Moon landings and other memories

Anniversaries – a time to take stock and reflect. Those ending in round numbers seem to draw more focus.

It’s 50 years since humans landed on the moon for the first time. I’m under 50 so no “where were you when it happened” to draw on. My parents remember people going out to buy black and white TVs to be able to watch it.

Turns out the mission of watching the “live” images of landing on the moon was a game-changer for NZ television-watching too. We didn’t have a satellite to get the feed from Houston, but a day later got a copy of that “one small step for mankind” flown over from Australia. It was the first time NZ coordinated a news item to be screened at the same time through a temporary set of relay stations – prior to this the “daily” news was flown between cities, screening on different days of the week.

I do remember watching the original Star Trek series on TV with Captain James T Kirk played by William Shatner. It first screened in 1966 in the US, but I remember watching it in the 1970s as a child. “Space, the final frontier…” – why haven’t we gone back to the moon since then? I thought there would be more exploring going on, 50 years later.

My big personal anniversary is 10 years since becoming a mum for the first time. Yes, my first born turns 10 on Monday – double digits!

Those early years were pretty tough on the sleep front – both my boys weren’t interested in that sleeping-through-the-night thing other parents talked about. There was also an inordinate amount of unpleasant toileting stories, which now bring a lot of laughter with the re-telling of them.

However, those smiles were the best – and still are. I quickly determined I had given birth to the “cutest baby in the world” and sought to share those images on Facebook, particularly as we were living in Perth. I love my Facebook memories that pop up.

Another anniversary is three years since I decided to stand for Horizons Regional Council for the first time. And as I’m standing again, this will be my last column until after the election results on 12th October.

Lots of reflections over those three years, including upsetting a few people when I made it clear that being called a “girl” in a council meeting wasn’t ok with me, or interrupting a workshop to ask whether the people nodding off around the table wanted to be left to sleep or should we have a stretch.

We’re heading into election season so it’s time to start thinking about who you want representing you in local government. For me, having decision-makers that reflect our community is important. Councils have traditionally been the home of semi-retired or self-employed men, although that’s changing. We still absolutely need and value the voice and experience of business and older people – just not exclusively. The walls of our council chamber may currently look like a history of facial hair through the ages, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.   

We’ll also have a choice between First Past the Post (FPP), our current voting system, and Single Transferable Vote (STV), for future Whanganui District Council votes (unfortunately Horizons voted against giving voters the option). STV is the way we vote for our District Health Board reps and I prefer it. It allows your preferences to be taken into account rather than the current, crude win-or-lose approach.

A hot tip on voting – for the district council, you can vote for up to 12 people (no more or your vote is invalid). Your vote carries more weight if you choose less. Think of it like this, you could give a vote to someone who’s 12th on your list and they end up just beating your absolute favourite who then misses out. That’s where STV voting has an advantage – you list your preferences in order and there is no harm in ranking every candidate. In my mind, STV is a fairer system.

Good luck to all the candidates – it’s a big step putting yourself out there but we need the choice.

If it's climate emergency, why not say it?

First question first, is there a climate emergency?

Well, duh, yes. June was the hottest month on record around the world. There are serious heat waves in Europe. In Japan, 600,000 people have been evacuated due to intense rain. The state of the reservoirs in Chennai, India, a city of six million people, has worsened – they are running out of water. Even in New Zealand, Auckland’s water storage is down – at 60% capacity at a time it should be at its peak.

Second question, should we declare a climate emergency?

 Maybe that’s another “duh, yes” question. It is an emergency. We are getting reports that our efforts to date will not keep us under the critical 1.5 degrees of warming. There are scientific studies showing that some of the modelling has been understated and problems may be compounding.

If we were live-streaming our Horizons meetings, you may have noticed that I haven’t even tried to put forward the motion that we join with other councils around the country and declare a climate emergency. That’s not because I think it’s a silly idea – symbolic strong statements can be part of a wider response. They draw attention to the challenge we all face and focus our attention on what we can do collectively. The Government is now talking about doing it too.

Of course declaring an emergency doesn’t mean anything if it’s not followed by action. At least now, in 2019, Horizons has started on a climate change strategy, after many years of submissions from concerned people. Staff must have felt discouraged to have not made more progress on this front sooner. Whanganui District Council appears to have been on a similar timeframe, only making headway this year too.

I personally find it frustrating because it’s been many years since I helped write Main Roads Western Australia’s first report into climate change impacts on its roading infrastructure – this is not a new issue. We are using up unnecessary and unavailable time.

Horizons, with its focus on flood management, erosion control, agricultural good practice, and public transport (amongst other related activities), should have the climate crisis front and centre in all its thinking.

The Productivity Commission was out this week highlighting the implications of climate change on local council responsibilities, particularly infrastructure, in its report into local government funding. It discussed climate resilience and managing the financial risk around increased major events, particularly for more vulnerable communities and those with smaller populations that don’t have the same ability to pay.

This report is out for comment until the end of August and I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into it. Councils have a significant role to play in addressing both adaptation to our changing climate and mitigation, or reducing and offsetting carbon emissions directly and indirectly through policies and incentives. I hope the Productivity Commission’s report will stimulate informed discussion and, who knows, maybe that will be enough to get my councillor colleagues joining in recognising that declaring a climate emergency isn’t a stunt – it’s the significant step in committing to taking more action.

A much closer deadline looms on having your say on the Zero Carbon Bill – it closes 16 July. The bill sets up greenhouse gas reduction targets and establishes an independent Climate Change Commission. We need strong targets and your voice matters so please submit.

 The whole country has made a good start to plastic-free July with the ban on single use plastic bags coming into effect on 1 July. My commitment is to take reusable containers when I get sushi or smoothies or other takeaways. It’s hard forming new habits so I’m starting with this simple addition.

Little things add up, like ditching plastic straws or remembering your reusable coffee cup, but the time is now for taking a strong coordinated stance on this climate emergency.

Concerns from a tree-hugger

I love trees. I’ve been called a tree-hugger, more than once, in my life. I quite like the oxygen they produce, the shade they offer, and now the carbon they capture in this climate crisis we face today.

So my concerns about the One Billion Trees programme don’t come from a lack of love for trees.

“The right tree in the right place” is a Horizons’ sustainable land use (SLUI) slogan and a solid approach. The SLUI programme is showing positive results in preventing erosion. I’m stoked to have the Government investing in trees, for a whole lot of reasons, including carbon offsets.

But, and it’s quite a big but, there are potential perverse outcomes coming from the way the One Billion Trees programme is growing. 

These unintended consequences span quite a few issues – the resilience of rural communities, environmental impacts, creating new problems, and harming the Zero Carbon Bill.

We’ve seen a number of recent stories talking about how the level of financial subsidy on offer incentivises the sale of rural areas that could be more usefully retained as productive farm land. I understand that the mapping of erosion-prone areas under One Billion Trees is not being done to the same level of refinement as SLUI.

Mass conversions affect the viability of rural schools due to the lower number of jobs associated with mainstream pine plantations, which in turn erodes rural communities.

Of course, these plantings don’t have to be traditional. There is a risk of missed opportunity with how One Billion Trees is being pushed through. We could be using this drive to learn from mixed species forestry, continuous cover forestry, and more effective ways to establish native forests.

The reality is forestry done well adds to our communities, helps people make money from marginal land, and importantly to me, can reduce erosion and contribute to better water quality. It also can create beautiful products and wonderful careers.

I haven’t watched the item from last weekend’s Sunday TV programme featuring James Cameron and Suzy Amis talking about alternative land use yet, but I definitely believe diversity and sustainability of land use are the future for our corner of the world. I know the Camerons have explored food forests with layers of trees and plants combining together to create healthy, food-based ecosystems, too.

However, forestry done badly or harvested without sufficient safeguards adds to our problems. Planting trees too close to riparian zones or in wetland areas can cause environmental harm. Massive monocultures in unsuitable land, whether that is productive sheep and beef country, or steep country that should be retired into native bush because of its soil and condition, is short-term thinking at its worst.

Not only are there examples of this happening, there is a backlash forming against forestry and against the Zero Carbon Bill. These are not to blame. I think the fundamental issue is the pace at which the One Billion Trees is being implemented – too fast. However, the issues are not insurmountable – they can be addressed with a little more attention and collaboration with those who are taking care and exploring the future of forestry.

That said, there should be urgency – more than 200 people have died in India in this month’s heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees. Plus I read that in Chennai water bores and reservoirs have run dry. Then, in the Artic, it has been reported this week that the permafrost is melting much faster than models predicted, which may set off even faster temperature rise due to the release of gas from the ice.

Back in New Zealand, we need to recognise that forestry has had and continues to have environmental ups and downs, regardless of this latest set of subsidies. Recent compliance action taken by Horizons may prompt operators to put a bit more effort in up front rather than risk ending up causing environmental damage and facing a fine. Connecting up these lessons and applying to the current boom in trees is well worthwhile.

There will be many good examples of the One Billion Trees programme operating in the right place in the right way. I don’t want them to get lost in the furore around a few messy mistakes. More haste, less speed.

Freshwater and live-streaming frustrations in election year

Sometimes what you think is the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a train steaming towards you.

In recent weeks around the Horizons regional council table, I was pleasantly surprised by a (albeit slim) majority of councillors voting for an increase to freshwater funding. Then, same day, we won a vote to continue and extend our live-streaming trial, bringing in committee meetings where the meaty conversations mostly happen. A win for transparency and being accessible, and listening to the feedback from our community, or so I thought. 

But, as they say, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. The recommendations were overturned at the full council last week.

I was so disappointed that I couldn’t convince enough of my colleagues of the value of the freshwater investment or the benefits to sharing more of our staff briefings and debates. The full council meeting is usually a rubber-stamping affair – although ironically not at this last meeting. In my term, it is the first time I recall a committee recommendation being relitigated and overturned.

I get it – raising rates above an arbitrary round number of 5% in an election year may not feel like a sensible play, but it seems deeply cynical to me to drop funding for one of our community’s top priorities, freshwater improvement. The reality is that our freshwater grant funding is oversubscribed – we have a waiting list of people who want to access subsidies to fence their properties to get stock out of streams. We’re not meeting the demand, and our water quality monitoring continues to show serious challenges, particularly in our local streams Mowhanau, Kai Iwi and Ototoka.

Increasing rates is not something taken lightly and every cent adds up, but another $75,000 for freshwater across our community would have meant well less than a dollar on the annual Horizons bill. It was our chance to show we were listening to the widespread (and unfortunately warranted) community concerns about freshwater.

However, the vote to restrict the live-streaming to only full council meetings makes even less sense. The reality is our committee meetings are the interesting part – that’s where we get detailed presentations from staff and discuss our different points of view. If my colleagues support people across our region being able to see the full council in action, why wouldn’t they agree to sharing the discussions of substance? It doesn’t seem rational to me.

Now getting out-voted is something I’ve gotten used to during my first term on Horizons. This time though we had been publicly congratulated on our move into 2019 with live-streaming. While the numbers of people who had viewed the recordings had not been huge, there were still a good start, particularly given the lack of promotion. One strategy and policy meeting video on Facebook had 842 views.

Of course, the true benefit of the video is not watching it in real time from the comfort of your home, or even saving on the travel to get to Palmerston North. It’s the benefit of being able to scan to the topics that you’re interested in, saving time. 

Using Facebook to live-stream was an affordable and pragmatic way to get information out without filters. Now we’re being justifiably condemned for taking a step backwards.

It’s still two months before the deadline on making a final decision on whether to seek re-election but it’s definitely time to start reflecting on the question of “have I made a difference?” and the closely-related question of “has it been worth it?”

When people ask me how it’s been my answer usually involves the words “ups and downs” and “a few frustrations”. But overall, the truth is I’m glad to have been there.  

I’d like to think I’ve been part of a move towards more openness and taking a more holistic look at environmental management. Time will tell whether I’ve been part of a deeper turning point, but one thing I do know is that voting matters – who you vote for later this year will make the difference on issues like these and more. The reality is the numbers voting matter both in our communities and around our table of 12 councillors. Please make an informed choice.

Creating childhood memories today

What’s it like growing up in Whanganui in 2019?

Is it all playing online instead of playing outside? Getting spoilt with access to junk food and being driven everywhere by your parents? Is it a cheap plastic throwaway culture and more selfishness?

I feel old when my kids ask me about what was my favourite computer game when I was young because of course we didn’t have them. Actually, that’s not quite true – my parents must have been trend-setters as we had that super simple, clunky video game version of table tennis called Sportronic that plugged into the TV.

For my two boys, using electronic devices is an everyday thing, at home and school. We’ve recently cut back on how much screen time they get during the week and they are so much better to be around – less arguing and getting irritable.

No limits on reading though – being allowed to use my Kindle to read e-books is not constrained (and is considered a treat) and Mr Nine is now counting words he’s read in the thousands. But even with electronics being ubiquitous, an outing to the Embassy to see a movie on the big screen is still a treat.

Playing outside is still a thing too, particularly at the beach – hide and seek in the sand dunes, followed by an ice cream cone on the way home is a top weekend outing. With cycling having a resurgence and the council investing in safe, separated cycleways, maybe biking to the beach is the next thing we try.

I remember when McDonalds arrived in Whanganui and going out for dinner with the family to the Wing Wah was a special occasion. Yes, we now have the full range of takeaway options in our town, but also some real diversity. I can’t wait to try the new South Indian restaurant that’s just opened at the old Beijing, Kungfu Yoga – they have dosa (those crispy pancakes I loved in Wellington).

Taking fish and chips out to the playground, either the beach or Kowhai Park, is still a great option with the kids.  And more than Kowhai Park featured in a wonderful blog getting some serious sharing on social media via Entitled “Why Whanganui is New Zealand’s most misjudged city – my top 50 photos”, it profiles the beauty and diversity of our home town.

Digital cameras, particularly via our phones, have completely changed how childhood memories are captured. I’ve recently started the process of printing annual photo books, selecting my favourite images from Facebook. Ostensibly, this is part of me creating an option to quit Facebook, particularly with the arrival of advertising popping up in Messenger. I don’t want to lose my online photos.

When I was young, the only photos were the printed variety. It cost so much to get a roll processed and the excitement of opening the envelope was often dashed with blurry shots galore. My kids only know the instant delete and take again of today – not a bad improvement, though.

I loved looking through the family photo albums at my grandparents’ house, particularly the few photos they had from their youth. Will my children create some sort of printed record of their images one day, or will Snapchat filters and editing functions distract them from holding on to pieces of how it actually was?

In terms of greater exposure to our capitalistic culture, our kids don’t have it all bad. There are many sustainable enterprises coming through. Yesterday I was lucky enough to meet the young founder of Little Yellow Bird, an ethical clothing company driven by reducing impact of fast fashion on the planet.

Earlier this week, I attended the premiere of Making Waves, a short documentary produced by Whanganui’s Double Farley, profiling the efforts of our own Dr Athol Steward to raise awareness of seabed mining. This was preceded by a short clip featuring local school girls Sienna and Danielle sharing their concerns about ocean pollution.

They’re not alone. This week Inspiring Stories launched to acknowledge young people who are dreaming big and pushing boundaries to make a difference for our future. I hope to see some Whanganui people in the nominations.

The science is in and it's grim

Is it a good week or a bad week when your two greatest global concerns come together in a firestorm of attention? It’s almost enough to send you back under the bed covers and hope it’s just a nightmare you can wake up from.

The latest report into humans-are-a-bit-shit-at-taking-care-of-our-one-and-only-planet was released. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) basically says we’re facing mass extinctions and that’s not good (understatement).

New Zealand is front and centre in the stats too with our high level of species found nowhere else in the world, thousands under threat of extinction. Our unusual flightless birds, giant insects and lack of land mammals, thanks to evolution in the absence of mammalian predators.

However, the unprecedented and accelerating decline in our precious plants and animals here in Aotearoa and around the world is no surprise to me. Working at DOC for 10 years, our message was always “we’re trying to slow the decline in our biodiversity”. We were realists – a-hoping and a-praying that something clever comes along and we hang on the what we’ve got just long enough for that rescue to arrive.

The thing that the latest report emphasises more strongly, along with the new Extinction Rebellion movement, is that our very survival as humans is directly linked to the survival of nature. We are all connected – if the bees go, we all go. And it’s not just the bees we need to worry about.

So where’s the glass half-full part of this column? Well, I’m not sure there is much to be honest. As my friend @SophieFern said on Twitter: “it’s grim. And I'm not wanting to sugar-coat its grimness.” However, she went on to remind us that research shows that the more we know about our fauna and flora, the more attractive we find it and the more we care about it. This is a clue on what we need to do – get connected to nature, both the intriguing unusual species (time for a visit to Bushy Park?) and the common ones in your own backyard.

 The other hopeful move is that this IPBES report starts to roll off the tongue like the IPCC reports on climate change. We need a strong consensus to drive more action. As Royal Botanic Gardens director Alexandre Antonelli said: “what we need now is massive, transformative and globally coordinated changes across all levels of society”.

 This sounds pretty familiar. Zero Carbon Bill anyone?

 I have glimmers of hope with the introduction of the Bill this week, finally. As Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward of University of Canterbury said: “politics is the art of the possible. For the last 30 years we have taken no real action on climate change. This Bill matters as it is the first step in a new era of transition.”

 I’m not interested in the petty point-scoring and knee-jerk criticisms coming from both directions (although I can admit to being guilty of this type of response in the not-so-distant past myself). Professor Dave Frame of Victoria University called it “the inevitable noise from the pro- and anti-farming lobbies”.

There’s a great interview about the Bill with Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw on and it includes this quote: “there’s no point in having a perfect piece of legislation that gets thrown out... If you think about that 30-year target, it’s got to survive three or four governments in that time. And things are only going to get harder in the future, not easier.”

Yes, part of me wants a radical intervention that crushes the ridiculous situation our society finds itself in with “the 1%” owning half of the world’s wealth. However, I also just want us to start treating climate change like the emergency it is and that means targets, policies and actual change. This Bill is the necessary and long-overdue first step in the political part of the solution to this existential crisis – it is literally a battle for human survival.

Thanks to the Science Media Centre for including Professor Susan Krumdieck of University of Canterbury in their collection of expert responses to the Bill. She said: “If climate change and biodiversity collapse are not the biggest manmade disasters yet, then maybe I am wrong about Transition Engineering being an emergent response in the fields. But if I am right, then there is a chance that the future we would want to send our kids to exists.” I hope so - there is no time left to waste.

Paying rent on Planet Earth

This past week has been absolutely crammed with connections to inspirational community groups and gatherings.

It’s reminded me how many people give of themselves without gaining a personal financial return.  I can get caught up in frustration around inequality and over-commercialisation and miss how much good is already happening.

Whether it’s volunteers aiming to make the Masters Games here in Whanganui a zero waste event, or iwi coming together in neighbouring Rangitikei to support an amazing river health project, Nga Puna Rau Rangitikei, or hearing about Rotary’s support for the Matipo St community garden. Whether it’s meeting the team bidding for a roof for our velodrome to create a venue that’s more than a race track, or seeing people back at Paakaitore on Waitangi Day, thanks to the organising power of new organisation Whakawhanake Ltd, or visiting a local dairy farm where they’re leading the way in managing run-off through voluntarily constructing a native wetland.

My little contribution was helping district councillor Josh Chandulal-McKay organise last weekend’s rally in support of refugees, immigrants and Muslims, so it seems appropriate to quote world-famous Muslim boxer Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

A speaker at the rally, Stefan Grand-Meyer, a friend of mine from the Greens, is leading a project to translate the Treaty of Waitangi into 30 different languages as a way to help new immigrants understand our country’s history. With his professional background, I assumed this was part of his paid work – but no, another example of a volunteer giving his time simply because he cares.

Josh and I faced some criticism about the rally – a few asking why aren’t you also protesting about this or that. Another quote, this time from Edward Everett Hale, a 19th century anti-slavery activist, to help answer the question: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

So what difference does a rally of 150 people in Whanganui make to the new US President’s stance? To me, that doesn’t matter – it was about demonstrating solidarity with others through our own, albeit small, stand. And sometimes the collective weight of these small actions brings results – I predict a doubling of the refugee quota before the election season is over.

Anne Frank, someone who didn’t make it into the US as a refugee, dying aged 15 in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, left the world many moving thoughts, including this: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

I’m back from two days in the Ruapehu learning about conservation-based ventures near the upper Whanganui River that truly are improving the world; Blue Duck Lodge, within the wider Kia Wharite project, and Tawata Sanctuary. Both projects are creating meaningful jobs doing good work while improving the environment and challenging traditional land use concepts.

The numbers of goats, stoats, possums, rats, mice, weasels, wild cats and even hedgehogs coming out of the bush was testament to the ground crews’ efforts clearing traps and bait stations. And the results were obvious with the bush bouncing back and a massive increase in bird numbers.

This work requires incredible persistence, determination and commitment, which I had a little taste of when working for DOC Turangi in my university holidays, many years ago now. But this time, as a councillor, I got the honour of releasing one of 14 whio (blue duck). I felt like a real politician being there for the glory, instead of helping behind the scenes.

We do need these photo opportunities though, to show how the sweat, stress and sacrifice is paying off and the vision is becoming a reality. I hope to be at Tawata one day to witness the return of kokako to the bush – seeing those beautiful birds being released would be a moment to cherish. 

The kids are back at school - yay!

A collective sigh of relief is sweeping across the country – the school holidays are nearly over and children are heading back to school.

It’s so much bigger than the daily “phew – the kids are finally in bed” collapse on the couch.

So a shout out to all the parents, especially to mums of all varieties – working mums, stay-at-home-mums, single mums – plus single dads, grandparents looking after their grandchildren, teachers who are parents, parents who home-school, aunties looking after nieces and nephews, neighbours lending a hand, the wonderfully reliable babysitters, people working these fabulous school holiday programmes – everyone who is helping make the “it takes a village” saying come to life.

To those who feel isolated without support, I hope you can make this the year you find a way to have a break. It’s all we need as parents – a tiny escape from the relentless demands of the self-centred offspring we’ve brought into the world.

My recent night off was dressing up and checking out Frank, the new bar in town, as part of Vintage Weekend. Two great bands and dancing non-stop was just what I needed, followed by a child-free Sunday to recover.

The other thing I do to balance the blah moments of parenting is to have a laugh – best in person with friends, but sometimes a chat online, or reading one of my fav mummy bloggers, Constance Hall or Emily Writes, is enough to put my exhausting day back into perspective.

A classic parenting survival tip I’ve been practicing over the holidays, while there’s not so much pressure to leave the house on time, is telling the boys to get in the car when I’m still not ready. Instead of me waiting, nagging and going quietly insane while they go through the excruciating tasks of finding their shoes, putting them on (preferably on the right feet), forgetting then remembering their bags, dragging out the 15 metres from the front door to the car so it takes forever, then turning back to find some random yet critically important toy to take in the car with them, I do something productive – hang the washing, unload the dishwasher, even just brush my teeth. It makes such a difference for my outlook.

The other tip, which is really obvious when you think about it, is to be careful about punishments. Who is the one that really suffers if you ban electronics for a day – or, heaven forbid, in the case of a serious infraction, a whole week? Yep, it’s the parents who bear the brunt. I need that blob out time as much as they do!

Another from my personal parenting survival plan includes sleep – simply turning off whatever device has hooked me for the evening and going to bed earlier. Some gentle exercise walking my dog next to the river, or getting sand-blasted at South Beach, is next on the list – research shows that “blue space” or being near water, as well as “green space”, has a bonus benefit for mental health; it’s not just physical.

My yoga retreat has given me some great back stretches so I’m doing those when I wake in the morning and it’s making a real difference for this desk-jockey. And the tough one, for me at least, is breaking the bad habit of looking at social media and news websites as soon as I wake up in the morning. Although there could be a work-around, to manage my stress levels at least – there are a number of Trump filter apps available so you can give yourself a break from the latest crazy comments from the US President. One even has the feature of replacing any pics of Trump on your news feed with pics of kittens!

But my main tip for surviving 2017 is to be kind to myself – cut myself some slack, and have that glass of wine, or ice cream, or chocolate, or all three! Ok, maybe I’ll attempt a little balance as a gesture towards good health, but I’m going to do the small things that bring me joy. We’ve got to survive these parenting – and Trump – years.

What makes you cringe?

What makes you cringe?

We know Waitangi Day makes our new Prime Minister cringe. Bill English reckons lots of New Zealanders feel the same way – not me. He threw that comment around when defending his decision not to show up and pay his respects at Waitangi – unless he’s allowed to speak on his terms.

I’ve seen some great critiques of this flawed defence – it’s like turning up at church and saying to the Minister, “I’m not taking part in this service unless I can speak when I want to”. There are protocols to follow at church, or at Parliament for that matter, and there are traditions to follow at a powhiri, especially on Waitangi Day. And, just like many church services, there are opportunities to speak after the formal bits are over – the Waitangi hosts had made it clear English would get a chance to speak without limitation, after the powhiri.

My son heard me talking about this cringing and he asked what that meant – I gave a physical demonstration but checked the dictionary for this column too. The online Oxford has two explanations: “bend one's head and body in fear or apprehension” and “experience an inward shiver of embarrassment or disgust”. That is a good description of what might be going on for English – fear of being in a situation where he’s not in charge, and discomfort, perhaps even some guilt, at New Zealand’s tense history of colonisation and facing up to criticism.

Any other cringe-worthy news from the male, pale and stale brigade? Yep, another clanger from Sir Bob Jones, bagging the homeless, describing them as “fat Maori” and calling for begging to be illegal. I should note that I haven’t read the “click bait” offered – I gave up reading Jones some time ago.

Some say make sure you’re not in an echo chamber of like-minded people and keep up with alternative views – a version of keeping up with the Joneses perhaps. I don’t need to in this case – it’s not new to have ignorant, arrogant heads of business and politics looking down on others, judging them and generalising, just being cruel.

I can’t write about rich old white guys “punching down” without mentioning the new President of the USA. To scrape at the straws of a positive angle, at least Trump makes it easy to highlight his weaknesses.

I wish I could stay in denial, in a weird parallel universe where you don’t have to take him seriously, just laughing along with Alec Baldwin’s biting parodies on Saturday Night Live, or slipping the new adjective “bigly” into conversation. There’s plenty of distractions on Twitter – one of my favs from @gaywonk: “The 7 stages of Trump grief: 1. OMG 2. This is so bad 3. Yep still so bad 4. We are going to die 5. Help 6. Somehow even worse today 7. OMG”.

But Trump now really is the 45th President of the USA. It seems truly unbelievable – I may have to wean off my news addiction, or at least set up a digital block on mentions of Trump, to get through this four-year term.

The appointment of a New Zealander, former Carter Holt Harvey CEO Chris Liddell, to Trump’s team means my “degrees of separation” from Trump shrinks significantly, becoming uncomfortably close. I worked on Project Crimson, alongside Liddell, some years ago. I’m not confident he offers any much-needed Kiwi sensibility to the Trump camp though.

Trump has prompted some powerful reactions beyond satire too, like the wonderful Meryl Streep calling him out as a bully when receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes this month. She said: “this instinct to humiliate, when it's modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Jones, and even English, could take note of Streep’s words too.

The dairy dance begins again

How’s the white gold flowing in Aotearoa so far in 2017?

The dairy payout is back up to around $6 a kilo of milk solids, easing financial pressure, but that’s not the reason it’s in the news. It’s the Advertising Standards Authority decision to dismiss a complaint regarding a Greenpeace advert on water quality in late 2016.

We’ve started the year with a “he said-she said” approach, literally. But the ASA believes the opinions expressed in the advert, that industrial-scale dairy and massive irrigation schemes were causing water pollution, “would not come as a surprise to most New Zealanders”. The board said that the advert did not claim the dairy industry alone was solely responsible for the pollution of New Zealand rivers and instead it made general statements about the pollution of New Zealand rivers, which were supported by evidence.

So where are we left? Dairy NZ is appealing the decision, so we can expect more in 2017, including their defence that 96% of rivers and streams are fenced. Tell that to the regular approaches I get from people who see cows grazing unfenced riverbeds and pooing in streams.

That said, we know many farmers are taking action, even if it’s often subsidised or an operating requirement, while some farm with lower impacts and undertake voluntary actions to improve water health (and I want to hear more about the latter).

As a new councillor, I’m facing the complex science, regulations and modelling tools behind the management of this. It presents a cost to farmers (and ratepayers), both in money and time, and puts pressure on some to modernise. I see it simply as a necessary part of running any business with recognised environmental impacts.

Another simple reality is we can’t grow industrial dairy without increasing impacts on water. The statement that we can’t reverse 150 years of damage overnight shouldn’t need response – of course the recovery of our water will take time, if indeed it can even happen in some places. But further expansion is nuts, especially in places that rely on intensive irrigation.

We need a trusted source to explain what’s happening. To me, that should be a public servant, bound by the law to serve without fear or favour. That’s why I’m doubly disappointed with the early performance of the Environmental Protection Authority’s new chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth.

Late last year, Rowarth was roundly criticised by the science community for claiming the Waikato River was one of the top five cleanest rivers in the world. Already this year, Rowarth has written in the Rural News defending the exclusion of agriculture from the carbon emissions trading scheme and positioning farming on an “us and them” spectrum.

I fear that too much energy is going into defending the status quo, albeit with minor improvements underway, and cynically ponder whether this is to smooth the way for further expansion. This focus comes at the expense of embracing change, or taking a global leadership position and seizing a marketing niche that is more authentic than the damaged 100% Pure.

Threat or opportunity, change is coming and it’s been described as having the potential to make NZ the “Detroit of agriculture”, i.e. the place left behind when technology moves faster than we can adapt. Pure Advantage published a piece by NZ’s Dr Rosie Bosworth in December that described the advances starting to deeply disrupt agriculture. This is not just other countries competing for milk production and pushing down prices, or a lack of diversification and value-add in our export products – it’s the move away from animal products entirely.

We need government, business and environmental leadership to come together and create a vision for the future that gives us what we need to survive and thrive – yes, that means economic success, shared amongst all, and sustaining food production, but not at the cost of progress on fresh water.

As American professor Guy McPherson said “If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money”.

Appreciate the special moments - and special people

2017 started in something of a zen-like zone for me – returning from a blissful five-day yoga retreat in the Coromandel had me feeling this unfamiliar sensation of being both relaxed and focused.

As someone who had never really done yoga before, excepting that time in my 20s when I had to leave my first class with a case of the giggles, never to return again, it was a wonderful experience. Turns out I can quiet my busy mind and meditate – it was amazing and liberating to enjoy the peace.

While away, I thought of friends who had told me how much they enjoyed yoga and the benefits they got from meditation, including fellow columnist Chris Cresswell, realising I should have listened to them earlier!

Then the news of Chris’ tragic death on New Year’s Eve hit and my tranquil buzz was blasted away.  How could the universe be so unfair? How could one moment I feel so good and sure of life only to be slapped in the face with what must be a sick lie.

I flashed back to a quote shared at the retreat, from US author L R Knost: “Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it's breathtakingly beautiful.”

Chris, the emergency doctor and advocate for holistic healing, the much loved husband, father, brother and son, the proud Green Party member and passionate activist, the generous friend to many, and the person helping weave together Maori and Pakeha in Whanganui – how could he be gone? But it is true, and today is his send-off at Paakaitore. I know it will be spectacular and in fitting with how he lived his life.

Another quote, this time from Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Chris lived big. He was only 49 but had fitted in so much, with a remarkably joyful and fun approach to life.

For me, Chris and I were only starting what I thought was to be a lifelong friendship. We first met at the climate change march he helped organise in 2015 – I remember him quoting Dr Seuss’ The Lorax then, one of my favourites too: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Last year, he nicknamed me “our favourite Lorax” and hosted my election celebration at his home.

Sharing this column space with him and making plans for the Greens’ election year campaign were our connections. While I feel desperately sad for his family who lose the irreplaceable, I also recognise a deep loss in the environmental and justice movements in New Zealand and beyond.

So 2016 won’t just be the year that we lost a cluster of global celebrities, with George Michael and Carrie Fisher adding to the toll in late December. However talented, the loss of these actors and musicians pale away when compared with the loss of such incredible, grounded humans as Chris and, early in 2016, Judith Timpany, another big-hearted community advocate who made a real difference for Whanganui.

There’s a few things I’m going to work on in 2017, inspired in part by Chris – and Judith too. The first is care for my vegetable garden. I may be a Greenie at heart but it has not (yet) transferred into my thumb. However, the yoga retreat had the tastiest fresh vegetarian food, which I started missing straightaway, so into the garden I go.

The second thing is to get on my bike more often. Now my youngest has ditched the training wheels, I’m looking forward to family biking outings and even trying the bike ride across town to school.

The little things we do add up, whether actions for the environment, prioritising time with family and friends or combining both. Enjoy the moments – we don’t know how long we’ve got.

Reflecting on the year that was

It’s time to reflect on the past 12 months.  Personally, it’s been a year of change – shifting back to Whanganui, changing jobs, campaigning for election, buying a house and shifting (again), starting as a councillor. 

Phew, I feel weary!  Not quite bone tired, but getting close.  I’m thankful I get a proper break away from working and parenting – I have a full week without my boys.  While I will miss them, I will enjoy the change of pace. 

This year has been the first that I have had Christmas work functions for quite some time.  The last five years of working from home were great for flexibility and focus, but haven’t offered the same amount of face-to-face fun times.  Working with Te Kaahui o Rauru has been amazing and so enjoyable, even if I’ve been coming to grips with the everyday frustrations and complex constraints faced by iwi, Treaty settlement or not.

My connections with my Horizons colleagues still have a way to go but positive signs are coming thick and fast.  I am impressed with the excellent first steps being taken around carbon-friendly action, and was pleased to get my first motion through after a bumpy start.

Apart from my personal foray into politics, which was both exhilarating and exhausting, 2016’s global politics sucked a bit extra out of me.  To be honest, Trump’s election makes me more than nervous, and the unbelievable horror of Syria continued on.  As I read on Twitter the other day, from a book shop: “dystopian fiction is now in the current affairs section”.

Plus the earthquakes – I’m no fan of earthquakes and the widespread shakes this year have me on edge.  Another hottest year on record too – can it be turned back?  Oh, and David Bowie died – there’s a meme going around that it was Bowie holding the fabric of the universe together and his premature departure is somehow to blame for the crazy year.

If you’re looking for some youthful optimism however, at least at a NZ politics level, check out the intelligent and talented Green Party candidates heading into the list process prior to next year’s general election.  All aged 35 or under, these four women leave me with hope – Chloe Swarbrick, Hayley Holt, Leilani Tamu and Golriz Ghahraman.

Another optimistic practice I read about recently (which will also help next year’s wrap up column!) – throughout the year, writing down your successes, small or large, or experiences that have made you happy, on a small piece of paper and putting it in a jar.  Then, at the end of the year, you read over them and focus on the positive.

I already use my personal Facebook page as a filtered diary of sorts, capturing the gorgeous images of my children growing up, and, for the most part, ignoring the challenges.  From time to time, I’ll post a more honest anecdote about my warts-and-all reality of raising children, and usually get a swarm of sympathetic responses.  But I like my Facebook feed being the edited highlights – it makes for some nice Facebook memories, at least.

So my advice about social media is don’t believe everything is as good as it looks and hold a bit of space in your heart to be kind to others who may be doing it tough, shiny happy posts or not.  Actually, look after yourself too – especially at the end of this torrid year. 

Some more good advice, thanks to social media, again:  “Treat yourself the way you would treat a small child.  Feed yourself healthy food and make sure you spend time outside.  Put yourself to bed early.  Let yourself take naps.  Don’t say mean things to yourself.  Don’t put yourself in danger.”

Finally, spare a thought for those still doing long hours during the festive season when some of us are unwinding – our police officers, ambulance officers and other health workers including those caring for the elderly, plus people in hospitality and in tourism, and more.  Thanks for taking care of us.

Getting in the Christmas spirit

I got the ole royal wave going last Saturday, taking part in the annual Santa parade down Victoria Ave.

Before we even turned the corner, we had an enthusiastic welcome.  A woman with special needs signalled to me asking if she could have a hug – of course the answer was yes and she was over the moon.

Apparently walking in the parade, without a fancy costume, carrying only a Sustainable Whanganui banner and a recycled sunflower sign, was enough to bring joy to one person.  But it continued as we rounded into the main street, with lots of children excited to just be there.

The turnout was amazing, helped by the glorious weather.  There were all ages and such a diverse crowd – even a couple of gang members with their young children tucked away at the end, encouraging the little ones to wave out.

Maybe a Christmas parade is a great leveller – it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got to spend on presents or the size of your tree and how fancy its decorations.  It’s about supporting your kids to be part of the buzz.

Some of the floats out did themselves with – our approach at Sustainable Whanganui was more low key, giving away seedlings planted into takeaway coffee cups.  The energy was contagious whether you were the incredible Batman and Robin helicopter float or at the more low tech end of the spectrum like us.

It brings me to the true purpose of Christmas – shopping.  Ok, that’s not quite true…  but for those who indulge in some shopping at Christmas time, let me share a couple of recommendations. 

The first is buy local – buy art!  There are amazing options in Whanganui for affordable, unique gifts.  I’m looking forward to visiting Whanganui’s latest studio, Rachael Garland’s Magpie, opening down by the river this Saturday.

The other way to go is to support Kaikoura.  It’s a big step away from my normal refrain of “buy local”, but there are special circumstances this year.  With Kaikoura basically cut off from the rest of the country post-earthquake, and suffering as its peak tourism season is anything but normal, why not back this clever initiative, #ShopKaikoura.

Go to and book time with a personal shopper, free of charge.  They will take you on a virtual tour of their retail outlets and find what you’re looking for.  It sounds like a brilliant solution for that hard-to-buy-for person or for a particularly crazy Secret Santa gift.

Finally, I can’t go past the World Vision smiles gift catalogue for Christmas.  There are a huge range of gifts, from an $8 frog, $25 school starter kit, $40 beehive, $90 toilet or a $145 mini farm.

Of course Christmas is about more than presents – for me, it’s about creating special memories with my family.  I do have a few funny family memories that involve presents though, like the year my younger sister got a Care Bear (and they’re back in the shops this year too!).  She christened it Sylvia Bogner, much to my uncle’s delight, and Sylvia has now been handed down to her daughter.

Or the memory of summer as a kid, synonymous with Christmas.  For me, it was swimming at the camping ground pool at Fitzoy Beach, then lying on the warm concrete to dry off, before having adventures in the bamboo thickets, splinters and all.  

Experiences with people, rather than spending money on gifts that don’t last (unlike Sylvia Bogner), are what matters to me at Christmas.  That’s why I’m pleased to have just discovered the “Whanganui Rocks” movement on Facebook.  There are people painting small stones and hiding them around Virginia Lake and other locations – perhaps in rebellion against the digital Pokemon craze. 

I can’t wait to get my boys out discovering – and replacing – these little treasures over the summer.  That’s the sort of thing I hope they remember about our holiday season.

Earthquakes, terrifying things and hope?

I’m not known for quoting from The Bible, but Luke 21:11 “There will be great earthquakes… famines and plagues… and there will be terrifying things...” seems to be apt.

It’s not just the election of Trump, or the Kaikoura earthquakes, or Kiribati going under the waves, or the thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne – it’s all of that and, unfortunately, more.

2016 looks to be the hottest year on record, again.  But the Trump camp is quoted as saying they will be cutting NASA’s climate change research, which one chump labelled “politically correct environmental monitoring”.  NASA’s global satellites have been providing the information on temperature, ice, clouds and other climate data essential to understand the accelerating change happening to the planet.

The latest horror statistic I’ve seen is the extremely low extent and thickness of global sea ice – the graph shows a massive drop away from previous years’ trends.

Even for me, a life-long optimist, I’m starting to struggle with the build-up of scary announcement after scary announcement – it feels like I’m in the prelude to one of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels.

I guess I should be hopeful that, in recent days, Trump has wavered on a number of his electioneering claims, including that climate change is a hoax and he would pull the US out of the Paris accord.  Not knowing where he will land and how long he will retain a position doesn’t fill me with confidence though.

What does bring me hope, however, is a group of young Americans, all under 20, who have passed the first hurdle in taking the US Government to court over a lack of action on climate change.  Oregon Judge Ann Aiken has ruled that there is a case to answer, and I love her comments: “This lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For the purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed”.  She added: “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

In New Zealand, there is progress with the appointment of a technical working group, including one of my former AECOM colleagues.  I will be watching their progress with great interest – and a pinch of cynicism given their narrow terms of reference explicitly excludes mitigation or revisiting our climate change targets.  It does have farming interests represented though so I’m hopeful they will examine the complexity around agricultural emissions.

Another move this week was a group of 60 NZ businesses spanning finance to fishing, retail to science, and health to religion, coordinated by WWF, issued an open letter calling for stronger Government action on climate change – and not just in adaptation. 

It challenged the Government to keep up with change being led by a growing pocket of the private sector and wider community.  The letter said: “Without the government pulling its weight we will not be able to make the necessary changes at the pace and scale required… set ambitious targets to reduce emissions, create a long-term plan for how to do it, and implement policies that can set us on the right path and empower New Zealanders to make low-carbon choices."

This year’s winners at the Sustainable Business Network awards showcased the inspirational action already happening.  A carbon credits organisation, Ekos, won the innovation category.  Their approach is quality – their credits are certified to international standards but based in New Zealand and Pacific biodiversity conservation projects.  I used them to offset my family trip to Australia earlier this year at the affordable cost of $31.24.

So on balance I remain hopeful.  Leaders are coming together across sectors, there are great solutions getting recognised, and the US judiciary is taking climate change seriously – it’s not time to give up.  Even our neighbours in Palmerston North are getting amongst it with their first fast-charge electric vehicle station opened this week.

We need to stay focused, get the targets right, and then take action.

Hope - and social enterprise - trumps hate

Sitting down to write your column on the night it looks like the USA elected Trump is not an easy ask.

I had an idea brewing that was not going to be related to politics at all – I’d hosted the amazing CEO of a Far North community enterprise as part of Sustainable Whanganui’s annual celebration last week and wanted to share his insights into how to “do well through doing good”.

The election results attempted to derail me, but having recently shifted house, I rediscovered “Good News for a Change” by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, while restacking the bookshelf.  These two are North Americans (from Canada) with their heads screwed on, writing about successful, non-mainstream business models, way back in 2002.

This good news approach to business, to creating jobs that matter, to finding sustainable solutions that recognise our dependence on nature, is no longer new – and perhaps it never was.

My original pitch for this column, the “Glass Half-Full”, was a series of local sustainability success stories, and there have been a few, although I’ve strayed into whinge territory from time to time.

Getting back to the point of this fortnight’s instalment – the impressive Cliff Colquhoun and the organisation he leads in Kaitaia, CBEC – the Community Business Environment Centre.  It’s been running for 25 years, turns over about $4 million each year and employs 45 people.  It was employing a lot more until it recently lost its waste management and recycling contract, due in part to an emphasis on contract price at the expense of other valuable factors like supporting local expenditure.

Prior to the construction of our Resource Recovery Centre, a team of Whanganui people visited CBEC in Northland to learn from their experience.  Cliff is now taking his experience and insights into Auckland to help the super-city set up satellite recycling centres.  There are good people doing good work and we shouldn’t lose sight of that, depressing Trump win or not.

Planning is underway for next year’s La Fiesta, led by the indomitable Carla Donson of the Women’s Network.  I’ll be hosting a panel of women leading businesses with heart at the festival.  I have the director of Connect Global, who opened a call centre in Waverley last month, creating nine permanent long-term jobs for locals, the kaiwhakahaere of a local iwi working on an innovative product, and the general manager of a business development service supporting social enterprise in New Zealand.

There are so many stories of success out there – I strongly believe if we put more of our energy and attention into sharing what’s working, we would shift the balance.  We need to focus on where we want to go.

I had two bright young Whanganui people meet with me this week who know where they are heading.  They are seeking support for a local social enterprise network.  Watch this space – we are working together to get something started and hope to have Ākina Foundation, my former employers, join us.  Find out more about social enterprise and a case study on CBEC at

For my new Horizons’ role, I’m keen to see how we use our recent foray into regional economic development for the power of good – for long-term, sustainability-based opportunities, that creates jobs that don’t cost the earth and give people work with meaning. Yes, that means saying enough is enough to the intensifying dairy industry and blind belief in extraction and fossil fuels – the boom-bust industries are letting us all down.

And for those of us still suffering a Trump hangover, feeling disempowered and without the resources to run our own company for good, what can I say?  Start small and stay conscious – little things truly do add up.

“I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do” – Edward Everett Hale.

We need DOC to stand up

Ten years at Department of Conservation leaves me with many fond memories, especially when I see photos on Facebook of my old workmates out in the bush.  This week it was releasing threatened native short-tailed bats near Ruapehu.

But it wasn’t always easy and fun during my time at DOC.  There were a number of frustrations and DOC’s decision not to submit on Trans Tasman Resources’ application to mine the seabed off the coast of Patea has prompted memories of that sort.

Of course it’s not the first time DOC has taken a soft approach to their statutory advocacy role – DOC has recently been strongly criticised, taken to court even, for not prioritising conservation values regarding the proposed land swap as part of the controversial Ruataniwha dam proposal.

In this scenario, DOC has apparently said it is satisfied that it has made all the conservation gains it can by working privately with TTR – that doesn’t make sense to me.  They certainly may have identified specific problems with the application and persuaded TTR to adapt their application – but that’s no guarantee.

The way the process works is that the Environmental Protection Agency makes the decision of whether to approve and sets the conditions to be met if it does go ahead.  A critical step in that decision-making process is reviewing submissions and then discussing them with submitters, if they choose, at a hearing.  DOC has declined to take part in that step, so has no way of ensuring its views are heard.  They’ve also snubbed Taranaki iwi in this process – a short-sighted move given their Treaty obligations, strategic directions and direct commitments to partnership.

Of course sometimes DOC needs to be sensible in a resource-constrained world – it has to pick its battles.  But is TTR’s proposal one of those to let go?  Let’s examine it.  If approved, it will be the first seabed mining in New Zealand, and it’s massive.  The project is excavating 50 million tonnes of sand each year for 35 years from an area of 65 square kilometres.  This is not a simple operation with known risks – it is the first of its kind here and is happening in an area we know little about.

How could it even be approved given that context?  Unfortunately, the EPA’s legislation allows for a practice called “adaptive management”.  That is the concept where operations are monitored so closely that if anything unexpected happens, they shut down and fix.  Nice theory.  Will it work in practice?

That is the nub – if approved, will there be sufficient, effective, underwater monitoring that picks up unacceptable impacts straightaway?  What happens if it doesn’t work?  What will be sacrificed?  And how much trust is appropriate to place in private organisations where priority is a return to shareholders above all else?  What is our experience with other commercial operators in the ocean around the world?

I fear “out of mind, out of sight” is reducing the weight applied to the precautionary principle.  I can’t imagine a 65 square kilometre open cast mine operating in New Zealand, digging 11m deep, extracting the mineral, then dumping the rest back into a broken landscape – it is the 21st century.

Remember, it’s not just sand down there.  There’s complex life on the seabed; rocks and reef structures are home to all sorts of marine life.  And in contrast to dumping on land, the material returned to the seabed creates a plume of sediment.  There’s a tricky debate over this plume, as TTR has approval to keep that content private, releasing only to those who sign a confidentiality waiver – it’s hard to have open debate in those circumstances.

We need DOC taking a strong and cautious role on behalf of New Zealanders who want our underwater heritage protected just as much the unique world we see above the waves.  They now have time to revisit their decision not to participate, with an extension granted to all submissions until 14 November – I hope they do. 

  • ·       Check out for more info or to make your own submission. 

Speak up but take care

Sex, religion and politics – dinner party etiquette says that these are off-limits for discussion. 

How does that apply in today’s world of virtual dinner parties – chatting on social media to your friends around the country, and the world, once the kids have gone to bed?  There wouldn’t be much happening on Facebook if this antiquated guide to considerate conversation applied today

What’s changed?  And does it matter?

I guess it depends on your friends, but yes this trifecta of controversy is a regular topic of discussion in my networks.  Hell, we even talk about 1080, haemorrhoids and breast cancer!

There is a change in what is acceptable and, on the whole, I think it’s for the better.  The more we talk about topics that make people – make us – uncomfortable, the more we may get our heads around why and get beyond the awkwardness.

Now I’m not suggesting you rush out and pressure everyone who’s not quite there yet to join in challenging chats – letting people share their own views at their own pace is a good start.

That’s really the key – how do we make discussions work for everyone involved.  It’s not easy, but there’s an intent behind it that helps.  I came across this quote recently by Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön: “We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts.”

It was really timely because I saw friends having heated discussions on Facebook and realised some of us were losing sight of how we were impacting others.  It may be online, but it can still cause real hurt. 

I’ve also already had a similar challenge in my new role as a councillor.  I had to point out some language used that made me uncomfortable.  I was proud that I managed to make the point at the time, even if “polite society” suggests I’m not supposed to “make a fuss”.

It’s all about how we handle ourselves and as Chödrön, my new favourite writer, says “The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes.” 

So that’s my question to myself – how do I speak up, stay kind and find common ground around the council table when I know I will be raising points that may challenge the status quo? 

Being honest without being too speedy might be a reasonable way forward – taking a breath before leaping into the breach is good advice.  Pausing before responding to someone who’s obviously agitated and, one that I need regular reminding on is, listening with the intent to understand – not just preparing my reply.

Actually, being honest about your feelings and sharing them with others is healthy beyond the workplace – it’s a key in staying healthy mentally as well.

New Zealand’s horrific suicide statistics continue with reports last week saying 579 Kiwis took their lives in the 12 months to July.  Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson was quoted as saying we need a society where people felt confident to have "courageous conversations" without feeling judged. 

He said: "It's not uncommon for people who feel suicidal to believe their loved ones would be happier without them... it's important to acknowledge that this is profoundly untrue."

If you or someone you love feels like this, make at start at sharing how you’re feeling and seek help.

  • Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354, Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633 or free-text 234 between 8am and midnight, or Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254.

Democracy in action, warts and all

“I’ll be back.”  So said Arnie Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movie before he took up politics – the same from me!

It’s been a whirlwind week since getting the phone call last Saturday to say I was in as a councillor on Horizons Regional Council with 7,635 votes.  I can admit a few tears of gratitude and relief may have snuck out of my eyes.

It seems ridiculous that getting elected is about putting up billboards so your giant smiling head is everywhere around town.  And paying, in some cases, very large amounts of money to advertise yourself (although I’m sure our papers appreciated the revenue!).  I found myself interrupting strangers at the river traders’ market on Saturday mornings to say, basically, “please vote for me”.

Some state getting elected is more about who you know than what you know.  Who knows?  Whatever I did, it paid off, and I’m excited about the opportunity to be a strong voice for the environment, community development and sustainability.

I’m also happy to be increasing the number of women on Horizons – we’re going from two to three – and lowering the average age!  Apparently being 43 is “young” in local government in our region – I’ll take it!  Especially as I’m turning a year older next Thursday, which is also the first formal meeting of the council.  I’ve been weirdly wishing that my birthday present would be sitting in a formal meeting all day and it has come true! 

What am I in for?  I will know in a few months’ time.  My background means I’m prepared, having worked in big bureaucracies across government, business and charity.  I’m used to reading technical reports and sitting in meetings and workshops, and appreciate that is the bread and butter of a councillor’s world.  Having experience of the RMA, conservation, road construction and wastewater treatment plants doesn’t hurt either!

One of the things I’m planning is to build connections across all sectors in Whanganui so I have fresh info on what is important to local people.  The most common question I was asked while campaigning is “what does Horizons do?” followed closely by “where does my rates go?” so I’ll be happily sharing that info back in return!

More seriously, it is a concern that the national voter turnout was under 40%.  Whanganui ranked top with 56% of eligible people casting a vote – but is still trending down (it was 58% three years ago). 

What’s happening with people turning off voting?  Is it believing their vote doesn’t make a difference, or not knowing enough about the candidates?  Is it feeling disconnected from the decisions made by councils, or not having enough head space left after juggling bills, children, jobs and family? 

There’s a vicious circle in place – if you don’t vote, then you don’t influence the outcome and are less likely to see the change you want, which perhaps means you are less motivated to vote.  But a non-vote has impact – it tends to support the status quo.

English writer George Moniot recently described our theory of democracy as grounded in the “notion of rational choice”, but flawed in practice.  He said: “This proposes that we make political decisions by seeking information, weighing the evidence and using it to choose good policies, then attempt to elect a government that will champion those policies. In doing so, we compete with other rational voters, and seek to reach the unpersuaded through reasoned debate.”

I too believe the system is flawed, but agree with tv comedy Third Rock from the Sun’s Mary when she explained democracy to alien researcher Dick, distraught in the struggle of how to cast an informed vote: “democracy is the worst form of government there is – except for all the others”.

All I can add is at least we’re not in America at the moment.

149 not out!

Sitting down in front of my laptop to write my last column for a while and instead the temptation to procrastinate on Facebook snuck in.

But I’m back again, having seen the perfect quote to sum up my approach to these 149 columns over the past 149 weeks.

“It’s nice to belong.  And it’s great when others see things the same way that you do.  But sometimes, to be true to your own heart and mind, you have to stand alone” – Steve Biddulph, Australian author and psychologist.

Writing this column has been a privilege.  I have tried not to be too self-indulgent with my writing, although have strayed from time to time.  I’ve tried not to make it a political soapbox too often, although have shared my political leanings on occasion.  I have eased off my pet topic of climate change of late, mainly because I see it talked about in the mainstream media more often – for example, this week’s NZ Herald had a great piece on “Ten things NZ can learn about climate change”.

Sometimes I have written about topics that are bound to cause consternation – 1080 to knock back possums and rats and give forests a fighting chance, fluoride in water to help our children’s teeth grow strong, New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd’s journey of discovery as a “recovering racist”, or the science-based evidence around our declining water quality and its relationship with intensifying agriculture throughout the country.

If this wasn’t my last column for a while, I’d probably be writing this week about how the stand-down of prison volunteer Ngapari Nui has not followed the principles of natural justice, especially given his gang associations were apparently known over his five plus years of volunteering. 

We have to try new approaches to deal with entrenched issues like reoffending and violence crime – the influence of reformed people, gang members or not, in reaching those in jail has to be worth careful support.

One of my favourite quotes is from Henry Ford: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  From all accounts, Nui was making a positive difference.  Even the Salvation Army and MP Chester Borrows, a former police officer, is backing him.

From next week, two friends of mine, Rachel Rose and Chris Cresswell, will be picking up this slot, writing columns on alternate weeks.  If I could offer them one piece of advice, it would be to be true to your experience of the world and write about your passions – it’s meant to be a personal point of view.  It took me a while to warm up – to let go of my journalism roots and just interview myself, instead of researching and trying to quote others. 

The other balance I’ve tried to strike is between writing about serious topics like inequality in NZ and the joy (and challenges!) of being a working mum.  Actually, those two topics come together for me – what happens to children in a country with significant inequality and growing poverty?  What future do they have?

Next Thursday kicks-off a three-week series on inequality in Whanganui, with author Max Rashbrooke first up speaking about the facts behind inequality, followed by a panel of local social service providers discussing the daily reality of inequality on July 21.  The final night on 28 July will feature Living Wage NZ’s Lyn Williams, Left Wing Think Tank’s Sue Bradford and Green Party MP Jan Logie.

While I will miss the opportunity to have my say in the paper every week, I am looking forward to having one less thing to fit in – I haven’t missed a deadline in nearly three years of writing, although some have only just snuck in. 

The most consistent feedback I’ve received about my column is people saying “I don’t always agree with everything you write, but you make me smile and you make me think” – I’m pretty satisfied with that.


Strong women inspiring me

Half the year down and I’m feeling pretty stoked with the mix of challenges and opportunities I’m facing.

I’ve only got two weeks left before I take my first break from this column in nearly three years – this is column number 148, as part of the lead up to standing for Horizons regional council.

Not only do I have to stand down from this column, I have to stand down from my job at the awesome Ākina Foundation.  But no free pass from paying the rent while campaigning, so I’ve found work for Te Kaahui o Rauru, Ngaa Rauru’s governance entity, doing environmental management work, and am loving it.

This week was a highlight as I took part in the launch at Kai Iwi of Ngaa Rauru’s two-year project to rejuvenate seven waterways in the region.  We had the entertaining Marama Fox, co-leader of the Māori Party present, and she did some seriously straight talking about the importance of water.

I’ve written several times about the nonsense that is “wadeable”, saying “swimmable” makes more sense – Marama went further and said “drinkable”.  She reminded us that it wasn’t that long ago our waters were a primary food source. 

Marama also talked about the harm possible when attempting to redirect the path of rivers and warned that we shouldn’t forget or “the river will rise up and remind us who’s the boss”.

We need to work with nature, not against it, including being realistic about our increased flooding risks in Whanganui in light of accelerating climate change.

Facing facts of how the environment works and the changes happening seems like an obvious place to start.  So I was more than disappointed to read the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issue strong criticism of the 2015 State of the Environment Report.

As one of the kuia at the marae asked, “why do they think they can pull the wool over our eyes?”  Setting out a clear position on the key environmental issues we’re facing to help focus on the most important is vital.  Allowing a sloppy report go out – our country’s first report under a new three-yearly requirement, reeks of a casual approach, or worse.

On a positive note, one of the things I like about being at a marae for meetings is the presence of children.  This week was no different.  I like seeing children listening quietly when elders speak, seeing little ones being allowed to run around and giggle without disrupting proceedings, school students being exposed to adult conversations about environmental challenges, and hearing first-hand what their uncles and aunties are doing about it.  I wish I’d thought to bring my boys along.

Last weekend I experienced having my own children part of a working event.  I attended New Zealand’s first “Women Who Get Shit Done” gathering with a group of about 100 women from around the country.  There were engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, poets, scientists, policy analysts, mums, students, café owners, and a splattering of CEOs – it was a shot in the arm to be connected to such inspiring people.

My boys were amongst 12 children who were incredibly well looked-after by the organisers, at no extra charge, so I and other parents could fully take part in the conference.  As soon as they woke up in the morning, my boys were demanding to get back to the “kids club” and have more fun.  And I loved not having to completely compartmentalise my life to be involved.

As Sheryl Sandberg of says: “Bring your whole self to work.  I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time.  It’s is all professional and it is all personal.”