Environmental history and social justice – is there a link? The case of Nauru

nauru islandHuman rights abuses in Nauru are currently under scrutiny by the United Nations and other organisations. We in New Zealand have also expressed our concerns – and with good reason.

But it makes me wonder, how much responsibility does New Zealand have to share in what is, without question, an unacceptable situation? We were responsible for systematically abusing Nauru’s environment for decades, leaving it in ruins. Indeed, without Nauru’s phosphate resources, it is questionable that the ‘pastoral revolution’ in New Zealand, on which our economy depends, would have even been possible. Continue reading

Nauru: a picture says it all

Nauru IslandI was flabbergasted when I found out about this piece of New Zealand’s history. I don’t know what shocked me more: our government’s part in destroying an island and a people’s economy and way of life, or the fact that this history is so little known by  New Zealanders.

New Zealand, along with Britain and Australia, gained the Pacific island of Nauru and its rich phosphate reserves as part of the spoils of the First World War. Continue reading

The “grasslands revolution”

Grass is integral to our agricultural sector, and therefore to our economy. Pasture grasses are exotic species introduced from Europe, and not always suited to our soils or environment. So how is it that pasture-farming has been so successful in New Zealand, despite the relative lack of fertile soils? The answer is phospate-based fertiliser. But another fragile island environment has paid a high price for the artificial fertility of our soils.

As Brooking, Hodge and Wood outline in “The grasslands revolution reconsidered” (Chapter 11, Environmental Histories of New Zealand), the term “grasslands revolution” was coined to celebrate the phenomenal increase in farming productivity which occurred, despite only a small increase in land. Continue reading