It's early days yet, but the signs are that 2019 will not break the pattern of people putting their faith in simple solutions to what are often intractable problems.

Like so-called child poverty. If the answer to that was a more generous welfare system it would have been eradicated decades ago.

The issue is often twofold — we, who collectively form the public opinion that so often guides political decisions, are not given the whole story, and then we are encouraged to believe that the solutions are, well, simple. Public concern over the state of our rivers and lakes is a prime example of that.

We were told last week that a Fish & Game-commissioned survey found that the biggest single worry for New Zealanders is the pollution of waterways. And once again the finger was pointed at dairy farmers.

Advertisement

The survey result was more a triumph for the PR industry than common sense — water pollution is certainly an issue, but surely there are more important things to worry about, like health, education, law and order, immigration as dictated by the United Nations for starters.

'We, who collectively form the public opinion that so often guides political decisions, are not given the whole story, and then we are encouraged to believe that the solutions are, well, simple.'

The level of public concern regarding water pollution obviously takes no account of slow but steady improvements in the state of many rivers and lakes, or the efforts that are being made, by the dairy industry to reduce pollution. More importantly, it seemingly ignores the fact that the dairy industry is only a bit player.

According to DairyNZ, 15 per cent of this country's streams and rivers run through dairy farms. That means 85 per cent don't. Assuming that that 85 per cent of streams and rivers are not in pristine condition, someone needs to explain why they are polluted, who is responsible for that pollution, and what is being done about it.

Once again we have been not so subtly encouraged to ignore the fact that the most heavily polluted waterways tend to be found in urban areas.

For every kilo of dairy cow excrement that finds its way into water, tonnes of human waste do so. Why are we not constantly reminded of the fact that even modest rainfall in Auckland results in beach closures? Who is responsible for that? Not dairy cows.

Nor does anyone ever mention the role played in water pollution by birds. They are dirty little buggers, even dirtier, kilo for kilo, than your average dairy cow. Perhaps we should be eradicating swans, Canada geese and seagulls.

But the 'simple solution' to polluted waterways, once again, is to get rid of dairying. And the lie goes further than that. An opinion piece published recently quoted a 14-year-old school girl who told her mother that if everyone halved their meat and dairy consumption, the climate change crisis would disappear.

The older and more sceptical among us might dismiss that as the rubbish it is, but we should be concerned that the next generation of voters is being fed this sort of drivel, and believes it. That child's teacher might have told her that 14.7 per cent of the emissions that are supposedly killing this planet is reportedly generated by the burning of Chinese coal.

The fact is that while we New Zealanders might be contributing to harmful emissions, that contribution is infinitesimal. Ergo, so is our ability to do anything.

While northern hemisphere industries are pumping vast quantities of emissions into the atmosphere, and showing no signs of stopping, going without steak and milk three days a week isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference.

The simple solution to plastic pollution is to ban so-called single-use shopping bags, a minuscule fraction of the plastic purchased in this country every day.

Nothing is said about the manufacturers who sell us the plastic, and those who argue that the environment would be much improved if a deposit scheme was adopted to give value to empty plastic, glass and aluminium containers are wasting their breath.

The good thing about banning plastic bags is not that it's going to change anything, but that it is simple, it gives the impression that politicians are doing something, and that supermarkets can proudly boast that they are saving the planet — while inviting us to continue using plastic bags for our fruit and veg.

In education the solution to poor NCEA pass rates has been to lower the benchmark, and keep lowering it until the stats improve. We now know that some NCEA exam candidates are permitted to take a literate person with them, to read the questions then write the answers, presumably as dictated by the candidate.

Research published last year claimed that 34 per cent of 2017's NCEA Level 2 graduates, having qualified for university, were functionally illiterate, and 47 per cent were innumerate.

A Far North secondary teacher reckoned those figures were probably a bit low. He told the writer that one no longer needed to be literate to enrol at university.
Never mind. Schools can now boast increasingly impressive pass rates, so problem solved. The PISA statistics tell a very different story, but we ignore them.

The teacher's prognosis was that the lowering of achievement standards would "come back to bite us" in five years' time. Not sure it'll take that long.

And we finally seem to have found a way of getting on top of our illicit drug problem. The campaign for medicinal cannabis, presumably delivered by tablet, spray or fluid, without the intoxicant THC, is rapidly morphing into a crusade for the right of the afflicted to smoke it, THC included, in the traditional brain-numbing way. Next year we will vote on making it legal for all.

If it does become legal, something will have to be done to deter users from driving while under the influence, remembering that, unlike alcohol, THC remains in the system for a very long time. Permanently for those who indulge regularly. But that's another problem for another day.

Worse, the Government is showing interest in legalising the testing of drugs at music festivals so users can be assured that their substance of choice is true to label. 'Yep, that's unadulterated methamphetamine you've got there. Have a good night! And a good life.'

That creaking noise is the door slowly swinging open to the legalisation of all sorts of substances, and never mind the effects on the user, or society as a whole. The important thing is that we will no longer have an illicit drug problem. And those who fry their brains will still be able to go to university.

The reality is that none of these problems — the polluting of our environment, the effects of all manner of social ills on the ability of children to learn (and the expectation of those who do not learn to a non-negotiable standard will fail — they will still fail of course, but after they leave school or university, not before), and the increasingly debilitating effect illicit drugs (and alcohol) are having on our society — are easily fixed.

Pretending that they are doesn't make them go away. It entrenches them. And one day, when it's all far too late, that will finally dawn on those who are leading us into calamity.