New Zealand in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Having the wonderful experience of visiting New Zealand as an America tourist was like visiting a biblical Eden. However, no country is without political controversy.
On the one hand, New Zealand has the ambition of being an ecological Eden with no natural predators and a perfectly balanced environment.
Is that realistic? How can nature be nature without predation? From times untold, wild animals have eaten each other.
And then, there are humans. Humans are by nature predators. Environmental degradation is accelerated by economic prosperity.
American media gives positive marks to the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. In part because of her immediate response to the Christ Church mass shooting but also because of her environmental effort to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.
Ardern is also lauded for her response to the Covid19 crises.
Looking back to a 2019 trip, first impressions are renewed by today’s headlines about New Zealand’s democracy. Elections in New Zealand reinforce egalitarian ideals Americans covet. The NYTs’ headline notes “…Ardern’s 2nd Term…Seats Most Diverse Parliament Ever.” Election of women and indigenous Kiwis is a message to all democracies.
Nanaia Mahuta (New Zealand elected official, indigenous Maori politician, Minister of Foreign Affairs,).
New Zealand is blessed with renewable energy sources from geothermal-power, hydro-power, and a burgeoning wind and solar power industry. Not that this is something only the Prime Minister has done in her short term, but it illustrates the environmental sensitivity of the country.
Prime Minister Ardern is not universally applauded by fellow New Zealanders. Contrary to Ardern’s press coverage in the U.S., some New Zealand farmers seem quite upset with Ardern. We had the happy opportunity to spend a day and night with a farming family in New Zealand.
The farming family we spent time with explains there is a conflict between New Zealand’ farmers and the current administration. Over 45 percent of New Zealand is farm land. It is distributed among farmers that have an average size farm of over 350 acres. An important distinction between our countries is that American corporations may use farms as a tax shelter while New Zealanders use farm land to produce more product. There are few if any corporate farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are owned by real farmers.
However, farming is a major polluter of land in America; as well as New Zealand.
Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Adern puts the burden of correction on private farms. Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, llamas, goats, and chickens are common farm animals raised on New Zealand farms. Land, water, and air quality issues being raised by the current administration are a big concern of the farming community.
New Zealand farmland regulation is creating a furor among some farmers that are being told to change their practices to reduce pollution. The cost of these changes are to be borne solely by the farmer according to the farm family we visited.
Real farmers in both America and New Zealand have a reputation for being independent. That independence is distorted by corporate ownership in America but not in New Zealand. The New Zealand farming community is made of farmers who work the land. One gets the impression they will not re-elect Ms. Ardern unless she changes direction.
The irony of what we were hearing is that farmers like all people are concerned about the environment. The problem is in the cost of adjusting farming practices to accommodate environmental concern.
From an outsider’s perspective, the solution seems simple. Farmers in New Zealand are not constrained by corporate farming practices like America. New Zealanders do not farm to shelter income but to produce product. It would seem reasonable for the government to assist New Zealand’ farmers financially to adjust to less environmentally damaging practices. The perception we had from the family we spent the night with was that the current government wants all of that cost to be borne by the farmers.
When the word subsidization is mentioned, both husband and wife of the New Zealand farm family seem to wince. Without knowing the history of farming subsidization in New Zealand, one wonders what happened in its history.
As long as real farmers are producing groceries there seems every reason for tax dollars to be used to help farmers mitigate pollution. Farmers are as concerned about the environment as environmentalists. Where would the world be without food production and real farmers?
Visiting other countries is a guilty pleasure. It is an expensive undertaking that many cannot afford. We loved our time in New Zealand. One sees there is no perfect country. Every country has its discontents; America, not withstanding.