Yesterday Bill English said climate change isn’t important to Kiwis. Megan Rich, the principal of Granity School near Westport, says he’s wrong.
The prime minister’s assertion that most Kiwis don’t wake up thinking about climate change is little comfort for those of us lying awake on the West Coast. Perhaps he might like to speak to the communities affected by the sea that is gnawing at the shoreline, threatening homes and making for a very uncertain future for our next generation. Your home is your castle, although down this coastline one’s home will be a sand castle soon.
At Granity School, the students are distinctly aware of climate change. They have all heard the stories about rising seas, and been shown where there were once school tennis courts that have been claimed by the sea.
Our school is smack right by the sea and so the ocean forms the basis of a big part of our learning experiences. At low tide you can see what is left of the tennis courts and the concrete remains of attempts to make an impenetrable sea wall. We have lost our swimming pool from rocks being thrown up from the sea. Several attempts have been made to arrest the problem, but to no avail.
For now our $160,000 seawall is holding up, but the sea is biting in at the sides. Sourcing rocks is a problem and incredibly expensive. Concrete is a soft option and does not work.
There are some properties a few kilometres up the coast line in Hector where the sea has eaten into the backyards, exposing huge unsightly piles of rubbish that had been buried back in the ’50s including polystyrene, paint containers, rubber, shoes and other plastics. It is so ugly; with each big tide, bits of it get dislodged into the ocean. The community has lobbied the local and regional councils to come up with solutions to address the problem, but we are the poor relations in terms of ratepayer revenues. Any solution that has been proposed has a life expectancy of ten years. The cost per resident affected is in the thousands. The government has remained silent to date on the issue, because clearly New Zealand has a huge coastline and it appears they are abdicating responsibility to local councils.
The school is fortunate that the costs for fortification are paid for by the Ministry of Education, but where the school builds protection it ends up compromising another landowner’s property, because the sea just finds another way to eat into the land.
Mr English’s remarks burden our children even more with the misdeeds of past generations. To flippantly make out it is not something New Zealanders think about suggests to some that Mr English does not really care about environmental issues such as climate change.
We are an Enviroschool dedicated to fostering a generation of people who instinctively think and act sustainably. Nationwide there are over 1000 Enviroschools with 260,000 children and young people, their whānau and thousands of their teachers. Granity School students are forever picking up plastics and express frustration at the plastic bags they find washed up on the beach. They have asked on several occasion, “Why doesn’t the Government just ban them?” They are also cognisant of the sea level rise when there are king tides. The roads are awash at times with sea foam and drift wood.
Granity students participate in and are learning about sustainable practices, where the environment is treasured and respected. We have embarked on seed propagation and tree planting to provide corridors of food for native birds.
It is extremely frustrating trying to build responsible planetary citizens, and then hear such disparaging remarks from the prime minister about our role in the future of the planet.
The problem with such remarks is this: time is not on the side of the children at this school. Already, they have no idea what it is like to swim in clean rivers, let alone dip their hands in and drink from one. Now the government has let the bottled water industry take hold and we are in danger of replicating those kids in the US who think drinking water comes from bottles, just like how some kids don’t know milk comes from cows.
And yet here is little old Granity School, picking up every piece of plastic, sorting our recyclables, while profit-driven businesses just keep on producing them without any disincentives.
The future of our community is under threat. That’s what I wake up every morning and think about.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.