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Over a century of truth

Therse days it’s quite common for individuals, companies, councils and governments to say: ‘Well, we didn’t really know how serious the problem was, but after the recent devastating effects of climate change we really will have to do something about it”.

The truth is that for more than a century, there’s been plenty of information about the destruction of the environment, the problems it creates, and the loss of biodiversity around the world and in the Wairarapa. But it has been convenient to ignore it in the relentless pursuit of growth that most political parties are wedded to.

It is interesting to delve into Wairarapa’s past, with the help of Chris Peterson, the region’s climate change warrior and Gareth Winter, a colleague in local history publishing, to look at some long-ago ignored warnings.

Back on November 1, 1888, for example, the Wairarapa Daily talked about the minimal rainfall in Masterton in October after three dry summers and that “we shall suffer somewhat seriously”.

The paper went on to say: “It doesn’t follow, however, that because Masterton has for some time past been an almost rainless district that other parts of the colony will suffer a similar privation”.

It continued: “It is quite evident that wherever there is a large extent of bush in any part of the Wairarapa there is a larger rainfall than in those sections of the district which have been denuded of all growing timber”.

Even earlier, on October 12, 1882, another paper, the Wairarapa Standard, made a plea for more tree-planting near Greytown. It said: “Some years ago there was plenty of natural bush about Greytown, but most of that has disappeared”. The article went on to quote C.A. Simonsen from the Royal Forest Academy of Copenhagen who, discussing the importance of forests, said: “Its influence upon the climate, the rainfall, and other physical conditions of a country is of inestimable value”.

And all that was many, many years before the sequestering of carbon was even thought about.

The burning of the Forty Mile Bush in the Tararua District caused irreplaceable damage. As the ‘Environmental Issues Overview Report for the Tararua District’ noted in 2001: “The huia …. relied on grubs found in rotten logs for food. The scarcity of such grubs after the bush was cleared must have hastened the birds’ extinction”.

There were mass extinctions of fish in our rivers too and of the insects along their banks, but no-one gave any thought to where this loss of biodiversity would lead. A report in the Evening Post in 1930 drew on the memories of Masterton’s Charles Bannister stretching back to the 1870s.

In the early days of settlement, Mr Bannister remembered the Waipoua River contained countless numbers of small native fish. Later, the article stated, “…. the native fish have practically gone. He blames the introduction of trout and the disappearance of considerable quantities of insect food for the state of affairs … he points out that formerly there were millions of grasshoppers and locusts along the banks of this river … the trout, he asserts, decimated the young of the native species of fish, and the imported birds accounted for the insects which formerly abounded.”

More than a century later, the damage climate change does, and the grim fact that loss of biodiversity will likely lead to more infectious disease outbreaks, can no longer be ignored.


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Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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