The recent HB Regional Council Embracing Futures Thinking breakfast (one of a series) was a great opportunity to refocus attention on the global issue of climate change. Guest speaker Vicki Buck issued the challenge to look our children in the eye and say we are responding to climate change.

“I like to drive a very fast convertible and … soak in a spa and I don’t do guilt” said Vicki Buck, ex mayor of Christchurch turned entrepreneur and passionate promoter of climate change opportunities. Making algae into oil is not a fanciful dream; her scientists are doing it already in Blenheim. Coming up with a solution to agricultural methane emissions is the aim of MI49, another of Ms Buck’s business interests. Then there’s the website for climate change bloggers, and another company, Carbonscape, is sequestering wood waste into “biochar” (charcoal) and returning it to the soil.

“Which of the many amazing opportunities out there is your region going to address?” asks Ms Buck.

The formula is simple enough:

  • Make it visible so your community mobilises to do something;
  • Start with efficiency (e.g. insulation) because that is the easiest to do;
  • Work with the power utilities to encourage private power generation that can be sold to the national grid (e.g. wind, solar);
  • Act locally to provide venture capital to encourage local initiatives;
  • Start thinking of your waste (e.g. sewerage, rubbish, wood waste, dairy effluent) as an energy resource.

Meanwhile, down at the Tukituki River the neighbours don’t ride their horses in the river anymore because they get infections and the children play on the banks but don’t swim. Why? Because the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council is too slow in addressing the pollution coming out of their sewage system despite presentations from at least one company that has offered to turn that sludge into biofuel for FREE! Is this a case of emus with their heads in the Ruataniwha gravel pits?

Why was the river swimmable 15 years ago but not anymore? A large part of answer lies in the rush of water consents that has occurred over the past decade to meet the water needs of dairy farms. Despite full allocation of the river, a recent decision to grant further consents to large dairy users flies in the face of efforts by groups like Hawke’s Bay Water Group to protect the river from further concentration of pollutants.

Water harvesting has been a workable concept on farms for generations with dams built for stock water, recreation and to slow winter floods. Those farmers who have invested in dams smugly toast the rain gods on cold winter nights as their water ‘bank accounts’ fill up. It’s common sense yet our local government allows big business to siphon off water from our public waterways with no requirement for farmers to store water or to find ways to reuse water from their dairy effluent. Imagine what biofuels could be made from dairy effluent if they put their mind to it.

The other big issue facing the Bay is the use of our fertile Plains soil for urban development. With a worldwide trend to use food soils for biofuels, the pressure on our fabulous soils gets even more critical … not that the Hastings District Council thinks this to be the case. The more intense our urban living becomes the more we depend on our growers to grow food for us, the more local the better. People are wanting to live in walkable communities with decent public transport. The recent initiative by Regional Council to have direct commuter services on weekdays between Napier and Hastings is commendable. Local businesses can do their bit for climate change by giving incentives for staff to use the service.

Yet it is what’s happening beneath the soils of Hawke’s Bay that is most fascinating to me. Farmers are finally giving real thought to encouraging the billions of worms and microbes that help plants to uptake the minerals they need for growth. In the same way that scientists have demonstrated that healthy gut bacteria can reduce eczema in children, so farmers are seeing the results of getting the soil microbes working for them instead of against them.

Replanting wetlands, establishing predator-free fences and eradicating invading possums are all significant actions that we as a community are doing to right the balance between us humans and the many mammals, insects, birds, fish, fungi and bacteria that we are dependent on for our survival. When we truly respect the environment, we may even learn how to respect each other as well.

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