by Eugenie Sage
While universities are primarily charged with promoting learning they also have a vital role as the critic and conscience of society. Scientists ask questions, investigate, research, analyse the data and report on the results. Their work informs the public debate. How then are we to interpret repeated attacks on university scientists such as Massey University’s Dr Mike Joy. His research on native freshwater fish and aquatic ecology means he knows the state of our rivers firsthand.
With a Minister so keen on supporting science and getting new science graduates you would think the Government would be listening to what scientists have to say…
Instead the Minister of Science and Innovation launches an assault on universities. It’s the same bullying tactics the Minister has used to try and bully Forest and Bird to withdraw its court case against Bathurst Resource’s destructive coal mining proposals on the Denniston Plateau.
If the Minister wants more science graduates we need to be holding up prominent scientists as role models so that more students are encouraged to study science. We need to see scientists like Mike Joy featured on the side of a Weetbix box, not pilloried because they deliver the inconvenient truth that our rivers and lakes are in a bad way.
That obvious too in that five regional councils across New Zealand have issued press releases in recent weeks warning against swimming, walking dogs and other summertime enjoyment of our rivers because of the risk from toxic algae such as Phormidium.
We can’t accept as the “new normal” such gross pollution of our rivers and streams so that they are unsafe for human contact. Our rivers and lakes are under pressure from increased pollution and increasing water demand largely due to intensive agriculture and irrigation. Over half of the rivers monitored for recreational water quality are unsafe to swimming. 43% of our lakes are polluted. 90% of our wetlands are gone. Our rivers and lakes are part of our common heritage. It is the birthright of every New Zealander to be able to enjoy them.
We need clean water rules now and leadership by the Minister for the Environment. Strong rules that protect our lakes and rivers by ensuring that protect river flows and prevent any further decline in water quality. Rules that will mean that generations to come will be able to enjoy our lakes and rivers as we could when we were children.