Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shit hits land

This caught my eye in the Listener’s cover story (by the
redoubtable Rebecca Macfie) about the damage being
done to our old friend ‘the environment’ by the
dairying boom: ‘Dairying wouldn’t stand up to any
analysis of the total costs.’—Canterbury sheep farmer
Brian Deans. Good point. The total costs. The usual
measures of growth and productivity take no account
of what economists, with a delicate elegance, call
externalities. When building a highway, for instance,
air and noise pollution are externalities that rarely
figure in calculations of the highway’s economic
worth (though the money spent on fixing the damage
done is counted as a plus when the ‘growth’ sum is
done). Similarly, until recent times, and not even
properly now, what happened to cowshit was of no
concern to the farmers pasturing and milking cows.
Finally, one might say, the shit is hitting the land. For
the first time in the agri-industrial age attention is
being paid on a national scale to precisely where this
shit goes and what it does when it gets there. That
explains why (you’ve noticed, haven’t you) words
like ‘effluent’ and ‘run-off’ are appearing more and
more in the public prints. Incredibly, there are still no
serious laws in place for penalizing farmers who let
cows wander into streams or just let the manure wash
into the nearest river; something called the Clean
Streams Accord is entirely voluntary (though moral
pressure to sign up to it is growing). Intriguingly, I
note from Macfie’s article that Environment
Canterbury is experimenting with ‘restorative justice’
programs whereby farmers found to have offended,
effluent-wise, have to front up and apologize to the
public. Such people clearly need to get their shit
together but not take it on the road.

I find that, without ever setting out to, I return in blog
after blog to what’s going on in the nation’s paddocks.
The fact is, as Macfie astutely says, ‘For all the
knowledge-wave conferences and high-tech industry
taskforces, we’re more dependent than ever on our
ability to turn cheap grass into cheap milk, to suck the
water out of it using cheap electricity, and to flog it off
around the world.’ Whatever the issues are for China
or Europe or the United States, this debate is central
for New Zealand. Get your gumboots on and join it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Once ze rockets go up, who cares where zey come down

Zat's not my department, says Wernher von Braun"

With acknowledgement to Tom Lehrer

That's Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr[1] von Braun to you - German then American rocket scientist.