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An algal bloom in the Selwyn River (Radio NZ, Philippa Tolley)
An algal bloom in the Selwyn River (Radio NZ, Philippa Tolley)

The BulletinApril 17, 2020

The Bulletin: New report shows freshwater still in crisis

An algal bloom in the Selwyn River (Radio NZ, Philippa Tolley)
An algal bloom in the Selwyn River (Radio NZ, Philippa Tolley)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New report paints dire picture for freshwater, outline of life in level three given, and bad times looming for property investors.

The latest major report on freshwater quality has shown our rivers and lakes are still in a perilous state. As the NZ Herald reports, the stats revealed in the environment ministry’s Our Freshwater 2020 are dire. Nearly every body of water in a populated area is breaching quality guidelines, and three quarters of native species are at risk of extinction. The problems are widespread in both urban and rural areas, and human activity is the cause.

This year’s report has placed a greater focus on climate change than previous years, writes Waikato University professor Troy Baisden on The Conversation. That’s because of the increasing impact of drying soils, and retreating glaciers. There is also an alarming detail – picked out by this story by Stuff’s Michael Daly – about the increasing presence of non-natural chemicals in groundwater. What makes it so alarming is that we don’t know an awful lot about the effects these chemicals have on environmental and human health.

Covid-19 has prevented some of the work needed to address these problems. Local Democracy Reporter on the West Coast Lois Williams has looked at community groups who have had to stop work because of the lockdown, with that work focused on setting standards which the waterways would have to be kept to. But one thing the story notes – the local regional council isn’t heavily resourced to monitor and enforce standards.

All of this creates a political problem for the government, who have been under pressure from the farming lobby to halt their push to improve water quality. That’s the focus of this illuminating behind the scenes piece from Politik this morning, which has used the OIA to uncover how tense the battle over standard-setting has become between those groups on one side, and the ministry on the other. Cleaning up water has been a huge focus for this government, particularly for their key minister David Parker, but right now – with food exports basically being the economy’s lifeline – they’re in a much weaker position to act decisively on this sort of report and force through much stronger standards.

If you’re a new reader of The Spinoff, you might still be confused about who or what we are. Welcome, it’s great to have you here, and to explain how we operate, managing editor Duncan Greive has written this explainer. And if you’ve been making a contribution in the form of Spinoff Members, we’re very grateful for it, and will be using those contributions to produce more high quality writing and journalism.

We got a much clearer picture yesterday of what level three will look like, if we do in fact move into it next week. Here’s a piece on The Spinoff that explains what will change, and what won’t. A bit of a spoiler – there’s much more on the side that’s not really changing, and it certainly won’t feel like a return to normal life. But there will be some no-contact businesses opening up again, and schools will partially reopen at the end of the month (again, if the decision to move to L3 happens.)

In terms of other updates from yesterday, as always our live bloggers have got through a towering mountain of news. Some of the key stories include a mercy flight from the Philippines being announced, trade minister David Parker being questioned on the country’s export position, and another day of new cases in the low double-digits.

On the question of schools, there has been a bit of controversy over the partly open, partly closed position. The NZ Herald reports some teachers feel like they’re being treated as “babysitters”, and that schools being open at all is inconsistent with the wider principle of restricted interpersonal contact underpinning level three. On that point, the PM has stressed that the best option for kids is still distance learning, providing they’re able to do it.

It’s a pretty bad time right now to be a property investor, reports Dileepa Fonsecka for Newsroom. A large decline in house prices is predicted, both as a result of the economic downturn, and because all of a sudden population growth and tourism oriented services like AirBnb have been basically halted. One property manager says his peers around the country are currently in denial about how bad things will really get for the industry. There’s just one problem I have with the article really, and that’s a suggestion in it that Foxton isn’t a good holiday destination – absolute slander, I won’t hear a word against that fine Horowhenua town.

We’ve had some quantitative analysis of what different countries have done to tackle Covid-19, personally I reckon this is an outstanding piece of qualitative work. Matteo Di Maio at the Cambridge and Te Awamutu News has looked at the social aspects of how life has changed in Cambridge’s sister city of Le Quesnoy. The lockdown there is very similar to ours, with the town’s tourist attractions and small businesses having to shut up shop. Their community has also come together strongly, with massive numbers of volunteers to help produce PPE, and nightly claps for health workers.

Seriously Aucklanders, the water use has got to come down. The NZ Herald reports that reservoir levels are now below 50% capacity, and if Watercare had the ability to enforce restrictions right now, they’d be doing it. It’s looking really bad at this stage for next summer, and if we have another dry one the restrictions in place will have to be pretty severe.

To finish this section, a story entirely unrelated to anything going on right now, but very interesting nonetheless. Lucy Xia at Te Waha Nui has reported on a call from a beekeeper to protect wild hives, that people sometimes find on their property. The message being sent is that rather than trying to kill the hive, they can instead be safely removed, so that the bees can continue to pollinate plants. After all, if we don’t have pollination, we don’t have food.

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Oscar Zhong and Sam Mcgerty, co-founders of Compost Made Smart. Photo: Supplied

Right now on The Spinoff: Tony Burton writes about the difficult choices ahead about how to pay for current stimulus spending. Isabella Lenihan-Ikin from the NZUSA criticises the government offering support for students in the form of more debt. The Business is Boring podcast speaks to the founder of a company which has always worked remotely, to get some tips for those who have only started recently. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about a Callaghan Innovation prize for businesses trying to cut down the amount of waste that goes to landfill. And Emma McInnes writes about the glory of streets made safe for walkers and cyclists, with few cars on them.

For a feature today, a piece that has been percolating with me in an unsettling way ever since reading it yesterday. It’s in the form of a memo from a futurist and consultancy group called Nemesis, and starts with a glance at the concept of the now bankrupt ‘experience economy’. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the piece, but I do know that it cuts to the heart of a feeling of things not being quite right in parts of the economic and cultural world, where things on the surface seem to have been going swimmingly. I won’t get too much deeper into it, so here’s an excerpt:

Amidst market turmoil and a public health crisis which much of the world – in particular the US – is fully unequipped to handle, it’s a flaming question mark whether any real growth occurred during this period, or if the high times were merely a fantasy created mainly by capital injections (or “money printing”) from central banks in the US, China, and Europe. What was actually happening was the enrichment of financial assets over the creation of any ‘real wealth’ along with corresponding illusions of progress.

As very little of this newly minted money has been invested into building new productive capacity, infrastructure, or actually new things, money has just been sloshing around in a frothy cesspool – from WeWork to Juicero to ill-advised real estate Ponzi to DTC insanity, creating a global everything-bubble.

With interest rates approaching zero, or even going negative, it simply means capital is having difficulties finding profitable places in which to invest itself. Or, to phrase it differently, those in charge of capitalist societies were failing to see worthwhile futures in which to invest.

A setback for the Warriors, who won’t yet be heading to Australia for the restarted NRL. The NZ Herald reports the new plan is to seek dispensation from Australian authorities – both to enter the country, and to train while in their 14-day self-isolation period required by law. The club is in a horribly difficult position relative to the rest of the NRL, and if this competition actually goes ahead at the end of May (which still feels like a big if) they’ll be spending some long months across the Tasman.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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