Southern Notes #3

Written by Bruce Curtis, University of Auckland:  Kia ora. In case anyone cares or even remembers, New Zealand has had its flag referendum and – surprise, surprise – we are keeping the old one that some sailmaker in the Royal Navy ran up. You know, your one. That was 26 million dollars well wasted, but it did keep poverty and homelessness out of the news cycle for a good six months. It is unclear whether, if Scotland leaves the UK to re-join the EU, we will have to add some stars and take away a cross or two. Oh yes, Brexit! Every person and their dog has a position on that over here. Is it the same in Australia? Or do New Zealanders, well my generation and older, feel the betrayal of Britain and the EEC more sharply. We only had meat at the time, Australia had Holdens and uranium. We have milk now. Our next major export is likely to be gaseous.

New Zealand has experienced 13 months of record breaking temperatures and 19 months of record breaking immigration. Is there a link? Which way does the causality run? Regardless, rising sea levels are starting to impinge on public debates. While the loss of some desirable beach front properties and maybe a few privately owned islands evokes a certain schadenfreuden, New Zealand’s oldest working class suburb in South Dunedin has been identified by the Commissioner for the Environment (Dr Jan Wright) as the most likely urban area to be inundated. This is bad news for the residents and accusations are already being levelled at the Dunedin City Council that their strategy is to abandon the suburb. Central Government is disinterested, and in a separate report Dr Wright lambasted them for policies that make it impossible to meet new commitments which were made in Paris to reverse climate change. Dairying, the intensification of dairying, is the number one cause of rising carbon dioxide levels in/from New Zealand. But, as alluded to, the New Zealand economy is centred on dairying, with a bit of immigration thrown in. Will rising sea levels make New Zealand look less of a safe haven? Probably not, although any loss of land and suburbs will add to the housing crisis. This is likely to play out across decades, not in the election cycle.

However much rising sea levels will play out in the future, and flag referendums disrupt the news cycle, the housing crisis – not just the speculation-fuelled housing bubble, but actual homelessness – is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Brexit type explanations abound around the role of immigrants, that is Chinese immigrants, no one seems to mind Poms contributing to the bubble. Earlier this month Te Puea Marae in Auckland opened their doors to homeless people. [A marae is a fenced complex of buildings and grounds that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub tribe) or whānau (family).] More than 50 people took up the offer and the media was saturated with stories of homelessness. Not stories of overcrowding and living in garages, these are passé, but of families and ill teenagers living in cars and vans. The Prime Minister was embarrassed, the Minister for Social Housing was embarrassed. Accommodation was found pretty quick for those in the news. The policy of privatising and actually destroying the stock of state-owned houses continues.

One way of checking out what is happening in the social sciences in NZ is to join Engaged Social Science, Hui Rangahau Tahi: They have a Facebook page, of course. This is a digital initiative, and I am generally pretty dubious about that combination of words, but after looking down the list of topics and commentaries I give them a thumbs-up. I know my endorsement is important to you, Dear Reader.

On that note, I thoroughly endorse the upcoming Sociological Association of Aotearoa/New Zealand (SAANZ) conference, to be held this year in lovely Napier. The conference is just before TASA, Tuesday 22 to Thursday 24 November. You should come along. Put ‘Sociology Association of Aotearoa New Zealand conference 2016’ in your search engine.

The SAANZ Executive has put some effort into sponsoring sociology prizes at most of the regional ‘Science Fairs’ held for secondary schools. This is intended to raise the profile of sociology and to support secondary schools that teach sociology. Sociology is a voluntary module within the secondary/high school curriculum and is not widely taught – history is by far the preferred option. While a poster around a sociological issue probably can’t compare with a working papier mâché model of a volcano, we have had an enthusiastic response from the organisers.

Hmmm, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that greater exports of milk formula to China (16% of ethnically Han people are lactose intolerant), the pursuit of more intensive dairying and the destruction of rivers from irrigation schemes in otherwise arid areas, the destruction of lakes in wet areas from nitrogen run-off, and the creation of greenhouse gases from bovine borborygmus is all that is going on in the economy of the real Godzone. We also have a new initiative to export bottled water to China. Specifically, the Ashburton District Council has sold a section in its business estate, known as Lot 9, (I know!) for an undisclosed sum. The lot comes with a water consent that allows the ‘abstraction’ (huh?) of water from aquifers beneath the town. Ashburton is in Mid-Canterbury. Mid-Canterbury is drought-prone. The aquifers are filled from underground rivers fed by snow melt. The snow line is in retreat. The resource consent allows the extraction of 40 billion litres of water. That is, 1.4 billion litres a year until the consent expires in 2046. The Ashburton groundwater zone is over-allocated, meaning water allocated to consent holders exceeds the amount available for use. The Council has indicated that it will top-up the aquifers using an untested technique of pressured river water (squirting it down a hole). Local rivers are in a degraded state owing to extractions for irrigation, further irrigation schemes are coming on line.

I have a headache now and am going home.

Hei konā mai,




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