• A Merry Pohutukawa Christmas

    In 1962, a Rhodes Scholarship took me to Oxford University – and I didn’t get round to coming back home for another 32 years.  Those 32 years in England have of course left their marks, one of which is my abiding expectation that Christmas means cold temperatures and warm fires.  After being home again now for 23 years, I confess that I still can’t quite get used to Christmas on the beach.

    Perhaps it is the prospect of the cold and dreary months of January and February that makes the lights and music and good cheer of a northern winter Christmas so welcome and memorable.  The Christmas festivities play an important role in lifting the spirits when that is most needed.

    Barbecues and picnics in the sunshine, enjoyable as they are, don’t have quite the same buzz.  But there is one aspect of a New Zealand Christmas that never fails to please me – especially in the wonderful Bay of Plenty where I grew up.  I am always delighted to see the riot of colour when the pohutukawas blossom as Christmas approaches.  As we walk along our beach, the great trees that cling to and support the cliff faces are ablaze, and the tracks and roads are carpeted with red – and our own property boasts from every viewpoint centuries-old specimens of our own Christmas trees so that, truly, “every prospect pleases”.

    But, this year, that pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome realisation that “myrtle rust” might mean the demise of this spectacular witness to the Christmas spirit.  Like kauri die-back, this uninvited visitor from overseas threatens the survival of one of our most iconic species.

    Unlike the PSA outbreak that shook the foundation of our kiwi fruit industry, the incursion of myrtle rust does not seem to be attributable directly to human failings.  But all of these threats to our environment arise directly or indirectly from human intervention – and we are not just talking of plants and trees at risk, but of many of our birds and marine species as well; that should surely induce some serious consideration as to what aspects of human activity should be modified if we are to avoid irreversible damage to our natural environment.

    The first lesson we should learn is that it is the human need to move ourselves and our goods from one part of the globe to another that creates the risk.  We would probably not have to put up with myrtle rust or kauri die-back if the scourge had not been spread by humans.  This realisation should immediately impose an obligation to take more care than we currently do to avoid such blights.  At the very least, we are entitled to expect that our public services are adequately funded to provide the required protection.

    Saving money on biosecurity is surely a false economy and a short-sighted dereliction of duty.  As always, prevention is better and easier than cure, and our new government should immediately take the opportunity to make good the deficiencies in this respect of its predecessor.

    But there is a wider message as well.  It may not be possible to identify in every case precisely how and why diseases like myrtle rust, kauri die-back and PSA reached our shores, but we can be sure that these calamities occurred because human (usually economic) needs were thought to take priority over the survival of our environment and the species with which we share it.

    Our mindset has, in other words, been for far too long that “turning a buck” is the most important goal and will justify taking whatever risk is involved.   In this Christmas season, and while the pohutukawas still bloom, we have the chance to re-order our priorities.  What will it avail us to have more money in our pockets if the price we pay is that we live in an impoverished environment?

    We should all stop to think.  The fate of other species should not be relegated to the bottom of our priority list but should always be at the top of our minds.  The survival of our environment – its diversity, its integrity and inter-dependence, and, yes, its beauty – should not automatically take second place to the constant priority given to a single bottom line.

    Bryan Gould

    16 December 2017

     

     

     

    In 1962, a Rhodes Scholarship took me to Oxford University – and I didn’t get round to coming back home for another 32 years.  Those 32 years in England have of course left their marks, one of which is my abiding expectation that Christmas means cold temperatures and warm fires.  After being home again now for 23 years, I confess that I still can’t quite get used to Christmas on the beach.

    Perhaps it is the prospect of the cold and dreary months of January and February that makes the lights and music and good cheer of a northern winter Christmas so welcome and memorable.  The Christmas festivities play an important role in lifting the spirits when that is most needed.

    Barbecues and picnics in the sunshine, enjoyable as they are, don’t have quite the same buzz.  But there is one aspect of a New Zealand Christmas that never fails to please me – especially in the wonderful Bay of Plenty where I grew up.  I am always delighted to see the riot of colour when the pohutukawas blossom as Christmas approaches.  As we walk along our beach, the great trees that cling to and support the cliff faces are ablaze, and the tracks and roads are carpeted with red – and our own property boasts from every viewpoint centuries-old specimens of our own Christmas trees so that, truly, “every prospect pleases”.

    But, this year, that pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome realisation that “myrtle rust” might mean the demise of this spectacular witness to the Christmas spirit.  Like kauri die-back, this uninvited visitor from overseas threatens the survival of one of our most iconic species.

    Unlike the PSA outbreak that shook the foundation of our kiwi fruit industry, the incursion of myrtle rust does not seem to be attributable directly to human failings.  But all of these threats to our environment arise directly or indirectly from human intervention – and we are not just talking of plants and trees at risk, but of many of our birds and marine species as well; that should surely induce some serious consideration as to what aspects of human activity should be modified if we are to avoid irreversible damage to our natural environment.

    The first lesson we should learn is that it is the human need to move ourselves and our goods from one part of the globe to another that creates the risk.  We would probably not have to put up with myrtle rust or kauri die-back if the scourge had not been spread by humans.  This realisation should immediately impose an obligation to take more care than we currently do to avoid such blights.  At the very least, we are entitled to expect that our public services are adequately funded to provide the required protection.

    Saving money on biosecurity is surely a false economy and a short-sighted dereliction of duty.  As always, prevention is better and easier than cure, and our new government should immediately take the opportunity to make good the deficiencies in this respect of its predecessor.

    But there is a wider message as well.  It may not be possible to identify in every case precisely how and why diseases like myrtle rust, kauri die-back and PSA reached our shores, but we can be sure that these calamities occurred because human (usually economic) needs were thought to take priority over the survival of our environment and the species with which we share it.

    Our mindset has, in other words, been for far too long that “turning a buck” is the most important goal and will justify taking whatever risk is involved.   In this Christmas season, and while the pohutukawas still bloom, we have the chance to re-order our priorities.  What will it avail us to have more money in our pockets if the price we pay is that we live in an impoverished environment?

    We should all stop to think.  The fate of other species should not be relegated to the bottom of our prioprity list but should always be at the top of our minds.  The survival of our environment – its diversity, its integrity and inter-dependence, and, yes, its beauty – should not automatically take second place to the constant priority given to a single bottom line.

    Bryan Gould

    16 December 2017

     

     

     

    In 1962, a Rhodes Scholarship took me to Oxford University – and I didn’t get round to coming back home for another 32 years.  Those 32 years in England have of course left their marks, one of which is my abiding expectation that Christmas means cold temperatures and warm fires.  After being home again now for 23 years, I confess that I still can’t quite get used to Christmas on the beach.

    Perhaps it is the prospect of the cold and dreary months of January and February that makes the lights and music and good cheer of a northern winter Christmas so welcome and memorable.  The Christmas festivities play an important role in lifting the spirits when that is most needed.

    Barbecues and picnics in the sunshine, enjoyable as they are, don’t have quite the same buzz.  But there is one aspect of a New Zealand Christmas that never fails to please me – especially in the wonderful Bay of Plenty where I grew up.  I am always delighted to see the riot of colour when the pohutukawas blossom as Christmas approaches.  As we walk along our beach, the great trees that cling to and support the cliff faces are ablaze, and the tracks and roads are carpeted with red – and our own property boasts from every viewpoint centuries-old specimens of our own Christmas trees so that, truly, “every prospect pleases”.

    But, this year, that pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome realisation that “myrtle rust” might mean the demise of this spectacular witness to the Christmas spirit.  Like kauri die-back, this uninvited visitor from overseas threatens the survival of one of our most iconic species.

    Unlike the PSA outbreak that shook the foundation of our kiwi fruit industry, the incursion of myrtle rust does not seem to be attributable directly to human failings.  But all of these threats to our environment arise directly or indirectly from human intervention – and we are not just talking of plants and trees at risk, but of many of our birds and marine species as well; that should surely induce some serious consideration as to what aspects of human activity should be modified if we are to avoid irreversible damage to our natural environment.

    The first lesson we should learn is that it is the human need to move ourselves and our goods from one part of the globe to another that creates the risk.  We would probably not have to put up with myrtle rust or kauri die-back if the scourge had not been spread by humans.  This realisation should immediately impose an obligation to take more care than we currently do to avoid such blights.  At the very least, we are entitled to expect that our public services are adequately funded to provide the required protection.

    Saving money on biosecurity is surely a false economy and a short-sighted dereliction of duty.  As always, prevention is better and easier than cure, and our new government should immediately take the opportunity to make good the deficiencies in this respect of its predecessor.

    But there is a wider message as well.  It may not be possible to identify in every case precisely how and why diseases like myrtle rust, kauri die-back and PSA reached our shores, but we can be sure that these calamities occurred because human (usually economic) needs were thought to take priority over the survival of our environment and the species with which we share it.

    Our mindset has, in other words, been for far too long that “turning a buck” is the most important goal and will justify taking whatever risk is involved.   In this Christmas season, and while the pohutukawas still bloom, we have the chance to re-order our priorities.  What will it avail us to have more money in our pockets if the price we pay is that we live in an impoverished environment?

    We should all stop to think.  The fate of other species should not be relegated to the bottom of our priority list but should always be at the top of our minds.  The survival of our environment – its diversity, its integrity and inter-dependence, and, yes, its beauty – should not automatically take second place to the constant priority given to a single bottom line.

    Bryan Gould

    16 December 2017