A Science Voice from New Zealand

Mike Joy lectures

by Bill Morris

Next week, Dr Mike Joy will be speaking s part of SciTell and also presenting a  lecture on the state of New Zealand’s environment.

Dr Joy has been an outspoken critic of New Zealand’s environmental practices in relation to our terrestrial waterways so it’ll be interesting to hear him speak next week. It’s not easy to speak out on issues like these –to stick your head out is to risk getting it chopped off. It’s important we listen to knowledgable commentators like Dr Joy, who aren’t afraid to speak plainly on issues like this.

New Zealand is, I believe, stuck in an old fashioned mentality of seeking short-term economic gain rather than looking towards a future that sustains our most important asset, our oft-flaunted “clean green” reputation.

We’re stuck in a pioneering mentality of subduing nature and milking it (no pun intended) for all its worth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to making a living from the land and sea. I grew up on a sheep farm, on which I was taught to be a steward of the land – to live with the environment to and pass it on in better condition than I received it. I have worked for commercial fishing operators, and I actually believe farmers and fishermen are the people best suited to care for the land and sea – they are bound to protect it as it is the source of their livelihood and the future for their families.

However in New Zealand we have seen a fundamental shift in ownership surrounding these resources. Fishing and farming have increasingly been taken out of the hands of independent, family-owned operations and consolidated in the hands of large companies who are only out to make a profit in the short term. And that profit is coming at the expense of the health of our natural environment.

At the same time, I believe there is a somewhat counter-productive and unrealistic tendency among conservation groups in New Zealand to think we can isolate ourselves from nature. The fact is that we cannot live on this planet without having an environmental impact. Farming and fishing are a necessary and defining part of human existence. However in New Zealand we have the opportunity to develop towards a way of working that minimizes their impact; making a living from the land and sea while still retaining our greatest wealth; our clean water, relatively pristine lakes and forests and healthy(ish) oceans.

It’s an opportunity that has been lost in many other places around the world. In India, for example, I’ve seen tourists flocking to visit the final remaining small enclaves of natural habitat left on the sub-continent, passing through landscapes of litter and across waterways of black sludge to get there. In a land of over a billion people, there is little clean drinking water left that doesn’t come from a bottle.

In Australia, unsound farming practices have left much of the country’s good growing land unproductive. Their economy now relies largely on large-scale mining in the desert and even that may be on the wane.
Across the globe, fishing resources have been seriously depleted and there are major concerns about how we are going to feed the world’s population in the future.
With our small population and relatively large remaining areas of natural beauty, we have the opportunity to position ourselves as global leaders in a new way of thinking, a new economy that doesn’t rely on “ever-increasing volumes of milk and muck” as one commentator recently put it. Innovative manufacturing and thinking, combined with sustainable food production are the future for New Zealand, not dividing up our natural resources as fast as we can and selling them off for short-term profit that mostly benefits only the wealthy.
What is at stake is the image of New Zealand as a source of clean, eco-friendly innovation and products.  Once that is gone, we can never get it back. And with that lost, we are ultimately left with nothing but crumbs. So I’ll be interested to hear what Dr Joy has to say on these issues. I hope you are too.


Dr Mike Joy is speaking as part of SCITELL, Castle St Lecture theatre at 7pm


He is also presenting a lecture, also at Castle St on Wednesday 12th September at 6pm


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