‘Victorian hierarchal model’ stymies future vision

A former Waikato Regional Council scientist turned in-demand consultant proffering advice all over the country was a keynote speaker at the recent Wai-Bop Soils Conference.

Peter Singleton’s views on what needs to happen to stop the decline in our methods of resource management caused much discussion between many of those at the conference.

So why are environmental issues still getting worse (if more slowly) when we’ve had the RMA since 1991? Like climate change it’s not blindingly obvious, yet, and if we keep doing what we are maybe something will work and the future will suddenly become sustainable.

Einstein pointed out long ago that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well not yet.

Those with power

Despite what we think of as massive changes in societal thinking, our current advice and decision model is still apparently based on a Victorian hierarchal, patriarchal, colonising model.

Those with power in the scheme of things are still deciding how things should be done, and their decisions are followed by all the layers below them including managers, science advisors, bureaucrats and servants, with the public crouching on the bottom level.

This results in a reductionist approach to knowledge which gets divided and categorised, so that those lower down get to focus on the parts, but lack the oversight to see the whole.

There is also the long-held perception that nature is attacking us, and we must go out and fight it every day.

Once it was wild animals and unseen deities. These days it’s weeds and floods and droughts.

Colonisation across the centuries has embraced top-down administrative structures, scientific approaches, and the superiority of the colonising peoples.

Complex issues

So far democracy, where everyone supposedly gets a say, hasn’t worked. People don’t use their vote, are poorly informed, and the politicians who lead are generally well-meaning amateurs who aren’t around long enough in a parliamentary term to really get to grips with complex long-term issues such as resource management into the future.

So how does all this affect soil? It’s there in Section 5(2b) of the RMA, but there is no National Policy Statement for soil.

Only five per cent of our land is measured as Class 1, but it has no real protection to keep producing most of our food.

Singleton recommended that government science funding be transferred to an Environmental Protection Authority, possibly the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Social scientists need to be employed to study the psychology of change and how it will be received in different areas and classes.

Collaborative decision making can only work if advocacy is made for the resource, not the using sectors as we’ve seen until now.

Councils need more expertise and iwi, and not just elected members. And our current pyramidal structures, with man at the top, need to change to more circular thinking where everything in the environment is considered to be equal to all others. An urgent step change needed, but can we face what it means?


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