First published on the Stuff website, 30 September 2020
There is an argument that the best thing humans can do to protect our natural playgrounds is to stay the hell away from them. Quit stomping around kauri, clambering on glaciers, poking about in mud pools and camping on our coasts.
And it’s true – good things happen when we subtract ourselves from the environmental equation. In April’s Level 4 Lockdown when we parked up our cars, moored the boats and grounded planes we watched wildlife fill up the space. The weather was great, right? And the air was measurably clearer. Covid-unemployed, I had weeks to sit very still in our garden and watch the native birds take over.
Tūī – the boy-racers of the ornithological world – chased each other at great speed in what was either a display of skill or an expression of sexual power – it’s always hard to tell with boy-racers.
Kererū, who usually visit in pairs around our place, turned up in veritable mobs. Five – no, look! – six of them clustered in an old karamu tree, testing its resilience with their considerable weight. We would watch them coming towards us, graceful in flight, then land like a fat bastard with an almost audible “oof” on a poorly chosen branch, occasionally stumbling sideways into a mate who’d picked a less bendy one nearby. You’d try not to laugh – it felt like their garden now, and it’s rude to snigger at your hosts.
So yes, “not be in it” is a plausible answer to the question, “What can we do to protect the environment?” Miserable prospect, though. Mother Nature is better than we are at creating exciting destinations for R&R. Glow worm caves, geysers, snow-capped mountains, golden sand beaches… Well done, her. Best we seem to come up with without her help is “a day at the mall” and “a night at the casino”.
Plus the whole “subtract humans from the equation” approach ultimately leads down some very dark roads. It might be true that the best thing any of us can do for the economy, for example, is die aged 65 – make that breath you draw between paying taxes and receiving superannuation your very last. But that’s the kind of argument I’ll leave to talkback hosts and columnists who are cool about saying stuff like, “They were going to die anyway”.
I am, however, a big fan of minimising human harm, and maximising our environmental care. Collectively, we need to continue putting pressure on our governments to take a global lead in cutting carbon emissions, and keep encouraging corporations to invest in sustainable solutions. I get excited when I hear that electric cars will soon be affordable, and that electric planes are a thing – for short haul flights only at this point, but maybe by the time we’re allowed to move around the planet again, long haul will also be an option. Though I understand it’s a challenge to find an extension cord long enough for electric international travel.
Personal responsibility, too. Recycling is something we can all do – paper, plastic, glass, clothing… Textiles to Wellington’s Southern Landfill have doubled in the last decade, and around four percent of what ends up in Auckland landfills is perfectly good yet unwanted clothing. So when you see someone wearing the same old shirt, don’t assume they’ve just given up caring, but thank them for doing something terrific for the planet.
I have also recycled two husbands. This is a fancy way of saying that I chucked them out and someone else found a use for them, incontrovertible proof that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And also the better option – I’d been tempted to compost them until someone explained the carbon emissions involved in that. Releasing them back into the wild turned out brilliantly for everyone.
Eventually, you learn to trust the natural process. Mother Nature is smarter than us all.