Cows in Inchbonnie, New Zealand.

Dr. Mike Joy––Horowhenua, New Zealand

Water and climate change are totally interrelated here, as I guess they are everywhere. As a country we are going along a very clear path towards maximizing agricultural production. Our government has decided that it wants to double agricultural production in the next decade or two.

We already have extreme effects of intensification of farming. 62% of the length of all our rivers in the country are unswimmable through pathogens, mostly from farming but also from urban impacts.

Pretty much anywhere in lowland New Zealand you’ll find polluted waterways, and in the conservation estate, which is mostly the alpine areas, we have amazingly clean lakes and rivers. With the intensification of dairy agriculture we now have 6.5m dairy cows in this country. If you want to think about the impact of 6.5m dairy cows, a very conservative comparison is that one dairy cow produces as much waste as 14 humans. So, you multiply that out. A country the size of the United Kingdom and has 90 million human equivalents.

The current human population of New Zealand is 4.8 million. The waste from these animals doesn’t get some form of treatment like human waste would in a developed country. It mostly just goes into waterways. The other big downside to that is more than 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and so we effectively, while our CO2 emissions are relatively OK because we’re quite a low human population, our greenhouse gas emissions in total are massively increasing.

We trade on this clean green image, but in reality we’ve trashed an amazingly unique and diverse country, and we’ve trashed it in the name of producing a very low-value commodity – that’s milk powder. Of the milk that’s traded in the world, more than 35% of it comes from New Zealand. We’re a major player in global markets, but only at the cheapest possible end of the scale.
The other reality that’s well hidden here is that New Zealand has the highest proportion globally of threatened species overall. We have the highest incidence of waterborne diseases of any developed country as well.

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