For an educated man, Nick Smith sure seems to know how to do stupid.
Since his latest debacle over proposed new water quality standards, I've been inundated with folks asking me to help them make sense of them.
Questions like, "Is he right, or are the greenies right? Does all that planting and fencing actually stop water pollution? I'm confused? Please help."
I feel like an agony aunt. A freshwater agony aunt.
Now, I could get technical but I'll resist. Suffice it to say, yes, the greenies are right. But more to the point, the freshwater scientists are right.
My advice? Simple. I recommend you listen to independent freshwater scientists, not those on the payroll of central government, regional councils, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, or any dairy industry player.
Even NIWA consistently disappoints me, as does Nelson's "proudly independent" science organisation, the Cawthron Institute (it might have something to do with the fact Nick Smith is their local MP, and is also on their trust board).
These players are the ones talking up Smith's proposed new water rules, while the rest of us are doing the opposite.
The science is already in, and has been for a decade or more. Intensive dairy farming is responsible for the vast majority of freshwater pollution in this country. Fact.
Whatever it is that the dairy industry says it's doing or spending to mitigate the problem, it's not working. Our waterways continue to degrade in front of our eyes. Fact.
The degradation curve corresponds perfectly with the nation's steady increase in cow numbers. There exist graphs that, in near perfect visual correlation, bear this out. Fact.
I could go on. However, you can find screeds of technical data anywhere you care to look, if you are so moved. If unmoved, and you're still insisting all is well in our water world, it might be time to talk about the ethics of freshwater.
Yes, the ethics. Remember those?
The importance of water is undeniable, yet the ethics of water are conspicuously absent from discussions around its governance and management.
I imagine if the moral implications of water policies and practices were to be used as a guiding principle by decision makers, it would be somewhat inconvenient. I mean, how to justify the immorality of essentially ignoring the "polluter pays" principle by making ratepayers and taxpayers pick up the tab for dairy pollution?
How to explain away the deep public betrayal by the Department of Conservation using the courts to force through, at the Government's behest, a conservation area land swap, for the sole purpose of building a dam for the further intensification of dairy farming? Or to make sense of a regional council who refuses to follow its own plan on nitrogen leaching limits, meaning their ratepayers pick up the legal tab for their intransigence?
Horizons (Manawatu/Whanganui) have already been told to comply by the environment court but have studiously ignored that directive - meaning NGOs have again been forced to act. No convenient ratepayers to pay their legal fees. Anything wrong with this scenario?
I'd ask: In what way was the sacking of ECan councillors back in 2010, and replacing them with unelected, Government-appointed commissioners who did their bidding on water allocation and irrigation issues, democratic or decent? Even hundreds of public complaints of stock standing in Canterbury waterways last year did not distract them from their goal. Why prosecute when you can do nothing, right? Easier and cheaper. And, I'd argue, morally bankrupt.
How about the normalising of some regional councils - charged with looking after our freshwater resources - being top heavy with dairy farmers? In Taranaki, their regional council has a chairman, who repeatedly declares that all is well with Taranaki's waterways. It's not. This is the same man who's on Fonterra's board of directors, and who oversaw the Taranaki Regional Council's investment of $4 million in Fonterra corporate bonds back in 2009. That's right. Taranaki's freshwater regulator is intertwined with the company I believe to be this country's largest polluter of water, Fonterra. I have to ask: is this ethical?
I could give other examples until the cows come home. These are just the tip of the milkberg. I'll leave you with this.
The state of our waterways, and dairying's role in it, is getting perilously close to being like the "climate change" debate, I believe. There is no debate. And as with climate change, it seems to me the three percent of scientists who deny it are regularly found to be on the payroll of the industries doing the most damage. I reckon that, with help from Nick Smith, the dairy industry is showing integrity has no place in their business.
The science is in. The ethics are out.