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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Iceberg? What iceberg?

12 October 2018

New Zealand has a relatively healthy, robust economy.

Thanks to hard work, clever thinking and a willingness to set aside environmental considerations, we have become the world's pantry, with our primary industries creating huge export receipts and contributing greatly to our overall standard of living.

We grow and export huge amounts of lamb, beef and dairy products to customers around the world -- and that's how it's been for many decades.

But how much longer can that continue?

I ask this question because there are a number of factors brewing that could create the perfect storm for significant sectors of our primary industries.

Firstly there is the issue of the environmental impact of our intensive and large-scale dairy production.

We have massive nitrogen contamination of our waterways and huge levels of unwanted methane production (a potent greenhouse gas) which can not be sustained any longer.

As the world speeds headlong towards a climate crisis, the levels of methane produced by our ruminant food species will make it impossible for us to reach the targets imposed on us for cutting the emissions of such gases.

If our waterways continue to be degraded at the rate we're presently seeing, there may well be highly negative effects on our largest export earner -- tourism. Then there are the health issues associated with this form of pollution.

So the dairy industry will have to find a way to reduce methane emissions, slash the levels of pollution due to runoff and slash the levels of artificial fertilizer being used on pasture -- all within a few short years.

Mission impossible?

We've been told that they're working on genetically modified grasses to help reduce the methane production but have they factored in the world's aversion to GM? How many people will, instead of buying *our* dairy products, opt for those which are not being fed GM grass?

Then there are the meat industries.

Lamb and beef are also big contributors to the nation's economy but, like dairy, they're also big contributors to climate change (cite: Guardian report).

There is also the issue of synthetically grown meat -- something which, according to a report I heard on NatRad yesterday, is nearing commercial reality.

If the world suddenly decides that the already very clear and obvious changes to the planet's climate are unacceptable and that it really is time to take strong steps, New Zealand will be left pretty high and dry (actually, more like inundated by rising sea levels and soaked from regular super-storms).

This would be a disaster for an economy that is so heavily dependent on primary produce for its export receipts -- so what are we doing about it.

Well, in a word (or two)... bugger all!

From our "Titanic", we continue to pour huge sums into creating more dairy farms and ramping up exports of meat products... even though the iceberg of climate change is bearing down on us at increasing speed.

Will someone please tell the captain that the time for action is not next year, next month, next week or even today. The time for change was last year... and we did nothing.

I fear that we could see some very rapid changes taking place in the near future. Changes that would see not only a massive slump in demand for many of our food products but also massive international pressure to take positive, affirmative action on our per-capita levels of greenhouse gas production.

Sadly, I suspect that the government of the day (whenever this happens) will react like idiots by doing lame stuff such as forcing carless days on the general populace in order that our cows can continue farting and belching at whatever rate they choose.

A *smart* country would have already been changing course (so as to avoid the iceberg) by creating new industries focused in areas which are environmentally neutral and for which their is a growing demand for whatever it is they create.

Sadly, we seem to elect far to many politicians who have chosen that vocation only because they failed as used-car or insurance salesmen. We don't have the kind of smart, pragmatic, gifted visionaries that are required to make an effective transition to the next "age" of the planet's development, where even our very survival as a species may well be on the line.

What do readers think?

Have we left it too late or do we still have time to create and grow some new industries that won't leave our environment a stinking mess and which can create products or services for which their will be growing demand?

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