As a teenager, thanks mainly to my parents, I had the great good fortune to spend a large proportion of my time in the outdoors. I got to know the country better than most people I knew, especially the lands south and west of the Waitaki River.
By the time I was 20 I believed that my beloved southern New Zealand was a wonderful place, was my home place, quite possibly as close to paradise as any I would ever see on Earth. We had, so I thought, the chance, and the duty, to observe environmental desecration and mismanagement elsewhere around the planet, learn from others’ behaviour and mistakes, and resolve to protect and enhance our natural environment in ways that others had failed to do.
Since then firstly, to my bewilderment, then subsequently dismay and disillusionment, I have been angered by the way we continue to squander our environmental inheritance.
One of the priceless things that makes Central Otago unique and so captivating and gives it the world of difference that the brand-assigners and the Central Otago District Council use to proudly advertise and promote the area is that most of its hills and block mountain ranges aren’t badly polluted visually. It gives them an extraordinary and memorable aura, one that’s often grand.
But is building what would so far be, in the case of Meridian’s Project Hayes, the biggest wind farm/factory in the Southern Hemisphere, thus opening the door to still more of them, the world of difference we want? Is that what the district council has, or had, in mind? Is that what thinking people want? Meridian’s Project Hayes and TrustPower’s Mahinerangi Wind Farm proposals between them covering more than 120sq km of countryside – would have a major rather than a minor detrimental effect in all respects.
This is the return of ‘Think Bigism’. I believe that Meridian has been less than open about its reasons for wanting to push ahead with Hayes, that it hasn’t been nearly willing enough to encourage and explore and promote different, more varied and less destructive and intrusive ways of supplying energy. That it is, therefore, putting its short-term financial interests ahead of what is in the true national interest today.
Also, that the project is a continuation of a policy of gross landscape and other environmental abuse of the south which has been the pattern of the past 50 years. Enough is enough.
New Zealand’s gluttonish, insatiable appetite for energy has to be suppressed, and energy obtained from other, more diverse sources.
I’ve long looked elsewhere, and to others, for insight. What the American writer Gary Snyder said struck a chord with me: “Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
Citizens all over New Zealand, those who truly care about the long-term future of our place, might like to consider the ramifications and sense in what Snyder said.
Do we really have to continue to believe we must engineer everything for our convenience, continue to behave as if the natural world exists mainly to serve whatever we mean by the Economy?
Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Are we really so stupid as to believe those that say unless Hayes and Mahinerangi Wind Farm and a rash of other projects of their kind go ahead New Zealand’s future is under threat, our economy will collapse? I still remember when, in the 1970s, the mayor of Dunedin told us that without the aluminium smelter proposed for Aramoana at the entrance to Otago harbour the city would die.
It isn’t environmentalists that are the catastrophists in our society. It is those who say that unless we continue shortsighted and offensive practices that have wreaked so much damage in the past, New Zealand will fall behind.
The present big wind farm fixation nationally looks likely to set us back rather than enhance the country’s chances of a more healthy and prosperous future. We still haven’t come to anything like a consensus that evolves from a mature, considered and sensible view of what it is we like about New Zealand.
What our proper role is as human beings here, what beliefs we should embrace in respect to our attitudes to the natural world and its non-human creatures, what we want to protect here and why. Not one political party speaks with courage and insight and coherence in respect to such matters. New Zealand lacks leaders and visionaries in the very places it’s essential they are found, that is in the circles of political power.
Our oft-warbled claims to be ahead of the game and clean and green are no more than self-congratulatory chitter. Sort out what you think our legacy ought to be, people, and stand up for it before it’s too late.
By Brian Turner
* Brian Turner is an author and poet whose work includes sports biographies (with Colin Meads, Josh Kronfeld, Anton Oliver and Glenn Turner). He lives in Oturehua, in the Ida Valley, Central Otago and belongs to several environmental groups.
30 January 2008
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