Irrigation system working on a South Canterbury sheep farm in NZL. (Photo by Minehan/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Land, climate change and the end of food security

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Major new IPCC report released, Queenstown’s mayor puts a halt on airport expansion plans, and abortion bill passes first reading.

The latest major, global climate change report has given a more complete picture of the damage being done to land itself. The IPCC report details how millions more people are living on land that has been turned to desert, and millions more face losing their land to the sea. Soil itself is being degraded. And as Stuff reports, that puts our ability to produce food at risk, and wider ecosystems at risk of irreversible decline.

A major part of the problem is farming practices that are too widespread and intensive for what the land can handle. That was a conclusion reported by the Guardian, when the report was leaked early. 72% of the world’s land surface is now exploited for human use, and it is killing it. Widespread shifts towards vegetarian and vegan diets – particularly among heavy consumers of meat in Western countries – would result in significant emissions cuts. It would free up more land to be reforested, which is the really key point. And to not reverse the dramatic global land use changes seen in recent decades will be to ensure catastrophic warming happens.

Even so, such land use changes would spark huge controversy and unrest. Witness, for example, the groups like 50 Shades of Green who actively campaign against farmland being converted to forests, because of the social and economic impact that has on rural communities. Probably nowhere in the world is it likely that individual farmers would be willing to give up farming, if there wasn’t anything else they could do for work instead. This is true even with the crushing weight of scientific evidence that climate change is happening, with effects that will eventually but inevitably destroy the livelihoods of many farmers.

As Dr Andy Reisinger, Deputy Director the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre points out, the problem here is not one of production quantity. The problem is one of distribution. “It’s not a question of producing more but improving access to and stability of food supply.” To put it bluntly, the whole world could be fed without a single square foot more farmland being created. It’s just that it would require conscious, cooperative and systemic changes.

Obviously, that isn’t currently happening. Right now in Brazil, satellite data has shown that the rate of deforestation of the Amazon is surging forward, reports the AAAS. Or try this for a headline, from the World Resources Institute – ‘The World Lost a Belgium-sized Area of Primary Rainforests Last Year’. There are pockets of reforestation going on, but the effort required to avert catastrophe is enormous. Politicians are scheduled to convene at a conference in 2020 to thrash out how such policies can be implemented.


Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult has stepped in to pause expansion plans for both Queenstown and Wanaka airports, reports Crux. The airport expansions became a focal point for wider public concerns around growth going too far and too fast in the region, and ignoring wider issues around social and environmental sustainability. In an analysis of the decision, Crux editor Peter Newport writes that Boult was in a very difficult position between residents and business interests, and that there are still plenty of issues around the wider regional airport strategy to resolve.


The bill to bring abortion out of the Crimes Act passed through parliament comfortably last night. We’ve published a selection of some of the major speeches made in the house. Among them – a remarkable speech from NZ First MP Tracey Martin, who revealed the process by which the NZ First caucus came to back a referendum, despite it never coming up in her eight month negotiation with justice minister Andrew Little over the legislation.


Police will be scaling back their presence at Ihumātao, reports Radio NZ. It follows an escalation on Monday night, which saw officers and protectors flooding to the site. Deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha says he doesn’t want that to happen again, through better communication between the groups.


Brown water is still coming out of some of the taps in Napier, years after it was first noticed, reports Stuff. People say it looks like tea, or even home brew, and medical officers say it shouldn’t be drunk until it runs clear. There’s no clear word on when it will all be fixed.


But in more positive, water related news for the Hawke’s Bay, there appears to be huge retail demand for shares in Napier’s Port, reports the NBR (paywalled.) A priority offer for port employees, Hawke’s Bay residents and eligible iwi has now closed, with most getting their full allocation. Napier is the fourth largest port in the country by container volume.


The country’s biggest ISP has moved to block website 8chan, reports Toby Manhire for The Spinoff. The site has been linked to white supremacy and terrorist attacks, and is currently offline in the wake of the El Paso shooting. However, if it returns Spark’s head of corporate relations Andrew Pirie says it can be presumed 8chan will come online again, and when that happens the ISP will be ready.


Fonterra has failed to find a buyer for its stake in troubled Chinese dairy company Beingmate, reports Interest. The co-operative owns an 18.8% share of the company, which has basically given them nothing but headaches since it was acquired in 2014. They’re now announcing that instead they’ll be looking for buyers of chunks of it, and look to get out that way.


My word this is an aggravating read. Stuff’s Hamish McNeilly went to an EPA hearing over oil giant OMV’s plans to get a marine discharge consent, but because there are such narrow grounds to challenge oil drilling at all, it became a hive for opposition generally. And the whole thing devolved into a kafkaesque nightmare, in which seemingly all that could be discussed was the imaginary contents of a hypothetical cup.


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A shot from the unaired, rejected TVNZ pilot from Flight of the Conchords.

Right now on The Spinoff: Maria Slade reports on reaction to the OCR cut, and why it isn’t necessarily a sign for panic. Fiona Hutton laments what the Misuse of Drugs Act reforms didn’t manage to accomplish. Alex Casey talks to a pair of older women about the expectations around ageing for women, and how they’re defying them. Josie Adams wraps up her excellent series of dairies about doing plastic-free July. Paul Horan writes about the lost tapes of the failed pilot Flight of the Conchords made for TVNZ, a story that has become legendary in their wider success.

Finally, this one sparked enormous debate on our social media. Simon Day has put his culinary credibility on the line by declaring Wellington is the best food city in the world. A lot of locals were incredulous, to say the least. Now I’m not really a fan of fine dining, but given Wellington has both Satay Kingdom and Oriental Kingdom within twenty metres of each other, I’m inclined to agree that it’s the best food city in the world.


The ease with which Saudi Arabia makes dissidents disappear should worry anyone who cares about human freedom. And this collection of stories from Vanity Fair makes it clear just how easy it is, and how many examples are piling up now over and above Jamal Khashoggi. The examples aren’t always about someone ending up dead, but they do show a clear willingness to use thuggery to ensure silence. Here’s an excerpt:

In April, Iyad el-Baghdadi, an exiled Arab activist living in Oslo, was surprised when Norwegian security officials came to his apartment. According to el-Baghdadi, they told him they had received intelligence, passed along from a Western country, that suggested he was in danger. El-Baghdadi, who is Palestinian, had been a close associate of Khashoggi’s.

In the months before Khashoggi’s murder, the two men, along with an American colleague, were developing a watchdog group to track false or manipulated messages being pushed out across social media and press outlets by Saudi authorities and their proxies. El-Baghdadi had been warned that M.B.S.’s leadership considered him an enemy of the state.

In fact, according to el-Baghdadi, just weeks before the Norwegian officials paid him a visit, he had been helping Amazon determine that its CEO, Jeff Bezos, had been the subject of a Saudi hack-and-extortion plot. The Norwegians were not taking any chances, as el-Baghdadi recalled; they whisked him and his family to a safe house.

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What has happened to Lydia Ko? The best golfer in the country has been in a long trough after conquering the world at such as young age. What went wrong is unpacked by various sports reporters in this episode of The Detail, with suggestions ranging from too much intervention from her parents, to overtraining, to simply needing a break from golf.


From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.


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