Splashing around shouldn't be dangerous

The long weekend’s weather beckoned to my boys, the dog and me – “Come to the beach!  Don’t worry about the frosty start – get into the sunshine and run around on the sand!”

We headed to Kai Iwi beach last Monday – a great place for all of us to enjoy.  The boys got to work discovering “fossils from a dinosaur” buried in the sand and they were intent on recreating a skeleton.  Stones with holes in them were “definitely” from the skull while the large slabs of papa were rinsed off in the river before joining the pile.

I, however, was more worried about who was going to get sick from splashing around in the water – the dog included!

The entrance to the beach has a Horizons Regional Council sign warning of the water conditions at Mowhanau Stream.  It recommends “that you keep your head above water, avoid swallowing water, wash your hands before eating, and avoid swimming with open cuts or wounds”.

The sign suggests you check the latest water quality information (although not everyone has a smart phone and coverage at Kai Iwi is not the best) – but unfortunately the service is not active between 30 April and 1 November.  That said, we stuck to our golden rule of not swimming after recent rain and as it hadn’t rained for a few days, I didn’t hold the boys back from wading.

Wading – that word now has political connotations for me.  Wadeable is the proposed bottomline standard for our waterways in New Zealand – not swimmable.  How can a country like ours accept a bottomline that means you can’t splash around.  That said, the volume and extent of outcry against wadeable makes me think a higher standard will come through once the consultation feedback has been crunched – how can it not?

I was privileged to attend the Green Party’s annual conference in Christchurch last weekend and was present for the launch of their rivers campaign.  The Greens have launched a website, www.rivers.greens.org.nz, profiling ten rivers from around New Zealand facing difference challenges, and describe how they would improve their conditions.

There are of course critics of this campaign, with some saying we should be more concerned about the quality of urban waterways.  Massey University’s Dr Mike Joy came back at that criticism with the comment that less than 1% of New Zealand’s waterways are urban – it’s a red herring.

Joy also responded to the question asking can we fix New Zealand’s polluted rivers by saying it was “really easy; you don't fix rivers by spending money on them, you fix rivers by not polluting them”.

And that’s what the Greens propose – developing national standards that limit pollution, ensure treated sewage is discharged to land not water, and putting a hold on all new conversations of land to dairy farms.  They also want to see action on urban waterways too, particularly around design solutions to reduce stormwater pollution.

Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet and New Zealand is no exception.  We can not keep adding dairy cows to our lands without there being a consequence – we now have about 6.5 million cows, more than double the number from 30 years ago.  And if you consider that one dairy cow is equivalent to at least 12 humans in terms of waste, that’s like adding nearly 40 million humans into our natural places over the past 30 years, without providing the wastewater treatment to go with it. 

I’m not proposing that we go without dairy farming – I quite like my ice-cream thanks very much.  But we do need to reconsider our approach.  Have a listen to Mike Joy’s chat this week with Duncan Garner on the Radio Live website for some sensible ideas.  Or check out Radio New Zealand’s website for similar comments from Alison Dewes, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, veterinarian, and agri-business consultant – there is a better way.

The nature of nature

Nature is beautiful.  Nature is inspirational.  Nature is essential.  But nature is not kind.

Well, there is kindness in nature but let’s not pretend nature is inherently kind, or caring, or gentle.

This week, there has been the horrific incident of a four-year-old boy, same age as my youngest, falling into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinatti Zoo.  The endangered silverback gorilla, 200kg in weight, was an adult male.  The zoo has faced criticism for killing the gorilla rather than risking the child’s life.  The mother has been blasted for her child climbing the barriers and falling into the enclosure – just last month I was at Wellington Zoo and lost sight of my four-year-old on more than one occasion. 

It’s an absolute tragedy that this magnificent beast had to be shot.  It’s another sort of tragedy that it’s threatened with extinction in the wild in the first place.  And yet another heartbreak that a wild animal is locked up in a cage, no matter how brilliantly designed the zoo is to be just like home – it sure isn’t.  Yes zoos have a role in awareness and conservation, but it doesn’t cancel all the negatives about keeping animals in captivity, especially animals that need space.

The whole situation is awful but repeating ill-informed views that the gorilla would have protected the child is just a guess, and inconsistent with what I’ve read about male gorilla behaviour.  Life is not a Disney movie – this was a wild and very powerful animal.  In my view, they had no choice but to shoot the gorilla.

It reminds me of a stern talking to I got from my GP in Perth when I was pregnant with my first child.  I had a wonderful student midwife and we were excited about a water birth – I imagined it to be a calm introduction to the world outside the womb.  But my wonderful GP was not impressed and reminded me about the nature of nature – yes childbirth is natural but, as I can now vouch, it not exactly a walk in the park.

She pointed out that women left to birth “naturally” in the developing world have significantly higher rates of themselves or their babies dying than those in countries like Australia and New Zealand.  As it turned out, I ended up in theatre, only just avoiding a caesarian, so a water birth was never going to happen for me.  All power to those who have successfully had a water birth, but it wasn’t for me.

What is definitely not natural is the massive coral die-off happening at the Great Barrier Reef at the moment.  The increased water temperature linked to climate change is causing coral bleaching.  Don’t be distracted by the neutral word “bleach” – it’s going white because it’s dying.  Coral is a living thing – not rocks.  It is the outer shell of marine invertebrates that excrete limestone.  Check out Brad Plumer’s article on www.vox.com for a summary of the issues.

I’ve dived at the Great Barrier Reef and it’s an amazing experience.  Being under the ocean in clear water, with thousands of colourful fish, anemones, coral in all its forms and other creatures is incredible.  But coral is not just beautiful – they are nurseries for fish so support a healthy fishery feeding millions and creating jobs, they protect coastlines from storm damage, and they offer top quality tourism opportunities.  Some organisms in coral have even been found to fight cancer. 

And it’s not just coral we’re losing – don’t get me started on claims that fishing companies in New Zealand waters have been dumping huge numbers of dead fish without reporting it.  This makes me furious.  Watch for the results of the investigations.

So while nature might not be kind, we are part of nature.  To quote author Marc Bekoff: “Humans are a part of nature, not apart from nature.”  Our actions, or lack of action in protecting nature, will bite us. 

Youngsters teaching us failure is ok

Standing at the sidelines of Mr Six’s hockey game, hoping the seriously grey clouds threatening would remain at bay, I thought about the meme doing the rounds on Facebook: “Please remember: 1. These are kids, 2. This is a game, 3. The coaches are volunteers, 4. The referees are human, 5. This is not the world cup.”

It was great to see so many parents, grandparents, aunties and siblings supporting on Wednesday.  While my son has a strong competitive streak, it looked like he was enjoying the skills practice with the opposition as much as he enjoyed the game!

Hockey is my son’s fourth sport he’s tried – it follows on from soccer, ballet and basketball, in that order.  He’s always wanted to play rugby, but luckily (for me) this hasn’t yet eventuated.  As a parent who wants to support my children’s choices (within reason), I don’t know how I’m going to cross that bridge, but the stats on concussions are not cool when combined with a growing brain.

After hockey he was disappointed that his team didn’t win, but mainly he was happy I could be there to watch him play.  He kept waving at me during the game, which seemed very sweet – I realised later he was checking whether I was paying him enough attention!

I had run into another Whanganui mum, there watching her son, so was enjoying our conversation.  She shared a lovely story about her boys.  They, like my two, were asking her to again abitrate who was best at something.  She responded by saying she didn’t want to choose between her two children but instead of leaving it there, the boys explained that they were ok with someone coming second – they wanted to practice saying congratulations to the winner.  Wow – what maturity in youngsters!  Better than some (most?) adults.

Being ok with failure isn’t easy for many of us at any age.  This quote from American author Denis Waitley is a good reminder: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” 

This is a great message about failure just being experience in disguise.  I don’t particularly enjoy my son being frustrated his team didn’t win and that he didn’t get any goals, but it’s a part of life.

I caught up this week with a friend who’s going through a run of back luck.  She was feeling down about the latest set back, but we talked about how unexpected change is not the problem – it’s quite common – it’s how we react to it.  As Chumbawamba sung in their 1997 one-hit-wonder: “I get knocked down, but I get up again.  You're never gonna keep me down.”

Can I clumsily segue from failure into commenting on this week’s Budget?  Looks like I already have!

It’s too hard to comment in-depth on the Budget.  Trying to understand the twists and turns that Ministerial news releases take compared to year on year funding trends is nigh on impossible – I should know, having helped write such things when I worked in Wellington back in the day.

Let’s just say my view is to take any funding increases with a grain of salt and wait for analysis by watchdogs that put the necessary time into careful dissection.

But I can say I’m concerned about initial comments that the Department of Conservation has been cut by nearly $40 million or 9% of its funding, with the majority of that coming from their work with nature.  That does not seem like a winning formula for New Zealand.

Freedom from fear and a roof over your head

Lying on the floor trying to stretch my sore back and decide what of the many outrages this week to write about, I realised I’m grateful for my health, bung back and all.

It’s hard to maintain perspective with a sore back – it seems to permeate all your activities, or lack thereof, ironic given the advice for a sore back is keep moving.

I’ve had the all clear on serious matters so it’s off to the osteopath and back to the gym for me.  I’m sure it will come right – this will not be my permanent state of being.  While I’m no exercise junkie and my commitment to healthy living is inconsistent, I have a pass mark on the basics.

Appreciating my health reminded me of a week-long marae stay as part of my Department of Conservation days, many years ago.  We had to share something personal – some people had jewellery that had meaning, or spoke to their love of nature sharing a feather, or, like me, some had a family photo with them (this was pre-smart phones). 

One guy stands out in my memory.  He talked about his health – how physically able he was; how he appreciated the power of his legs to carry him up and down the rugged back country.  Having this tiny taste of being incapacitated that reminds me how lucky I am.  My back problem is fixable.

While I haven’t studied psychology, this health revelation reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  That’s the pyramid that starts at the bottom with life’s basics – food, shelter, warmth, then moves up to safety and freedom from fear, then love and belonging, then self-esteem, and finally the pinnacle of self-actualisation, that not many achieve.

Having a place to live is a foundation stone and in New Zealand we have families living in cars, in garages, crammed in with relatives.  The consequences of this are significant, especially for children and their health, let alone how it affects moving up the pyramid to self-esteem.

We can’t skip the basics – people need a place to live.  What’s happened to our country when people end up in debt to WINZ for the cost of emergency housing in a motel because there are no other options left for them?  How many unplanned nights in a motel could you afford before it became a millstone around your neck?

The other layer in Maslow’s hierarchy that’s come to me this week has been freedom from fear.  I’ve been impressed by the new “It’s not ok” campaign against domestic violence on TV.  The messages are getting specific and I hope they cut through to both men and women – things like “It’s not ok to say she was asking for it” and “It’s not ok to control your family with threats”, both followed with “but it is ok to ask for help”.

Seeing this so soon after the devastating death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, I want to believe it will have impact.  I read a Radio Live interview with Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills talking about Moko. 

He said: “Say you know that your neighbour or your friend or someone in your family is in a violent relationship.  The first thing to tell them is that you care about them and you're worried for them… follow with an 'I notice that you're sad' or 'he's been really angry and started to become more aggressive’… Then you need to ask, 'Are you safe at home?' And often people go, 'yeah, we're safe' but you'll get a clue. They'll be a bit hesitant.”

Dr Wills said you then need to ask the specific question - 'Is anyone hurting anyone'… 'Is anyone hurting the kids?'

We’ve got to step out of our comfort zones and show concern for our friends and neighbours by asking these questions, rather than rage once it’s too late for another child like Moko.

"Recovering racist" challenges middle New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park is getting bigger thanks to the work of 39,249 people who gave a little to raise more than $2 million to buy a strip of beach and bush at Awaroa.  This week the land has transferred to the Crown.

I was one of those people who put in a few dollars to see if we could collectively buy back a piece of paradise. I can vouch for how spectacular this place is – I lived in Golden Bay for four years as a child and I had my standard four, school camp at Totaranui. 

The two guys behind the campaign are my cousin’s husband and brother, although I didn’t know that when the campaign launched.  I just loved the idea that collectively we could make a difference – people power!

People power of another sort is looming and I plan to be part of this movement too.  I’m going to join New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd on Friday 17 June when he walks 45km from New Plymouth to Parihaka in a pilgrimage of peace.

Judd has come under fire after going on a speedy journey of self-discovery, being ignorant about Māori history and institutional racism, and now identifying as a “recovering racist”.  He prompted controversy in his proposal for a Māori ward seat and has decided not to stand again to avoid abuse – he was spat on in the supermarket in front of his children in one incident.

Someone who spoke critically about both the Awaroa purchase and the Māori ward proposal was Kiwi philanthropist Gareth Morgan.  However, Morgan’s criticisms, while sometimes delivered clumsily, made some good points.

Morgan questioned whether spending more than $2 million on a thin strip of coastline that would undoubtedly erode with rising sea levels was the best use of money for conservation.  While my head agreed, my heart didn’t.  Putting that aside, I also pondered whether this cause would have engendered the same enthusiasm if it had been a Māori land owner selling the land due to bankruptcy.

There often seems to be a double standard applied to issues involving Māori – this Māori ward consternation is an example.  New Plymouth has rural wards to ensure rural people are represented, but that doesn’t get labeled as separatism.

Morgan also critiqued the Māori ward approach, saying he was in favour of representation but didn’t think this was the best approach.  That might be fair, but Judd had the backing of local Iwi for his approach, plus it was a start – until the citizen-initiated referendum overturned it.  For the record, I was living in New Plymouth then and voted in support of the ward.

I’ve joined the Andrew Judd Fan Club on Facebook and in less than a week, it has 10,000 members, so I’m not alone.  It’s been a fantastic place for constructive conversations around increasing Māori representation.  People have been sharing insights, with a mix of sadness, anger and hope, plus ideas and resources to help inform thoughtful conversations around New Zealand’s history and future, and reducing racism.

My experience of understanding New Zealand’s history accelerated rapidly in 1990 when I was a seventh former here in Whanganui.  It was the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and I was privileged to represent my school at local and national hui.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions but has served as a solid base for how I identify as a New Zealander today.

Judd has said the book that kick-started his voyage of discovery while mayor was Healing Our History by Robert and Josephine Consedine.  If that sounds a bit long, a condensed option is to check out www.nzhistory.net.nz.  If you don’t know the story of Parihaka, start there – or, for a musical history lesson, crank up Tim Finn’s 1989 hit Parihaka, available on www.nzonscreen.com.

The nature of work this Mother's Day

Don’t forget it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow – and if you believe the advertising, you still have a chance to redeem yourself by buying nail polish, perfume, slippers or even a handy kitchen appliance to make her day.

Yep the power of advertising tells us what makes a good Mother’s Day, all tied up in a giant pink bow, because all mums like pink and beauty products and traditional female roles…

It is ridiculous that in 2016 it’s still what we face in our flyers, magazines and online adverts – a continued reinforcement of stereotypes about mothers, when the reality is so different.

To state the obvious, mothers are individuals – the process of giving birth involves a lot of crazy things, but it doesn’t your brain being replaced with a pre-programmed standard version off the shelf from a chain store entitled Mothers Are Us. 

That’s not to say mothers, myself included, don’t deserve a sleep-in or some hand-picked flowers or some time to themselves – those are the sorts of things top of my list.

I still remember when I was pregnant with my first child, my workmates saying things like “it’s the hardest job in the world”.  I thought “bollocks” – how can going through the beautiful (ha!) experience of creating new life be tougher than some really full-on jobs out there? 

I guess I’ve learnt a bit more over the past nearly seven years – yes, sure being a mum is deeply satisfying on a level that’s hard to imagine, but are the good parts really that different to being a fabulous aunty or godmother, honorary or otherwise?

The hard bits, for me at least, are the monotony of folding never-ending piles of washing, over-exposure to faecal matter, and the predictability of your children waking early – on the weekend!  The challenges are staying calm in the face of extreme meltdowns, or not over-reacting when, yet again, your child cannot find their shoes when you’re already running late for school, and just the noise – the noise when they’re happy and the noise when they’re not.

But to be honest, and risking Murphy’s Law writing these words down, my boys are lovely and growing into considerate and caring little people who bring me joy every day (especially when they’re asleep!).

One working mum I admire is former Green Party MP Holly Walker.  She has written recently about her experience of being a mum and an MP and her realisation it wasn’t the right combination for her, particularly after her partner became unwell.  The hours and lack of flexibility when Parliament was sitting made it impossible for her to do both roles justice.

While there are inevitably gender issues involved for working mums, Holly’s experience prompts for me a wider issue around the nature of work.  How do people balance their responsibilities outside work when in a demanding role?  How can you connect with your children, care for your older parents, contribute to your community, or look out for your neighbours, if you’re exhausted from working more than 40 hours a week?  What gives if you, or one of your children, get sick?  What if you’re a single parent or have limited support?

Have we created an approach to jobs that means the only people who can get ahead in senior roles are those who give up any time for themselves, who give up contributing beyond their paid work, and who rely on a partner (almost always a wife) to carry them?  Or do they just give up having children?

Life should be about achieving a balance across all the things that mean something to you – not waiting for a day once a year when you’re officially encouraged to put your feet up.

Is this the start of "water wars"?

Mad Max Fury Road – a critically acclaimed film and a massive box office hit last year, but is it more than entertainment?

The movie is set in an apocalyptic future where water is a precious and rare resource, with a tyrannical ruler strictly controlling its access and people suffering.  Is it a premonition of our future?

It may seem fanciful to link such outrageous imagery with the real world – or is it?  This week has seen water wars erupting everywhere.

Concern for water quality is moving beyond the space of environmental activists and dairy intensification.  The latest outrage surrounds discoveries of how much water is being bottled in New Zealand for export, with the irony being the location prompting the attention is in Canterbury – our home of water quality controversy.

The Ashburton District Council has given consent for 1.4 billion litres of freshwater to be extracted, bottled and exported every year for the paultry cost of a resource consent fee.  And they are not alone – there are apparently a number of, mainly overseas-owned, companies already doing the same all around New Zealand.  This resource that we say no-one owns returns a profit for these businesses without any royalties returning to the council.

Interestingly, there’s been support from unlikely quarters with groups opposing dairy intensification pointing out that export of water is significantly more efficient than milk, with one litre of milk taking up to 250 litres of water to produce, thanks to irrigation.

A major irrigation project for Hawkes Bay, the Tukituki dam, is closer to going ahead with more farmers signing up to take water.  The cost estimate is at $900 million – let that amount sink in.  I just can’t imagine how this project will ever break even, let alone work economically for the farmers with the model based on water being sold at 27 centres per cubic metre.

Part of me is glad a cost for water is being built in, as a necessity or otherwise – it’s one of those externalities that doesn’t get counted.  With climate change, we know the pattern of rainfall is changing.  Some places, like Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, are predicted to get drier with a greater likelihood of drought, so maybe the mighty dollar will drive more analysis of what is the best use of water in these places.

Back in Canterbury, two tough pieces of water-related news this week.  First, there were 30 sheep that died after exposure to a toxic algal bloom at Lake Forsyth on Banks Peninsula.  Then, Fish and Game has taken the unusual move to ban winter fishing in some locations due to declining water quality and an associated drop in fish stocks.

Further afield, there lack of action on contaminated water from the Flint River in Michigan, United States, is shocking.  Investigations are underway into what knowledge officials had before lead poisoning was confirmed.  There are claims that because the Flint community is impoverished and less politically powerful, less care was taken with their water supply and their concerns ignored.  It certainly makes the premise of Mad Max less outlandish.

But what about here – with our oft-quoted national value of egalitarianism, we don’t kowtow to the powerful when it comes to life’s essentials like water, do we?  Hmmm, jury is out. 

There are certainly some recent patterns around deferring to the rich, whether its foreign trusts acting as tax havens, or the lack of action on taking a cut from property speculators’ Auckland fortunes.  It seems to me that being rich carries a fair bit of weight here, as it does in the rest of the world.

However, this Native American quote sums up the conundrum: “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realise that one cannot eat money.

Children too young for full reality of war

5.20am Monday morning – will you see me at the Dawn Service to commemorate Anzac Day?

My children, six and four, have been learning about Anzac Day and it’s the first year they’ve asked to go.  They’re still too young to comprehend war, even though they love to play fight, shoot imaginary guns and swing invisible samurai swords around their heads.

I’ve struggled with the glorification of war in my sons’ pretend games – I don’t see it as a necessary rite of passage, but it does seem hard to avoid.  One of our family anecdotes involves my cousin who wasn’t given toys guns as a child, but still made them out of sticks and in his late teens ended up joining the army – the approach of denying war toys didn’t stop him.

We don’t often watch the TV news at home so I don’t have a lot of explaining to do when something difficult comes on – they are too young to be exposed to the horrors of conflict just yet.  Unfortunately, there are children around the world who can’t avoid the reality of war because their families are in the midst of it.  My heart breaks for those young people whose lives are torn apart and their childhoods lost.

Some get a second chance though and this week I learnt a little more about one supportive community a Syrian refugee family has had the good fortune to connect with.  The Common Unity Project Aotearoa is a community-based, urban farm project that grows food, skills and leadership with local families in Lower Hutt.  I donated a little money for the dad, a former market gardener in Syria, to purchase compost to get a garden growing at his new home – it felt good to be part of that family’s welcoming committee, even at a distance.

We’re off to Wellington next month for a weekend and I’m unsure whether I’ll take the boys to Te Papa to see the Gallipoli exhibition.  I don’t want my children to grow up sheltered but it wouldn’t be right to introduce them to graphic scenes of real war at their ages.  However, I do want to help them understand that war is not a simple game of “goodies” and “baddies”.  How do I explain that the Turkish soldiers were defending their own country against the Australian and New Zealand forces – that the ANZACs were the invaders?

My parents reminded me that my great great uncle Graham landed at Anzac Cove, survived, and was then shipped out to Passchendaele, and again, somehow against the odds, survived.  They said when packing up his house after he died at the age of 94, they found his notebook from the war, along with war medals he had hidden away out of sight.  The notebook contained a list of all his comrades’ names, with many many names crossed out and dated as they died around him – it must have been all but unbearable.

Graham never married and led a very quiet life, living next to my grandparents in New Plymouth, buying my sister and me book tokens every Christmas. 

For a differently devastating reflection on the impacts of World War One back home, look up Whanganui columnist Rachel Stewart’s powerful piece entitled “War is hell, here's my family's story”. 

If I can manage voluntariliy getting my children and myself up at 5am on Monday, I will be at the Dawn Service – wearing both a red poppy and a white poppy for peace.

Lastly, I got something wrong in my column of 2 April.  I assumed that when only two of the 12 Horizons regional councillors voted for a swimmable, not wadeable, water standard in the current national consultation round, that meant the other 10 voted against it, including our two local reps.  My apologies – David Cotton was not at that meeting so did not vote.

From the ridiculous to the sublime...

This week has been a mix of eye-rolling and inspiration thanks to short skirts, escapee octopus, more fresh water disbelief and amazing local women.

My jaw dropped when I read about the deputy principal at Henderson High School requiring students’ skirts to be knee length to “stop boys from getting ideas” – is it the idea that girls have legs, one of my friends asked.

It’s not having a uniform code with certain standards that is the problem – it’s the message that girls are sexual objects who need to be covered up to protect them from boys.  And that boys – and male teachers! – are not able to be around uncovered limbs without being distracted or presumably tempted into some sort of bad behaviour.

We need good quality conversations about respect between young people – not knee-jerk comments that reinforce an idea that what girls and women wear is the problem.

On a lighter note, I was pleased to hear that Inky the octopus escaped his tank at Napier’s aquarium this week and squeezed his rugby-ball sized body down a drain and out to the ocean – go Inky!  Yesterday, my marine-mad six-year-old discovered on Netflix the Blackfish documentary about captive orca at SeaWorld in the US.  It was quite tough to explain to my son the footage of people were separating young orcas from their mums to capture them for entertainment – he was finding it distressing to watch.

So whether its an incredibly intelligent mammal like an orca or a cheeky octopus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that wild animals don’t want to be trapped in a confined space and will make their break for freedom when they get a chance.

I’m not sure whether I should feel disbelief or be cynically resigned to discover that this week 10 of the 12 Horizons Regional Councillors, including both our two Whanganui reps, voted in favour of the shoddy “wadeable” fresh water standard, currently out for consultation.  What planet are they from that water below safe swimming standards is acceptable? 

There have been comments from some people saying that 100% swimmable rivers are impossible so there’s no point setting that as the standard – what rubbish.  In our society, we agree violent crime is unacceptable so we pass laws banning it, even though we know we’re a long way from ridding our communities of violence in practice – it should be the same for water.  We literally can’t live without it. 

But on to the inspirational local women I had the pleasure of meeting this week – the first is doing her bit to help Whanganui place respectful relationships at its heart, in justice, education, community services and workplaces.  Jenny Saywood is the chair of the Whanganui Restorative Practice Trust and it’s exciting to hear that slowly but surely they are making a difference – find out more at www.restorativepracticeswhanganui.co.nz.

Another local woman I was blown away by this week is Tanea Tangaroa, who’s been doing an amazing job cleaning up the Kokohuia wetland in Castlecliff.  She’s spent three years so far, hand-picking out rubbish and planting up the stream edges, to bring health back to this polluted waterway.  It’s another long journey but Tanea is seeing progress – seeing life come back to the stream.  Follow their story on Facebook at Te Ripo Kokohuia.

Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to Central Baptist Kindergarten manager Royce Dewe, who is retiring after 21 years leading the organisation.  Both my boys have attended that childcare centre and it is outstanding, thanks in no small part to Royce.  Fortunately there are two wonderful women able to step into Royce’s hard-to-fill shoes – Jenny Te Punga-Jurgens and Lisa Illife will be sharing the role. 

Thank you Royce for helping many Whanganui children get a fantastic start in life.

Joining the charge for electric vehicles

I love my car – it might be the first time in my life I’ve said such words.  My history of motoring does not include a reputation as a petrol head – Nana driver is more like it.

My new car is a five-year-old Toyota Prius.  It’s the third generation of this hybrid electric-petrol vehicle with a 1.8 litre engine, a five star ANCAP safety rating and 5.5 star fuel economy rating.

It’s this fuel economy that is blowing me away – officially at 3.9 litres per 100km.  That translates to about a third of a tank, or $20, for a return trip to Wellington from Whanganui.

It reminds me of my first car – a teeny tiny aluminium can on wheels – an 800cc Suzuki Alto.  My flatmate and I drove to Gisborne from Wellington one summer and, by the time we got home again, the poor car was on its last legs, running on only two of its three cylinders.  I sold it for parts after that.

My other driving claim to fame is that a university boyfriend built himself a stock car and I drove it at the Mothers Motorcycle Club racecourse in Palmerston North in a race for novice women.  I came second, although there may have only been three of us in the race.  I still remember the adrenalin buzz.

My latest car excitement has absolutely no connection to petrol – the announcement of Tesla’s Model 3, all electric, mid-range car.  Tesla already produces electric vehicles at the luxury end of the market but its latest model, due for release end of 2017, comes with a more affordable price tag of US$35,000.

The big shock came at the response to their announcement – in the first 24 hours, they took orders for 198,000 electric cars, each providing a $1,000 deposit.  People queued down the street.  Orders now total 276,000, which is pretty outrageous for a vehicle that isn’t yet in mass production and is 18 months away from delivery.

To give some sense of the scale, in the US in 2015, people bought 277,000 Honda Civics over the entire year – the fifth most popular vehicle sold.

As I read on www.qz.com in an article by Michael J Coren, the deposits are basically equivalent to an interest-free loan of $276 million, which will help Tesla ramp up its production – not a bad investment result.  

There were apparently some orders from New Zealand as well, with Mighty River Power quoted as putting down a deposit.  That gets me excited about the possibility of being able to afford a second-hand fully electric Tesla vehicle in years to come.

While the range of this latest model is an improvement at 320km, we still need the infrastructure to support fully electric vehicles and that’s where Z Energy is leading the way.  Just this week, it opened a rapid charging station in Christchurch, with more to follow in Wellington and Auckland.

It looks to me like the transition away from dependence on fossil fuels is speeding up.  I read that The Netherlands is one step closer to banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2025, with legislation passing through their lower house of Parliament recently.  There’s also serious discussion in California and Norway exploring a similar approach.  Norway already had 30% of new car purchases in 2015 were of electric vehicles, thanks in part to generous incentives.

How do we speed up action in New Zealand?  I guess the first question is determining that we want to shift to electric cars.  My motivation isn’t just fuel economy and the sleek lines of the latest Tesla – it’s about reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change.

The latest news on ice melt is sobering and there is fear that the rate of warming is accelerating.  Action is becoming urgent and Government has a direct part to play, given the size of the Government vehicle fleet.

Let’s start the conversation now on how to get ready for electric cars are part of our every day.

Put river health first - swimming, not more cows

My six-year-old’s favourite thing is swimming – he loves it.  Once he saw kids leaping into the Whanganui River, that was it.

Now, he can’t really swim yet – his doggy-paddle gets him a few metres before he starts to sink, so it wasn’t that simple.  But off to the Union Boat Club jetty we went one weekend in February and he was straight in, bombing and flipping into the river – with mum standing right there ready to jump in if necessary.

While the Whanganui might not be as pristine-looking as some rivers, I knew a lot of clean up had gone into the Whanganui since I was a teenager, rowing at Aramoho, and almost never swimming in the river.

So I did the sensible thing and checked the Horizons Regional Council website to find the river described as “fair... generally safe for swimming, except during and after recent rainfall”.

Unfortunately, this week I looked at more detailed monitoring on www.lawa.org.nz, a joint initiative between councils and research bodies, and the latest E.coli stats show a lot of red.  Of the 20 samples taken this summer, seven have been red indicating a serious problem with another five orange.  LAWA rates swimming at the Town Bridge as “high risk” and two samples taken in March showed “unacceptable” levels of E.coli.

Is that ok for Whanganui?  On a hot day, does it have to be the beach, with the risk of rips, or a swimming pool for our kids, and not our glorious river, right on the doorstep?  

Guidelines say councils should put up signs to warn people when E.coli levels are at more than 550 per 100mL, even potentially causing problems for stock drinking water at more than 1,000 units – the highest sample in March was 7,900! 

Where does E.coli come from and what can we do about it?  The answers to these two critical questions are of course complicated, but the simple start is that E.coli comes from poo – humans, birds, dogs and cows.

The first thing to do, and advice I stick to with my family, is don’t swim in pretty much any New Zealand river for two days after heavy rain – too much run-off means too much E.coli risk.

The second is make a submission – there are two options available at the moment.  Ministry for the Environment is running a consultation process on whether you want swimmable rivers – or are happy to settle for the proposed standard of “wadeable”.  And Horizons Regional Council is doing their annual consultation round so there’s a chance to influence their direction on matters related to this.

One proposal that has me puzzled in Horizons’ Accelerate25 report is “land use intensification”, AKA more dairying.  They’re even proposing a lower nitrogen standard in coastal areas.  The report quotes Canterbury as a positive example economically (which seems seriously out of touch given continued low payout predictions with dire implications for some farmers) but it studiously avoids the point, as made on the LAWA website, that “water quality in Canterbury has been in decline as a result (of) agricultural intensification over the past couple of decades.”  

That’s not the direction I want to see Horizons head, especially when statistics on dairy farm consents speak for themselves.  Only 59% were applied for by the deadline and of the 94 processed (all approved), 85% of them were “restricted”, i.e. able to leach nitrogen at a higher rate than agreed in the One Plan.  Now nitrogen and E.coli are not the same thing, but how does this approach help our rivers’ health?  And how is that fair on the 14 farmers who worked hard to apply on time and within the conditions?

I want swimmable rivers for my children and for us to avoid the mistakes made elsewhere with too many cows – that’s my submission in a nutshell.