Where did all the farmers go? Or how much useful energy is stored in human belly fat?

24 04 2015

In his 1979 essay “Energy in Agriculture” the American farmer, author and activist (some say prophet) Wendell Berry reflects on a memoir by Donald Hall of life on his grandparents’ New England farm from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The farm produced food for the household and made a cash income from a small hand-milked herd of Holsteins (Fresians) and a flock of sheep. It had trees for firewood and mayple syrup. Sales of wood paid for the girls to go to school and while the farm and family were ‘poor’ by modern standards with only a small income, they also only spent a small amount. Its energy economy was largely independent of its money economy. The energy of this farm came largely from people and from one horse. This farm was based on patterns of agriculture that have been extinguished by the methods of industrial agriculture and modern capitalism. Farms like the Hall’s gave way to assumptions of “progress” that privileged the city over the country, the large-scale over the small, uniformity over diversity.

Profound in my context was Berry’s brief history lesson about urbanisation. Trends in the US rural drift to the cities have been mirrored in Aotearoa New Zealand, nowhere more so than the East Coast. One of Berry’s main points is that as ‘agribusiness’ grew in the 20th Century it favoured land that was easy for large, mechanised tools of production to access – namely large, flat to easy country so while small-holdings both in New England and around Ruatoria had been successfully cultivated for hundreds of years, new technology meant the small family farm could not compete with the industrial agriculture of large companies that bought or leased massive tracts of land in other parts of the country.

Rural communities that had been largely self-sufficient quickly emptied as families could no longer find work – either because farms in the area had been bought or leased to corporations and the production had been taken over by machines, or because the modest cash income – that had supplemented food grown by the household for itself – had dried up when cheaper produce was sourced from larger farms.

Apirana Ngata as Minister of Native Affairs encouraged the wholesale clearance of native bush on the East Coast and other parts of New Zealand still occupied by Māori for conversion to small scale dairy farms.

Apirana Ngata as Minister of Native Affairs encouraged the wholesale clearance of native bush on the East Coast and other parts of New Zealand still occupied by Māori for conversion to small scale dairy farms.

Uncle Tui Tibble was born in the 1930s and remembers dozens of small dairy herds being milked daily in the 10km between Makarika and Ruatoria. Likewise Aunty Patricia, born in 1940, spent her years before going to boarding school milking cows with her nanny on the East Cape. Her secondary schooling was largely paid for by the income from the cows.

Those were the days when local families would milk between 30 and 100 cows every morning, put the full containers out at the gate for collection and receive a ‘cream cheque’ each fortnight. Most of that cream went to the Butter Factory in Ruatoria.

Ruatōria was well-known for its Ngāti-Porou Co-operative Dairy Company, and the Nāti-branded butter its factory produced won the national award for the best butter for several years in succession. The cooperative was a predominantly Māori venture and the financing, which included buying herds for intending suppliers, was distinctive. It began in the 1925–26 season with 58 suppliers and an output of 61 tons of butter; within 10 years it had 377 suppliers and an output of 743 tons. The company featured in the 28 May 1952 issue of The Weekly News. The article said:

’It is staffed and managed entirely by Maoris, and 90 percent of its cream supply comes from farms under Maori ownership or management.’

Ngati-Porou Co-operative Dairy Co. Ltd. factory, Factory Rd, Ruatoria, 2015

Ngati-Porou Co-operative Dairy Co. Ltd. factory, Factory Rd, Ruatoria, 2015

The building still stands, but with a declining milk supply the factory itself closed in 1954. The factory closure didn’t come because the cows went dry, it wasn’t the impact of a prolonged drought or a milk powder contamination scare. It was in fact the intersection of two massive social shifts – urbanisation and large-scale industrialisation of the agricultural sector. The post-war baby boomers were the first generation of ‘consumers’, production shifted away from small family farms and at the same time people shifted away from farms. Before the Second World War 80% of Māori lived in rural communities, the 2013 Census found that over 80% of Māori now live in urban centres. In fact the War was largely responsible for taking men (and women) not only into active service but to work in city factories supporting the war effort.

This graph shows the increase in the percentage of Māori living in urban areas between 1926 and 1986. The rate of urban migration was particularly rapid after the Second World War. Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

The increase in the percentage of Māori living in urban areas between 1926 and 1986. Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

With a booming population and increasing ‘prosperity’ in the post-war years, Māori and Pākehā expectations and aspirations changed – higher education, increased mobility and expanded choices were the basis for massive relocations into cities over the next few decades.

Berry explains it this way:

…something was gaining speed in our country that I think will seem more and more strange as time goes on. This was a curious set of assumptions, both personal and public about ‘progress’. If you could get into a profession, it was assumed, then of course you must not be a farmer; if you could move to the city, then you must not stay in the country; if you could farm more profitably in the corn belt [Poverty Bay flats, Canterbury Plains, Pukekohe], then the moutainsides of New England [East Coast] must not be farmed. For years this set of assumptions was rarely spoken and more rarely questioned, and yet it has been one of the most powerful social forces at work in this country [and around the world] in modern times.

and Berry argues it was made possible by the myth of cheap energy:

But these assumptions could not accomplish much on their own. What gave them power, and made them able finally to dominate and reshape our society, was the growth of technology for the production and use of fossil fuel energy. This energy could be made available to empower such unprecedented social change because it was “cheap.” But we were able to consider it “cheap” only by a kind of moral simplicity: the assumption that we had a “right” to as much of it as we could use. This was a “right” made solely by might. Because fossil fuels, however abundant they once were, were nevertheless limited in quantity and not renewable, they obviously did not “belong” to one generation more than another. We ignored the claims of posterity simply because we could, the living being stronger than the unborn, and so worked the “miracle” of industrial progress by the theft of energy from (among others) our children.

Berry argues, not only did the cultural values of society shift along with more ‘metropolitan’ tastes and consumption habits increasingly dependent on manufactured food, but more importantly the shifts were a logical consequence of ‘marginal’ farms in New England – and the East Coast of Aotearoa New Zealand – being abandoned – not because they were unproductive or undesirable as living places.

They were given up for one very “practical” reason: they did not lend themselves readinly to exploitation by fossil fuel technology… Industrial agriculture needs large, level fields. As the scale of technology grows, the small farms with small or steep fields are pushed farther and farther toward the economic margins and are finally abandoned…

Today we find ourselves in a situation where thousands of hectares of land on the East Coast and other parts of the country that were once highly ‘productive’ as family farms are now lying fallow, gathering millions in rates debt. While some estimates classifying up to 80% of Māori land as ‘under-performing’ or ‘unproductive’ may be exaggerated, and the benefits of ‘undeveloped’ land may turn out to be quite profitable, and whether or not law reform is required to address the complexities of tenure and management, the fact remains that Māori land in our community is rarely being utilised like it was to enable whānau to grow their own food and derive some modest income from what can be sold, swapped or given away.

Tapuaeroa, Ruatoria

Tapuaeroa, Ruatoria

Berry laments the massive waste associated with the modern ‘efficient’ agricultural methods. There is the waste of solar energy that farming has depended on for millennia – both as a motive power and as a growing power; the waste of animal energy – particularly when animals are confined and feed has to be transported to them; the waste of soil and soil health as massive agricultural machinery compresses the soil and sees it blown as dust or be drained away during rain because it is more ‘efficient’ to leave large areas exposed between crops. But possibly the biggest waste is that of human energy and ability:

Industrial agriculture replaces people with machines; the ability of millions of people (maybe tens of thousands in Aotearoa New Zealand) to become skillful and to do work therefore comes to nothing. We now have millions (tens of thousands) on some kind of government support, grown useless and helpless, while our country becomes unhealthy and ugly for want of human work and care. And we have additional millions (hundreds of thousands) not on welfare who grown equally useless and helpless for want of health. How much potential useful energy do we now have stored in human belly fat? And is it costing us, not only in medical bills, but in money spent on diets, drugs and exercise machines?

A pretty harsh analysis and probably won’t go down well with the liberals, but it resonates with many of us who might even have grown up on or close to small farms but have lost the knowledge, skills and motivation to fend for ourselves, kill our own meat and grow our own fruit and vegetables… and have grown accustomed to an unhealthy way of life so different to that of Uncle Tui’s childhood or Donald Hill’s grandparents.

Makarika Valley

Makarika Valley

Of course it is easy to romanticise the ‘good old days’ and living off the land when actually there’s very little that is glamorous or easy about it. Our friends and neighbours who live ‘closer to the land’ than we do at present struggle with the challenge of the workload of growing your own – as Hirini Kaa‘s grandfather said in his diary: ‘Kumara is such hard work every day except Christmas, Easter and Sunday mornings.” A poor season and smallharvest can mean a very lean winter, living off the grid can mean cold nights, constant illness and modest incomes can mean insecure land tenure and investing everything in land that is whipped away by those who can take it… all the trappings of the ‘simple life’ that our ‘easy life’ is setup to avoid at all costs.

Still, a small and determined group of hardy souls have kept the faith and whether it was pacifist religious communities after the war, hippy communes and intentional communities through the 70s, the NZ Small Farmers Association that my father Graham Caddie was briefly President of in the late 80s, more recent Catholic Worker farms in the Hokianga, Kapiti Coast and Central Hawkes Bay or stubborn whānau who simply refuse to leave their whenua and have continued to farm the blocks handed down to them – authentic examples have been quietly growing about their business while the rest of society chases the Kiwi Dream- however that is defined in these days of three quarters of a million dollars average house prices.

Te Ao Hou Marae, Tikitiki/Rangitukia

Te Ao Hou Marae, Tikitiki/Rangitukia

Moving rural this year, back to Tarsh’s marae at Makarika just south of Ruatoria was largely motivated by a cultural imperative around the retention and revitalisation of Te Reo Māori for our children and ourselves, but it seems to be increasingly offering a much wider range of opportunities to deepen our relationship with each other and the rest of Creation in a surprisingly spiritual encounter with the whenua, our collective histories and potential futures as Berry again articulated so much of so well in a recent article last month.

It feels like new beginnings for our family in so many ways – and while there’s nothing romantic about killing field mice that are just trying to shelter from the cold on a frosty morning – there is so much beauty all around us, so much potential to live in a more balanced way with the world around and inside us, and so much opportunity to have fun while making mistakes and growing together. It’s a bit scary but all exciting journeys should be.





Gigtopia

1 11 2014

1000x1200_2771_Time_2d_surrealism_fantasy_architecture_picture_image_digital_art

Gisborne/Tairāwhiti is fighting hard to win the Chorus Gigatown competition that ends this month. Like many around the country, I’ve been a bit cynical about the way Chorus decided to start Gigabit Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout and the competition hasn’t helped my feelings much.

Having said that – while some of the social media and news stories almost seem to suggest that with the gig that no one will ever cry, no one will ever die in our special community should we win – I can see some real benefits if Gisborne is successful in securing the gig speed connection first.

So as Project Manager for the Tairāwhiti Technology Trust, I’ve been keeping track of #gigatowngis social media progress and helping with the top secret ‘Plan for Gig Success’ that each of the final five ‘towns’ have to prepare and will be judged on by the country and an expert panel of judges.

As you do in such situations, I’ve been doing a little online research on the topic and found a few articles of interest related to gigabit internet services, particularly the US experience to date – and more broadly, which I am most interested in, efforts to close the Digital Divide that seems to be increasing as fast as technology develops:





USA Tour Report (May 2013)

16 06 2014

Thanks to a generous gift from the Orangi Kaupapa Trust, I was able (and required as a condition of receiving the gift) to do something I wanted to do for myself. It’s only taken a year to write this brief account of the trip.

Manu Caddie, June 2014

 

Los Angeles – Gang Intervention & Prevention

Josh Wharehinga (Ka Pai Kaiti) and I had the privilege of visiting Homeboy Industries, an organisation started 25 years ago by a Catholic priest and a few church volunteers in a Los Angeles ghetto.

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Our tour guide Francisco had parents from two rival gangs, he was six years old when his best friend had his head blown off as they walked to school and were confronted by another young person wanting to know which gang the boy affiliated to. At 14 Francisco had his first child and soon after did a ten year lag in prison after taking the rap for another gang member’s crime.

Homeboy Industries now employs around 300 ex-gang affiliated young people in a number of social enterprises. The people who come to Homeboy Industries typically stay for 18-24 months before transitioning into other businesses around the city.

The organisation bakes 1,000 loaves of bread each day and sells them in farmers markets, a café and bakery. They also run a successful screen-printing business, retail shop and tattoo removal service. A free counselling service is available and during the move to permanent work, a team of employment placement supervisors ensure the workers and employers have access to regular support over the transition period.

Francisco has been with Homeboy Industries for nearly two years and beyond all the work skills, therapy and tattoo removal he has received, the most important thing from his perspective was the unconditional love and acceptance he found in Father Greg and the other people of faith at Homeboy Industries.

Francisco now shares the faith in action he experienced through this group of believers. Rather than expecting these hurt, confused and often distrusting young people to join a church, a community of faith has been established and become a beautiful physical, social and spiritual home for many otherwise marginalised members of society.

 

Portland – Liveable City

I spent three days in Portland, Oregon primarily because I was interested experiencing the ‘cycling capital of America’.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Understanding how the city had evolved over the last 40 years – radical neighbourhood democracy in the early 70s paved the way for resident action while very conservative administrations led the city through the 80s and 90s. Now the city boasts a massive network of cycleways and neighbourhood development projects thanks in large part to the neighbourhood groups established a long time ago.

While the cycleways are an impressive feature of the city, compared to Gisborne and other New Zealand cities, there still seemed to be a high reliance on private cars. I was fortunate to participate in a May Day protest and got a taste of the culture of the city that has been the basis of the brand ‘Keep Portland Weird’ – the quirky, alternative lifestyle ‘dream of the 90s’ is alive in Portland as the ‘Portlandia’ song goes.

On my way to the Red and Black Café, an anarchist coffee shop, pub and bookstore – I popped in briefly to visit ADX, a cooperative space that ‘in a few short years has incubated over 100 start-ups and 200 crowd-sourced projects’ – an impressive shared design and construction space that a number of start-ups use to establish themselves. Kind of a craft and construction version of the Enspiral model we have seen emerge in Wellington. I think there is lots of potential for these kinds of initiatives but the capital and space required needs to come from somewhere like the philanthropic sector, local government or well-established business sponsors.

 

Chicago – Participatory Budgeting

My main reason for travelling to the USA was to attend the 2nd Annual Conference on Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada.

PB Chicago street sign

PB Chicago street sign

Participatory Budgeting internationally owes some of its roots to initiatives that were undertaken in Christchurch in the early 1990s – these are often cited by overseas practitioners and experts as important models they recognise as leading to further innovations in other countries like Brazil, Europe and North America.

I registered for a pre-conference workshop at the Great Cities Institute at UIC College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. This was a valuable introduction to current PB practice and trends in the USA.

Following the workshop we attended the opening plenary ‘The People’s Budget: Participatory Budgeting in Mexico, New York, and Chicago’ at Madero Middle School in West Chicago, this was a public event in Spanish with English interpretation – a great example of bi-ligualism in practice and something I envied having raised our children only speaking Te Reo Māori to them. The neighbourhood is very depressed but PB is thriving and a New York City councillor shared her experience of PB as well.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

I was fortunate to have a presentation selected to share on ‘Public Finance Planning in New Zealand Local Government’, it received a favourable response from attendees. It was in the first workshop session so I got to enjoy the rest of the conference without any nervous wait. I was not disappointed, all of the sessions I attended were inspiring, practical and provocative. I brought home many resources, ideas and contacts that I intend to use in my paid and voluntary work for years to come. The Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy is an idea I have used for the last ten years and I plan to formalise it over the next few years and I expect PB will be a key part of its work plan.





Perfect timing for PCE freshwater report

21 11 2013

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A report on freshwater management released today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was exquisite timing given the release this month of two important regulatory documents according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

A proposed National Objectives Framework (NOF) for Freshwater by the Ministry for the Environment is currently being consulted on and has received mixed responses from freshwater experts so far. The NOF, for the first time ever, sets absolute bottom lines for freshwater quality to protect ecosystems and human health. Some scientific commentators have said it is good that these bottom lines have been established, while others have criticised the proposed acceptable levels as too low and questioned the decision to exclude macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) as a measure of stream health as recommended by the expert panel advising the process.

A local Freshwater Advisory Group discussion document on the development of a regional Freshwater Plan will also be released by Gisborne District Council for consultation this month with a proposal for collaborative planning in the Waipaoa catchment.

“Irrigation demand is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years and establishing consensus amongst stakeholders and users while protecting the life sustaining qualities of waterways is going to be really important” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the PCE report paints a fairly positive picture of the Gisborne region in terms of water quality improvements from tree planting and hillsides reverting to indigenous bush.

“While Dr Wright’s report will have most implications for the regions that have seen massive dairy intensification, there are some good news stories in terms of the comparatively low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in our waterways – in fact according to the report.”

“Gisborne is the only region predicted to have these nutrients decrease in our water, largely as a result of the farm conversions to forestry. Large areas of steep land have been, and are predicted to continue to be, converted to forestry. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus loads in the Waiapu catchment are predicted to decrease by 10% and 2% respectively below 1996 levels by 2020.”

The report notes the productivity of sheep/beef farming has improved by about 20% over the last twenty years. This increase may be more attributable to efficiency gains such as advances in animal genetics than to increased fertiliser inputs. The productivity of plantation pine forestry has not significantly changed in the last two decades. The report suggests Government plans to double the value of primary exports by 2025 should not be at the expense of the environment.

ENDS





The Weight of Risk and the Risk of Waiting

15 10 2013

HDC Oil_Page_06

A paper I presented at the Oil & Gas Symposium, Hastings District Council, 11 October 2013.

DOWNLOADS:





Chamber of Commerce Q+A

21 09 2013

MyPositionFarms

 

The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce asked candidates five questions, these are my responses…

– – –

I have enjoyed first term on Council, part of that was on the Chamber Executive and I’d like to see those links strengthened a little more as I think Brian Wilson and myself acted as a useful conduit between the Council and Chamber on a number of issues.

I think I’ve been able to make intelligent, sensible and considered contributions to Council and I’ve helped raise the quality of discussion, debate and decision-making.

I’ve had a focus on increasing public involvement in planning and decisions and been a strong advocate for the city and the district as a whole.

I have listened to residents and ratepayers (even after being elected!), worked well with others (who don’t always share the same values and views) and helped make good decisions in the best interest of the region as a whole.

– – – 

1. What do you see as the GDC’s role in contributing to economic development and growth in this region?

Council has a key role in a number of areas contributing to economic development:

  1. Providing good quality infrastructure, predictable regulation & consistent planning
  2. Collecting and disseminating information that helps the community make informed decisions on the direction for the district
  3. Advocating for the district at central government – ensuring our big issues are nationally significant issues.
  4. Facilitating relationships between stakeholders to realise opportunities and achieve sustainable solutions in the best interest of the district where there are competing priorities.

Some of functions within these areas, particulatly information gathering and sharing, advocacy and relationship brokerage could be devolved to an Economic Development Agency run separate to Council. But the Mayor and Council have a critical leadership role in advocating on behalf of the region – especially on things like roading, new costs being imposed by central government legislation, etc. And political leadership can help broker mutually beneficial relationships with industry, iwi, land owners, research institutions, entrepreneurs, etc.

Council can also have procurement and banking policies that benefit the local community in different ways.

– – –

2. What is your view of the core role of council? Do you consider there are any current council activities that do not fit this role?

Under new legislation the purpose of local government is now to provide quality infrastructure, regulation & essential services. Opposition parties have pledged to revert the purpose back to promoting sustainable development and local cultural, environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

I’m not completely wedded to Council providing social housing. I have argued it could be sold to a Charitable Trust, housing cooperative or something like ECT but wouldn’t want to see them go to private ownership. I’m also open to Council not owning any or all of its commercial assets (WOF station, holiday park, farms) if there are compelling financial reasons to divest from these enterprises. We need an urgent review of Council asset ownership to identify options and the benefits of retaining or releasing these enterprises.

Tauwhareparae Farms are being well run but I’m not convinced we need to retain them. They were acquired to supplement port income and will always provide low value compared to capital committed, as the trees appreciate so will the capital value. There is no legal risk in selling them and my preference would be as Margaret Thorpe suggests to land-bank them via OTS as they are subject to Treaty claims. This will ensure we get a premium price, they are retained in local ownership and we demonstrate goodwill to the traditional owners.

– – –

3. Businesses have to live within their means, or face the consequences. What is your view with regard to GDC achieving the same discipline around keeping rates increases in check?

Significant savings have been made by previous and current CEO to trim as much as possible. More ‘savings’ could be found but that depends on what we want to give up and what quality of life we can tolerate.

I campaigned on rates rises at or below inflation and we have achieved that. The ‘razor gang’ didn’t make any significant savings. I also campaigned on getting more predictable rates system with smaller variations year on year and we are making good progress on this through the participatory rates review process.

Council league tables suggest we are now one of the most financially sustainable and we rank 26 out of 73 councils for cost of rates.

Councillors are financially conservative and understand the limits of affordability for residents, but the WMT suggests this is not the case. That massive blowout and the need to address some basic first suggest some of the fancy projects need to be reviewed while we attend to the basics first.

If the community has things they think we should stop doing or not start they have the opportunity every year and we listen to that feedback.

– – –

4. What is your position with respect to the re-opening of the Gisborne to Napier rail line?

The railway line a billion dollar public asset that is lying idle while Gisborne and Wairoa businesses scream out for it to make our products more competitive. Some people say logs will never go South on it but there are massive forests between Napier and Gisborne that will provide the anchor business for the line so that containerised seasonal produce and timber coming out and fertiliser going to Gisborne can be transported by rail instead of trucks. Coastal shipping is unlikely to ever be viable if the rail is operating.

More trucks on the road means more cost in maintenance, more congestion and more danger for other motorists – it also means more cost for local businesses and more competition from other places that have lower freight costs.

With the support of 10,000 signatures and $20,000 given by local businesses and residents, we commissioned a study that demonstrated the lack of rigor in the government’s position and the potential for a realistic business case if roads and rail were considered on a level playing field by central government.

A different government next year will reinstate the line if the local business consortium is unable to raise the funds required. Some candidates say they don’t don’t support ratepayers funding the line operation – that has never been a realistic option – but Council could be a stronger advocate for the line.

– – –

5. If you were elected to the council, what activities or actions would you take to ensure Gisborne becomes an even better place to work, live and play?

I will keep doing what I have been:

–  all of the above, plus…

–  working with the IT sector to establish local computer hubs for young people and families with few opportunities to access IT, career pathways via the Techxpo and partnership with major NZ telcos

– advocating for more central government support for our district (transport, rail, imposed costs, renewable energy, forestry carbon credits, aquaculture, etc.) and working with iwi and other stakeholders on these issues

– leading a gang transformation project focused on employment and working with employers and support services

– review commercial assets

– keep rates at or below inflation

– continue support for better commuter cycling and walking infrastructure

– more emphasis on local housing issues – affordable, healthy housing for everyone, not provided by Council but Council facilitating government, community and private sectors working together

– continue emphasising the importance of opportunities for public input on issues like forestry harvest rules, petroleum exploration applications, legislative submissions, etc.

– continue work on Māori land issues – Council working with landowners to look at how to make the land more productive and/or revert to indigenous forest

–  continue supporting illegal dumping prevention and removal, and more ambitious waste minimisation targets.

– continue bringing diverse parts of the community together to address complex issues

– continue voluntary involvement in a wide range of community groups and local issues.





Boom Town – Rats?

14 09 2013
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Life in a ‘Man Camp’ is not for everyone: http://www.pressherald.com/life/man-camp.html

When it comes to mining, Australia has many lessons for us. A 2009 report from the Queensland Government and Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) at University of Queensland showed that housing affordability often declines for people in mining towns who aren’t working in the industry.

Stats from the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) show a close correlation between Queensland resources and property booms — median house prices in one suburb soared 65 percent in a year. Great if you’re a property investor, but if you just want an affordable home for your family you might be out of luck.

CSRM studies have documented the “two-speed economy” that follows mining “boom towns”, where people who aren’t working in the industry get a sharp shock when they realise that normal life is suddenly a lot more expensive.

A US Department of Agriculture study published last year found that in three states experiencing petroleum booms, a large increase in production caused only modest increases in local jobs and median household income and employment rose 1.5 percent on pre-boom levels.

There is a range of other peer-reviewed empirical studies on the subject (a few listed below), and I’m happy to look at evidence to the contrary.

So while some incomes will rise during an oil boom, the cost of living for everyone is likely to increase as well — meaning those on a fixed income are in fact worse off. We know that most of the high-paying jobs that go with the territory go to specialists who are brought in.

While this may not on its own be reason enough to say “no” to oil and gas exploration here, it’s important to understand the real opportunities and risks before rolling out the red carpet.

And communities aren’t the only ones thinking hard about the pros and cons. Two months ago Rabobank Group said it would no longer provide finance to anyone involved in extracting unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shales through fracking (see their Oil & Gas policy).

One of the world’s largest lenders, Rabobank is worried about the impact oil and gas production is having on people, productive agricultural land, wildlife and the climate — as well as the release of greenhouse gases and their warming of the planet.

As we are seeing in Taranaki now, there is increasing conflict in the communities affected by the expansion of oil and gas there and a perceived risk to the rural sector from residents near new developments.

A letter to Tiniroto resident John Brodie from the FMG Service Centre says:

“Our Underwriters have confirmed we exclude cover of Fracking and anything related to this activity. Fracking is outside of FMG’s preferred risk profile and is not something we would be willing to cover as we do not insure any risks relating to the mining industry.”

I agree that Gisborne refusing to welcome fossil fuels production here won’t make a serious dent in global greenhouse gas emissions. But global agreements don’t happen out of thin air — they tend to come from grassroots movements that influence local government, national legislation and eventually international diplomacy.

The people of Gisborne taking a stand would help the industry and government to think twice and take notice. But that’s a decision for our community to make, and soon. Last year 2000 locals asked for public notification of any mining resource consent yet Gisborne District Council has chosen not to do so. I think now more than ever we need a forum for the community, our government, iwi and industry to sit down and talk about what the pros and cons really mean for Tairawhiti.

– – –

REFERENCES:

http://www.csrm.uq.edu.au/publications/247-local-government-mining-companies-and-resource-development-in-regional-australia

http://apo.org.au/research/benefits-boom

http://www.regionalaustralia.org.au/research-policy/policy-issues/

http://www.cis.org.au/publications/policy-monographs/article/3309-australias-angry-mayors-how-population-growth-frustrates-local-councils

http://www.lgaq.asn.au/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=189033&folderId=98699&name=DLFE-9119.pdf

http://www.regions.qld.gov.au/dsdweb/v4/apps/web/content.cfm?id=16447

Weber, J. G. (2012). The effects of a natural gas boom on employment and income in Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming. Energy Economics, 34(5), 1580-1588. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2011.11.013

Jacquet, J. 2009.  Energy Boomtowns & Natural Gas: Implications for Marcellus Shale Local Governments & Rural Communities, NERCD Rural Development Paper No. 43, January 2009, 63 pp., University Park, Pennsylvania: The Northeast Regional Centre for Rural Development, The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421512006702








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