Thursday, 12 July 2007

Nature 1, Man 0?

NZ HERALD: "New Zealand settlements being repeatedly hit by adverse weather conditions may have to consider moving, the Prime Minister has said... She said the problem was that many settlements had been established on the basis of old weather patterns, which had changed in the erratic world climate."
This is nonsense. It's not just inhuman (can you imagine the upheaval?); it's not just bad science (there's exactly zero evidence that recent woes are due to changes in the world's climate); it's not just bad history (most of the towns currently experiencing weather woes have experienced something similar or worse in their history); it's all of these and worse: it's bad philosophy.

There was a time when it was widely accepted that it was a good thing to adapt nature for our own ends. Indeed, that's the only way we humans can survive: left exposed and naked without the food, shelter and technology produced by the adaptation of nature, we'd all struggle for survival if we merely settled for adapting ourselves to nature's dragons. But adapt nature to ourselves -- make it more humane and set nature's processes and nature's bounty working for us rather than agin us-- this was the path of centuries of human civilisation and flourishing, starting all the way back in settlements around the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Nile where floods were tamed and used to produce abundant wealth.

Not so nowadays. The predominant view nowadays is that protecting ourselves from nature is wrong. That nature must take its course. That natural processes have rights, but human beings don't. If sand dunes move and the sea threatens, in a more rational time men built protection from dunes and from sea; nowadays instead the call is for people to move away from the coast. If rivers or drainage systems silt up or threaten, in a more rational time men built stop banks and better drainage systems -- and they cleared up the silt; nowadays instead the call is to let nature take its course, and we hear the Prime Minister call for towns to move simply move away from the hazard.

This is not a climate problem or an engineering problem. It's an attitude problem. It's an attitude borne of bad philosophy: of the ethics that says that Gaia comes first, and humans a far distant second.

It's not just a notion that's philosophically entrenched in present generations and in most government departments (central and local), it's also legally entrenched in the RMA (which gives rights to the "intrinsic value of ecosystems," but not to humans wishing to protect themselves from the often dangerous natural processes inflicted upon us by ecosystems).

Just imagine if the attitude of Helen Clark was predominant around the Nile in the times of the pharoahs; if instead of taming the Nile and its regular floods to produce abundant crops, invent hydraulic engineering and to build a civilisation the Egyptians ran away instead, then as a culture they'd now be deservedly lost to history.

That goes for any culture that opts out of the ongoing battle against the dragons of nature -- and it goes for us too.


  1. If the Far North District Council took Clark's suggestion and applied for planning consent to resite Kaeo in another location, imagine the hassle to get that through the RMA and begin New-Town construction in time before the next torrential rainstorm.

  2. Imagine if the Egyptians had to put up with the RMA every time the Nile flooded. Sheesh!

  3. That should of course read ANCIENT Egyptians.

    Aswan Dam fixed a lot of annual flooding.

  4. Eddie visits occasionally12 Jul 2007, 23:10:00

    Shorter PC: Things were so much better when everybody knew who the bosses were (only assuming I'm one of them, too, right?)

  5. ... and of course to be consistent, Helen would have to advocate the abandoning of Wellington, or at least a significant part of it.