Eco Theology & NZ Politics 2017 practical theology from kiwiconnexion

David Bell: Hello everyone. Welcome to Live
On Air this evening. With me is Peter Lane and David Hill. Today we’re going to talk
about eco-theology and green issues relating to the upcoming election in New Zealand. I’d
like to begin by just asking Peter and David to very briefly say how they come to be interested
in ecology. What’s the basic drivers for you guys?
David Hill: Well, the basic drive with me is that I’ve got two children and
just looking at what sort of a world they’re going to inherit, and the next generation
beyond that. What are we leaving for them? I’m also a journalist with North Canterbury
News and another rural newspaper, writing with rural and urban audiences, and I’ve been
involved in local issues – Walk for the Planet, which we can obviously talk about lately,
and other initiatives. David Bell: Yeah, and I must say, you’ve been
making a very big difference with things like Walk for the Planet, and also kind of an impact
with bantam theology which we’ll come to later as well. Peter, how about yourself? You’re
based in Auckland. Peter Lane: I’m based in Auckland. Professionally
I had a background in consulting engineering, and before that, IT. In those roles I was
being involved in being green for commercial sake. I was always rather sceptical about
it, and then one day a mutual colleague, Prince Devanandan twisted my arm and suggested that
I should go to a seminar in Geneva. Because it was Geneva I thought it was a pretty good
idea, but when I was there it grounded for me the whole Biblical principle of care of
creation being part of our response to God, and caring for this magnificent resource that
He gave us. Obviously there are some aspects that we, humanity are not doing very well
at the moment. So I came back determined to find some things to do to help, and I’m involved
in establishing an organisation called Green Churches Aotearoa, in partnership with people
working through other churches in New Zealand on complimentary missions.
David Bell: Well between the two of you, you’ve got this extremely rich and interesting background
in ecological and theological issues. So, I put that together under the one title of
eco-theology. Just before we ask what are the main issues facing us in terms of eco-theology,
David I noticed today in one of your Facebook posts, you had just completed another Coursera
course, and I must congratulate on that. You are clearly addicted to doing Coursera course,
and this one was through the University of Edinburgh. You’ve been writing a blog called
Bantam Theology, which I think is a lovely little blog that pulls together all sorts
of issues, but what was the course that you completed through Edinburgh?
David Hill: Chicken Welfare and Behaviour. David Bell: Chicken Welfare and Behaviour.
When I read it I thought, my goodness that is exactly the case that eco-theologist David
Hill should be doing. What was it about? David Hill: Understanding why chooks behave
the way they do, and how to look after them. David Bell: Isn’t this also part of the problem
that we’ve got in today’s society, that the vast majority of people don’t care about the
welfare of chooks – there’s no real emphasis on the harm that we do as one species against
another in farming these creatures. Would that be right?
David Hill: Absolutely. So, to take an example from Walk for the Planet, on the final leg
of Walk for the Planet we stopped off in the Red Zone in Christchurch East, and one of
the – a member of local iwi talked – yeah, raised the question, when we’re considering
water issues why aren’t we asking what does the river want? In the same sense you could
ask, what does the bantam want? What do the chooks want to live a happy life? Even if
we take the eggs off them and we might eventually send them to the slaughter, what do they want
during their life so they can at least be happy for the life that they do have?
David Hill: Yeah, I think these are the questions that we just ignore as a society, and we commit
kind of a species racism against other species, because we’re consumed by our own sense of
greed here. Well, let’s move to the big issues, and I’ve asked each of you to say what you
think are the two biggest green issues that are on the agenda today. Let’s start with
Peter. Peter Lane: The primary problem, and in essence
it won’t be just New Zealand, but it’s a global problem, and so all of us, including New Zealand
need to grapple with this; we are effectively releasing too much carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gasses back into the atmosphere, and somehow or other we need to stop it. To
be fair, it would appear that the lack of progress we’ve experienced so far is probably
more from lack of wanting than lack of capability. It’s always hard to take something off someone
that’s become accustomed to it being around. So, it’s the motivation for some people to
take what they see would give them a backward step in lifestyle has caused the whole issue
to just go in the too hard basket, and preferably stay there, preferably well-buried under other
issues. David Bell: The recent election of Donald
Trump in America has certainly pushed other issues up, and buried the ecological problems.
Peter Lane: There’s certainly a lot of talk happening in the sustainability and eco-theology
communities about the damage that Trump’s policies or surmised policies will or won’t
cause in terms of an ecological improvement or otherwise, but I don’t personally think
he’s done actually very much. It’s more all about conjecture of what he might do. On the
other side of that story I don’t know that he’s not going to do what people think he’s
going to do, but he hasn’t done it yet. What’s the saying? While there’s life, there’s hope.
David Bell: Okay, good answer. David, what’s the primary eco-theology issue in your view?
David Hill: Well, I sort of take the premise that everything is connected, and you can’t
really separate one thing from everything else and that was something that I tried to
emphasise in my Lenten Study Guide for Walk for the Planet. If I was to name one I’d say
the economic system, and the second one would be water issues. The reason why I say that
is people probably expect you to say climate change, but we can’t really address climate
change, which Peter sort of touched on because of the economic system.
Plenty of writers have highlighted this, and we just can’t adequately address it. For example,
this week Steven Joyce was celebrating that we had three per cent economic growth, but
we’re going to have to take somewhere else, because if you keep having three per cent
economic growth every year, after 23 years you’ve doubled your production, you’ve doubled
your consumption, and what impact is that going to have on the environment? Over 23
years, the population’s not going to double. David Bell: Yeah, an announcement was made
by one company seeking to start coal mining again on the West Coast. Did that impact on
either of you in terms of thinking of have we made any progress over the last 20 years
about sustainability of eco-systems in this country?
David Hill: Well, it just highlights the way that we’re putting the economic system first,
aren’t we? We’re seeing that we need to produce more productions so we can – because we supposedly
need to produce more so we can create more jobs, and then we need to sell off-shore,
because other countries want to buy it, so they [complete 10:30] their environments I
guess but we just don’t think of the bigger picture. We only see dollar signs.
Peter Lane: I’ve had some colleagues who would be livid about the coal mining announcement.
I personally don’t necessarily get that upset about it, though. I can’t see that, I guess.
I don’t care if they mine it; so long as they don’t burn it once they get it out, but that’s
probably starting to be a bit unrealistic. I was reading a paper this week that was suggesting
that in order for New Zealand to become 100 per cent renewable energy-based the first
thing we should do is close the Tiwai Point Smelter. I think that’s the same sort of symptom
as the other things we’ve been talking about; we’re unwilling to buck the economic status
quo in order to make ecological changes. David Bell: Well, we’ve had quite a bit of
view of feedback come in, and [Rill Beggs 11:43] is suggesting to both of you that actually
new coal mining is simply wrong. Any comment about that, Peter and David?
David Hill: I certainly wouldn’t disagree. Peter Lane: Yeah, I don’t want to water that
down any, either. My previous comments gave the impression that maybe I could tolerate
it. That was my tongue engaged before my brain. So, once it’s out it’s much more accessible
for processes that break it down to carbon dioxide. One of the things we can do in a
positive manner in regards to greenhouse gases is to start sequestering carbon, and doing
things like reducing wood to a biochar, and burying it away, i.e. making a low grade coal
out of it, is one of the things we can actually do to start improving things. So, essentially
we have got this carbon that is locked up in a form that is not going to get to the
atmosphere and we’re busy digging it out. Well, as soon as we dig it out, it’s exposed
to the atmosphere, and yes okay burning it may be the worst way of doing it, but it’s
not the only way. So, let’s keep it in the ground.
David Bell: Just as a sort of a side issue, Peter; you’re quite active in LinkedIn. I’m
not sure, possibly also Facebook; in putting forward some of the alternative technologies
that are appearing all the time. So, that might lead in to Max’s question to both of
you; can you find any kinds of economic arguments that will help eco-improvement? It’s the development
of new technologies -new ways of thinking about things?
Peter Lane: The answer is that there’s so many different ways we can approach it, and
yes the development of new technologies is certainly one of them, but it comes back to
the economic status, developing something from scratch or from close to scratch is economically
a much more expensive process than refining an existing process. So, the economic system
that we have at the moment, in normal circumstances will not encourage development of new processes
in the absence of i.e. profit motive, which usually boils down to we do it better or we
do it cheaper. David Bell: David, Stuart Manins has sent
in a comment that, for him global warming and water issues are primary things that we
should be talking about and acting upon here in the New Zealand context. Have you got anything
directly? Water issues was one of your concerns for our local situation.
David Hill: Well, I think it’s a very easy one that people can identify with, particularly
in Canterbury, because we have such a huge water resource in Canterbury, and there’s
been this perception in the last 10-20 years that it’s there to be exploited. So it’s something
that people can readily engage with, and of course it’s so central to agriculture. Agriculture
produces 49 per cent of our greenhouse gasses, so you can’t really separate water issues
from global warming in that respect, because while we’re polluting our waterways we’re
also creating greenhouse gases. David Bell: What do both of you think about
the current sort of – it’s like a spring bubbling to the surface, concern about overseas companies
coming in and bottling clean, green New Zealand water from certain locations….
David Hill: Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
David Bell: And really very little economic benefit to local communities. Is that true
or is it something we should be… David Hill: Well, that’s right. I mean, it’s
just the tip of the iceberg though, because you’ve got overseas companies buying our dairy
farms. We uncovered during Walk for the Planet that the same company that purchased the 16
Crafar Farms also purchased 13 farms in Canterbury as well, which kind of went under the radar
because of the earthquakes. They signed off all these – there’s a list of things that
they said they would do to help the New Zealand economy, and the Overseas Investment office
is due to check them again this year, because they haven’t been doing those things like
creating jobs, planting trees, environmental projects.
They just don’t see them as a priority and they make the excuses; oh the milk price has
dropped, or it’s been too dry. You signed an agreement. You know? We seem to be too
quick to sign off farms overseas, and just as the Ashburton District Council and others
have been wanting to sell of bottled water; just doesn’t make any sense.
David Bell: What about the farming community, David? You cover that as part of your reporting.
Are farmers divided on this issue, or do they feel that it’s economically okay to sell off
these big farms to overseas interests? David Hill: Oh, they’re very much divided
on it, because traditionally, certainly from a dairy farming perspective, the traditional
pathway was that a young person would work on a farm, work their way up, build up their
equity in buying cows, eventually become a share-milker, and those young people would
then eventually become the farmer into the future. Of course, the option of buying a
farm is quickly being eroded just as the prospect of young families buying a home now, because
a lot of these farms are amalgamating. In the case of the 13 farms in Canterbury, family
farms have been amalgamated to form one company, and then, just like the Crafar Farms in the
North Island, instead of thinking, oh well we’ll sell 13 farms separately, they sold
it as a package. So how many New Zealanders can afford to buy 13 farms, especially when
you’re competing against a billionaire from Shanghai?
David Bell: Again, that’s part of this wider economic model that we’ve got to figure out
how do we deconstruct and reconstruct the economic models that we live with in New Zealand
today. David Hill: To add to that from the ecological
perspective, that farm is producing nitrate losses of 57 kilograms of nitrates per hectare
per year. Where those farms are, it’s going to be 17 kilograms of nitrates per hectare
per year. So how is a farm that’s producing 57 even going to get close to that?
David Bell: Three times what it should be. David Hill: Yeah, absolutely. So these questions
aren’t really being asked of can we actually improve the water quality – how we can improve
the situation if these farmers can apply for a resource consent, as long as they demonstrate
that they’re doing good practice, whatever good practice means, they don’t necessarily
have to reduce their pollution to the threshold. It’s something I discovered just recently.
David Bell: Will these things become pressure points in the upcoming New Zealand general
election? What’s your take, from both of you, on how green issues will impact on the major
political parties, and what spin they put on it for the general public?
David Hill: Well, I think the rivers is a good example where we have actually put pressure
on the Government to the point that Nick Smith has said he’s promise to make our rivers swimmable
by 2040. Now, exactly how he’s going to do that under the current regime is yet to be
seen, but he’s at least realised that people are concerned about the quality of our rivers.
So, very much as people, we can start to demand our politicians address rivers.
Peter Lane: I think that’s definitely true. The river and the water quality in the rivers
is definitely going to be an environmental plank in a number of election portfolios,
but I don’t see that the flip side, that the quantity of nitrates being returned through
dairy farms will ever become an issue, and it will, even though [the two are causally
linked 21:31] and that could be a part of the problem; we’re happy to clean up the rivers
where they become public property, but we’re also for people to make money by making a
job for us to clean up. David Bell: Do you think that our main political
parties, and I mean by that the Greens, Labour, National and New Zealand First – the four
big ones… David Hill: The big four, yeah.
David Bell: Or bigger ones; do you think that they really do have politicians that care
about environmental issues? I don’t mean that the whole party or all the politicians, but
do you feel that there are some people that care about this, and want to get better outcomes?
David Hill: The ones I talk to generally do, but as with any part of society you get politicians
just as you get people that get caught up in the economics and the politics of things,
but there certainly are genuine MPs out there [22:35].
Peter Lane: I would hesitate to suggest that any of those parties don’t have individuals
within the organisation that are committed to trying to something better, but if you
look at the track record to date, to the best of my knowledge, only one of those four parties
has got any comprehensive policy statement about the environment. A couple of the others
have sort of got some snippets here and there, or tucked in as part of something else. Yeah,
there’s only the one party that’s actually published a very high level, but at least
sort of encompassing most of the territory that needs to be covered.
David Bell: Why I put the question that way was that I think there are genuine people
across the political spectrum – genuine politicians who really do care about those long term future
issues that David Hill was talking about; what kind of country are we, but what kind
of environment are we bequeathing to our children, to our mokopuna? At the same time, it is true
what Peter Lane is suggesting, that it’s really only the Green Party that in a sense has this
as the defining issue. That to me is very, very significant, because if you move right
away from the world of politics, green issues are of extreme importance to most people in
society, but I’m not going to sling off at the political parties, because I suspect that
they do more than the Christian churches do. We’ve been talking about ecology, but our
topic is really eco-theology. David Hill, and Walk for the Planet produced the Lenten
Resources and did a whole heap of individual things that brought churches or members of
churches, people from the secular community et cetera together, in a totally different
kind of way. Would you like to explain? I mean, that was a great help in my opinion,
for all churches. Would you like to talk a little bit about that, David?
David Hill: Well, it was just like a river really. It had like a [braided 25:10] river;
there were so many different streams flying in all different directions and it was very
hard to keep track of it. Well, it’s still an evolving thing, even though we had the
last walk, so to speak, and finishing on Easter Sunday, that we had a film crew which is in
the process of editing all the film footage, and hopefully it’ll be in the New Zealand
International Film Festival in Christchurch in August. So it’s still an evolving thing,
but it’s – I guess the best way to describe it is rather than the church necessarily taking
the lead on it, the church provided some resources and allowed people to get on with it and it
just evolved. We started off with Mark Gibson and myself
having conversations, and basically for six months it was just Mark and I talking. Then,
we got a couple of other people started coming to meetings with us and suddenly in January
we had a whole lot of people. Then suddenly our Facebook page has got up to 404 I think
now. I think Mark noted that over 1000 people attended throughout the seven weeks. Environment
Canterbury gave us some money to help pay for the film crew doing the filming, just
because they wanted to engage with us, basically. They didn’t control it, but they wanted to
engage, which was incredible really. David Bell: So many different people became
involved with it. So you had hundreds of people involved with Walk for the Planet, from just
a couple of guys sitting around having a bit of a talk about what can we do. In the same
way… David Hill: Having a coffee [27:06] New Brighton.
David Bell: Right. Peter, you’ve got a kind of a similar objective with Green Churches
Aoteoroa. Peter Lane: Yeah, I was just listening to
David and thinking, gee this is exactly how this is happening. Green Churches and a couple
of other things I’m involved in – I seem to have been rabbiting on about it to people
for a long time now, and it’s suddenly at the point where it’s actually coming up on
agendas of other organisations and people are reaching out to me, or people who aren’t
friends of mine and have sort heard my rabbiting a bit more than the average person, are reaching
out, and saying, well what can you do to help us. On good days I’m encouraged by that. On
bad days I’m scared stiff as to how I’m going to live up to the hype I’ve created. Yeah,
it’s a great movement. I guess the only thing that really scares me is, is it all too little
too late, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
David Bell: Yeah, in some ways it’s kind of getting a critical mass together, isn’t it?
Here I mean a critical mass of people who start to think the same way, and their effective
thinking and doing things just that little bit differently may tip certain balances.
I suspect that the two of you are getting close to being able to tap into something
deeply in the national psyche about the water issues in a way that maybe we haven’t been
able to do in terms of the climate issues. The water issues…
David Hill: I think it’s just a perfect storm. We couldn’t have envisaged in March last year
when Mark and I started talking about it, that rivers were going to be such a hot topic.
I think the month before we launched Walk for the Planet, Nick Smith announced his so-called
plan to make our rivers swimmable by 2040 and there was public reaction saying, this
is just ridiculous – his plan was not going to work. You had Dr Mike Joy from Massey University
down at Selwyn River, filming down there just before Walk for the Planet. There was just
all these things going on and since we’ve finished the walking, you’ve had these two
fresh water reports that have come out. So there’s just a perfect storm. The timing just
couldn’t have been better for us. David Bell: Maybe that’s what they mean in
the Bible when they talk about the Kairos moment – the right moment that the issue becomes
the defining moment. I suspect that both of you, and it does – it takes years to build
to be able to get some momentum, particularly in organisations like churches which by their
nature are very slow moving, not quick to change. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing,
but their nature is to conserve what they have, but here I think there’s just a general
re-evaluation in many parts of at least the Methodist Church, and I suspect the Union
Cooperative Ventures, and probably Presbyterians and Anglicans, too.
There’s just a general drift towards better understanding of these issues. I’m aware that
we’re coming close to the end of our time, but I’d just like to draw your attention back
to the fact that the three of us met to start talking about these issues – it must have
been about 18 months ago. I have to look it up, but we’ve done one Live On Air about these
kinds of things before, and in my opinion, this was the right time because there has
been this build-up to being able to get the message out there in new kinds of ways. Do
you feel the same? Peter Lane: Yeah, I do. I think with the work
that I’ve been doing the things are sort of coming together to the point that, for one
thing; there’s a real desire between the different mainline denominations to actually do some
work in coordination with each other – not to do the same work, but to understand that
there are people in this organisation that have a passion for lobbying politicians. There
are people in this group that have got a passion for
fossil fuel divestment and those types of activities. There’s other groups that are
more interested in what can happen at the coal face – what can happen in local communities
that actually do something positive to reduce the amount of carbon going back to atmosphere.
David Bell: Stuart Manins, you’ve got a comment that you’d like to make.
Stuart Manins: Yeah, I found this all very interesting and I’ve been informed about things
that I’ve suspected haven’t been going on, and concerned that are there that I would
like to support and develop, even though I’m an old fellow and can’t do much myself. I
can support, and I do encourage you to go on the way you’re doing. I think it’s wonderful.
It’s part of my rationale for being a Christian. Peter Lane: Oh, thanks Stuart. Thanks David.
I was amazed to find some of the stuff happening that I wasn’t aware about, even though I had
thought I had been diligently keeping my ear to the – and appreciate your support.
David Hill: Yeah, I think David Bell had asked the question early, do you churches hinder
or help these things, and I think to give hopefully a not too long answer to that question;
churches are by their nature established institutions. Established institutions by their nature tend
to protect their own, but if churches can kind of in some ways nurture, but be willing
to step back at the same time, they have resources – they have powerful resources as we found
with Walk for the Planet. I mean, there’s money. There’s cash there sometimes and there’s
buildings for public forums. There’s hospitality available but to get change you need leadership.
Leadership I feel is provided by people rather than institutions and you just need people
to stand up, and like Peter or Mark Gibson – people just to stand up and do something,
and others will join in. David Bell: I think the work that the two
of you are doing, each in your own spheres of influence, but particularly the fact that
you both use social media to advantage in putting forward these issues, I know that
it’s second nature to younger people, but to an older age group social media is a difficult
thing to use, and to get one’s head around. David Hill: Well, I had a little quote there
that I found from my Lenten Study Guide, and it was from Garrick Harden who once wrote,
the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness – it resides in the solemnity of the remorseless
working of things. I take remorseless working of things to mean business as usual. I think
that sums up what we’ve been saying. Peter and I have sort of both been saying, that’s
what we’ve got to get away from; we’ve got to get away from business as usual and find
another way forward, because we can – because we believe we can.
David Bell: Absolutely, and isn’t it marvellous how Garrick Harden has become part of the
essential dialogue between people like David Hill and Max [Thompson 36:27] and all the
others that did that wonderful course from Wesleyan University; How to Change the World?
Garrick Harden… David Hill: I thought you’d appreciate that,
David. David Bell: Yeah, that the commons – what
is the commons, and who has power over the commons? Peter Lane, what about yourself;
final closing comment from you? Peter Lane: Part of the motivation in this
topic at this time in New Zealand is there’s an election coming up. So you may think that
you’re getting old and dottery, but you can still engage with your politicians. You can
still ask them, what is it that you stand for – what is that your party stands for – let’s
get some hard – document to us what it is you’re going, and we can discuss it and work
out whether it’s what we want our future government to do or not, because it’s important to us.
Having that discussion is probably nine tenths of the battle in the current areas that we
– or circumstances that we find ourselves, at least in the short term.
David Bell: Well, those are both great answers, and I want to just say thank you very much
for being part of yet another Live On Air discussion on eco-theology today, and we’ll
see you next time, maybe before the election – maybe just after it, to see what we actually
achieved. Thank you indeed and we’ll say good evening.
David Hill: Good evening. Eco-Theology & Politics

Maurice Vega

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