Mike Joy's vision for New Zealand in 2021

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:10 pm on 15 June 2020

What will Aotearoa look like in one year's time?

Freshwater scientist Mike Joy writes about his 'alternative' vision for change on the Better Futures Forum website.

The recommendations aren't radical but rather a pragmatic means of securing our future, he tells Jesse Mulligan.

Post-Covid 19, a return to 'normal' is not an option, Joy says, as our current systems are destructive, wasteful and leave us vulnerable to a future fraught with crisis.

“I think if people could imagine they were coming from Mars to check out this civilisation and looked at the way we were living now they would see we’re in a process of ecocide.

"We’re actually killing ourselves with the way that we live, with our fossil fuels base and lifestyles that are going to give us no future. [Our] ‘normal’ was just crazy, bizarre and just the most extreme kind of stupidity and so we have to change that.”

Joy formulated and listed his ideas about how the future of New Zealand in response to an invitation from the Weekend Herald's life-style magazine Canvas. During lockdown, he also tried some of them out on some fellow ecologists and other social thinkers.

Urban design deserves our attention as we need more sustainable housing and fewer cars on the roads, Joy says.

“If we change how we live in our houses and how are houses are built, we wouldn’t waste a lot of energy on heating them and we’d be much healthier, are drinking water would be cleaner.

“Just getting rid of cars off the street. People could see just the radical change that would happen if you didn’t have cars around. The images of kids in communities taking back the streets…

“Cycleways and pedestrians in urban areas are given priority so it’s not everyone giving away to cars, it’s cars giving way to pedestrians and people. And we [should] stop subsidising cars by putting up the prices because of the harm that they do.

“[This is the] kind of future that we have to have to have a future would make our lives so much better.”

The lockdown had no impact on improving waterways as cattle beasts are responsible for the vast majority of pollution, not human activity, Joy says.

In the future, he suggests holes be drilled in carparks and other appropriate urban sites so water and pollutants can seep into the ground instead of being washing into major waterways and harbours.

This is an example of how a simple natural solution can be so much better and cheaper than an industrial solution, he says.

“We know from freshwater ecology that once 80 percent of catchment becomes impervious then you just write-off all waterways, not just with contaminants but with the sudden extra flow you get with a downpour that does massive damage on those waterways.

“It’s completely unnecessary. You don’t have to have carparks sealed, you can have clip-together bricks so the cars don’t sink into the ground, but the water can still permeate through it. Without cars we could have pathways through public gardens allowing more water to sink into the ground.

“Just don’t do the dumb stuff first and we won’t have to clean up afterwards.”

The popular idea that we can drain wetlands and compensate by 'building' them elsewhere is non-sensical, Joy says.

“That’s a really interesting one because under ‘shovel-ready’ projects there’s a plan to drain another wetland in the Waikato. We’ve lost in the region where I live in Wellington 98 percent of the wetlands and the few that are left don’t have any protection. That’s so valuable to us and we’re not doing anything about it.”

Expensive reservoir schemes which are sold as offering resilience actually increase dependence as farmers, in turn, need to increase production to meet added costs and still compete for water in drought conditions.

When it comes to the economy, we should stop measuring New Zealand's wealth by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - the monetary value of all finished goods and services made within a country during a specific period, he says.

Currently, New Zealand's GDP is used to provide a picture of our economy and its growth rate, but it is a contrived economic concept with little bearing on human wellbeing or the distribution of real value and wealth in a society, Joy says.

“We’ve woken up and realised just how stupid [GDP] is.”

A ‘truckometer’ – which tallys the total mileage of trucks on New Zealand's road – would be a better way to measure the health of our economy, Joy says.

“What that is, is a measure of destruction of the atmosphere, of non-renewable resources, which are the fossil fuels. So we have this dichotomy where you measure what’s happening in the economy by how we’re destroying the ecology. The two are not compatible in any way.

“That’s why when we start measuring the true value to us, we see that trucks doing more kilometres is idiotic and is going to destroy our future and we have to change that. So, we electrify the rail… I was a truck driver a long time ago and when I was driving a truck there was a limit. Trucks were only allowed to do around 100 kilometres, that was as much as you were allowed to do, so that it forced the long-distance freight to go on rail. We can easily do that kind of thing again.”

Regarding dairy farming, Joy insists there is no future at all in synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, palm oil imports to stop and intensive farming needs a reset.

“The changes that we need to make [to intensive farming practises] are portrayed as a negative thing because people won’t make money but actually we’re subsidising people under the current system to destroy our waterways by allowing them to do it.

"So if we stop draining wetlands, for example, then they could take up the nutrients [which] can stop the flood flows, they can protect us from the storms coming through climate change.

“Once we start putting these external inputs into our farming systems then they go back into balance where the harm drops off exponentially… Besides, you don’t need pesticides, you don’t need antibiotics and all these other things you need to use when you have a system cranked up into an industrial kind of model.”

The principles of permaculture and regenerative farming – which focus on soil health, building swales and working with natural systems to build resilience – offer a future-proof way of doing business sustainably, Joy says.

Nationalising electricity and water will also be essential in the future as electricity providers are currently operating within a failed system, he says.

“Prices are going up for people… Electricity was something we all have to have and we had one system non-profit-making and supplying it to us, but now it’s privatised and everybody wants to make a profit from it, so we end up having to pay more for it and more overheads.”

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Photo: supplied

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