Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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So we’re teaching our kids to hate wild animals?

Well, according to professor Marc Bekoff in this article and this article in the Huffington Post we are.

Yes, we want to eradicate some species from our shores including possums, rabbits, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, rats and mice, and some of want to go further and include goats, pigs, deer, peacocks cats and dogs in that list.

Does that mean we hate those species? Or does it mean we love kiwi, kōkako, kākāpō, takahē, tīeke, tuatara, wēta and powelliphanta more?

The good professor objects to the organised killing of possums. In fact he’s been recorded as saying “It’s time to put away the guns, the traps, the snares, the poisons. The lives of individual animals matter, and killing is not the answer”. Perhaps the good professor would like to have a quiet word in the possums’ collective ear about the harm they are doing by destroying the forest canopy and that their predation of eggs, birds and insects is contributing to the extinction of many species. He might also like to mention that as they have no predators here, they might like to reduce their birthrate to a manageable level.

Alternatively he might like to find a viable method of non-traumatically capturing 30 million possums and shipping them to Australia. I’m sure the Aussies would welcome all 30 million of them back with open arms. Then perhaps he can suggest solutions for the other invasive species I’ve mentioned.

The professor makes the ridiculous claim that as these invasive species have been here for more than 50 years, they have every right to live here in peace. Our native and endemic flora and fauna have lived here for up to 80 million years. Do they not have a right to live here in peace? Those invasive species we wish to eradicate have contributed to one of the greatest mass extinctions in recent history. As around 80% of our fauna is endemic to New Zealand, if they disappear here, they’re gone for good.

I’m all for treating animals compassionately, but these foreign pests have been anything but compassionate to our native and endemic species. If they can’t learn to get along with the original inhabitants, it’s time they moved elsewhere. We are facing a conservation crisis, so the time to play nice with these critters has passed.

For a viewpoint that contrasts starkly with that of Professor Bekoff, see this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.

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River gains personhood

Back in October 2015 I wrote an post regarding the lack of respect fundamentalist Christians have towards Māori culture, and their confusing of cultural beliefs and practices with a direct assault on their “true” religion. What they failed to understand is that what Māori regard as Tapu (not ordinary, often translated as “sacred”)  remains the same regardless of their religion or non-religion. And they forget that the majority of Māori are Christian whereas the Majority of Pākehā are not. Even so, within Māori culture, concepts such as tapu, mana and mauri are an integral part of their world view.

While preparing this post I stumbled upon this conversation regarding the same incident. Lydia’s (the OP) assertion was that Māori had no rights to claim a mountain as sacred, or if they did, and it was legally recognised, then that’s proof of the establishment of a religion and therefore unconstitutional.

Ignoring for the moment that no law passed by the Parliament can ever be declared unconstitutional in Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the comments support Lydia using one of three arguments:

  1. Christianity is the only true religion and therefore has every right to trample over any other belief system.
  2. Places can be sacred, but only if they’re man-made and not in publicly accessible places.
  3. Recognising the values and practices of a minority is tantamount to the establishment of a religion.

Argument 1 is utter nonsense and I don’t consider it warrants further discussion. Arguments 2 and 3 I will take together as it seems many people, Christian and atheist alike, perceive alternative world views as being based in religion instead of being just a different way of perceiving the world around us.

The problem with many people in modern “Western” societies, particularly Anglophones, is that they see their culture, not just as one of many cultures, but as THE standard to which all other cultures will, when they fully mature, become carbon copies of. Just like many people think they don’t have an accent, only people from other regions do, many think the same way about culture. Other people have culture, but they themselves don’t because they do “what comes naturally”. How wrong they are.

Every aspect of our lives is coloured by the culture in which we are immersed. This includes, customs, practices, beliefs and values. If we live in a region which is mono-cultural, or predominantly so, then we are likely to see other cultural practices and beliefs as something added to, or taken away from, the “natural” state of being human. And if those practices and beliefs were to be removed, then we may think that those formerly holding those practices and beliefs would behave and think very much like us. And of course we’d be wrong.

The founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand is the Treaty of Waitangi which has largely been honoured by the crown more in its breach than by following its principles. English legislation and common law, as well as the English constitutional conventions became the laws of New Zealand in 1840 and Māori customary law was for all practical purposes erased, even though the Treaty gives it equal status with English law.

Over the last 3 or 4 decades, Pakeha in general have slowly come to the realisation that they have a world view that is different from, rather than superior to, the world view of Māori. I believe we are made richer by valuing alternative world views and even recognising and embracing such views legally.

Perhaps much of the “modern” concept of ownership is derived from the Abrahamic religions where God granted mankind dominion over all of nature. The result is that resources can become the exclusive property of individuals, communities, and (more recently) corporations, to be exploited for the benefit of the owners and with little regard to how it might affect other parts of nature, including other people.

In traditional Maori culture mankind is part of nature, not apart or above it. All things have a life force and rivers, mountains and forests are viewed as living entities, and are treated and respected as such. Just as one person cannot be owned, living entities cannot be owned. Communities can have guardianship or stewardship over a living entity but not dominionship or ownership of it.

These two differing world views have been at the heart of conflict between Māori and Pakeha for almost two hundred years and until recently no resolution that meets both views has been found. In the case of the Whanganui River, there have been ongoing court battles for more than 130 years.

This 2009 thesis discuses in depth why a resolution has been so difficult and then proposes giving rivers personhood as a possible solution. The author, James Morris suggests that a model based on a proposal by an American law professor, Christopher Stone could be adapted to New Zealand’s situation. Morris suggests that the benefits would be:

  1. because many Māori seek resolution of who owns rivers, affording a river its own legal personality would neutralise these arguments: the river would be its own entity and thus could not be owned
  2. as the river would be its own entity, Māori would have equal authority and control in decision-making with government authorities thus Māori tikanga (culture: including kaitiakitanga  and rangatiratanga aspirations) would have increased recognition.
  3. a river being its own entity under the law would better align the legal framework with the Māori worldview as Māori tikanga (culture) regards rivers as tupuna (ancestors). Tupuna cannot be thought of in fragments as is the case in New Zealand law (for example, the flowing water, the river bed and the river bank). Tupuna must be viewed holistically.
  4. a river having its own legal standing would benefit the health of the river as compensation would have to be applied for the benefit of the river as opposed to remedying a third party’s economic loss.

This model has been adapted here in Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2014 legislation was passed that made what was the Te Urewera National Park into a legal entity in and of itself with all the rights of a person. The purpose was to  protect Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance.

In March this year the Whanganui River became a legal entity with all the rights of a person. The legislation established a new legal framework for the Whanganui River, known in Maori as Te Awa Tupua, recognising the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea. Te Awa Tupua now has its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. The  legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui Iwi (tribe) and the river through their traditions, customs and practise.

I predict that it won’t be too long before Taranaki (the mountain under discussion in the links in the first two paragraphs of this post) will also gain personhood. I’m sure this new way (for Pakeha) of looking at the world will be confirmation by fundamentalist Christians that indeed the official religion of New Zealand is animism. However, most Kiwis, Paheha and Māori see this as a “meeting of the minds” and perhaps creating a new culture out of two older ones. This opinion piece expresses what most Kiwis feel about the forging of new ideas such as personhood of natural entities.

Is the concept of personhood for natural resources a viable option in other parts of the world, to preserve those resources and to respect and protect indigenous cultures? Or is this a case of New Zealand loosing the plot as suggested in this What’s Wrong With The World article.


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Home grown terrorism threat?

It was revealed today that a threat has been made to contaminate infant formula and other milk products if the government doesn’t stop using 1080 poison for pest control by the end of March.

Blackmail threats were made by anonymous anti-1080 campaigners late last year and small packets of milk powder, contaminated with 1080, were sent to both Federated Farmers and Fonterra in November last year.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will not negotiate with “eco-terrorists”. However the police deputy commissioner of national operations refuses to call it a terrorist act, saying police had been treating it solely as an act of criminal blackmail.

In some ways the threat couldn’t come at a better time for the government as the Prime Minister wants to pass controversial anti-terrorism legislation that will allow our spy agencies to legally spy on NZ residents – something they have been caught doing illegally over recent years. With an upcoming by-election which is no longer a certainty for the government, could this be the event that persuades voters to give up some of their freedom in order to defeat terror? I hope not, but it looks like John Key is going to milk the threat for all it’s worth.

Why is 1080 used?

1080 (Sodium Fluoroacetate) was first approved for use in New Zealand in the mid 1960s to control introduced pests such as possums, rats, mice, stoats and rabbits. These creatures are decimating our native fauna and flora. The poison is spread from the air in pellet form at the rate of about 2 Kg per hectare (about 2.5 lb per acre).

Until the start of human settlement in New Zealand around a thousand years ago, these islands were devoid of land mammals. Birds occupied all the niches occupied by mammals in other parts of the world – with one exception. The niche taken up elsewhere by small carnivores such as cats, stoats and weasels, remained empty in NZ. This lack of danger resulted in a bird population with very low reproductive rates and many became ground dwellers or lost the ability to fly.

When the Europeans arrived here a little over 200 years ago, they brought with them the pests that are now the target of the 1080 poison. NZ has one of the highest extinction rates in the world for animal species. and that’s likely to continue until the pests are eliminated. Possums also carry bovine tuberculosis, which is a threat to our dairy industry.

Currently 1080 is the most effective tool available to make a significant effect in reducing pest numbers. In 2013, 1080 was dropped over 448,210 hectares (1730 square miles), and last year aerial drops covered  550,000 hectares (2124 square miles)

Why is 1080 controversial?

The poison is highly toxic to all mammals including deer and dogs. The hunting community is against its use for this reason.

Some communities have concerns over aerial 1080 drops near waterways. They are afraid that they or their animals may be poisoned.

However a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment evaluating the use of 1080 was published in 2011 and concluded that not only should the use of 1080 continue to protect New Zealand forests – but it should be used more often. She also noted:

“It is seldom that I come to such a strong conclusion at the end of an investigation. But the possums, rats and stoats that have invaded our country will not leave of their own accord.”

“The clean green brand that New Zealand identifies with is at risk unless more is done to protect native animals and forests.”

There is one record of a hunter dying in the 1960s after eating a 1080-laced jam bait (which was later banned). An adult would have to eat about seven cereal baits to be lethal, although one bait could seriously harm a child.

1080 residues have never been recorded in public water drinking supplies and no human deaths from drinking affected water or food have been recorded. The Ministry of Health sets a drinking water standard of two parts of 1080 per billion parts of water, which has never been breached. At that level, a 60 kg (132 lb) adult would need to drink about 60,000 litres (15,850 gallons) of water in one sitting to consume a fatal dose. The highest record of 1080 in water was nine parts per billion.

To consume a fatal dose from an animal that had died from 1080, an adult would need to eat at least 37kg (81 lb) of meat from that animal. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has not detected 1080 in any commercially-produced foods since testing began in 1999.

However, some people are so concerned by the possible dangers of 1080, that they formed the Ban 1080 Party which stood in the 2014 general election. They received 5,113 party votes (0.21 per cent of the total vote).

Personally, I’m happy for the 1080 drops to continue until the last of the vermin is dispatched. As for the blackmailer/terrorist, if they attempt to carry out the threat and put innocent children at risk, they’ll be no better than the likes of the barbaric murderous ISIS.