$30 million Mahurangi action plan
$3 million over 5 years seemed, for a moment there in 2004, as though all the Mahurangi Harbour’s Christmases had come at once. Even in today’s money, $9.06 million is more than twice the 2004 amount, but nor, back then, does it mean that the Mahurangi’s sediment woes are over.
What is different, is that the $4.06 million component for Mahurangi River dredging, in addition to its environmental benefit, is enormously strategic economically, and is community led. In 2004, in contrast, the $3 million, 5-year-riparian-margin-protection kickstart was an imposed action plan. Welcome as the riparian protection funding was, the Auckland Regional Council proved to be strongly resistant to Mahurangi River dredging being in the same tent. As recently as during the Mahurangi Action Plan’s 10 anniversary celebrations, Peter Thompson was discouraged from advocating for restoring the navigability to the Mahurangi tidehead town of Warkworth.
The irony could not have been crueller. The anniversary celebrants were being conveyed past oyster farms, some of which, and parts of some, were so badly derelict—and had become so, on the regional council’s watch—that dredging was, and still is, the only solution. But further, the vessel used, the scow Jane Gifford, had only been saved, and returned to her home port, by the colossal industry of Peter Thompson. And finally, the viability of the historic scow’s return to its former home port of Warkworth was rapidly diminishing due to acceleration of the river’s already elevated sediment accumulation rate. This was reducing the Jane Gifford’s operating window from the tidehead town, to a shorter and shorter period of the tide.
The community, earlier, had stuck to its guns, and dredging was already a line item in the Mahurangi Action Plan: A Catchment Plan 2010–2030, albeit couched as restoring the navigability of the Mahurangi River. Generally, the community had succeeded in convincing the Auckland regional and Rodney district councils that the 2010–2030 plan should, at core, be holistic. It may be the good things take time, but the near-inhuman perseverance all too often required results in the proponents being so worn down, physiologically, psychologically, and financially, that worthy projects fail to come to fruition. That was almost the fate of the Mahurangi River Restoration Trust’s vision. That it was not, is due to the current need for shovel-ready, covid-19-recovery projects. That government can be distributing recovery largess during the worst pandemic in a century, of course, is only possible because of its crucial role in achieving the covid-19-free environment that prevails in Aotearoa.
The same covid-19-free environment and need for recovery projects has permitted work to restart on Mahurangi Harbour sediment generation mitigation. However, the $5 million for the 2020–2023 land restoration programme, applies, as it should, to the broader Mahurangi region:
Expand and connect current pest suppression and restoration activities by Auckland Council, Department of Conservation and community groups from Matakana to Warkworth, South to Hatfield’s Beach, Sandspit Peninsula, Mahurangi catchment and several regional parks.
The funding possibly has a significant pest suppression emphasis, in contrast to the 2004 riparian-margin-fencing-and-planting-focused $3 million. Pest suppression, however, is an often-neglected aspect of indigenous vegetation restoration. Exotic pests, famously rabbits, can devastate many indigenous species, expensively purchased and laboriously planted, overnight.
With the $9 million boost for the Mahurangi region, comes an opportunity for the Mahurangi community to begin building an enduring post-2010-amalgamation framework. Much energy was been squandered in serial attempts to secede from Auckland Council, which were unrealistic and doomed from the outset. Regardless of the wisdom of the one-council solution imposed by the cloth-eared Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, the wider Auckland region was clearly in need of more cohesive planning than the five-city, two-district, one-regional-council model was delivering, pre-2010. The Mahurangi Magazine proposes that the Mahurangi community holds the solution to Mahurangi governance deficiencies in its own hands. It has a meeting place, the Warkworth Town Hall, magnificently restored, and, incidentally, largely at Auckland Council expense. A monthly Mahurangi ‘council’, where the community discussed and agreed projects and priorities, would ultimately make life much easier for Auckland Council and its Mahurangi governance partner, Ngāti Manuhiri.
Easier, that is, for those whose ethos is democratic. Power is addictive, and administrations such as local councils, much less those of Auckland-region scale, can be resistant to the legitimate participatory aspirations of their citizens. Success of the endeavour would turn on how readily citizens embraced the opportunity to be a blessing to Auckland Council, rather than a curse, and, in particular, how willing the community was to work with its council, rather than remain at a safe, insult-lobbing remove, or worse. The challenge would be to attract a sufficiently eloquent and charismatic person to lead the Mahurangi community council. Given the tribulations, particularly of New Zealand’s National party, political leadership, at national or local level, struggles to attract wholesome candidates, much less candidates who are eloquent and charismatic.
The latest 1 News – Colmar Brunton poll has Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enjoying a 64-percentage-point net trust advantage over National’s leader-of-last-resort, Judith Collins. In April, the same pollsters reported a 29-percentage-point jump in trust for the government to make the right decisions on covid-19, to 88%. The relatively high levels of trust by New Zealanders in their governments, the country’s isolation, and Ardern’s exemplary leadership has made the Aotearoa a standout. This is unlikely to rub off onto Collins. Research New Zealand’s 23–27 July polling has trust in politiciansBoth members of parliament and local council members at only 22%. It appears that a higher trust in governments than in politicians is a worldwide phenomenon, and similarly between media publications and journalists. What is begging to be explained is the relatively low regard for journalists reported in Aotearoa—a just 1-percentage-point-higher-regard than for politicians. If the Mahurangi Magazine could be so bold, it suggests that mainstream media journalists improve their research, and the acuity of the questions they ask, such as:
There are 12 new confirmed cases and one probable case of covid-19 reported in the community today. Also reported are 351 cases still termed probable, including 274 dated April. Why has it not been possible to confirm or exclude most of those 351 cases?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meantime, is odious company for Acuity Training to have included with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in its list of “most eloquent world leaders”. Aside from his unapologetic popularism, he pedals covid-19 quackery as shamelessly, albeit not quite as crudely, as Donald Trump. But what is more egregious about Acuity Training’s headline-grabbing list, is the undiscerning mainstream media assumption that the list has standing, or history. Most headlines assume that it is an annual list, helped, in some cases, by the Acuity Training’s paired finding of former US President Barack Obama to be “the most eloquent and effective communicator” of the last decade. While few would argue with Acuity Training’s top placing of Jacinda Ardern, many should challenge the mainstream media to do better when reporting an unpublished report that appears lack rigor, and, prima facie, primarily be an exercise in training-industry self-promotion. Meantime, while Modi basks in his top-three-most-eloquent-world-leader status, his citizens have racked up nearly a quarter of the world’s new infections, during this last week. Even second-placed Angela Merkel’s eloquence hasn’t spared Germans from repeating the pain of exponential covid-19 infection rates.
The dysfunctionality on display in the current standoff between the chair of the Rodney Local Board and the Rodney Ward Auckland councillor, over road sealing, illustrates how far the region’s ten-year-old, compromise, governance arrangements have failed Kaipara kiand Mahurangi communities. But, just as the economy was immaterial without containing community transmission of covid-19, so too is the Mahurangi Action Plan academic, without immediate climate-action mobilisation. The total loss of the two Canadian ice caps captured on 14 July is a sharp reminder that 13 metres of sea-level rise is already locked in. East Antarctica ice-sheet collapse alone is imminently primed to contribute 3 metres, at which point navigability of the Mahurangi River would be augmented very considerably.
There is a route out of the global governmental dysfunction, and one which Aotearoa can help lead by example, on the back of its world’s-lowest covid-19 infection rate. Rapid ramp-up of zero-carbon-emissions energy is essential if a survivable climate is to be salvaged. New Zealand’s quarantine czar and energy minister, Dr Megan Woods, has committed $30 million to develop a business case for a 5-terawatt-hour5 trillion watt-hour pumped hydro storage “battery” that would make Aotearoa the global zero-emissions exemplar. While free-marketeers, and many Green Party voters, will loathe everything about the Lake Onslow scheme, a survivable climate and the environment trumps capitalism and photovoltaic panels.
The illustrious list of potential environmental positives of University of Waikato’s Dr Earl Bardsley’s concept, including the better management of South Island scenic lakes, should have every New Zealander swell with pride that one of their number has the brilliance and courage to visualise zero-carbon energy on this scale. Not that the scale—or rather, the cost—is enormous. The estimated $4 billion involved is just two years’ budget of the motorways-to-nowhere-preoccupied New Zealand Transport Agency—the country’s major, unrepentant generator of avoidable greenhouse-gas emissions. Those whose idea of utopia is a solar panel on every rooftop will be bereft at the prospect of lowered wholesale rates of energy, thanks to the zero-carbon 5-twh Lake Onslow “supercapacitor”. But not only would the solar-panel-centric route have increasingly plunged more and more people into energy poverty, it would have prevented the at-scale electrification of carbon-emitting dairy factories, railways, roads, ports and airports essential, if Aotearoa is to slash its share of the greenhouse-gas-emissions.
Appallingly,or at least, parochially, or both! one of, if not the, sentiment most on display since the government committed to seriously study pumped storage, is that South Island electricity shouldn’t be transmitted to the North Island. The opinion that the South Island should keep its hydro to itself was the bane of State Hydro-Electric Department chief engineer Billactually, MG Latta, and what the initials stand for or where the Bill came from, the Mahurangi Magazine would love to know Latta’s career. It dogged him from the moment, 70 years ago, he produced his comprehensive report on North Island electricity needs, which spanned coal-fired, geothermal, nuclear, tidal, and wind, and the Cook Strait transfer of South Island hydro power. There are transmission losses of course. These appear to be in the order of 8%, for the high-voltage-direct-current link between Benmore Dam and Lower Hutt. Some say the electricity freed up when Tiwai Point closes should be used produce hydrogen to sell to a world apparently gagging to pay a premium for anything that ticks the renewable box. But not only do current processes involve 20% conversion losses, the cost of transporting the lightest element in the periodic table is legendary—shipping cryogenically liquefied hydrogen, at −252.8°, from Tiwai Point would not be a huge advance from exporting South Island hydro in the form of smelted alumina. Meantime, Fonterra dries its milk by burning coal, and proposes to improve upon that by burning that miracle-engineering and carbon-sequestering material: planted-forest wood.
Claims are periodically made for eye-watering transmission losses, for power dispatched from the South Island to the North, but verifiable figures are elusive, online. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment 2018 energy report puts total grid transmission losses at 3.2%, and Greg Sise estimates that even if all the Tiwai Point energy is diverted to the North Island, that average loss would only increase by 1 percentage point. He also states:
Few comprehend that climate-action mobilisation means massive electrification, particularly of transport. The Interim Climate Change Committee’s Accelerated Electrification report states:
Transport currently contributes about 20% (16 Mt CO2e16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and is also the most rapidly increasing source of emissions.
Gravely, but unsurprisingly, the interim committee proceeds to demonstrate that its notion of accelerated electrification is pretty much everybody driving an ev. If this were the oil-shocking 1970s, a car-centric future would be an entirely reasonable prospect to recommend. But more evs simply means more congestion and more $2 billion a year on roads, unless those electric vehicles are double-source trolleybuses. In Accelerated Electrification, evs get 58 mentions, electric buses 1, and double-source trolleybuses, zero. The elegance of the double-sourcedouble-source, in the context of trolleybuses: grid- and battery-powered trolleybus is that it doesn’t need to purchase, at ruinous expense, nor cart around the weight of, a battery bigger than it needs to operate on the unreticulated sections of its route. Why it should surprise people that batteries are costly and problematic when their laptop struggles to operate unplugged for more than a few hours, or their phone, for more than a day, is curious, and instructive.
For New Zealanders raised with due reverence for their pioneering hydro engineersthe author was delivered by the GP offspring of one of engineers, Lloyd Mandeno, the notion of using hard-won electricity to pump water back uphill, rather than rely on the sun to replenish storage lakes via rainfall, probably seems altogether preposterous. But hydro lake storage is not finite. As recently as a week in June, a quarter of the energy transmitted across Cook Strait was southward, and in July 2017, a new record low inflow was recorded into the southern hydro lakes:
Which explains why South Island hydro output has fallen, the hvdc (inter-island) link is running southward almost all of the time, the North Island thermal generators are running flat out and spot prices are running high.
If New Zealand’s total installed hydroelectric generation ran continuously at full capacity, it would produce 48.2 terawatt-hours of energy. This is about a third of the country’s total energy consumption, and only three quarters of the energy used for transport—about half of which is used by cars. It can probably be trusted that Dr Woods is not misled by Ministry of Transport propaganda:
Zero-carbon grid electricity is too important to be blown by the “team of 5 million” on their 4 million light vehicles, leaving nothing for the grid-electrification of trains, trucks and buses, nor for airports, ports and dairy factories. Before blindly committing to switching the 99.5%-fossil-fuelled light-vehicle fleet to electric, as with pumped hydro storage, the business case for better uses of finite road space needs to be developed. A way off the 1950s-style motorways hamster wheel—for example, double-source trolleybuses and trolley-trucks—is in dire need of implementation.
New Zealanders should offer up a prayer of gratitude for a government with an adult in the cabinet the calibre of Dr Woods. Lovers of the Mahurangi, while they await details of the $9.1 million Mahurangi action plan, can have some assurance that, with the $30 million to investigate pumped hydro storage, Aotearoa may yet produce a meaningful climate-action mobilisation plan, making acting local not completely futile.
Praying for more testing times Rather than shovelling more money into motorways, by way of covid-19 spending, a far higher priority is to build a fit-for-purpose national isolation facility and adjacent national testing laboratory—particularly for saliva testing. Anybody who seeks to be tested for covid-19 should be given every encouragement to do so. A runny nose may simply be cold-air-induced rhinorrhea, but every test conducted lessens the potential for asymptomatic, or mildly symptomatic spreaders to go undetected. Then, all positive test swabs should be genetically sequenced, which could very well reduce the frequency that lockdowns need to be imposed.
In several years’ time, post-covid-19, the purpose-built isolation facility could be put to numerous public-health uses, including the saving of hundreds of lives every winter, from seasonal influenza, and for the 130 per year for whom Rheumatic fever proves fatal—as a stopgap until wholesome, affordable housing is addressed, at scale.
Note on nuclear Aotearoa might enjoy vast renewable energy resources, but it is part of a world that needs every immediately deployable, strategic zero-carbon project to be expedited. New Zealand’s primary connection to that world urgently needs to be other-than-by air. Powering air travel, without fossil-fuel largess, would represent an absurdly extravagant deployment of so-called renewables. On 12 August, nuclear power adult-in-the-room Dr James Hansen gave a shout-out to the newly launched Good Energy Collective.
Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.
Ultimately, the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the United States and the globe, the clear evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic personsArons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457, and the eventual need to relax current social distancing practices argue for broadened SARS-CoV-2 testing to include asymptomatic persons in prioritized settings. These factors also support the case for the general public to use face masks when in crowded outdoor or indoor spaces. This unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented measures to achieve its ultimate defeat.