Flaws in land management report need to be rectified quickly

A report on management of New Zealand land was released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, with admissions it lacked data and the data used was six years old. It is important to have a good plan for land use and environmental protection.

ODT editorial: Insights into the environment

The “Our land 2018” report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand this week, confirms the need for more action to improve land management.

Environment Minister David Parker says he is particularly troubled by how much  urban growth is occurring in irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand there are only limited qualities of these high-class soils.

The report identifies New Zealand is losing some of its most productive land to houses. Agriculture is under pressure from the loss of highly productive and versatile land due to urbanisation.

There has been a 7% reduction in land used for agriculture, meaning land and soil is lost to urban subdivisions, forestry and lifestyle blocks. Mr Parker is taking steps to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on the most productive land.

He recognises the need to ensure there is enough land to build the houses people need while noting the need for protecting the most productive areas of the country.

It was natural for towns and cities to be established and grow near productive land, but as the population grows it puts pressure on the best land. This is a major issue in Auckland, and it has been a problem in Dunedin where marginal land on the fringes of the city has been zoned against housing but productive flat land on the Taieri plain has been increasingly subdivided.

Federated Farmers is disappointed with much of the report, saying the data is six years out of date. The report lacks significant data and admits this multiple times. One of the factors highlighted by scientists is the shocking lack of rural waste data. Better records and tracking of waste disposal is a key to understanding the risks waterways, soil, air and towns face — especially in an expanding industry known for generating important volumes of non-natural waste.

Parker needs to ensure that more research is done and more data is collated.

The report finds New Zealand loses about 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land. The high volume of soil being swept into the waterways is choking aquatic life.

The Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land. Much of the response to the report comes from environmental agencies firmly opposed to farming. However, farmers are not the only ones with a stake in the environment.

If, as predicted, we get more and heavier rain events erosion will be an ongoing challenge. There are many hilly areas prone to erosion. A lot of land has been cleared of erosion protective forest.

The report also confirms the continued loss of New Zealand’s limited wetlands which contain some of the most precious biodiversity and filter contaminants from the land. More must be done to protect these.

A lot of wetlands have been drained and converted into pasture – and housing, like the flood prone South Dunedin flat – since European immigration began.

Mr Parker has taken note of the report, and its shortcomings. He understands the need to have balance in the environment and has asked officials to start work on a National Policy Statement for versatile land and high-class soils. His contribution is important.

The effort of the Government in publishing this report, and the strong self-criticism implied in its findings, should be applauded. Further reports of this character will be needed to get better insights into how New Zealand manages its land and resources.

It is a bit alarming that the report has such poor data to work with. That’s the fault of past governments. Parker now has the opportunity to put this right – but with the rush to built a lot more houses he may have to act quickly.

Erosion of American Greatness

American greatness has certainly been eroded.

Last year’s presidential election drag US democracy down further, with accusations and claims still hanging over both Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. The integrity of the US political system, especially in relation to alleged Russian interference, is dependent on the outcome of ongoing inquiries and investigations.

Trump holds on to minority base support who still have faith in Trump shaking up the US political system and the world without creating too much mayhem and incurring too much collateral damage.

American greatness in the world is under real threat due to the uncertainties surrounding President Trump’s many proclamations and threats versus the actions of his top officials who seem to be working for good despite their leader.

We won’t know how much further American greatness has been eroded by the Trump presidency for a year or two, unless one event precipitates a dive, like an outbreak of nuclear war. Trump is currently in Korea trying to dampen down the threats there.

Roger Cohen via Der Spiegel: Donald Trump and the Erosion of American Greatness

Ten months into the Trump presidency, the world has not gone over a cliff. Nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea has not produced Armageddon. That this must be considered an achievement is testimony to how alarming Donald Trump’s erratic belligerence has been.

While things may look bad the problems are still mostly potential rather than real, but other countries are adjusting their global stance in light of the uncertainties over trump.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has concluded that Europeans must now take “our destiny into our own hands.” Dismay is widespread. The post-war order, stripped of its American point of reference, is frayed to the breaking point.

Trump’s election, like Britain’s perverse flight from the European Union, reflected a blow-up-the-system mood.

The US isn’t the only weakened link. Close ally Britain has been rocked by the Brexit vote and political power was then eroded by an ill conceived election, severely weakening Prime Minister Theresa May and her government.

The tens of millions of Americans who elected Trump had few illusions about his irascibility but were ready to roll the dice in the name of disruption at any cost.

The president, who continues to act principally as the rabble-rousing leader of a mass movement, is the ultimate provocateur. He jolts the facile assumptions of a globalized liberal elite. Rising inequality and rampant impunity for the powerful certainly demanded such a jolt.

Some sort of jolt certainly looked deserved, but a series of jarring statements along with a lack of real action currently suggests more dolt than jolt.

But the question remains: How dangerous is Trump to the world and the American Republic?

One school of thought argues: Not very. For all the presidential mouthing and angry ALL-CAPS dawn tweeting, there’s no sign of the wall on the Mexican border; and NATO is no longer “obsolete” (at least some days of the week); and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped; and the Iran nuclear agreement endures for now, despite Trump’s outrageous refusal to recertify it; and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv; and the North American Free Trade Agreement hangs on. Even Trump’s decision to quit the Paris climate accord has not yet been made effective.

Political reality and an entrenched system is a moderating influence on major changes. Division in the Republican Party over Trump’s leadership and aims also has also limited change.

So perhaps Defense Secretary James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness. Perhaps they have neutralized his ahistorical ignorance. Trump’s “America First” may be a slogan of impeccable fascist pedigree, but it will not upend the world.

It has unsettled the world but hasn’t upended it – yet.

But…

A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be substantial. America’s word, which has constituted the undergirding of global security for more than seven decades, is a fast-devaluing currency. Trump is likely to become more capricious in the coming months.

Trump has a record of reacting badly to criticism and failure. If major successes continue to elude him or if the custard gets lumpier then who knows how he will act.

Already, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China are stepping into the void. This is inevitable. The message from the Trump White House is one of withdrawal – from global responsibility above all, be it for the environment, European stability or the fate of the Middle East.

If the Iran nuclear deal is working but Trump chooses to trash it because the Islamic Republic did not become a benign power overnight – the deal was about centrifuges not Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s butchery in Syria – then why on earth should any other nation conclude a treaty with bait-and-switch America?

The most terrifying thing to me about the insults hurled in recent weeks between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, was that it was impossible to distinguish between them. The American president had descended to the level of a tantrum-prone totalitarian despot.

Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea and called Kim “Rocket Man on a suicide mission.” The United States, he proclaimed, was “locked and loaded.” Kim, in return, called Trump “a rogue,” a “gangster,” and a “dotard,” the last a word not much in vogue since the 17th century. Americans scurried for their dictionaries to discover that a dotard was a senile fool.

The unfunny thing is that when two thin-skinned men with nukes, grudges and mysterious hair hurl insults at each other, and one of them is the American president, there is no cause for comfort. Wars begin in unforeseeable ways; with nuclear brinkmanship, accidents happen.

I have just heard reports of Trump again stating that all of the United States’ military options remain on the table. Of course they do, but threatening another egotistical and unpredictable leader who may also have a nuclear arsenal is a high risk game of  chance.

Call all this a disturbing Asian flurry if you like. But something deeper is going on. The United States has often fallen short. Ken Burns’ remarkable documentary on the Vietnam War has been a recent reminder of this. So, of course, were Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

Yet, over time, American reinvention does its work and the idea flickers to life again: that we are a nation of laws; that all Americans, whatever their beliefs or faiths, have rights and responsibilities under the law; and that this law establishes checks and balances designed to safeguard our freedom and our democracy and our decency, the values we carry out into the world in the belief that if they cannot always deliver the best, they may at least avert the worst.

Already shaky, that all certainly now looks at greater risk.

President Trump has yet to meet a strongman who does not elicit his sympathy or a multilateral organization that does not prompt his disdain. The Saudi King, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Vladimir Putin are fine. Merkel in “bad, bad Germany” is not. I hear that Merkel and Trump scarcely speak to each other. This is worrying. Germany is the most important country in Europe and a core American ally.

Under Trump, the State Department has been eviscerated: a proposed 30 percent budget cut, countless critical posts unfilled, a secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has contrived to be ineffective and demoralize his staff. At the same time, military budgets have soared. Trump loves soldiers and has little time for diplomats. When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Trump seems poorly suited to and too impatient for diplomacy, and yes, seems to like swaggering about the military might he is in command of.

The reality of Trump’s autocratic tendencies should not be waved away. He is not harmless. Liberals paid a heavy price for failing to look facts in the eye at the last election. The Trump phenomenon – his appeal to millions of Americans – endures.

Helped to a large extent by how poor the Democrats and Hillary Clinton have been, they have been a major factor in enabling the rise of Trump.

Here’s a voice from Trump country:

People have to choose between heating their homes, buying food or buying health care and you want them to worry about the survival of the planet or transgender stuff?

I respect business and I distrust government. I don’t want illegal immigrants taking our jobs.

I don’t like liberals who shop at Whole Foods talking down their noses at me because I shop at WalMart.

I don’t want God and guns chased out of the country.

White lives matter, too, you know.

That Hillary forgot that – and was punished. We lost our discipline and our moral code in this country. So we need honest Trump to shake things up and get our country back.

“I want my country back!” This is the universal cry of the global wave of rightist reaction. It’s Trump’s “America First.” It’s Brexit. It’s Marine Le Pen’s nationalists against the globalists. It’s Germany’s nationalist AfD grabbing nearly 100 seats in the Bundestag. It explains the vogue word of the moment: sovereignty. Trump used it more than 20 times in his United Nations speech in September.

Behind all this lies a potent emotion: fear. This was Trump’s great intuition – and he has formidable, feral intuitions allied to a fiendish energy.

  • Demographic fear (the end within the next couple of decades of America’s white majority);
  • economic fear (the dislocations of globalization);
  • cultural fear (of the urban elite who want to chase guns and God out of the country);
  • primal fear (the white flip-out over having a black president);
  • fear of the stranger (the immigrant hordes);
  • fear of national decline (Chinese power rising and those endless post 9/11 wars without victory);
  • fear of the future (automation and the end of work);
  • fear of terrorism (the Muslim jihadi among us);
  • fear of speaking your mind (the liberal tyranny of the politically correct).

Take all this, inject the potent galvanizing force of Fox News and Breitbart (with their dime-a-dozen scapegoats), wrap it in a heavy dose of angry nationalism and drain-the-swamp elite-bashing, and a winning guerrilla offensive was there to be mounted.

Liberals in their arrogance didn’t – until it was too late.

Trump didn’t rise to fill a vacuum, but his success was helped substantially by the lack of a strong alternative. Clinton was seen as too much old school politics, the same old that was failing many people.

So Trump had an opportunity to make a real mark on the US. Unfortunately so far he has failed to make much impression, apart from giving bad impressions.

Yet, he is dangerous. Trump has already blurred the line between truth and falsehood. He has attacked the judiciary and a free press.

I had an alarming experience recently. Trump had lied, as he routinely does, about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They were pure inventions.

Asked if Trump had lied, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. And it was the shrug that was terrifying. This is how autocrats – or would-be autocrats – cement their power. They wear you down.

Recently, the president tweeted: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

This is Putin territory. This is Erdogan territory. We don’t know yet how far the president is prepared to go in silencing critics who do not meet his test of patriotism, while inviting his supporters to give free rein to their inner bigot.

At what point is it appropriate to challenge Trump’s licence? That has already been asked, but political attempts to impeach opponents is not new in the dysfunctional US political system.

The reality is that Trump probably has to actually do something bad to get to that. He may be smart enough to remain on the brink without tipping over.

Perhaps Senator John McCain has offered the best rebuke to Trump:

“To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Trump and his supporters may be happy to withdraw from the world, apart from occasional threats and perhaps attacks. That would be an erosion of greatness, as flawed as much of that greatness was.

It’s not just a US withdrawal from the world that has the potential for problems and possibly disaster. Power vacuums tend to be filled by others.