangarei to Invercargill, or thereabouts, and we can see from the second picture above how truly insignificant that is in the context of the true size of the world.

So, PLEASE don’t waste your water, we don’t have a whole helluva lot to spare.

(Of course ‘wasting’ as in pouring down the drain or making it non-potable is vastly different from ‘wasting’ as in using it up and removing it from the total supply we have because that doesn’t happen. All the water we ever had we still have. Whether it is still the beautiful, clean and fresh water that it once was is up to us.) 

Thanks BB for the great image…and by the way you can experience all of these beautiful sights and many more if you visit New Zealand. See you down here one day!

Image Of The Year

Rakaia River between Rakaia township and the river mouth.

How lucky it was that an aerial image similar to this one took out the supreme accolade of Digital Globe’s “Top Image Of 2011“. Why lucky? Quite simply there is every likelihood that the river is going to become less and less of its former majestic self due to over-extraction of water for irrigation on the Canterbury Plains that it flows through. I hesitate to think exactly how majestic the river actually was in pre-European times, and particularly pre-farming times when all of the water that entered into the headwaters either as rain or as snow-melt actually reached the sea, but suffice it to say it would have carried vastly more than the 203 cumecs claimed in the picture’s blurb.

The Canterbury Plains are under intensive cropping and grazing, both of which require reliable water supply and as a consequence water rights have been granted that have not only lowered the mean flow of the river but also significantly affected the underground aquifers, both effects permanent if the farming is to continue. To add to the problem a number of farmers are choosing to convert from their current production to dairying due to the greater financial returns they are able to achieve, and dairy farming is a thirstier land-use.

What has also been alarming is that as part of their election promises our National Government promised $1b of asset sales money was being tagged for Canterbury irrigation. Anybody who thinks a billion dollars isn’t going to mean even less water in these beautiful braided rivers is, quite frankly deluding themselves.

I wonder whether the public who chose this picture as “the best” would have done so if they knew a bit more about the circumstances the river finds itself in. Personally I couldn’t, in good conscience choose such a picture almost irrespective of how good I thought the picture was. It annoys me somewhat, having read some of the comments that people have posted to the image that all they are considering is how the picture looks rather than what it is and whether there are underlying issues. If this post strikes a chord with you, please go to the website below and have your say.

View all of the competition images posted by Digital Globe here.


I’ve just read a blogpost promoting Earth Hour 2011. I think what I found more interesting than the author’s post itself were the many comments that people had left- I have to admit to not having read all of them. Of those that I did almost all were enthusiastic about the project, practically all intended to participate, some suggested other steps people can take, and many shared happy thoughts about Earth Hours past. One even interpreted the 8:30-9:30 hour as being 60 seconds- meant well though!

Symbolic? Certainly. In my view the ‘thing’ actually achieves very little other than perhaps raising awareness, and then probably only for a brief 24 hours for most (sorry for the cynicism). In the days following we will be given numbers and statistics that will show there were some savings in power consumption and participation by enormous numbers of people. But will we find out how many people actually change their own habits permanently and become responsible energy users? Will we learn how permanent any savings have become? Will there be associated announcements decrying REAL despoilers of the planet- space-shots, smelters, super-cities and such? I doubt it.

Will it be worth the effort? Probably. I hesitate to subscribe to the premise that ‘the path to damnation (or the road to hell) is paved with good intentions’. The intention is good and the more people who participate in symbolic undertakings such as this, the better, I think.

Follow macgibbons on Twitter

Sustainable Energy Generation

Fact- New Zealand has a growing need for energy. Fact- we don’t like nuclear generation. Fact- we don’t want to burn fossil fuels to generate power. Fact- we don’t want to muck up our rivers with hydro dams. Fact- we have yet to exploit geo-thermal generation to its potential. Fact- we have barely begun to think about wave and/or tidal power generation. Fact- wind can easily be harnessed to generate power.

Fact- many complain wind farms create ‘visual pollution’. Fact- nuclear energy creates long lasting lethal by-products. Fact- fossil fuels are a finite resource. Fact- the infrastructure required to get the power from our dams to our cities is visual pollution on a grand scale. Fact- geo-thermal fields are few and far between. Fact- windy places are not. Fact- the sun shines in most parts of New Zealand for significant chunks of each day.

Our governments should be making it easier for Joe Public to become more self-sufficient and self reliant when it comes to power production. There are many areas in New Zealand where it is possible for individual homes to utilise solar panels for power generation but the costs involved preclude serious consideration by most (it would be feasible if one took out a second or third mortgage, but who wants to do that?) There are a number of areas where small wind-turbines could work effectively to produce at least some of ones domestic energy requirements but the costs involved preclude serious consideration… (where have I seen this before?)

How great would it be for all of our cities to have all of their energy requirements generated by that wind farm on the hills ‘out the back’, and a large proportion of domestic requirements in the rural and semi-rural areas being created from the endless elements of sun and wind.

Just a lot of hot air, probably!

Post Script: I am delighted to report that my daughter and son-in-law now generate almost all of their domestic power requirements with solar panels mounted on their roof. On a good day they create a surplus which they sell to our national grid. And this in Wellington whose weather many in NZ malign.


The Government propose DOC generate more income from the conservation estate by the simple expediant of charging for services that are currently free. http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/new-zealand/3347093/DOC-to-provide-home-comforts-for-a-fee

Among proposals to get more money from the 1.5m kiwis and around 700,000 foreign tourists who visit a national park (85,000 of whom ‘do’ one of the Great Walks) is to (a) charge a fee for use of a toilet, (b) charge a fee at car parks, (c) encouraging more businesses to operate in National Parks, and (d) allow energy creation schemes to operate in Nat Pks.

Whoa! Wouldn’t the effect of charging for dunnies be that more people won’t use them, opting rather for a squat in the bush with a consquential ‘blowout’ (forgive the term) in the presence of giardia? And wouldn’t the effect of charging for car parking be that fewer people will actually use the car-parks- perhaps opting for the grass verge a few hundred metres down the road (or entrepreneurial cockies roping off an area of paddock for half the price?) And won’t the increased numbers of guides et al turn traditional recreational Kiwi away? And wouldn’t a single nuclear power plant overcome ALL of our power needs for a long, loong, looong time? (Ooooooh, did I say that?)