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Liam Butler Interviews David Young

Liam Butler Interviews David Young - Author of Rivers, New Zealand's shared Legacy.

02 May 2014

Liam Butler

David Young works independently as a writer, researcher and editor in the field of history and environment, most often in relation to freshwater. He was a journalist for 20 years, becoming deputy editor of the New Zealand Listener and then editor of the resource management journal, Terra Nova. www.davidyoungwriter.com

Question One

As a professional writer, researcher and editor in the field of history and the environment how well do you think the average New Zealander understands the link between their lifestyle and well-being of our Eco system?

To be honest, the days when one might speak for "the average New Zealander" have passed. For instance, the Chinese immigrants pictured in Rivers fishing in the lower Manawatu, which is heavily polluted, are probably on cloud nine being free to take fish in this way as new citizens of this (still beautiful) country. For many such people, concerns as to the current government's intentions to strip away many of the salient environmental protection provisions of the Resource Management Act are very likely to seem entirely academic. Sadly, this attitude of tolerating lower and lower levels of pollution in our rivers seems also to have been adopted by many citizens whose associations here are much older.

The link between ecology as the basis of our economy in terms of ecological services is still poorly understood. The 25 year old idea of ecological footprints is however, one that is easily conveyed. New Zealanders are 5 times over their footprint.

One of the most concerning aspects of being part of a globalized economy is that - even when the links are well understood - people often feel disempowered. Understanding that link you refer to is important, but unless accompanied by action - be it on the ground or political - it may not add up to a great deal. We are all responsible for what happens in our environment, in myriad ways. It is up to us to do something about it. This leads neatly to the next question.

Question Two

There are many fit older people who champion caring for the environment superbly. What are some of the ways you have seen older people contribute to ensuring that we can make the most of our natural resources long term?

Yes I agree strongly with your first statement here. One of the most exciting developments in this country, largely since the market reforms began in the mid 1980s, has been the regeneration movement. By this I mean communities bound by location and commitment to a better environment, banding together with or without the support of local bodies and the Department of Conservation to trap exotic predators, regenerate native forests, wetlands and dunelands and clean up our waterways. They often involve farmers, conservationists, Maori, fishers and a large number of them are older people finding new purpose and community in retirement. Stan Butcher, now in his 90s, is one of my heroes who has worked tirelessly on both Somes/Matiu in Wellington Harbour and Bushy Park, an early predator-proofed reserve near Whanganui, for many decades.

In Mapua, near where we spend a lot of time, the Friends of the Mapua Wetland have in less than a decade brought back what was a damp paddock to a hectare of thrusting eco-sourced wetland flora and under-storey so magnificent it has a Queen Elizabeth II Trust covenant over it. Flowing from such endeavours all round the country is better understanding of our relationship to nature, of our precious native plants, birds, fish and insects and of the need to protect assets such as water and land and stories associated with them, often from Maori heritage. We all benefit - imagine how grateful future generations of a much enlarged Mapua will be for the natural vibrancy gifted them by this generation of citizens.

Question Three

Whether it be for beauty or business New Zealand has groups that are keen to ensure our environment is well protected. However some commentators point out, to our shame, that we also have a bit of a binge culture that is somewhat self indulgent. What do you think we can do to keep New Zealand beautiful on a personal and business level?

It's a big question. I take my hat off to Gareth Morgan for his Rivers Awards, made for the first time at a formal dinner in December, for the best community efforts, for regional and national awards, in cleaning up our rivers. While the criteria may need refining, this embraces business, community and local authorities. I would like to imagine that all aspects of environmental endeavor are recognized over time in prominent ways, so that we reach a point where the mana that this attracts is on a par with the recognition our sports heroes attract. (This analogy also indicates just how far we need to travel as a culture to get there.)

Personally, I have long felt that for our most senior citizens living in - and often confined to -- retirement villages (some of which are extremely profitable), dedicated small stands of native bush need to be an essential part of the original plan. It's often the small pleasures that matter for the elderly -- the call of the spring warbler, the flitting piwakawaka (fantail), the fluttering puriri moth, that can help transcend the supermarket blandness of so many of these new places.

There are so many ways we can act as individuals and these actions merge into the big issues of corporate responsibility. I believe that the littering of New Zealand, which movements like the Tidy Kiwi campaigns had made large inroads into back in the 1990s, is today a big issue in the "market rules" economy. Much of what I see by the roadside in Nelson is from what I call throw-aways, what other people call take-aways. The sources of this rubbish (I'm speaking of packaging now) need to be responsible for the cost of it being picked up and disposed of. But this argument goes much wider. We can all walk beaches with a bag picking up plastic, because we know what these toxins are doing to marine wildlife and fish. And we can and should. But if we are to continue to use such materials widely, government and business must ensure that they play their part in their responsible clean up and disposal. Laisser-faire economics simply do not suffice.

Question Four

When an older person chooses where they will live what things can they think about in order to protect, preserve and gain pleasure from our natural environment?

Here we get in to the relationship between well-being and a healthy environment. Being able to walk or cycle to your shopping and recreation is good for both the person and the environment. Buy locally where possible, buy seasonally, demand less packaging from your store. If you are close to a stream, a river, a patch of bush or a beach, one of the best ways to get to know people is to join a conservation group that is working to protect and enhance such places. Walking groups are also fun. And if you are less active, there are always other things, from keeping accounts to folding newsletters into envelopes, that are all part of the business of conservation.

Question Five

David as it is election year what questions would you like to ask the political parties?

National: As a party that traditionally has protected the best of New Zealand, why is your government so committed to sacrificing the environment, for short term financial gain? How will history remember this government? When are the government's Blue-greens going to speak out about the proposed and swingeing changes to Part 2 of the Resource Management Act? What will it take for you to pay serious attention to climate change, the dangers of off-shore drilling (which you have not addressed, despite your protestations) and do something decisive about protecting our precious waterways?

Labour: how are you going to protect our rivers and improve on your poor attempt to do so from 1999-2008? When are you going to start listening to your possible Coalition partner the Greens on the environment when your own record of protection in so many areas has been lacking? Can we expect our economic policies to begin to integrate the real costs to the environment into the costs of production, starting with water? When will you begin to talk about the welfare of future generations in regard to decisions being taken now?

Green: By what mechanisms will you ensure that local government shortcomings in measures to stop the pollution of our rivers by dairying, industry and sewage are remedied? What do you mean by the term "sustainability" and how will you take industry with you on such policies? How will you ensure that a Water Conservation Order over a river ensures that it is actually protected from poor farming practices? What changes do you propose to make to the RMA?

New Zealand First: What are your environmental priorities?

Act: Your leader has stated that he would get rid of the Resource Management Act, allowing any issues to be dealt with simply by the Public Nuisance Act. Can you really mean that?

Win a copy of David Young's beautiful hardback about New Zealand's major rivers

RRP $59.99 http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/books/david-young/river-9781775534501.aspx.

David tells the often complex story of each river or river system through the people who interact with that river, both historically and in modern times. This is very timely given the current public, political and cultural interests in our river systems.

This beautiful gift book focusing on the amazing and diverse rivers of New Zealand showcases a great deal of the country, with great regional spread.

Rivers examines the situation for our rivers today; it looks at what has happened to our rivers over recent years and what is happening today; it discusses the positives and the negatives, and it looks at the challenges our waterways face now and in the future.

As well as being a celebration of our beautiful rivers, it also focuses on conservation aspects, with commentary on dairying pollution, ecology, conservation orders and Maori claims.

River is a heavily revised and rewritten version of Faces of the River by David Young and Bruce Foster, published in 1986. - See more at: http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/books/david-young/river-9781775534501.aspx#sthash.nExXWGlW.dpuf

A bit more about David Young...

For the past 25 years he has been a freelance writer, oral historian (including the Vietnam Vets, Grid Heritage and Sappers projects) and author of a range of books on conservation, landscape, resource management and sustainability.

From his John David Stout Fellowship, Victoria University (1988) he wrote his history Woven by Water: histories from the Whanganui River. Among other books are Our Islands, Our Selves, a history of conservation in New Zealand and a novel, Coast, in 2011. In 2008 he held a Creative New Zealand-Fulbright to the University of Hawaii where he studied traditions relating to water sources in the Pacific. His latest work, Rivers: New Zealand's shared legacy was published by Random House last November.

He is a past president of the Professional Historians' Association of New Zealand /Aotearoa and served on the New Zealand board of the World Wide Fund for Nature for many years. Currently he is chair of the Friends of Mapua Wetland.

Website: www.davidyoungwriter.com

www.davidyoungwriter.com and www.randomhouse.co.nz

To Win a copy of this great book CLICK HERE

Competition closes 16th May 2014

Open to New Zealand residents only.

ends

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