Monday, 19 March 2007

Nature worship bursts its banks

The reaction of politicians, conservators and sundry minor bureaucrats to the weekend's semi-spectacular and thankfully disaster-free lahar has been, to summarise: "Phew!"

This is the measure of their relief, that -- thank goodness -- no one was killed by the unpredictable wall of water, mud and boulders that flooded down the mountain and (just) under road bridges and rail bridges and on down the Whangaehu River and out to the sea. That is, no one was killed by the risk that politicians, conservators and sundry minor bureaucrats took with other people's live in choosing not to intervene earlier, to drain the lake for example.

Thank goodness no one was killed -- older New Zealanders may remember the 151 people killed in 1953 when a similar event swept away the Tangiwai rail bridge -- but no thanks at all accrue to those who made the decision this time to let this natural process happen without doing anything to protect human life beyond setting up a rudimentary monitoring system. The irrational nature worship that values "intrinsic natural processes" like lahars above the lives of human beings who are put at risk by nature's potential destructive power is endemic, fashionable, written into law in the Resource Management Act -- and has all the character of religious belief.

It's not good enough. Rather than cowering pathetically in the face of such a natural process and putting human lives at risk, a rational approach would have been to take proper measures to control and protect against disaster -- human intervention to drain the lake is just one type of prophylactic measure that could have been undertaken.

Such measures would reflect that it's entirely natural for humans to shape the environment for our ends and for our own safety -- that's exactly what human beings do -- and they would have meant that the reaction this morning would have been characterised less by reactions like "Phew," and more like, "We knew."

RELATED: Ethics, Environment, New Zealand


  1. I thought I was the only person in the country thinking that way. I was trying to figure out the cost of airligting a couple of bulldozers to the top of the mountain and making a cutting years ago to drain the lake compared with the Russian Roulette being played with lives becasue of the "spirit of the mountain" being upset by earthworks at it's tapu head. What supersititous crap.

    Cost of repairs to roads and bridges should be levied against those who opposed draining the lake.

  2. Brian, I drive through Ohakune 20 odd times a year and most of the local folk I've spoken with invariably make similar comments to yours.

    Wgtn bureaucrats and bearded sandal-wearers know better, though ...

  3. I fully agree with both your comments about this bullshit.

    However of greater concern is the costly delays to road works and public construction by the supposed presence of a Taniwha. We well remember the furore with the Meremere taniwha delaying reconstruction of SH1. Now the Northland Maoris are wanting compensation at Ngawha for disturbance of another of these elusive creatures during the prison erection!

    Show me where we submit to religious claptrap at taxpayer expense anywhere else.

    The only other example of this stupidy, this time in a non-religious sense, is the cessation of works on private land due to the presence of a "unique" animal such as the giant snail at Stockton, causing Solid Energy to relocate these bloody pests at enormous cost and over-run budget.

  4. 'Non-religious sense'?

    Ah, Barry. Don't you know that the state religion in so many western countries is Environmentalism?

    And in NZ its twin is Maoridom.

  5. "Great post, PC."

    Ah, now you're just sucking up. :-)

    Leighton, this morning, found it a little wordy. I think he's probably right. Still worth saying, but. ;^)

  6. It needed saying. In future, some public-spirited citizen should climb up there and dynamite a bloody great gap in the rim.

  7. Certain officials who shall remain nameless lobbied hard for the lake to be drained, but were overriden by DOC and Sandra Lee, who was Minister at the time. Chris Carter as succeeding Minister agreed with her and did not change, despite some last ditch lobbying. The compromise was the early warning system and a few million spent on raising the height of the state highway bridge.

    I believe DOC Carter and Lee will be breathing a sigh of relief - the main opposition to the draining was because it would disturb the "spirit of the mountain". Sandra Lee is, of course, now having a cruisy life as High Commissioner to Niue.

  8. I see Farrar took credit for the NZH editorial - oh well...

    Let's see an end to your pro-smacking nonsense now PC.

    I predict the march will be The Greatest Thing That Never Was. Anonymous rednecks on blogs and talk radio will not materialise into thousands of people marching in defense of hitting kids. But I could be wrong.


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