‘A vision to restore the environment’: how history helps us make sense of the present

Minister for the Environment, David Parker, speaking about his passion – the environment – at last month’s launch of “Beyond Manapouri”

Earlier this month, the Minister for the Environment David Parker made an address to the Forest & Bird annual conference entitled “A vision to restore the environment”. I was delighted to see he made reference to my book Beyond Manapouri, and how history helps us put events today into context.  Here is an excerpt of his speech, which can be read in full on the Beehive website:

Last week I had the privilege of speaking at the launch of Catherine Knight’s new book Beyond Manapouri – 50 years of environmental politics in New Zealand. In her book she said the ‘expansion and intensification of dairy farming in recent decades has created impacts on the environment on a scale unlikely to have been foreseen by dairy farming proponents, or even by environmentalists, when its growth began in the 1970s.’ I agree.

Catherine also referred to the Manapouri story. Sir Alan Mark – one of your most esteemed members – reminded me recently that it took from 1959 to 1972 to save Manapouri. After 13 years of civil society activism, the issue was fought and won by Labour in the 1972 election. Manapouri was saved. Norman Kirk made good on his election promise. Sir Alan Mark was even then a loyal member of Forest & Bird and has been ever since, and of the New Zealand Labour Party as well.

While as Catherine Knight said, the rate of change in the  intensity of dairying took most by surprise, by 2004 councils, politicians and NGOs knew better. That is because Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams, in his report Growing for Good, nailed the problem we had with nutrient load, especially nitrogen.Thirteen years later – as with Manapouri – the political battle was settled by a general election. We now have to implement the changes that are needed to fix the problem. We don’t need to debate the existence of the problem.

Lake Manapouri NZ Herald
Lake Manapouri. Courtesy New Zealand Herald

Another similarity should be noted, Catherine pointed out that one of the leaders in the campaign to save Manapouri was local farmer Ron McLean. We now have leaders in agriculture stepping up to the mark to help. Some are local farmers, leading by examplewith sustainable land use practices. Others are farm leaders, and this is new. If I could name two: Andrew Morrison, Chair of Beef and Lamb, and Jim van der Poel, Chair of DairyNZ. We also have Theo Spierings from Fonterra leading some important examples. We have many regional councils increasingly concerned to show progress.

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