Green volunteers deserve a hug

Ian Spellerberg
Ian Spellerberg

June 5 is World Environment Day.

Many people will remind us of the environmental imperative. Rather than dwelling on the fact that humans are using the environment and nature in an unsustainable and inequitable fashion, why not use World Environment Day to give thanks?

There are many environmental initiatives here in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand that have been made possible only through voluntary initiatives. We should thank those individuals who have made a commitment to improve the environment.

We should thank local communities who have promoted good environmental practices. We should thank all those voluntary environmental groups that have had the courage of their convictions to speak out against unsustainable practices.

In the aftermath of the earthquakes it's marvellous to see voluntary efforts bringing about trends in good environmental practice.

For example, Greening the Rubble and temporary community gardens have brought much pleasure to so many but have been made possible only by the dedication of individuals.

Voluntary groups have worked hard to establish organisations such as The Avon-Otakaro Network. That network is surely a leading light with its vision for the Otakaro-Avon River Red Zone and an objective to include natural corridors of indigenous habitat.

In similar fashion, volunteers have established the award- winning Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Trust, which promotes the use of native plants across the Canterbury Plains.

Noticeable in the rebuild of Christchurch are the reports in The Press of many individuals (local and from overseas) who have provided generous advice and offered to help design green buildings and environmentally friendly transport systems.

However, let's not forget the input from local communities when they were invited to have their say about the rebuild of Christchurch.

There was a very noticeable plea for social and environmental sustainability to be built into the new Christchurch. Let's hope the powers that be have taken notice.

Then there is the trend towards envirotowns. Lincoln for example was New Zealand's first envirotown and many other local towns are now following Lincoln's example. These envirotowns are made possible only by the many hours of dedication of individuals and the participation of local households, businesses and schools.

Hopefully many more towns and indeed cities throughout New Zealand will establish good environmental practices by way of becoming envirotowns.

Who could fail to notice the growth in local farmers' and craft markets? They are springing up throughout New Zealand and are surely testament to the fact that more and more people appreciate the value and benefits of local and seasonal produce.

The popularity of farmers' markets is obvious. They are a focal point for local communities. They have social value and help to provide resilience.

They are just reward for those individuals and communities who have made them possible. Do these farmers' markets send out a signal that supermarkets are not what people want?

Thinking about local and seasonal produce, one can't help but notice more and more reports about school gardens. There was a time early last century when gardening was an accepted activity in all schools.

That is no longer the case but thanks to the dedication of many teachers, more and more children are being given the opportunity to learn how to grow their own flowers and vegetables.

It seems a shame that gardening is not compulsory in all schools.

The activities of voluntary environmental organisations are receiving more prominence. One example is the opposition to opencast mining on conservation land on the West Coast.

We should be thankful to those who challenge such activities, be they called tree huggers or environmentalists.

We should be particularly thankful for the growth in the environment profession in New Zealand. It is now 10 years since the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand was established. It's now possible for environmental practitioners to seek professional certification.

To ensure that there are high standards of practice and that individuals can be held accountable, all environmental practitioners should be a member of a professional environment institute.

Yes there is an environmental imperative. No it's not just climate change but rather the continuing unsustainable and inequitable use of the environment and nature.

Yes, New Zealand could claim to be "clean and green" but it's thanks largely to voluntary efforts.

Tomorrow, the Ministry for the Environment announces the winners for the annual Green Ribbon Awards. In addition to national awards there are also local government awards that celebrate the environmental endeavours of individuals and voluntary groups.

World Environment Day is surely therefore a time to give thanks for the tenacity, hard work, and dedication of environmentalists, greenies, and tree huggers. New Zealand would be a much worse place without them.

Ian Spellerberg is Emeritus Professor of Nature Conservation at Lincoln University.

The Press