When the subtext should be the news


“A Climate Impact Disclosure Statement is a practical, low cost tool to make sure the impacts on the climate are always considered in a public and transparent way.”

James Shaw, Co-Leader Green Party


Last week I went on a trip down to Cuba Street with a Year 10 class to hear an architect talk about the Meridian building on Wellington’s waterfront.


Entering a nondescript door from the street we climbed two flights of stairs and entered into a large, white warehouse space filled with men and women working at Macs in designer casual wear.  By the door was a bicycle park, and a reception area where two women seemed to be mainly engaged in chatting with each and surfing the net.  In the mezzanine we sat and watched a powerpoint as the architect explained the sustainability of the Meridian building.  He said a lot of things about this amazing building, but the slide below said everything I needed to know about why we should be building this way:


The “Reference Building”, in case you’re wondering, is a modern build done to high standards.  It also uses a lot less water.  At the time the Meridian Building came to completion the previously uninterested Labour government was so impressed they introduced legislation that all new government builds should reach the same standard.  National, of course, scrapped that.  When Steven Joyce talks about savings from creating MOBI he is talking about savings made in his rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic, not about the kind of embedded, long-term savings shown above that come from an entire philosophy shift.  Hair straighteners, sun decks and curved signs are not the real story.  They’re bad, and hypocritical, but they are another example of a story that points away from a deeper problem.  As is often the case.

Colin Craig’s quasi-resignation led social and mainstream media on Friday whereas, in fact, it should have been a footnote before the flick over to sport’s news.  It should have been something like: “the leader of the Conservative Party has resigned following questions over his judgement, so Tony… how about that local sports team?”  Does our national media report on the leadership of the Aotearoa Legalise Marijuana Party?  Maybe they should, but they presently don’t and reporting so much on Craig appears to be mainly about his wealth and his oddity.  I suppose that it would have irked me less if I wasn’t aware of so many other things that were not in the news.

When the spiritual leader of over one billion people makes a long statement on our climate it seems strange that it is given one minute of coverage on the news here.  The headline soundbites say something like “Pope blames rich” which is so reductive it seems like deliberately missing the point.  It also seems odd to me that in all the talk about trading with Saudi Arabia recently it doesn’t seem to be relevant that Saudi Arabia is presently engaged in a war with Yemen and is killing civilians there everyday as a matter of routine (during Ramadan, it should be noted).  Then again, there is very little coverage of Saudi Arabia’s grotesque justice system either.  Trade of  course, is our bottom line.

For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.

Laudato Si, p.42

Made for love.  One of Francis’ themes is the value of all life, and the interconnected nature of all things:

It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place.

Laudato Si, p.25

This is something I feel like I learned in primary school.  I guess Nathan Guy and Judith Collins weren’t at school that day.

The largest protected peat wetland left in Northland, it is – or was – home to a variety of rare and threatened plants such as Thelymitra Ahipara, one of only two native sun orchids, and rare birds such as bittern and marsh crake.

But when NEPS and Northland Forest and Bird staff went looking for sun orchids in Kaimaumau last September, all they found was destruction.

Dave Hansford, Public Address

Destroyed looking for swamp kauri for business interests partly represented by Judith Collins’ husband.

“Does that have anything to do with me? Am I the minister of wetlands? Go and find someone who actually cares about this, because I don’t.  It’s not my issue. I don’t like wetlands – they’re swamps.”

Judith Collins, May 2014


Which reminds me of Jon Stewart talking in this case about Charleston, but really about collective shoulder shrugging:

I have nothing other than just sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss…. I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jackshit. Yeah. That’s us.

Jon Stewart

One of the most disturbing books I have ever read is The Sixth Extinction.  Science continues to prove that we are in the process of collapsing bio-diversity massively (in Time magazine this week even conservative models tell us the same thing).  It’s the kind of message that neatly fits with Pope Francis’ message.  The Pope’s message about “all life” of course brings us logically to the Catholic view on birth control, abortion and euthanasia, but on the matter of ecosystems it is easy to agree.

We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Laudato Si, p.36

[Nick Smith] said it was not possible to fully insulate every state house, and if every property that could not be upgraded was taken out of the market, it would cause a huge undersupply.


It is hard to think of a worse person to be running housing.  Considering what is possible with building – the people who made the Meridian building in Wellington are also building sustainable domestic apartment complexes in Auckland – it seems to me that a government with a plan to build thousands of houses (on stolen land) is sitting on top of a wonderful opportunity to set new benchmarks in sustainable building.

One of the things we teach in Year 10 Social Studies is that sustainability does not just mean recycling.  Sustainability is to do with society, and culture, and the economy, as well as the environment.  A sustainable building project isn’t just about the materials you use, the reduction of construction waste, and energy and water-saving buildings, it is also about spaces that make people feel good, it’s about community, and access to the outdoors and nature, and – in the case of domestic architecture – communal gardens and parks in low rise developments.  In a wider sense it is about separated  bike lanes connecting to first class public transport options, and local schools, and health services.  I have absolutely no confidence in National to demand any of this.

Hobsonville Point is an example of wasted opportunities.  Although the website talks about a lot things that sound good, it feels a lot like a mediocre attempt rather than aspirational bench marking.  On a scale of ten the houses in this development get a six.  Here’s what a ten sounds like:

To achieve a 10 Homestar™ rating demonstrates international best practice for being a high performing sustainable home. A sustainable home minimises the potential detrimental effect on the environment as well as having a low social and economic impact over the “life cycle” of the building.

If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, a sustainable home will require less money and fewer resources to operate, and will be healthier for its occupants. Fundamentally the house must be able to generate 100% of the home’s electricity supplied with renewable energy generated on site, such as from photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, as well as being self-sufficient in water.

Sounds good.  This is what Hobsonville Point looks like:


I have visited places like this in Paraparaumu and Auckland and they are f*&king awful.  One thing you really notice walking driving around them is that there is never anybody out on the footpath or in the token parks (which are always on the fringes so they can make nice views for the more expensive houses).  Another common factor, in Auckland at least, seems to be a marina and a completely dead “shopping centre”.

This is what a new housing development looks like in Denmark:


The family apartments are located in the lowest buildings, in close proximity to the water and the intimate scale of the marina. In this way children and parents have convenient access to activities at the waters edge, the forest and the inner courtyard. In addition, all roof surfaces are designed for shared-use amongst residents. The sunny roof surfaces are activated with greenhouses, common areas and living terraces with excellent views of the city, forest and bay. The remaining roofs are established as green surfaces both for collecting rain water and supporting solar panel arrays.

It is almost as if every new thing we do should be given a report against not only the Bill of Rights but against its Climate Impact.  As the Greens propose.  It’s almost as if ecological and social justice go together as the Pope suggests.  In a way, if you are opposed to the current government, their incompetence, hypocrisy and total lack of vision give more credence to the opposition and that might appear to be a good thing.  On the other hand, every single wasted opportunity leaves a legacy, and takes us as a society further into disharmony with our environment and with each other.

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