All That Glitters: a few points to ponder

There are times when unfolding events can leave a deep impression.

For me it's an increasing awareness that there's something fundamentally wrong with the way civilization is heading. Forests and jungles are being clear-felled, land ripped up in search of minerals & water, and air polluted... All in what appears to be a frantic search for wealth.

People all over appear hell bent on pursuit of wealth with scant regard for the environment or others. The more developed a society is, the less the environmental destruction is likely to be. While this appears true on the face of it, New Zealand is a developed society and just in our small part of Southern New Zealand, I can see events rapidly unfolding which are going to cause immense harm to our environment.

  • Swiss owned multi-national Holcim is seeking resource consent to build a large cement plant close to Oamaru. Ask yourself, why would New Zealand need another cement plant? The two existing plants already produce an excess of cement for domestic consumption. The real answer lays in the fact that New Zealand is still a relatively benign and naive society. Many can't see past the jobs that it will bring into the region. What about the massive CO2 emissions generated, what about the huge volumes of toxic dust that will settle for hundreds of miles all around and what about the huge amount of electricity required to power the plant? Try and build one of these plants in California or Switzerland... I think you already know the conclusion to that one!
  • All over the countryside farmers are converting their farmland from sheep farming to dairy farming to achieve a far greater return on their investment. Scant regard is being paid to the massive increase in irrigation, fertilizer required and toxic effluent runoff generated from the cattle. In short, an environmental disaster is rapidly unfolding. The nutrient rich runoff will inevitably flow into the local streams and choke these pristine rivers. Hardly a mention is made... Because it is all about the money.
  • A massive wind farm is mooted for central Otago.. What an absolute catastrophe for this pristine environment... And all for what, so companies like Holcim can use the cheap power to build and operate a cement factory!

Yes, even beautiful New Zealand is suffering like never before.

The systematic rape of our oceans, the massive worldwide deforestation of our tropical jungles, and natural habitat modification are all occurring on a scale and a rate that is almost inconceivable. The inevitability of global warming and species extinction are further areas for serious concern. Mankind appears to lack any form of real self control. One of the many keys to this unfolding dilemma appears to be an unwillingness to interfere with a country's sovereignty.

Case in point being a country like China.. So vast, so hungry to develop and advance the wealth of it's citizens - it will stop at nothing to achieve its objectives. China is commissioning 2 new coal-fired power stations each week in an attempt to provide sufficient power to feed its insatiable electricity demands. There are currently 550 new low-tech highly polluting coal-fired power stations under construction in China. The carbon dioxide emitted from just 1 of these power stations is equivalent to the output of 2,000,000 automobiles. And here’s the rub... Under the Kyoto protocol, China is exempt from having to cut back on CO2 emissions because like India it enjoys 'developing nation' status. The Chinese also state that The West is to be blamed for global warming because they had the Industrial Revolution, therefore it's the West which must put its house in order first and then the Chinese will look to follow suit. To my mind an appropriate analogy would be to say that the West almost made the whales extinct but because the Chinese did not take part in the original slaughter they have the right to finish off the few remaining ones. And to think…China is already the world’s largest emitter of CO2!

So much of the remarkable growth in worldwide living standards that we enjoy today has occurred because of cheap abundant energy supplies. The Nitrogen fertilizing farming, massive urban sprawl, cheap overseas travel and the list just goes on are all directly attributable to cheap oil.

Have you ever stopped to think what will happen when the supply of low cost energy begins to disappear and the massive impact that this will have on our everyday lives?

Surely it must be obvious to all concerned that the demand for energy must exceed supply at some point in the near future and once this point has been reached, the price will rise rapidly as scarcity and demand form an ever widening gap.

It wasn't that many years ago in Germany that you had to bring a wheelbarrow load of money to the baker to buy a loaf of bread!

When cheap energy disappears, it will translate into a steady increase in food prices, manufacturing and distribution costs, which in turn will act as a driver for change to our current lifestyles.

Is there any good news on the horizon?

British chef and lifestyle guru, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one such person who fills me with hope. I recall watching his brilliant television series called 'Escape to River Cottage' some years ago. Hugh is a man ahead of his time, turning his back on city life and moving to a cottage in Dorset, UK. His brilliant series is about his journey to reconnect with the land and reignite his passion for regional, seasonal foods. Visit the River Cottage website to find out more. I recommend his legendary TV series now available on DVD.

You see I am struck by a firm belief that the way we currently live our lives just can't go on. We are slowly becoming more aware of the negative impact that we're having on our environment and it frightens me to see such wanton greed and careless attitudes and what amounts to a total disregard for future generations.

Much of what I'm referring to can be illustrated by a simple everyday food item, such as a tin can of pineapple. Pick it up, roll a can opener around one end and out comes perfect sliced cooked pineapple segments in sweet sugar syrup. Ready to eat... What could be simpler you say. You think nothing of discarding the tin can once used. Have you ever stopped to think of the real cost of that tin of pineapple. The cost in terms of the depletion of the natural resources of iron ore and tin. The energy cost in fertilizing the crop, spraying it with insecticide, harvesting it, transporting it to the processing plant, processing and canning the pineapples. Manufacturing the steel plate from iron ore, coating it with tin to prevent corrosion, transporting it to the processing plant. Fertilizing and harvesting sugar cane, transporting it to the processing plant, shipping it halfway around the world to distant markets.

Transporting the canned goods to the distribution centre and onwards to individual supermarkets. You drive in your car to buy the goods and then home again... All this effort and energy has had to have been expended before you can consume one single mouthful of pineapple.

Surely it would be much simpler, and less wasteful, to just step out the back of your house and pick a fruit (if in season) off your tree!

And here lays the challenge we are going to have to face up to at some point in the future. At the heart of the capitalist model is the ability of manufacturers to be able to specialise as a means of reducing per unit cost and the whole system is reliant on an abundant supply of cheap energy. When energy costs begin to really rise... The system will begin to unravel - very very quickly.

Which brings me back to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall... His TV series is about re-connecting with the land... I believe future societies may well begin to live in this manner again.

In the fullness of time the countryside may regain status at the expense of cities.

I also foresee a revision of the capitalist model, as it is currently neither good nor sustainable. New economic models such as 'natural capitalism' or some variant may emerge to enable us to take greater account of our environment.

Changes can occur rapidly. To give an example: very few of us would have heard of the term 'carbon trading' a decade ago, yet the term is in everyday use today.

Perreaux Products