It's hard to escape the climate change narrative in our everyday lives.
We hear, see and read about rising temperatures, rising sea levels and in Hawke's Bay, more droughts predicted.
Right now, there is public pressure on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to do more to address climate change. To be more specific, climate change mitigation or reduce our carbon footprint.
Funnily enough a large part of the regional council's role has always been in the climate change space, but in adaption. That is, flood protection, erosion control and water security.
Over the past three years (before our post Covid-19 rates freeze this year), Hawke's Bay residents have seen large increases in their rates with a focus on fixing our environment and particularly water quality.
My question to the ratepayer is, are you seeing good return for your investment?
The regional council has grown considerably yet I still have constituents concerned about rising gravel in our rivers, and no water security outcomes.
With the next Long Term Planning process under way, I can tell you there is yet more pressure on rates increases well above the rate of inflation due to new levels of services proposed and reduced income from council investments.
This path we are on seems unsustainable. We can't keep arrogantly deciding our ratepayer has an endless supply of funds while unemployment is currently rising, the cost of housing is going through the roof and international tourism has vanished.
One of our largest contributors to the local economy is pastoral sheep and beef farming. It returned more than $400 million to the region's economy in 2019.
Yet farmers continue to get vilified for greenhouse gas emissions.
It was pleasing to see a recent Beef + Lamb NZ report that estimates the woody vegetation on New Zealand's sheep and beef farms is offsetting between 63 per cent and 118 per cent of their on-farm agricultural emissions, and that these farms are well on their way to being carbon positive if not already.
Much work needs to be done around soil carbon levels and what is happening underneath the feet of our livestock. If we are carbon positive, we just might be able to stem this tide of pine trees taking up all our valuable land.
If we are going to look at consumption habits, how about promoting wool over synthetics? Wool has a host of environmental benefits, like the prevention of microplastics entering our waterways and oceans, yet it never seems to get a look in. Even after our farmers produce large volumes and the industry employs hundreds of people locally to get it from farm to port.
I was concerned to read a recent NIWA report predicting climate change impacts for Hawke's Bay. If we put our faith in these predictions, where is our money best spent for future generations?
Is it employing more staff in more cars driving to your business or home to promote buying electric cars and installing roof solar panels made in Chinese factories (no doubt consuming energy from coal fired power stations)?
Or is it storing water for our dry years, extracting gravel to protect our productive plains and urban communities, taking up the Right Tree, Right Place initiative and covering our vast landscape with many more trees for shade, shelter, wetlands, honey production, and biodiversity?
In a recent regional council survey of Hawke's Bay residents, water use and storage was the main suggestion for activity to combat climate change. After seeing impacts during last year's drought, we badly need stored water to keep our river flows up for the sake of their health during those dry summers.
Hawke's Bay has always been a great food producing region.
Given the drop in international tourism following Covid-19, that productivity is now more important than ever.
Imagine water security solutions that help grow our key horticulture sector earning millions of dollars on the Heretaunga plains and now expanding into the Ruataniwha basin.
Or perhaps our soon to be regional council appointed Climate Ambassador will tell us to eat less grass fed meat produced right here in Hawke's Bay which employs thousands of people from farm to port and everything in between, earning millions of export dollars into our region?