Forward march

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Acquiesce. It’s the name of an anaesthetic used to knock out tank-reared kingfish so that the people farming these apex predators for food can handle them. A disquieting word. Margaret Atwood would love it. But it’s not science fiction: it’s happening now. We’re farming kingies—and we’re farming pāua, hāpuku and whitebait, too.

It’s uncanny to grow big, dynamic kingfish in tanks on land. To strip eggs from kōkupu in tanks up north, and fly them to Bluff to conceive whitebait. It was a jolt when Richard Robinson filed his photographs of tame pāua, which shine turquoise on the outside.

But if we’re to tame the climate and biodiversity crises we’ve created, we’re going to have to get used to such change—and strangeness. What I admire about the aquaculture industry is the way it’s harnessing science and trying new ways of tackling sprawling, tangled problems (in this case, how to feed us, given the seas can’t keep up).

I see the same innovative energy in Jordana Whyte and Lisa Argilla, who saw a need for a wildlife hospital—and set one up. Recently they realised huge numbers of hoiho chicks were dying within a week or so of hatching. So the hospital adapted, pulling hundreds of chicks into intensive care.

Some of the stories we publish at New Zealand Geographic set out to celebrate such projects—to show what’s possible, what’s working, and why. Like this, we want to say. Others try to call attention to where it’s needed most. Quickly, over here!

In this moment of stinging urgency, the environmental policy inferno proposed by the new coalition government is anathema. What’s been signalled so far is a series of repeals, a stamping out of attempts at evidence-based change. The walk-backs will likely make circumstances worse for the environment, removing modern checks and balances that attempt to write sustainability into our economy and society, and safeguard the ecosystems on which both depend. The Natural and Built Environment Act, the Spatial Planning Act, freshwater standards, public transport overhauls—for all the weaknesses of these instruments, they represented a step in the right direction.

The government has also signalled it will restart offshore exploration for oil and gas and consider new seabed mining. Minister for resources and fisheries Shane Jones said the other day that the “stigmatisation and demonisation” of mineral and fishing companies ends with him. Before the election National said it would cut $46 million—6.5 per cent of funding—from the chronically squeezed Department of Conservation.

“Unless reconsidered,” wrote Gary Taylor, chair and chief executive of the Environmental Defence Society for Newsroom recently, “the policy mix will lead to more freshwater pollution, loss of significant indigenous habitat, an increase in damaging pests, and species extinctions.”

Taylor calls it “revenge politics” and “a profound retreat” from the environmental stewardship of previous governments, both Labour and National-led.

Voters could be forgiven for feeling stunned by this package. Little of it was in National’s environmental policy. What happened during those 41 days of coalition negotiations was a chaotic alchemy, in which some of the most destructive strategies somehow floated to the top.

But we do not have to acquiesce. For a lesson in meaningful dissent, look to tangata whenua, who as we went to press were protesting similarly regressive moves around Te Tiriti, te reo, and tino rangatiratanga. In Auckland hundreds of vehicles in convoy drove at five kilometres an hour through rush-hour traffic. Hazards on. Commuters banked up. Status quo: disrupted.

You could see the hikoi as a hassle. Or you could see it as a vanguard. Atwood would coin a good phrase for this moment. Maybe we could nick one from Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi. He calls it “an activation of the people”.