Keeping it pure: Prime doco examines NZ environment and climate challenges

by Gareth on January 17, 2014

When Tourism NZ began to brand the country as 100% Pure back in 1999, it almost certainly didn’t expect that 14 years later it would come back and bite the business in the bum. On Sunday night at 8-30 Prime TV starts showing a new documentary series from Greenstone TV that explores just how the NZ environment has suffered in the last decade, and how climate change will make matters worse. The producers describe it as:

…a series about the New Zealand environment and the way we treat it. It looks at some of the major problems facing the environment and the things that people are doing to protect it. With an eye on the economic implications of “greening” the economy, the series canvasses the opinion of leading scientists, environmentalists, farmers and business leaders as it examines the importance to New Zealand of Keeping It Pure.

It looks like compelling viewing. I’m told that the second episode will be devoted to climate issues.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Bingham January 17, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Having lived in the UK and seen the mess it was in around 1950 I think NZ is in as good a position as it could be. Try the Great London Smog http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_London_Smog for a bit of background.
NZ could no doubt do a lot more but at least the people recognise the problems and care and we are not starting out from such a huge mess as most countries. NZ is widely recognised as a lifeboat country so we may expect a few more immigrants to our pleasant land.

nigelj January 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Good comment Bob and thanks for the link. My understanding is the great London smogs of the 1950s killed thousands, and was a combination of a temperature inversion, large numbers of cars and fireplaces, and exhaust emissions that were very high in particulates and other pollutants at that time. Los Angeles had the same disasters.

These disasters in the 1950s led directly to huge government regulatory changes in the design of automobiles to reduce exhaust emissions. The car industry fought them all the way, but the legislation prevailed pioneered by Richard Nixon ironically. The car industry scare tactics were remarkably similar to climate scepticism.

NZ mainly never had the same tendency towards smogs, or such high population densities to have a similar problem, although Christchurch has some significant problems. So its just good fortune in some ways. Our environmental qualities are more good luck than good management, or regulatory control.

However the rivers are a problem due to dairy farming runoff. With an increasing population and intensifying farming we need to ensure we are on top of things. Air quality in some cities isnt great. Our danger is in being complacent, and too focussed on market fundamentalist, anti regulatory ideologies.

Bob Bingham January 17, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Despite my optimistic posts about NZ I had not seen smog for thirty years until I went to Auckland. Burning wood in fires is not a good idea. There are better ways to heat houses.

Macro January 17, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Yes I was going to say – “have you seen Auckland?” Actually the smog is not half as bad as it used to be – despite the city doubling or trebling in size over 40 years. I recall arriving on the top of the Bombay Hills approaching the city in the 1950′s and the city was covered in a yellow haze – and that was summer. You don’t see that today despite the increased number of vehicles. The importation of Catalytic Converters on exhausts etc and Clean air measures has reduced the environmental impact there. Largely the effect of overseas regulations.

However, the environment is NOT what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. Some measures have been taken in regards environmental control of earthworks and the like. Contractors must take measures to control runoff from sites, storm water must be controlled and cleaned before it is allowed to empty into waterways. A result of the RMA that was a landmark piece of legislation. Now that is under threat, as it is “streamlined”.

The intensification of dairying is another worry, each herd of 200 cows represents the effluent content of a town of around 4000+ people. And that does not include the excessive use of phosphates and urea (which leach into the ground water). Drive through the country past one herd (small town), then 500m another,and another, and on, and on. When you look at it, as one town after another, you begin to realise why our waterways are becoming so polluted. You are in fact driving though a massive city, not populated by humans but by cows.

Previously our environment was damaged by logging and in parts by mining. The Firth of Thames over which I look every day was once navigable by Ship up to the town. The mudflats that are the direct result of mining are high in heavy metals including arsenic and mercury. In a short space of a decade the mud became so great that the ferries could no longer reach the wharves. Today our government wants to repeat the process.

But added to that is the runoff from the farms. The local rivers according to DoC are some of the most polluted in the country – and we know why as explained above. They flow into the Firth which is one of the major breeding areas for our favourite fish – Snapper. It is not just over fishing that is causing a rapid depletion in stocks.

Rachel January 17, 2014 at 11:12 pm

When I first moved to NZ in 2005 the winter smog in Christchurch each evening was beyond belief. I would return home from an evening walk with my dogs smelling like I’d spent a couple of hours in a smokey pub. My hair stank, my clothes stank and I am sure it was not good for me. I was pregnant at the time and although this is probably unlikely, I can’t help but wonder whether it contributed to my son’s autism. They cleaned the air up considerably over the next few years such that it became more tolerable but I have heard that the earthquakes have set them back a bit now. We now live in Auckland and the smog in Auckland is nothing like the smog I witnessed in Christchurch.

noelfuller January 19, 2014 at 11:45 pm

I watched the first installment on Prime this evening – much appreciated.

I live in Mt Roskill with the wind off the Manukau most of the time. The fog that rolls in off the harbour occasionally is not smog. However,
I used to work in a lab near Victoria Park, Central Auckland, from late 1966. Photography was an interest. The orange air made panoramic photography very difficult unless cleaned by a front passing during the night followed by a south to southwest windshift when I could get some pics for a few hours. When the trolleybuses were replaced by diesel buses I used to suffer a great deal of nausea in Queen street waiting for buses opposite the Civic Theatre, and travelling on them. This was the chief thing motivating me to get a vehicle at the time. Nevertheless, to describe anything in Auckland as smog does not bear comparison with what was happening in London and Los Angeles at the time, or even Christchurch. Now 40 years on with a much less resiliant body I do not get nearly so distressed, don’t see those nitrous oxides in the atmosphere anymore, don’t run into the stinks that used to hang around the Manukau as late as 12 years ago, when I was learning about waterway pollution off farms and “developments”.while walking round the Manukau. Some things are much improved but I still close my window against diesel fumes on fine windless mornings and loath the noise and vibration of the buses I ride on. There are some good mornings , however, this during 2001 being one of them:

** A New Day **

This is a beautiful day!
Outside with the dawn
Traffic has not overwhelmed
The celebration of birds
As it does any day except Sunday
Nor poisoned the sweet air
With petrol and diesel fumes.
In the West is turquoise, and violet,
Overhead a deep blue,
And in the East a surging light
I would enjoy better on the scented hills
or the ocean shores around us
But even here the vibrant light
Cleans me of dark dreams
And wakens new hope
We are always renewed
Cares fade before greater light
And for a breath there is time to play
A model aircraft is trapped
In the branches of a tree.

© Noel Fuller Sunday, April 8, 2001

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