Beware unpredicted surges and currents

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    I was temporarily home-schooling two of my grandsons when the move-to-higher-ground instructions circulated after last week’s seven and eight magnitude earthquakes off our northeastern coasts. The schoolwork iPads went into their bags with a couple of mandarins and hats, if not shoes. We headed up the hill, the younger far ahead, trailing an enthusiastic stream of remarkably accurate geology, and the wave vectors to be expected of tsunamis.

    There was little to see beyond the moody vista of cloud shadow and wind riffles but, picking out the outlines of the Coromandel and Great Barrier, Sam noted philosophically that they would have made a wall against the tsunami. They then settled down, their backs against warm rocks and heads bent for further consultation with the iPads among the waving seedheads of late-summer grasses.

    I watched the high tide linger, lapping the Blackpool seawall for maybe a bit longer than usual. There was no sign of the surge that emptied the flat western beach to half tide and then filled it again ten minutes later, that occurred on an earlier and much more rigorous tsunami evacuation a few years ago.

    But when the high alert was called off, it came with warnings to boaties to beware ‘unpredictable surges and currents’ and – in the context of such an Elysian couple of hours – it seemed to be a metaphor for the stage we have reached in the world’s plunge into the colliding existential crises of pandemic and environmental hubris.

    It is little wonder we seem angrier and more on edge during this round of post-Covid turbulence. 

    High roller businesses on the NZX are demanding a place at the table for oversight of the government’s rebuild. Auckland Council is rolling out still more schemes to extract the costs of its own profligacy from its along-suffering (but increasingly enraged) citizenry. 

    Kennedy Point Marina has arrived in our gateway bay, along with the news that a substantial dolphin and whale watch business based at the marina is envisaged. A specious PR exercise that surveyed habitats of the increasingly endangered kororā (little blue penguins) at a time of year when the burrows would be empty anyway didn’t help.

    Protests, flags and ill feeling over the flouted rāhui roiled from Tuesday to Wednesday morning. 

    It all rather reinforces the message that citizens have few weapons to tame the ‘growth’ that comes at the expense of the social commons or question the rights of the privileged to exempt themselves from obligations when it comes to fossil fuel consumption and a whole lot more besides.

    Waiheke’s visitor distinction has been built over decades by entrepreneurial islanders with Waiheke’s wellbeing as part of the mix. No thanks to either supercity and no discernible gratitude that I have ever seen – though we keep trying.

    In Gulf News this week, academic and environmentalist Colin Beardon refloats the idea of ringfencing the island’s unique character, beauty and real mana as a traveller destination with a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a rāhui to replenish the kina barrens of the Hauraki Gulf is gaining a traction that years of campaigning for a radical increase in marine reserves in the Hauraki Gulf has failed to accomplish. We also look at housing for those living and working from cars for the summer.

    A year ago there was the giddy novelty of seeing the world without people, the clearing waters and motorway smogs, the notions of less work, more love, less ego and top-down monologue, more grass-roots dialogue, a new compassion and value for all life.  A dreamy optimism that the new normal would be better. The critical mass for balance and human kindness was upon us.

    A year on, there are books examining the subject, digging into both opportunities and threats. In Everything Must Change, a series of conversations during the early lockdowns with leading figures of the intellectual left including Noam Chomsky and Richard Sennett, participants speculated on the spontaneous seeds of a new community spirit and a ‘localised sociability’ extending to redesigned cities, ‘walking density’ and the use of tech to ‘build solidarity.’ 

    However, there was always going to be a push-back from an out-of-balance capitalism which had bricked off, for decades, any notions of social commons or the useful contribution to be rightly made by the state and democratic institutions in any repair and rebalancing of capitalism.

    It is good that we haven’t given up our activism and innovation credentials too soon. • Liz Waters

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