19 May 2009

Resource Management is out of our hands

The Resource Management Amendment Bill will dangerously reduce public participation.

In the name of cost−cutting and time−saving, the Government is willing to reduce our democratic rights and sell our precious and dwindling resources cheap to the highest bidder. The Bill makes it more expensive and allows less time for individuals and community groups to object to resource consent applications. Objections are dismissed as ‘vexatious and frivolous’ − without defining the terms, who they apply to or who makes those crucial decisions.

The Bill’s stated intention is to ‘simplify and streamline’ the process for resource consents. What this really means is that applicants may get a refund on their application fee if a local authority doesn’t push the consent through quickly enough. Applicants may even bypass local authorities and go straight to the Environment Court, which intends to charge a fee for any submissions. Too bad for cash−strapped groups or individuals who have genuine objections. Too bad for people who don’t live in towns where the Environment Court sits − they will have the added cost of travel.

And how about the Bill’s intention to prohibit local authorities from protecting trees? At a time when rising carbon emissions and climate change call for the planting of more trees, and certainly for saving and protecting our mature trees in urban areas, this is a backward step. To enhance the profits of a few developers, this Government is willing to denude our cities and towns of the few items of beauty which also act as carbon sinks.

Climate change, water pollution, air pollution, increasing traffic congestion − for these issues and more, resource applications should be more difficult and expensive to obtain, not cheaper and faster. There is well documented evidence of environmental damage caused by roads, buildings and intensive land uses, all presumably built with resource consents.

The drive for unchecked growth has an adverse effect on the standard of living of many in society, to the enrichment of a few. Reducing the public’s opportunity and ability to appeal against applications that are detrimental to local communities, society and the planet host, is a grave mistake that our grandchildren will fail to understand.

This amendment bill represents an opportunity lost. It is a fundamental re-weighting of the underlying philosophy, purpose and principles of the RMA, to privilege business and financial interests over public concerns, for short−term gain.

A foundering financial system should be re−examined itself, not made the excuse for further depleting our resources, despoiling our land and abrogating our democratic rights.

17 May 2009

Open letter to Gareth Morgan

To Gareth Morgan - millionaire, globe trotter and rational being.

Dear Mr. Morgan,

Congratulations on your independent study of the science surrounding climate change. You have shown yourself to be a truly rational being − that is, one who can, in the face of overwhelming evidence, change his mind.

You are also considered to be an expert on the economy, no doubt because you have been successful at making money within the current system. As a rational man, you might like to apply the same sort of objective investigation to the economic crisis as you applied to the environmental one.

Here are a few points I urge you to consider:
• The economy and the ecology are inextricably linked. It is tempting to think of climate change and other environmental problems as annoying, expensive distractions, but in reality they are central to our survival as a nation and a species.
• Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This means that continuing with the present economic system is not rational.
• There is a direct correlation between “economic growth” and “carbon emissions” − the lines on a timeline graph are identical since the Industrial Revolution. The belief in unchecked “growth” as a valid method of economic recovery without considering the environmental cost is not rational.
• The effect of the current economic recession will be to put more and more wealth into fewer hands. The rest of us are increasingly relegated to debt slavery, unemployment and potential mass starvation, on a planet host that is rapidly being poisoned. This is not rational, even from the long−term point of view of the lucky few. Who will be left to buy their products and maintain their lifestyles? How will their obscene wealth help them when the seas engulf our coastal cities and arable land becomes desert?
• Are human beings doomed? As the most “successful” species the biosphere has had the misfortune to produce, will we self−destruct through an irrational belief in our right to consume no matter what the cost to our fellows and our planet host? Mother Earth, it should be noted, is not known for saving her dominant species. She will survive in spite of us.
• On a more positive note, it is well documented that human beings, having reached a level of comfort and prosperity that allows for happiness, do not increase their happiness quotient the richer they become beyond that level. In addition, humans who have reached that same economic level, are likely to produce fewer offspring, theoretically relieving the pressure on the planet’s resources. They are more likely to establish stable communities with high literacy, low crime rates and good health, all of which enhance economic performance. It is therefore rational to adopt an economic system that ensures the greatest number of people on the planet achieve this level of prosperity/happiness.
• Further to the last point, transferring wealth from the very rich to the poor through taxation has not been found effective in achieving the aforementioned prosperity/happiness. Widespread ownership, of homes, farms and small to medium businesses, has in the past delivered prosperity/happiness in many countries, yet we are increasingly going in the opposite direction: wage and debt slavery, disenfranchisement and misery for an increasing number globally, not to mention the destruction of our last remnants of virgin forest and other ecosystems.

Here are some books I urge you to read:
How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take To Change A Planet? By Tony Juniper, 2007; published in Great Britain by Quercus.
We Hold These Truths − The Hope of Monetary Reform by Richard C. Cook, 2008−09, published in the US by Tendril Press.
Courage to Change, by Les Hunter, 2002, published in New Zealand by Harbourside Publications.
Payback − Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood, 2008, published in London by Bloomsbury Publishing.

You, who are not subject to undue political influence, or distracted by the need to scratch a living for your family, are in a unique position to address this problem. Please, Mr. Morgan, apply your rational mind and your considerable resources to a study of the economy in the way you did for climate change. Find a way, right here in New Zealand, that we can change economic direction for the sake of all mankind and for our planet.