Earlier this year I had a phone call out of the blue from a friend in Thailand, Khun Wipa. I hadn’t spoken to her since 2007 when we were travelling and filming grassroots perspectives on climate change. She was phoning me on behalf of Ajarn Yak who wanted me to come back to Thailand to contribute to a grassroots gathering of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I was subsequently in Thailand for just over a week, from 16 to 24 March. I haven’t yet written about this trip, but it’s on my list of things to do!
The point of this is that I am heading back to Thailand next week. My initial motivation for returning was to attend the Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum. I will be showcasing some of the work that I’ve done over the last decade as well as helping profile the work of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I’ve already given them some assistance in the translation of some of their information. Here are the two posters that I will be putting on display:
I’ve also been invited to act as provocateur for a session on climate uncertainty. In preparing for this last week I recalled that uncertainty was the topic of my first ever talk on climate change in 1991. I’ve certainly learnt a few things since then.
Following the adaptation forum I will again be hosted by my friends at the Agri-Nature Foundation. We’ll most likely be going to the Agri-Nature centre at Maab Uaeng in Chonburi province.
I noticed a small article in one of the local newspapers last week, promoting an event to celebrate the Cape Coast in Hawke’s Bay (including the coastal communities of Haumoana and Te Awanga). The event is a fund-raising auction, which is being held this week, with a range of quality items. The funds are to support the Walking on Water (WOW) campaign for a hard engineering solution for coastal erosion protection.
The reality of the 21st century is that we’re going to increasingly see coastal communities like this campaigning for their survival. To put things in perspective, current projections of sea-level rise indicate that hundreds of millions of people will be at risk over coming decades. More than two thirds of the world’s cities are at risk. Asia is particularly vulnerable, as shown on this map. Bangkok, which I am travelling to next week, is one of the most vulnerable cities.
Coming back to a New Zealand perspective, the Royal Society of New Zealand recently released an update of current knowledge regarding future sea-level rise. Emerging evidence suggests that sea-level rise greater than current guidance could occur. The current Ministry for the Environment guidance recommends a base value of 0.5m for sea-level rise, with assessment of consequences up to 0.8m. The more recent evidence suggests that it would not be unrealistic to consider a higher level rise by the end of this century. In some countries, such as Australia and the Netherlands, higher levels (in both of these cases 1.1m) have been set for risk assessment and planning purposes
Given this bigger picture, and the already vulnerable situation at Haumoana and Te Awanga, I personally don’t believe that investment in coastal barriers is a viable long-term solution for these communities. Erosion is already happening and with allowance for sea-level rise there will be accelerated erosion. Unfortunately the most obvious alternative solution to coastal barriers, managed retreat, isn’t an easy one for people to accept. Some perspective is needed in this regard. Like everywhere else in New Zealand we are fortunate to have options that the majority of people in the world don’t have. With the right spirit and focus this local coastal community has an opportunity to provide some genuine leadership. In my view this leadership isn’t going to come about from resisting change and wanting to construct barriers. Rather it will come from positive engagement in finding realistic, long-lasting solutions. For this to happen we need to recognise the psychological dimension of change. That’s a very big challenge that we as a society need to start working on together. We’re a long way from where we need to be in this regard. To get there we’re going to need the artists and all the others who have generously donated to the upcoming fundraising activity. That’s the crux of my concern in reading about this event, that we’re putting so much time and energy into resisting change in a world that is undergoing very rapid change.
For some time I’ve been intending to write about happenings in our home garden. Climate change has never been an abstract issue for me. I have a long-standing interest in self-sufficiency, local adaptation and resilience. This goes back to my early 20s when I began consolidating my environmental interests and concerns. My first steps included becoming a vegetarian and developing a strong interest in organic agriculture. Both emerged in the latter stages of my first degree in horticultural science in the early 1980s. My first serious opportunity to start putting my ideas and interests into practice was during the 1990s when we owned a one hectare block of land on the slopes of Mount Pirongia. That’s something to write about another time.
For now I thought it would be worthwhile to start talking about things that we do in our home and garden in Hastings.
For the last ten years I’ve lived on a 1600 square metre section in suburban Hastings. Redesign of the garden and renovation of the house (built in 1959) are on-going projects. There are challenges with the garden, with an old stream bed running through the middle of it. This means very shallow, gravely, soil in the area immediately out from the back of the house. The grass inevitably dies off every summer and the garden needs regular watering, even with the mulching and composting that we do. I’ve learned to observe the progressive drying of the grass from the shallowest, stoniest, area towards the back of the garden where the soil is deeper. It gives me a good indicator of how dry conditions are as the summer progresses. In the worst year I’ve observed wilting in the leaves of some of the native trees at the very back of the garden. A Pittosporum tree died off that year.
Currently we’re experiencing the height of spring. There is still moisture in the soil from a wet winter and everything is growing strongly. The native kowhai trees have already flowered and many are past their peak. The lavender that I pruned back in the autumn has burst into life and together with the self-seeding borage is providing spring food for the bees. We don’t keep bees, but it’s something I’m very keen to do again.
The garlic that we planted on the shortest day is now growing strongly. We harvested enough last year for our cooking needs and to supply us with seed for this year. For the first time, as far as I can recall, we still have surplus garlic in storage that isn’t going mouldy. We plaited it soon after the last harvest and it has stored very well.
The solitary apple tree is in flower. The variety is called McMillan’s red. I got the bud wood from an apple grower on the outskirts of Hamilton in the mid 1990s. I used to always buy his apples on my way home from work. But he and other small apple orchards on the outskirts of Hamilton rapidly went out of business after the local market was deregulated in 1993. They were put out of business by the supermarkets which bought apples in bulk from large growers in Hawke’s Bay, dropped the prices, and very soon people stopped going to the local small growers. Even though he’d pulled his trees out the grower managed to locate some dormant graft wood for me. I then got some MM106 rootstock (a good medium sized apple rootstock, developed in England in the 1950s) from a local nurseryman and successfully grafted the McMillan’s red.
Aside from the solitary apple tree other fruit trees we have in the garden are 27 olive trees (two Verdale and a Manzanilla, planted about seven years ago and nine Frantoio, ten Leccino and five Koroneiki planted just over two years ago), two NZ grapefruit trees, two tangelo trees, a mandarin tree, a lemon tree, four feijoas (two older trees, and two new varieties planted two years ago) a lemonade tree, a fig, a guava bush and a grapevine. We’ve been harvesting and processing fruit from the older olive trees for a few years now. We’re currently eating the grapefruit and have an abundance of lemons. The lemon tree is in one of the drier parts of the garden and suffers disease problems as a result. We’re working to minimise the stress on these trees by building up the organic matter.