Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Environmental league tables and their perils

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  • Russell Brown,

    Nice column by Dave Armstrong on the whole affair.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18645 posts Report Reply

  • Alistair McBride,

    "Intriguingly, New Zealand's overall 2012 ranking is actually one place up on 2010 -- but if you compare our 2010 and 2012 country profiles, you'll see that our score (high scores are good in this instance) on "water resources (ecosystem effects)", which includes water quality, has gone from 94.98 to 40.3. We're ranked 43rd in the world there."

    Intriguing? Definitely! To more than halve the "score" in two years would suggest either we have screwed up our environment in a mighty way in a very short space of time, or else the measurement goalposts have been shifted. My eyes would seem not to be seeing that degree of environmental degradation, but then I may have the wrong goggles on. What is really behind this "shift" in values?

    Hamilton • Since Dec 2006 • 16 posts Report Reply

  • Nathaniel Wilson, in reply to Alistair McBride,

    There's no shift - the indices are different (our number 2012 is based on a 2010 number and hasn't changed between 2000 and 2010 apparently).

    In short these indices are a mess, which isn't that surprising. Part of the problem is that "national" water quality is a weird, weird thing in the first place, given the massive diversity of water ways, usages etc.. It's also a little cruel to compare so-called developed countries to so-called undeveloped countries, as by definition things should be much rosier in the latter.

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2009 • 35 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Very nice column. I especially liked this bit:

    "So infuriated was lobbyist Mark Unsworth that he sent a late-night email that made up for its lack of commas with extra vitriol,"

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2000 posts Report Reply

  • Nathaniel Wilson,

    Part of the problem when determining "best" quality water is that you have to come down to some selection of what "good" water should look like, which is stupidly subjective. In NZ, we've typically focused on what we think ideal aquatic biologically communities should look like, which is a little tricky at the best of times - but the relationship between these communities and measurable parameters isn't always well-coupled. We have pristine natural geothermal communities living in water choc-full (naturally) of things like arsenic, and we have the old thorny issue that a lot of our remaining native species like the water however it comes (eels as the very best example). From a fish perspective, we've ended up in the somewhat awkward predicament that introduced trout species are our "canary in the mine" species.

    It also doesn't help that parameters like water clarity aren't so sensible in a country in which alpine streams can be clearer than anyone can measure while even un-impacted lowland muddy streams can be practically solid. It also doesn't help that the analysis of our State of the Environment monitoring data (and I know this from experience) can be massively skewed because the criteria are based on 95th percentiles, but the data you're analysing might be restricted to only a handful of samples - you end up with things appearing really bad due to one off events.

    This isn't to say it isn't worth striving to improve things. Just that we should be focused on what we're doing on a local level, and not how we compare to Burundi or whereever.

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2009 • 35 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Gotta feel for Joy. Hopefully the Chancellor stays on his side.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Totally Vapid Neo Zealots

    ... TVNZ, in its wisdom, has deleted all TVNZ 6 and 7 content from its on-demand service.

    Wow! What a bunch of complete tossers, no sense of legacy (or value for money) - or is it just because having some quality available there would show the other dross up, or because Sky wants it all behind the paywall and TVNZ rolled over as usual...

    Seriously, how do they justify throwing away access to all that content, owned by the nation?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4614 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Nathaniel Wilson,

    There’s no shift – the indices are different (our number 2012 is based on a 2010 number and hasn’t changed between 2000 and 2010 apparently).

    In short these indices are a mess, which isn’t that surprising

    Thanks. I did try and reconcile that but I couldn’t see it. I've annotated the original post with your comment.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18645 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Nathaniel Wilson,

    This isn’t to say it isn’t worth striving to improve things. Just that we should be focused on what we’re doing on a local level, and not how we compare to Burundi or whereever.

    Which is pretty much the conclusion of the post.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18645 posts Report Reply

  • martinb, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Well TVNZ is descended from the folk at the Beeb who taped over or destroyed all those Doctor Who episodes....

    Auckland • Since Jul 2010 • 156 posts Report Reply

  • Nathaniel Wilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Which is pretty much the conclusion of the post.

    ...and it's an obvious enough point I'm puzzled why the response from the Government hasn't been a little clearer. But, and I in no way mean to post-jack, at least they're consistent with their response to other issues (i.e. intentionally befuddling). It's also disappointing there's been little response from MfE or the Regional Councils, but given how heated things have been about such a "treasonous" topic, I suppose I'm not that surprised.

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2009 • 35 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Pleased to report that I have pomegranate molasses in the cupboard. Not quite sure how to use it to assist worker activism, however.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Mike Dickison,

    Thanks for the plug, Russell! By the way, if anyone has any corrections of my working, or links to published research that's relevant, do leave a comment on the blog posting—it's a work in progress.

    Since Feb 2010 • 11 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Feed the masses molasses?

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 546 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    You're so viscous...

    I have pomegranate molasses in the cupboard. Not quite sure how to use it to assist worker activism, however.

    Rum?
    Stout?
    Ethanol?
    Soil bacteria enhancer?
    Dietary supplement?

    Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4614 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Nice column by Dave Armstrong on the whole affair.

    Dave makes mention of tall poppy syndrome, but in this case, it's the exact opposite problem - pushing down the bottom from above instead of pulling down the top from below. And unfortunately it's a fast-growing national sport. More like a mutant strain of Social Darwinism, methinks?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4129 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Dr Joy is talking tonight with Land and Water Forum Chair Alastair Bisley and Professor David Hamilton from Waikato University at Good Earth Cafe, Dunedin, from 7.30pm. Attached to the NZ Freshwater Sciences Society conference which was at University of Otago today. Topical.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6154 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to Russell Brown,

    " we should be focused on what we’re doing on a local level, and not how we compare to Burundi or whereever."

    Hear , hear!

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 351 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Tim Michie,

    It might help them stick together.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    Some responses to Joy's comments, those that sought to shoot the messenger, were shameful. Residents in Dunsandel have been advised not to drink their tap water. We have severe erosion where we've massively deforested our hill country in parts of the North Island, so severe that we taxpayers were asked to bail out farmers in the Wairarapa when they were overwhelmed with silt several years ago. We have an ineffective ETS that has recently been weakened to the point where our only hope to avoid penalties is to withdraw from the second commitment period of Kyoto. If you have a look at NZ's stats on the UN Climate Change Secretariat's website then you can see why this is so.

    A mature, positive response to Mike Joy's comments would be to say something like, "Yeah, expansion and intensification of our dairy farming over the last two decades has brought up some issues, we do have serious erosion in our deforested hill country, and a rapid expansion of our population during the last 15 years has made it difficult to control our GHG emissions, but we are working hard to solve these problems.", and then actually work hard to solve them.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to Euan Mason,

    and a rapid expansion of our population during the last 15 years has made it difficult to control our GHG emissions,

    Taboo!

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 351 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Farmer Green,

    and a rapid expansion of our population during the last 15 years has made it difficult to control our GHG emissions,

    Taboo!

    Taboo?

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Farmer Green,

    and a rapid expansion of our population during the last 15 years has made it difficult to control our GHG emissions,

    Taboo!

    New Zealand is fortunate that the Kyoto Protocol apparently allowed us to keep our net GHG emissions at 1990 gross emission levels between 2008 and 2012. In fact our gross emissions have grown by 19.8% since 1990, the sixth largest increase among developed countries, while our net emissions have grown by 59.5% since 1990, the second greatest increase among developed nations*. Had we been required to stabilise either our net emissions to net 1990 levels or our gross emissions to gross 1990 levels then we would have failed utterly.

    Meanwhile, our weakened ETS is a farce, with the latest spot price for NZUs at $2.80. Unlike countries with more enlightened understandings of international credit trading, we allow virtually unrestricted imports of credits, many of which may be Russian hot air AAU credits laundered as ERUs#. The result is that NZ is not changing. We are dead in the water with our response to climate change.

    *http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2012/sbi/eng/31.pdf See page 9
    #http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets/linking/docs/ji_track_en.pdf

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to Euan Mason,

    Sorry that was ambiguous ; I meant that discussion of population levels appears to be a taboo subject. It is the very obvious elephant in the room isn’t it?
    Or is that too agricultural a perspective?
    It is somewhat peculiar that the discussion in dairying rightfully is centred on stocking rate. i.e. stock units/Ha but the discussion in relation to human emissions (“anthropogenic” – ring a bell?) is never about population. We had economists last week proposing 15 million for Godzone. Is that what we want?
    We do still have a choice here.

    "The result is that NZ is not changing".
    It is obvious to Farmer Green that agriculture is changing, but fails to see the opportunity that this change presents to it.
    Farmer Green sees absolutely no evidence of change in urbanity; only finger-pointing and heel-dragging.

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 351 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Farmer Green,

    Sorry that was ambiguous ; I meant that discussion of population levels appears to be a taboo subject. It is the very obvious elephant in the room isn’t it?

    Yes, you have a point. However, expressing targets for emissions in terms of emissions per capita wouldn't solve the problem unless we also had targets for population growth, and so it's more efficient simply to set targets for absolute levels of emissions. I guess if population growth arose from immigration then there would be some merit in considering a transfer of emissions targets from one country to another, but each level of complication seems to make the solution less feasible and more open to gaming.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 168 posts Report Reply

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