At a conference this year, some of the world’s most respected wine-makers were warned that without drastic measures, their industry would be plunged into turmoil. Why, then, are European producers so resistant to adaptation?
At a conference this year, some of the world’s most respected wine-makers were warned that without drastic measures, their industry would be plunged into turmoil. Why, then, are European producers so resistant to adaptation?
It is generally agreed that humans are largely to blame for greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through the emission of carbon dioxide during combustion. But there are other greenhouse gases which come directly from our livestock and which are even more potent, such as nitrous oxide from animal excreta in grazed pastures. This greenhouse gas is 310 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2. Normally, animal urine is converted to ammonium molecules in the soil, promoting plant growth, which is further broken down by bacteria into nitrate, nitrous oxide and other gases—a process called the nitrogen cycle. Lincoln University Professors, Hong Di and Keith Cameron, have short-circuited the nitrogen cycle with a chemical inhibitor resulting in up to 70 per cent reduction of nitrous oxide production. The “nitrification inhibitor” dicyandiamide (now under the trade name eco-n) is sprayed on pastures immediately following grazing, slowing the action of bacteria and retaining the ammonium in the soil for longer. As a result, the treatment increases pasture growth, reduces nitrate leaching and most importantly reduces nitrous oxide production. For their work in agriculture science Professors Di and Cameron were appointed Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Humans have been shaping the Earth for agricul¬ture and dwellings for more than 6000 years. In that time, a mere blip on the geological timescale, we have de¬forested two-thirds of its surface. In 800 years of human occupancy of our own country we have taken fire, axe and heavy machinery to three-quarters of the archipelago, denuding the land for pasture and cities. Over 50 per cent of New Zealand’s bird species have been rendered extinct since humans arrived, along with species of bat, frogs, fish and lizards—a catastrophic loss of na¬tive species in global terms, second only to Hawaii. The thin green rim of the biosphere between the Earth’s mantle and the tree¬tops has been dramatically altered by our presence, and we have driven the rate of biological extinction up several hundred times beyond its normal levels. Now we know that we have been affect¬ing the atmosphere as well; CFCs have thinned our ozone layer and the cumu¬lative effects of numerous greenhouse gases have clogged our atmosphere re¬sulting in year on year warming. But in the wake of inconsistent en-vironmentalism, unfathomable scien¬tific findings and media misinformation there is a general public suspicion of the evidence for anthropogenic climate change. In common parlance people are asked if they “believe in climate change” as if it were a new deity. The debate has been marked by almost re¬ligious fervour, but this is no club to belong to, no creed to subscribe to. Cli¬mate science is not a matter of faith; it is the exclusive realm of fact. And the facts are conclusive. Our world is warming rapidly, and even if we make moderate emission reduc-tions, the average global temperature is projected to increase 3ºC before the end of the century, twenty times faster than the rate of warming following the previous Ice Age. According the leading biologists, if it continues unabated, half of all species on the planet will perish. In this issue we reveal the effects of the changing climate on New Zealand, its land, wildlife and people. We distil the latest NIWA projections to examine what changes to expect where, and how this will affect our most iconic wildlife. And because climate change is global in both its cause and effect we have regional reports from other geographic magazines, each of which are observing the changes in their own backyards. Geography is the study of the physical features of the earth and its climate, population, and the interplay between nature and humanity. By this measure, climate change is the most significant geographical story of our generation and one that is desperately important to comprehend. Our future on earth depends on it.
Predator-Free fencing isn’t just for the birds; the future of the chevron skink is now looking considerably brighter with the erection of the 2 km fence now sealing off a 230 ha headland of Great Barrier Island. (The project includes several properties, and was spearheaded by local landowner Tony Bouzaid.) The chevron skink, or Oligosoma homalonotum, is one of New Zealand’s rarest lizards, and its longest, measuring up to 30 cm from the nose to the tip of the tail. It has stripes, or chevrons, down its back and will grunt or squeak if bothered. First described in 1906, it was only sighted twice over the following 60 years, leading scientists to conclude it had been “lost”. This was partly due to a mix up of museum labels that identified it as having been found on Flat Island in the Mokohinau Islands group, which should have read Great Barrier Island. A single adult was found on Little Barrier Island in 1991, but despite intensive searches only one other has been found there since. They are now thought to survive only on Little Barrier Island, a small captive population at Auckland Zoo, and on Great Barrier Island where they’ve now been found in over 20 spots.
Rats are formidable, athletic colonisers. You may have heard of Razza, the notorious Norway rat deliberately let loose on a rat-free island near Stewart Island as part of a study of rat movements led by Rachel Fewster. The rat had been released by PhD student James Russell, who then ended up losing a season of field-work when the radio-tagged creature promptly disappeared, only found several months later on a nearby island, having swum 400 m to get there. Razza was written about in Nature, newspapers all over the world and was sympathetically portrayed in Witi Ihimaera’s The Amazing Adventures of Razza the Rat. Meanwhile Fewster and her colleagues continued their research, more recently turning their attentions to Pearl Island, also off Stewart Island, which had three species of rats (Norway, ship and kiore) until they were simultaneously eliminated in August 2005. Then, nine months later, both Norway and ship rats reappeared. DOC didn’t know whether the rats had reinvaded, or whether they hadn’t been successfully eradicated in the first place. The latter would have been bad news indeed, suggesting DOC’s eradication programmes weren’t working as well as they should. However, through genetic analysis of a few stray rat tails left over from previous studies, Fewster and co could confirm the rats came from Stewart Island, probably on their own mettle. Fewster’s research on rat DNA adds ballast to growing consensus that the best way to keep rat-free islands that way is to ensure the surrounding islands are also rat-free, that conservation efforts should be aimed at clusters of islands rather than individuals. This approach is exemplified by the Motu Kaikoura Trust, which plans to eliminate rats on 26 islands along the west coast of Great Barrier in the Hauraki Gulf. By the time of printing—assuming all went to plan—the project would have finished its aerial drop of rat bait on all of them.
Two degrees. It’s not much. But many of New Zealand’s native species occupy precarious ecological perches under siege from the various armies of habitat destruction, invasive species and human exploitation. Over the next century, the climate will change 20 times more rapidly than in any other period in history, leaving them further threatened and—like rockhopper penguins and the iconic tuatara marooned on offshore islands that will be their last sanctuary. From native frogs to alpine plants, signs of change are all around us, a frightening barometer with which to gauge our changing climate and a reminder that if we can conserve these species most at risk, there is hope for all.
One group of Hector’s dolphins is not like another. As Rebecca Hamner (Fulbright scholar to the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Science )has shown, there’s considerable genetic differentiation between dolphins living on the east, west and south coasts of the South Island, and also within those regions. For instance, the dolphins of Te Waewae Bay, the westernmost of three bays in Foveaux Strait, are genetically distinct from the dolphins of Toetoes Bay, only two bays over. What difference does a bit of genetic variation make? Quite a lot, as it confirms that Hector’s dolphins, the world’s rarest marine dolphin, are stay-at-homes, rarely wandering outside their own home range, which is typically as small as 30 km of coastline. If they disappear from one particular area, for whatever reason, no other Hector’s are likely to come in and take their place. Hamner’s work depended on and contributed to the University of Auckland’s cetacean tissue archive, the second-largest such archive in the world. It was set up in 1993 by the School of Biological Science’s Scott Baker. Through the archive, scientists can identify the species of whale meat served up in a market in Korea, and where that whale might have come from. It has also allowed scientists to identify a number of species that have washed up on our shores but have never been seen alive, such as the spade-toothed beaked whale. Anyone who comes across an unusual looking skull, tooth, vertebrae or decomposing blob on the beach is encouraged to contact DOC, which will send it on to the university’s lab for analysis. You never know when you might be rewarded with the discovery of a new species.
High on the side of Mt Pisa, 1000 m above the Crown Range road and across from the Cardrona ski resort, a crowd of career snowboarders, groupies, and spectators mill about the lodge in a miasma of sweat, fresh coffee and gangsta rap. The kids— there’s hardly anyone over 25—are txt’ing and pxt’ing, and uploading clips of their half-pipe stunts onto laptops. This is the first day of the Burton Open, a kind of snowboarding Grand Slam event where the world’s best jostle for big prize money and a moment of fame. In this peculiar subculture of baggy pants, hoodies and goggles, John and Mary Lee blend in unnoticed. These (grand) parental figures own the place, have made this event possible and are ensuring that it all goes according to plan. John’s sun-faded ski suit is scuffed with road dust, his hands blackened with soot—a telltale sign of a previous emergency. He’s 72 and has a staff of 90, yet his involvement in the family’s mini-empire remains hands-on. Yesterday a whole trailer-load of sponsor’s beer went off the icy mountain road taking the vehicle with it, and today, John was out before first light with bucketfuls of ash to dust the iciest hairpins, already gritted by the maintenance truck. “What I didn’t realise was that we’d been burning demolition off-cuts and they were full of nails,” he says. “Of course, the wretched things froze to the road on contact with the ice and I spent most of the morning hacking them off with a hammer.” In winter the Pisa Range—a high, extensive plateau which, softened with peat bogs and cushion plants, is the closest we get in this country to tundra—is a snowbound wonderland. You may have seen it as the background in the movie 10,000 BC, minus the digital mammoths. John’s father Bob was granted this land in 1920 as a returning serviceman from WWI. He farmed it for 40 years before passing it to John who also farmed it for several decades, all the while wondering what else the family could do with such scenic but inhospitable land. A lot, as it turned out. First, they put in New Zealand’s first and only cross-country ski field. After that they developed a testing ground for winter tyres and car brake systems with leading manufacturers where, under a thick veil of secrecy, pre-release models could be put through the paces on purpose-built winter roads. The infrastructure followed—cafes, lodges, backcountry huts, a conference centre, as did a host of peripheral activities—biathlons, multi-sport events, films and commercials, even dog sledding. Then came the real hit—an idea of John’s son Sam—a designer-made terrain park for skiing and snowboarding stunts. A large skateboarding park on snow, it became an instant oasis. Here, safe from the scorn of other ski fields, snowboarders could strut their stuff: grind rails and fang down the half-pipe in death-defying zig-zags, stomping off lips and kickers, pulling big-air helis and grabs, sick and rad, all within the grandstand view from the cafe. But the Lees didn’t stop there. Just as global warming has become the hottest of topics—and as other ski fields teeter on the brink of viability and the ever-ascending snow line—they proposed an entirely new snow resort; a miniature township at altitude with skiing, ice-skating and spas, and gondola access from the bottom of the hill. A trifle grandiose? Maybe, but John Lee was the guy who conceived and constructed Cardrona, perhaps the best family-oriented ski resort in New Zealand. He was also one of the leading proponents of New Zealand hosting a Winter Olympics, though that bid was never officially lodged. (It transpired the Games could not be held in the Southern hemisphere as the television coverage would clash with that of the soccer World Cup.) What drives the Lees? “He does,” Mary says, pointing at her husband. He nods, smiling. Yes, he says, he’ll take the blame. “When I was growing up in the valley, New Zealand had one of the highest standards of living in the world,” John says. “Then things went downhill. Farming wasn’t good anymore, we lost the school bus, then the rural mail delivery. The local government was going to put a locked gate on the Crown Range road and turn us into a dead-end backwater. I guess I’ve made it my lifetime mission to change that. “Of course just proving the pessimists wrong would be a shallow achievement,” he goes on. “At my age you begin to realise time is precious and there’s a limited amount of it for each of us. If I were to voice my reasons for doing it all it’d be in the form of an epitaph. Something like, ‘We’re glad he passed this way’.” Many of John Lee’s visions have come to pass. The Crown Range road, now sealed and upgraded, has become a major artery connecting Wanaka and Queenstown, always busy with a steady stream of traffic, particularly in the winter. And Cardrona and the Snow Farm are a major contributor to the valley’s economy. But, considering the changing climate and the increasingly fickle weather patterns, isn’t the idea of another winter resort, well, a little risky? If you believe some of the forecasters, couldn’t this new mountain village be left high and dry? Without any snow? John Lee appears unfazed. “The technology is certainly keeping up with the challenge,” he says. “We can now make snow at plus eight degrees, we also collect the water run-off from the melting snow and pump it back up the hill to feed the snow guns, so having enough snow will not be a problem. We see a huge number of visitors even in summer. Snow or not, we can’t lose.” Then, in a lull in the conversation, he slaps his knees and gets up: “Right, I’d better go and double-check on those nails,” he says. “If I’ve missed any they’d have melted out by now. Wouldn’t want people getting punctures on the way down.” At the end of the day long convoys of cars make their way down the windy mountain road. The drivers should be grateful that, earlier today, John Lee passed this way.
Concrete and steel buildings have a large carbon footprint, as the manufacturing of materials such as concrete, steel and aluminium produce high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Wood, on the other hand, absorbs carbon dioxide when growing and the more of it that is used in a building, the lower the building’s carbon footprint. Andy Buchanan and his team at the University of Canterbury’s College of Engineering have been researching the merits of wood as the primary material in any building construction. He compared the levels of carbon dioxide that would be embodied in the construction of a six-level office building using different materials. According to his results, a building primarily constructed of concrete would involve the emission of 1275 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the manufacturing of materials used in its construction, one made of steel would involve 1591 tonnes, and one constructed out of timber just 607 tonnes. However, Buchanan found that by increasing the wood content of the building even further—getting rid of the aluminium window frames, using wooden partitions and wooden cladding—he ended up with a building that was effectively a carbon sink. That is, the carbon absorbed by the growing trees exceeded the carbon emitted making those materials, such as glass and concrete used elsewhere in the building. The finished structure therefore still had 308 tonnes of carbon dioxide locked up in the wood. Buchanan and his team have recently turned their attentions to developing wood products that will have the properties of other construction materials, such as earthquake resistance, insulation and acoustic performance. The team have pioneered a technique of “pre-stressing” wood beams in the same way concrete beams are stressed after placement. The wood, or laminated veneer lumber, looks like plywood but the grain runs parallel on each layer. It is being produced by Carter Holt Harvey Ltd and Nelson Pine Industries in a continuous process that results in an infinitely long slab, which is then cut into beams of the required dimension. The pre-stressing is achieved by inserting and tightening steel rods in internal ducts in each beam. “Whatever you can do with concrete you can do with wood,” says Buchanan. “The difference is that you don’t get all those emissions.” There are other benefits to be gained from wood. A cubic metre of it only weighs half a tonne. A cubic metre of concrete weighs in at two tonnes. Wood buildings, therefore, have lower mass, which leads to savings in areas like foundation design and earthquake damping. Less mass, or deadweight, further reduces the dimensions of beams, studs and other structural elements. This means that along with lowering the environmental impact of the building, it will also lead to reductions in the energy required to make it, and maybe even the cost.
In my last year of primary school I sat at the back of the class, right next to the nature table. I was not happy there; nothing on that table held my interest. Nature study in 1961 was dull projects dreamed up by an earnest teacher. And I was frightened of the table, largely because of the live centipede in a jar which Denise Mackway-Jones had found on a banana bought from the local grocer. Back then, my only tangible contact with nature and all its wonder came when I dug up our prized lawn for an underground hut, where I announced I would be sleeping until I left home to join the circus... or maybe it was to play cricket for New Zealand, though some would argue in recent times these two have become one and the same. Neither did I stare out the car window with eyes-wide appreciation when being driven into the beauty of Central Otago. I was well into my teens by then, and at that age, the reputed rural beauty came a distant third behind girls and The Beatles. Or, to be more accurate—because girls were just not working out well at all—The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I was nearly 40 years old when I finally went to Central Otago for the right reasons. We had been offered a one-third share in an old mud-brick hotel in the Ida Valley, the Railway Hotel, which sat almost neighbourless off the main road between Oturehua and Omakau. The flat and characterless paddocks that yawned off down the valley weren’t, I thought, a postcard patch on Queenstown or Wanaka. But I liked the air, loved the skies, and marvelled at the overwhelming quiet which was interrupted only occasionally by a baying farm animal. Not long after buying into the hotel we experienced our first hoar frost. We had been driving in sunshine and cloud-less sky and suddenly, as if entering an unsignposted tunnel, we were in a grey-blackmist, everything frozen and still. We got out of the car, cameras whirring. It was minus seven degrees. But we didn’t want to go back into the warm. You don’t when you see the surreal. The next morning we awoke to what seemed like a thousand tiny hailstones tattering on a tin roof. The hoar frost was no more and the sun was melting the frozen flora all over the valley. These hoar frosts are rare now, and the Idaburn Dam rarely freezes over for the legendary curling Bonspiel. Fear and breathtaking beauty will forever fight for my attention up there. Rodents, hand-sized spiders, possums and feral cats seem almost endemic to Central Otago, but far from familiar to me. We ferreted out a rustle under our bed one night and found, yes, a ferret. When I learned what a ferret can do to a chicken, I realised how close I had come to a miserable death. One summer night, lying on the grass in front of the hotel staring at the amazing night sky, I was taken by an incessant noise. There seemed to be animals and insects all around me, all watching, all poised to strike. I mentioned The Noise Of The Night to our friend Barney the next day. He scratched his head and looked at me incredulously. Central Otago farmers clearly do not lie on the grass in the middle of the night staring at the sky, that’s just a city thing. The farmers there like to fish when they have time. I enjoy a good dam, but not fishing. That’s dentist-waiting-room stuff. And I don’t hunt or climb. When the greater Alexandra area has its annual rabbit shoot, I sit inside and listen to the gunfire, I don’t ask to have a go. I just like to walk. I have discovered electric fences, disguised swamps and glowering bulls, and I have been dive-bombed in spring by magpies wanting my eyes because I walked too close to their young. But I am learning to love the nature around me. I was walking with our daughter and grandson in March and saw one of those quintessential Maniototo wildflowers, the kind that grow stubborn and strong in a brutal climate. I picked one. “Keep this for the boy,” I said to my daughter. “He may want to take it to school for the nature table.”
As New Zealand scrambles to do its bit to cool the globe and give greenhouse gas the boot, there is a groundswell of enthusiasm for sustainable technologies ranging from the elegantly simple to the intriguingly complex. Organisations as varied as schools and state-owned enterprises, pulp mills and universities are working on technologies to save us from ourselves.
When Robert Oppenheimer, chief scientist of the Manhattan Project, watched the first nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, its terrifying power brought to his mind the words of the Hindu god Vishnu: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In that moment in the desert, the human species crossed a threshold, and for the next 40 years dwelt under the shadow of its menace. Sheer destructive capability redefined human existence. “Now, too, with the environment,” writes American author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, “we are forced, for the first time, to understand that we are a truly titanic force, capable of affecting and altering the operation of the planetary whole.” Sea levels rise, ice caps melt and species’ distributions are reshuffled like so many playing cards. Even the idea of pristine wilderness disappears, because there is no part of the planet, not even the oceanic trenches, that lies outside the influence of the carbon dioxide juggernaut. The implications run deep. Just as the Cold War framed international politics for the latter part of the 20th century, climate will be the global narrative of the 21st. How are we to deal with an issue of such magnitude, to navigate towards a future that doesn’t look like an ecological mushroom cloud? How do we approach what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called “the defining challenge of our age.” Global thinking The fundamental problem in dealing with the climate threat is getting our minds around its size and scale, says Bill McKibben. Writing for the magazine Orion, he says: “We haven’t come up with words big enough to communicate the magnitude of what we’re doing. How do you say: the world you know today, the world you were born into, the world that has remained essentially the same for all of human civilization... is about to be something so different? Somehow ‘global warming’ barely hints at it.” Even calling climate change a problem is problematic. It needs to move to some other category, says McKibben. Instead of being one item on a checklist, it must become the lens through which we view the world. He suggests a switch from words to numbers—and to one in particular: 350. That’s the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, has said is the absolute upper limit of environmental safety. “Above it and the planet would be unravelling. Is unravelling, because we’re already at 385 parts per million,” notes McKibben, who, with his colleagues, has launched 350.org, a global warming action coalition. Building such a global consensus will take time—and many threatened species do not have the luxury of waiting. The unravelling biosphere needs collective action—and fast. Writing in the journal New Scientist, Sharon Oosthoek notes that conservationists are “struggling like harried emergency-room doctors” to preserve biodiversity in the face of rapid human-induced changes. Many believe the save-a-fragment-here, save-a-fragment-there approach will not suffice, and that the best hope for species struggling to adapt to a changing climate is to secure areas large enough to allow them to move in accordance with their climatic tolerance. For some, of course, there will be nowhere to go. Cloud forests, alpine plants (such as New Zealand’s endemic daisies) and cold-adapted invertebrates (including species of weta) cannot migrate upwards forever. And where will our tussock lands re-establish themselves if heightened concentrations of carbon dioxide enable trees to invade their habitat? Several international environmental groups are calling for the protection of the entire northern boreal forest, an area 100 times the size of New Zealand, covering 11 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Because it remains relatively unfragmented, it would be a superb refuge for climate-stressed species, as well as a massive carbon sink. “However, just 10 per cent of the boreal forest is protected, and the rest is under growing pressure from developers,” notes Oosthoek. Will the governments under whose aegis the forest falls weigh its ecological value over its asset wealth? Strategic thinking While thinking big is necessary for tackling the ecological fallout of climate change, smart thinking is also called for. Merely protecting pristine ecosystems is not enough. In a rapidly warming world, wilderness preserves may eventually fail to serve the flora and fauna they were established to protect. Now, conservation managers are seeing the necessity to intervene in ecosystems, even to “reassemble” them when the disruption is severe. This radical revision of the role of conservation has led some to question the very essence of what they do, writes Oosthoek in New Scientist. “Conservation is, by definition, about maintaining the status quo, yet this may no longer be possible, given that pollution, climate change, exotic species invasions, extinctions and land fragmentation are altering almost every ecosystem on the planet... rather than trying to preserve nature in aspic, [we] should work with change. We need to focus on optimising genetic and species diversity with an eye to helping plants and animals adapt, rather than trying to return ecosystems to their historic or natural state.” New Zealand conservation scientists, schooled in the pragmatism that comes from seeing species go extinct, have long championed such interventions, using cross-species fostering, translocations of threatened populations, supplementary feeding and other methods to sustain species on the brink. However, tinkering with the modus operandi of conservation will be mere rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic without a radical revision of human economic priorities. Conservationists are used to giving their projects an economic spin, such as by calculating their contribution of “ecological services”—water purification, pollination, carbon storage, fish stock enhancement, and so on—and potential tourism income to GDP. Now the shoe is shifting to the other foot. It is time to judge economic choices by the yardstick of ecology. We need to be talking about “the wholesale decarbonization” of our economies, says McKibben—“about removing the fossil fuel base on which our prosperity has so far rested, and about doing it in the space of a decade or two.” Yet as I write this, the United States Environmental Protection Agency—no doubt under the thumb of the White House—has yet to decide “whether global warming threatens human health and welfare and requires regulations to address it.” Local thinking In the face of that sort of governmental foot-dragging, many believe it is at the level of individuals and communities that the greatest hope lies for reformatting the economy with an ecological operating system. I recently read in The New Yorker about the Danish island of Samsø, whose 4500 residents set themselves a goal in the late 1990s of becoming self-sufficient in energy use within a decade. They formed energy co-operatives, invested in wind turbines, replaced oil-burning furnaces with heat pumps and experimented with biomass and biofuels. Within seven years the island was producing more energy than it was consuming. What makes the Samsø story especially interesting is that the islanders were not “green” by any stretch of the imagination. Nor were they particularly well off. They were a conservative farming community, planting traditional crops of potatoes, wheat and strawberries, relying on oil for heating and coal for electricity. Partly through the goadings of a local renewable-energy campaigner, partly through neighbourhood one-upmanship, partly, one imagines, because they fancied something a little more exciting than digging tubers and threshing grain, they decided to take on carbon emissions—and won. The island is today described as “the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet.” Pundits predict that community-based action will be the engine of future environmental preservation. Installing energy-saving lightbulbs, becoming a locavore or trading in a gas-guzzling Sports Futility Vehicle (as one writer has rebranded the SUV) may seem trivially small actions. But ripples have turned into groundswells before, and not just on windy Danish islands. Noticing, perhaps for the first time, their energy-consumption obesity, many ordinary people appear willing to place their lifestyles on a diet, cutting down on hydrocarbons just as they may cut down on carbohydrates. Aldo Leopold, considered by some to be the father of the modern environmental movement, wrote in his 1940s classic A Sand County Almanac: “All history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organise yet another search for a durable scale of values.” These durable values—sustainable values, we might call them today—have never been in such urgent demand.
Few tramps in New Zealand are imbued with as much history as Harper Pass. To South Island Maori, who knew the route as Hurunui or Taramakau Saddle, it was one of the most important passages across the Southern Alps, a low pass over which pounamu (greenstone) could be transported from the West Coast. In 1857 Leonard Harper travelled over the old greenstone trail, becoming the first European to cross the Southern Alps, and his name has been linked to the pass ever since. During the mid-1860s Harper Pass enjoyed a brief period of popularity when gold prospectors rushed over to mine newly discovered gold fields on the West Coast, but the more direct route over Arthur’s Pass quickly eclipsed it. In the late 1930s the government decided to re-open the track over Harper Pass, hoping to create a tramp that would rival the Milford Track. Although its scenery does not seriously rival that of Fiordland, a tramp over Harper Pass offers an enjoyable and relatively easy way to cross the Southern Alps, connecting the Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass highways. Attractive beech forests, several lakes, good birdlife, open river valleys, a generous number of huts and one hot spring all add to its appeal. Although the Canterbury side of the route is well tracked and bridged, in the west the Otira, Otehake and Taramakau rivers can all be impossible to negotiate after heavy rain. Some navigation is required on the trip. Aickens to Locke Stream Hut (18 bunks, fire, $5/night) 6–8 hours At Aickens, sign in at the intentions book at the carpark on State Highway 73. Poles lead across farmland to a ford over the Otira River. Parties travelling in the opposite direction can use a shelter, situated on the far side, to wait out floods. Travelling up the gravelly Taramakau River is generally easy, a mixture of track through beech forest on river terraces and in the riverbed itself. At the Pfeifer Creek junction a side track leads up to Lake Kaurapataka, a worthwhile diversion for those who have the time. From the lake it’s possible to travel down the Otehake to join the main Taramakau Valley route. Kiwi Hut (six bunks, open fire, $5/night), on the true right of the river, lies on a large bush terrace about two km upstream of the Otehake/Taramakau junction, and marks the halfway point to Locke Stream Hut. Upstream of here, trampers usually pick their own route up-valley, crossing the Taramakau as required. Above Locke Stream, a track resumes on the true left, leads through bush for 15 minutes to reach Locke Stream Hut (or No 4 Hut). The recently restored hut was originally built in 1939. Locke Stream to Harper Pass Biv (2 bunks) 2.5–3 hours Above Locke Stream a well-marked track leads up-valley on the true left, crossing a footbridge to the true right after an hour or so. Travel steepens for the final section up to Harper Pass, soon breaking out into sub-alpine shrublands. The 962-metre pass, marked by a large sign, affords views of high mountains on both the Crawford and Kaimata ranges on either side. A track leads down into the headwaters of the Hurunui River, crossing to the true right shortly before reaching the small orange Harper Pass Biv. Harper Pass Biv to No. 3 Hut (16 bunks, wood burner, $5/night) via Cameron Hut (4 bunks, open fire) 3 hours From the biv, easy travel through increasingly attractive beech forest leads down old river terraces on the true right of the Hurunui. At Cameron Hut, the track emerges onto the first of many open grassy flats, which were grazed until recently. Downstream of Cameron Hut the track crosses a three-wire bridge over Cameron Stream, followed by flat travel to No. 3 Hut, set in a clearing. DOC have a locked research base nearby, which is used for undertaking pest control and wildlife work in the valley. No. 3 Hut to Hurunui Hut (20 bunks, wood burner, $5/night) 2.5–3 hours The track continues to travel eastwards, sidling through pleasant stands of beech forest above the Hurunui River, pausing to divert to the Hurunui hot springs on a signposted side trail after about 90 minutes. These natural springs, perfect for a winter soak, offer room for about five to six people. About another 90 minutes of travel leads to the large, modern Hurunui Hut. Hurunui Hut to Hope-Kiwi Lodge (21 bunks, wood burner, $10/night) 5–6 hours From Hurunui Hut it is possible to shorten the tramp by walking out to Lake Mason and ending at the Lake Sumner Road. But the more interesting walk continues down to the shores of Lake Sumner, crossing the Hurunui River on a long swingbridge en route. This section is known as the Kiwi Pack Track. It ambles over matagouri flats, then through stately red beech forests, and crosses the Three Mile Stream (where a worthwhile track leads down to Charley’s Point on the shores of Lake Sumner). Beyond the stream, undulating forest travel on a beautifully benched track climbs steadily to Kiwi Saddle (where another enjoyable side track diverts to the tranquil Lake Marion) and over into the open, dell-like expanse of the Kiwi Valley. A retired farm vehicle track leads down-valley to the substantial and corralled Hope-Kiwi Lodge. Hope-Kiwi Lodge to Windy Point via Hope Shelter 5–6 hours From the lodge, follow the track leading northwards to a swingbridge over the Hope River. From here, travel is basically a mixture of open river terraces and beech forest, remaining on the true left of the Hope. Beyond Hope Shelter, the track begins a slow climb onto river terraces high above the river. The last hour or so crosses scruffy farmland, descends to a swingbridge that spans a gorge in the Boyle River, then continues on to the bus shelter at Windy Point.
Shooting- irons don’t come any colder. And where provenance is concerned, there is none hotter. The 54-gauge Deane & Adams percussion revolver chambered five rounds and was used by Maori and Pakeha in the later stages of the New Zealand Wars. The type may not have been terribly accurate but by all accounts could produce a high rate of fire. Inscribed along the bar above the cylinder is the following: “Presented to HEMI TE WAKA, by the OFFICERS of the 43rd LT. INFTY. for GALLANT CONDUCT on all occasions when acting as GUIDE to the Regt. in TARANAKI December 1865.” Hemi Te Waka, aka Taranaki Jim, or Big Jim, was of both Te Atiawa and Pakeha descent. Te Waka had been a Kingite warrior in 1860 and by 1864 he was a scout for the 57th Regiment. It was he who, in April that year, discovered the decapitated corpses of Captain Lloyd and his men ambushed at Te Ahuahu, precipitating the Paimarire War and a further eight years of bloodshed. From 1865 the revolver accompanied Te Waka on active service until he fell in a Tuhoe ambush in May 1869. There in Te Urewera he was buried, the pistol and other effects being removed from his body. The revolver, pistol-belt and holster were later obtained by the NZ Veterans Association, and in 1919 they were donated to the New Plymouth Museum—now Puke Ariki & District Libraries. On the inside flap of the holster is the barely legible “HEMI TE WAKA” written in Indian ink. This gun—with holster and pistol-belt—is a tangible link to the Taranaki and Te Kooti campaigns, and also contemporaries like Major Kepa Te Rangihiwinui NZC and Major Gustavus Von Tempsky, not to mention many others who have since become famous in their own right. As such, it is one of the country’s most valuable military taonga. Seventy-one years after Te Waka was gunned down, a young firearms enthusiast in New Plymouth was handling the weapon, fumbled, and was shot through the head. He earned the dubious distinction of being the last casualty of the New Zealand Wars as the charge, wad and bullet—rammed home by Hemi Te Waka himself all those years ago—had never been unloaded.
The Inuit who settled Grise Fiord were masters of adaptation. Now the changing climate is forcing Inuit to adapt once again.
Where do you go to report the theft of a word? The police are too busy and university English departments have no powers of enforcement. Perhaps we should try the Court of Public Opinion. The word in question is “sceptic”. Beloved by the vociferous deniers of global warming, it is their pretended badge of honour. But scepticism is at the heart of all science, including compelling studies showing that the atmosphere is steadily warming, that increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane are responsible for a significant part of the rise in temp[eratures, and that those increases are a result of human activity. The anonymous peer review process that scientific papers go through before publication involves the vigorous exercise of scepticism. Once published in a scientific journal, any significant errors will be quickly pounced upon by other scientists. Perhaps this is why the deniers of global warming prefer to publish in non-scientific media outlets. Even when they do concede some warming is occurring, the deniers typically play down its significance by exaggerating past changes, as if to say “we had climate change when we were young and it never did us any harm”. Yet they seem oblivious to the immense impact past climate changes have had on human society and civilisation. Certainly, history books are filled with stories about the impact of the weather on human affairs, such as the typhoons that twice destroyed Kublai Khan’s armadas when they were attempting to invade Japan in the 13th century, or the harsh Russian winter that slowed Hitler’s armies in 1941, or the thunderstorm that terrified Martin Luther as a child, prompting his vow to become a monk. In South America, archaeologists have found evidence of strong links between climate change and the fall of civilisations such as the Moche, Nazca and Tiwanaku. Based at the southern end of Lake Titicaca in present-day Bolivia, Tiwanaku developed an ingenious agricultural system at an altitude slightly higher than Mount Cook. Situated 3812 m above sea level, this region is subject to severe frosts. In order to mitigate the effects of the frosts on their crops, the Tiwanaku farmers cut narrow channels out from the lake edge and grew their potatoes and quinoa cereal on thin strips of land between the channels of water. On cold winter nights, when temperatures plunged to -10ºC or lower, fog formed over the channels of water and crops, maintaining the temperature close to zero and protecting the plants from harm. Fertility was enhanced by building up the land with sediment lifted from the channels. Raising the level of the soil also prevented the plants from becoming water-logged. By the height of the empire, these raised beds—developed before the time of Christ—covered some 80,000 ha and fed a population estimated at over a third of a million people. Then, around 1000 years ago, a se-vere and long-lasting drought set in, as evidenced by ice cores taken from glaciers in the mountains nearby. Other cores drilled in the lake bed show that the water level dropped about 15 m, destroying the agricultural system and causing the empire to collapse. Also well documented in the his¬torical record is the effect of repeated drought in France in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Soaring grain prices led to civil disturbances in the 1780s. Then, in July 1788, on the eve of the harvest, widespread hail storms devastated much of the crops in the Paris basin. Hailstones were so large they killed men and animals. The inability to gather tax revenue on the destroyed harvest bankrupted the gov-ernment and the price of bread rose to almost 90 per cent of a worker’s salary. Little wonder that, within a year, peo¬ple were prepared to rise against armed soldiers and storm the Bastille. But what about us, and where are we heading? The latest summary of the science of climate change released by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the global average temperature has risen by 0.74°C in the hundred years from 1906 to 2005. The difference in global average temperature between now and the peak of the last Ice Age is about 5°C. Also, the sea level then was around 120 m lower than today, because so much water was locked up in the ice sheets. Since 1961 sea level has risen at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year, but this rate is increasing and since 1993 it has been rising by 3.1 mm per year. The rise is being caused by thermal expansion of seawater combined with melting of glaciers, ice caps and polar ice sheets. There are also signs that changes are happening faster than initially forecast. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice in the Arctic melted over the summer of 2007. This August, storms over Alaska’s Beaufort Sea began drawing streams of warm air into the Arctic leading to unprecedented melting in the 2008 season. Scientists are now warning that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer within just five years. In the early 1990s, scientists with the British Antarctic survey predicted that in 30 years the Wilkins Ice Shelf could begin to break up. Last summer, it lost about 400 sq km, and then kept right on breaking up into July—the first time ever that break-up has been observed during an Antarctic winter. Sub-surface temperatures measured by seals fitted with special caps showed warming water to be partly responsible. Warming water is also likely to be contributing to the observed acceleration of the Pine Island Glacier—one of the major glaciers draining the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. About 10 years ago, modellers at Britain’s Hadley Centre predicted that the South Atlantic may warm so much by the year 2070 that tropical cyclones could form there. A few years later, in March 2004, Hurricane Catarina became the first hurricane ever observed over the South Atlantic. The warning signs are adding up to a fire alarm. Where to now depends on how quickly the human race can curb emissions of greenhouse gases. Global average temperature is likely to rise 3°C before the end of the century (or 5°C if we fail to reduce emissions) while sea level should rise by 20-60 cm. This estimate of sea level rise does not fully allow for the accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet that is now being observed. Some of us think we are the cleverest animals ever to walk the Earth. Now we get the chance to prove it.
The social security act was passed 50 years ago in September 1938. It was the culmination of the Labour government’s efforts to ensure its citizens would never again suffer the poverty experienced during the economic crisis of the 1920s and early 1930s and to guarantee a reasonable standard of living for everyone from the “cradle to the grave”. Party leader Michael Joseph Savage called it “applied Christianity”. New Zealand’s first Labour party had been elected three years earlier: the mood recalled by Janet Frame in To the Is-land, was “almost like a Second Coming, so great was the joy in our household, and so revered our new Prime Minister, ‘Micky’ Savage”. Micky, or “Joe”, was the party’s benevolent front man, although much of the policy was driven by Peter Fraser and Walter Nash. Within a few years of being elected a Christmas bonus had been issued to the poor and unemployed, old-age pensions restored and increased, a 40-hour week was introduced, free secondary school education instated, as was a state housing scheme aimed at providing every New Zealander with a home Nash said would be “fit for a cabinet minister”. The Social Security Act was the party’s pièce de résistance, installing a free health system, a means-tested old-age pension at 60, and superannuation at 65. At the election held the following month Labour seemed invincible, winning 53 seats against National’s 25. But nirvana never lasts, and it wasn’t long before questions were asked about the cost of the system and the value of state involvement in personal lives. Over the decades the welfare system has been blamed for everything that is wrong with this country; it’s said to sap people of their drive, energy and will to work. Which is easy to say when you are earning well and living in prosperous times. It is harder to comprehend how tough life had been for many people, and how gratefully the policies were received. As historian Erik Olssen noted: “Savage and his Cabinet appear[ed] to have put New Zealand back on its true course as the most advanced and humane society in the world...”
From Johann Rebmann’s outlandish descriptions of snow on the equator in 1849 to the PowerPoint presentations of Al Gore, Africa’s highest peak has long captured the world’s imagination. But, as its melting snows focus attention on global warming, the real climate change story is playing itself out downstream, along the reaches of Kilimanjaro’s main river, the Pangani. Here, conflict over diminishing water supplies has pitted communities and economic sectors against each other, sometimes with violent consequences.
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