On Saturday, at Mayor Yule’s sustainability fest, about 100 Hawke’s Bay sustainability buffs got a chance to discuss and promote their wish lists for the district and region. For helping to legitimize the issue politically, the Mayor deserves credit.
There was no shortage of ideas, reflecting the talent and experience in the room.
But two questions bug me as I reflect on the day.
First, isn’t there a more direct and efficient path to the concrete actions the Mayor said he was looking for?
As presenter Ann Magee from Auckland’s Regional Council amply illustrated, the world is awash in proven measures and models for reducing energy and water consumption, discouraging auto use, curbing waste, intelligently designing buildings and communities, and so forth. Other communities are doing these things, now.
Enormous progress toward sustainability could be made in HB simply by copying and adapting the success of others … then we could worry about inventing and innovating to deal with issues that might be unique to the Bay.
One dedicated, senior HDC employee — the Sustainability Advocate — reporting to the CEO, charged with systematically identifying and persistently advocating the methods and models of greatest utility to our region in the near term, would generate more change than a dozen sustainability forums. Of course the Advocate would tap local expertise, but the charge would be to find suitable best practices, wherever they might be.
An annual sustainability report documenting concrete accomplishments, presented and defended at an annual sustainability forum, would provide a basis for public accountability.
The second question that bugs me is the irony of the Mayor engaging the public in the quest for sustainability around issues like low-flow shower heads, even while championing sustainability-busters like the regional sports park, a wastewater treatment plant that will still pump sewage (under another name) into the Bay, and non-stop roadworks.
In other words, when it comes to the big issues affecting sustainability in the Bay, it seems to be business as usual.
What’s more important for the Mayor and HDC to do, for example, educate the public about shower heads … or demand that the Regional Council get serious about cleaning-up District rivers and cutting back on water allocations?
The latter won’t happen, because of the “you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours” cronyism that plagues local government. If I as Mayor want an endorsement in principle for my sports park from the Regional Council, then I’d better not complain about their failing water stewardship.
So I’m all for low-flow shower heads, but to earn a passing grade in sustainability from most of those in the room on Saturday, the Mayor and his Councillors (only one of whom, Anne Wilson, bothered to attend)* will need to deliver a LOT more in the coming term.
The challenge isn’t finding actionable ideas and policies for nurturing a more sustainable region; the real challenge is finding the political will to embrace the tough and more meaningful ones.
*Regional Councillors McIntyre, Remmerswaal, Scott and von Dadelszen also attended.