NZ farmers’ protest by Susan Grimsdell
Taking to the streets
Hundreds of farmers recently took to the streets in their expensive tractors. The vehicles are big bullying things, and that makes me think the drivers are too. Sitting way up high, big wheels, the whole rig shouting – “I’m big and powerful and rich so get out of my way.” As far as I could make out, that was the essence of their protest – “This government is telling me what to do. I won’t have it. It’s my land, and I’ll say what happens to it.”
Farmers consider it their habitat, not ours. They paid money for it, and feel that they have an inalienable right to do to it whatever they want. Recently a farmer cut down 500 totara trees, each well over a hundred years old. Those trees were there long before that farmer made enough money to buy them. They did not belong to him in any sense.
Environmental pollution of our habitat, destruction of the purity of our rivers, clear-felling of our native flora, draining of wetlands so that less than 10% are left, these can in large part be laid at the door of farmers and their traditional way of farming. Some farmers are changing, and sincerely trying to farm in a less destructive way, but judging by the hundreds out on the streets shouting a different message, they are in a minority.
Now, as we begin to realise the effects of what we’ve done to our planet governments are starting to make a few rules designed to put a small dent in our destructive practices as a tiny step towards saving some of what we have left. These rules are what the protest was all about – “Keep your *** rules. Rules don’t apply to me.”
Ironically as farmers massed in the streets of our cities, the West Coast was dealing with one of the biggest floods they’d ever experienced. Farmers seemed incapable of putting two and two together, it seems. The climate is rapidly changing. The few minor regulations this government has introduced won’t achieve anything major; they are just a baby step along the path we have to go.
Cleaning up after their mess costs us tens of millions a year for greenhouse gas subsidies, hundreds of millions to clean up the rivers, some of which are not even safe to paddle in, let alone swim. Who knows if we will ever be able to get nitrates out of our drinking water.
This is not a power game, where those in big brutes of vehicles can roll around our streets trying to intimidate us so we let them have their way. It’s real and it’s here and we are all affected and in the worst possible way. We all have to take responsibility for the effects of what we do. Farmers need to put their big grown up pants on and start to acknowledge the truth of that.