I tend to react neutrally and ambiguously to experiences as they happen, and later I absorb them and form ideas and reactions to them over time. Sometimes very slowly. When people have questioned me this past first week home, asking me how my ten weeks of research went I have often drawn a blank.
My first instinct has been to say "fine" of course...and it was. I didnt die, I wasn't shot by an aggrieved landowner, no council ute ran me over and no marauding sea lion ate me. All in all, it went smoothly and as planned. Sure, there were moments best left unmentioned, and others that were awesome but it seems to be taking a long time to sink in.
As I slowly absorb all that went on though, I am starting to realise the one thing that it taught me. That people and the type of person in charge of any one thing are the die the world turns on.
I have seen 11 regions of New Zealand, read all of their environmental policies and regulations. I have met with countless officials, landowners, conservationists, lawyers, consultant planners, engineers, farmers, digger drivers and so on and seen the way they have impacted outcomes in that region. So i consider myself amply experienced to make this minor point.
The environment relies on champions and advocates and the rules seem to mean little on the ground, except to initiate a process or spark interest. If the rules are adminstered by those uninterested in their meaning or purpose, outcomes will be poor. If on the other hand, passionate, driven and fair people implement the law and legal tools that descend from it then the outcomes are generally greatly more positive.
What is incrementally driving our ecological integrity to the brink is not lax laws (they dont help of course!), it's not an absence of scientific knowledge, it's not even a lack of methodologies and techniques to minimise impacts...it's just the people.
It's the people that:
Write the law: more interested in getting something down on paper than considering it's workability
Argue over the law: more interested in garnering votes and stroking the egos of the mining and agricultural industries like we'll die if their compliance costs go up even a percent
Fight the law: the rampant lawyers fossicking for filthy lucre by arguing for proposals no sane man would fight for, and placing cracks in the clear lines needed for true accountability
Distort the law: the consultants (people who dare to call themselves ecologists as if that means their environmental ethos is anything worth selling) that argue minutae while missing the whole damn point that the law is there to protect that which is precious for it's sake and ours...not to line their pockets with shaky litigative appearances
Implement the law: the planners who seem vastly more attached to due process than the outcomes envisioned by the purpose and principles behind the Acts. They agree to unworkable and sometimes unenforceable conditions just to tick a box and pass it on, satisfied that everything (including the intellectual rigour applied to the proposal and it's effects) is 'de bloody minimis'.
Implement the permissions: the landowners whose ethos is stuck firmly in the centuries prior to the tragedy of the commons becoming apparent who think that owning the fee simple title to the land gives them every right to strip it of any natural character it has or ever will have
Enforce the law: Those that note the breaches to the permits and the rules and shrug their shoulders, unwilling to admit that if you dont do anything then you only positively reinforce that noncompliance is OK because nobody cares anyway.
Fortunately for all those that sell out in the ways mentioned above, there are those that do not. They understand precisely what their role in shaping our world is and I have met many on my trip. But it did show me that personality and attitude are insidious and silent destroyers of the environment..and one cant help but think that some strategic redundancies here and there and some further strategic hireages in other places (dont even get me started on elections too) might just make the world of difference...