Are we now funding disaster tourism?

When I read the following article in the New Zealand Herald my immediate thought was that our government is now funding disaster tourism. What other point can there be in seeking to develop tourism in such a fragile and vulnerable place as Kiritimati island?

Funding a transition away from dependence on imported diesel to self reliance with solar energy is fantastic. But are tourism and fisheries developments a smart move for an already very fragile atoll environment? Fisheries throughout the Pacific are already under huge pressure as this story of one person’s journey captures so powerfully. And of course climate change will have major impacts in the Pacific in coming decades.

A better approach would be to focus resources on fostering greater self reliance among the approximate population of 5000 on Kiritimati. At present they are almost wholly dependent on imported food. In 2012 I learned about successful trials with atoll agriculture in Ontong Java, a remote atoll in the Solomon Islands. The short term focus of this work is to increase self reliance. The long term plan as sea level rises is to relocate people. This sort of approach makes a lot more sense but unfortunately we’re not seeing a lot of sensible decision making.



Expensive, large scale, projects aren’t the way forward

Here’s an opinion piece on the proposed Ruataniwha Dam which was published in Hawke’s Bay Today yesterday.

I continue to be appalled at what is verging on a propaganda campaign by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, at our (ratepayers) expense, in relation to the proposed Ruataniwha Dam. The latest is a special edition of Our Place, circulated to ratepayers this week. Yet again, as I’ve read and heard continually, the recent drought and the prospect of more of the same with climate change is being used as a justification for the dam.

Let’s be clear the primary intention of the dam is to support agricultural intensification not to provide security against climate change and future drought risk. The latter is debatable and should not be used as a justification for the scheme in the absence of a comprehensive assessment.

I’m speaking from experience. I have worked professionally on climate change for more than 20 years, in New Zealand and internationally. Throughout this time my work has focused on impact and adaptation assessment with a strong emphasis on resilience building over the last decade.

There has yet to be a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation options for Hawke’s Bay. The Regional Council is right to identify future drought risk as one possible threat. However there will be multiple threats to the region which will require multiple responses.

Other possible threats include the potential for more intense rainfall events, sea level rise impacts, increased plant and animal pests and diseases, impacts on native flora and fauna, and impacts on human health. How well will the region be placed to deal with these multiple threats with such a huge investment of funds in one large water storage dam?

This doesn’t sound like a very smart risk spreading exercise to me. Sea level rise alone has the potential to have huge impacts, and associated costs, on Napier and communities such as Te Awanga where there is already active coastal erosion.

Hill country farmers have literally been left high and dry with the Council’s singular focus on the dam. Let’s remember that the vast majority of the 1.42 million hectares that make up Hawke’s Bay is hill country.

In the current HBRC 10-year plan the proposed solution for the hill country was an afforestation scheme which naively pinned its hopes on an international carbon trading market that has now collapsed. So we’re looking at the majority of the region still being exposed to both drought and extreme rainfall events.

With the “all eggs in one basket” approach with the dam there is no back up solution for the hill country at present. Instead ratepayer resources are being channeled into a scheme to irrigate 24,000 hectares of arable (flat) land (less than 2 percent of the region’s land area), some of which is already irrigated from groundwater.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the dam issue is that there are other options for addressing drought and other climate risks and there are farmers who are being proactive in exploring them.

Landscape diversity, soil management practices that provide increased buffering against drought and flood, as well as matching land use to land class and local microclimate, are the keys. These need to be linked to a focus on becoming price makers of high quality products with locally owned value chains from farm to plate. I’ve spoken to enough farmers who see the potential of this. We need to be working with and supporting them much more than we are.

To put things in perspective even with a ten percent reduction in average rainfall, and more summer droughts as we’ve just had, we’d still be receiving significantly more rainfall than Tuscany in Italy.

It’s time to take a big pause from what has become a very undemocratic and dishonest process. We need some genuine, fully participatory, future visioning and planning for the whole region which is founded on a comprehensive understanding of all possible future climate and other risks.

Long time no see and the proposed dam in Hawke’s Bay

It’s been nearly two years since I posted here. Two years ago I had a period without paid work and focused my time on putting together some film clips and posting them on my YouTube channel.

Soon after I started a UNDP contract in Mauritius, focused on ‘Capacity Building for Development of Climate Resilient Policies’. It was an exhausting but ultimately rewarding piece of work.

2012 proved to be my busiest year ever. I had a New Zealand contract working with kiwifruit growers and others on resilience to climate change. This was very difficult work given the unfolding effects of PSA on the kiwifruit industry and I think a general (and worrying) lack of interest in climate change. As the year progressed I had to juggle this work with two separate contracts in Samoa and another UNDP contract. For the latter I worked as part of a team completing a mid-term evaluation of the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project.

Currently I’m working on another New Zealand project under the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change programme; working with two colleagues from Landcare Research.

Meanwhile I’ve recently been interviewed by TV3 for an item on the planned Ruataniwha dam in Central Hawke’s Bay. Unfortunately, as happens with news items, they chose the sound bite that they wanted to use to fit the story they told. There was no room for some of my key messages which included:

1) The majority (more than 80 percent) of Hawke’s Bay is in hill country. So a dam that is designed to irrigate 25,000 ha of flat land for intensive dairy farming is not going to do anything to build security against current and future droughts in the region. In fact it could make future drought security worse. This needs more discussion than I’m giving right now.
2) The proposed dam is a solution without a clearly defined problem. There is no long-term strategy for the whole Hawke’s Bay region, taking account of climate change, which clearly identifies the key issues and critically looks at the different choices we have to address them. Again this needs more discussion.
3) There has been a complete lack of genuine community consultation throughout the whole process.

Further film progress and Jim Hansen’s visit

Over recent months I’ve played a relatively small role in helping organise part of Jim Hansen’s current trip to New Zealand. For those who don’t know him Jim Hansen is one of the world’s leading climate change scientists. Convinced by the science, and as a concerned grandfather, he has become a lot more active in recent years. In 2009 he published Storms of my Grandchildren in which he outlines both the science and what he believes we need to be doing. He says that if we want to avoid climate catastrophe then we need to begin acting immediately towards keeping all remaining fossil fuels in the ground, imposing carbon taxes at source, and planting forests around the world to help absorb the carbon dioxide already released to the atmosphere.

Planting forests are an important part of the solution. It’s a message that has been articulated through my work with farmers over the last decade. It is a message that came through strongly with the people I interviewed in 2007. The latest voice I can add is that of Pra Parinya, a Buddhist monk from Saraburi province in central Thailand. I wasn’t sure about the quality of the footage from our visit with him, but have put together another film clip that I feel very happy with.

A key message from a leading climate scientist, reinforced by the actions of a Buddhist monk over the last twenty years.

Third film clip uploaded

For the past month or so I’ve been absorbed in writing or contributing to various work proposals. Hopefully I will have some success with at least some of these. Meanwhile I have continued working on my film when time has allowed. Often I’ve had to put it aside completely. I have now managed to get another film clip completed. This one is mostly focused in the vicinity of the Mekong river in northern Thailand.

The more I work on this film the more I understand why I struggled for so long to get a story together. In at least two of the clips I’ve done so far I’ve learnt that there was more in my footage than I realised. It’s only by working on the film that a clearer sense of what is there has emerged for me. This more hands on approach to allowing the story to emerge as I go suits me very well.

Second film clip uploaded

I received some very supportive comments and positive feedback on my first clip, uploaded three weeks ago. I subsequently decided to work sequentially through my footage. This posed an immediate challenge as the next batch of film required me to think a lot more about a storyline for the clip. As a result I incorporated some narration from myself. This, along with sub-titles and a few other editing refinements, has led to a better clip than the first one.

I’m going to keep moving with this as much as time allows.  This material is as relevant as it was four years ago when it was filmed. Most importantly it needs and deserves an audience.

Film project update

Four years ago I began a film project to document grassroots perspectives on climate change. The journey that unfolded is documented on the Journal page of this website.

Some sporadic work has been done towards developing the documentary film that I original set out to do. It’s taken me a while but I’ve now got to a point where I am teaching myself to use Avid and am starting to create a series of clips to load onto my YouTube channel.

I’ll be posting links to the clips on my film project page as they are developed and uploaded.

Watch this space for updates. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel and you’ll receive a message with every new film clip that I upload.