Our Changing World

Thursday 30 July 2015, with Alison Ballance & Veronika Meduna

On This Programme

A Treasure Trove of Natural Sciences at Puke Ariki

by Ruth Beran

Behind the exhibitions at New Plymouth’s museum Puke Ariki is a treasure store of natural history collections, and natural science cataloguer Jo Fitness has been brought in to make it easily accessible.

A photo of Jo Fitness with the Ken Fox collection

Jo Fitness with the Ken Fox collection

Photo: Puke Ariki

“We’ve got taxidermied animals, mostly birds. We’ve got a wet collection...a really awesome insect collection…a huge geology and fossil collection here,” says Jo. “Part of my job has been to find it and put it all together.”

The project is called Natural Wonders and Pouarahi Tukuihotanga/Heritage Manager Andrew Moffat describes it as bringing the amazing collection that is stored at Puke Ariki into the light.

“People often think of museums as perhaps exhibitions and whiz bang things out the front,” he says. “But…a very important part of what we do at Puke Ariki is caring for the collections and making those things available for all the great uses they can be put to.”

Part of what Jo is doing is cataloguing the collection.

“It’s a huge job, but it is a fun one!” she says.

A photo of moths in the Ken Fox collection

Moths in the Ken Fox collection

Photo: Puke Ariki

The most exciting thing she’s worked on so far is the Ken Fox collection. Fox was a medical doctor who collected insects from the local area. “There’s thousands of insects in there and it’s all Taranaki related and really, really beautifully preserved,” she says.

The collection is stored in a cabinet made from native wood containing fourteen drawers of insects, although only eight are from the Ken Fox collection. In his obituary it was noted that Ken Fox had New Zealand’s greatest alpine collection of moths and there are over 1000 moths in the collection.

“So my job was to make sure each individual insect was catalogued,” says Jo. Photos were also taken which are now available online. “It’s an amazing collection that at some point I’d like to see on exhibit.”

Photos from left to right of the book of pressed ferns being catalogued and Jo Fitness with the Dr Ken Fox collection

From left to right: the book of pressed ferns being catalogued and Jo Fitness with the Dr Ken Fox collection

Photo: RNZ / Ruth Beran

Recently, Jo has been working on cataloguing a book of pressed ferns that she found by accident on a shelf. She is cataloguing each page and giving it a part number, and identifying the species. She’s also been putting tissue on top to help protect the plants from friction from the pages above and to help absorb moisture that might get in. “Although this room is temperature controlled and so that’s unlikely to happen, it’s just a safety precaution that we are carrying out to make it last,” she says.

Once catalogued, the book will be photographed and that will go online. This means people can go to the Puke Ariki website and search the database, and items like this will come up. “That’s one way that we want to be able to share our collection,” says Jo. Other ways are through education, events, and upgrading exhibits by knowing what is available to be used.

The ultimate goal, according to Jo, is to allow people to see what the museum has. “It can’t all go on exhibition because it’s only a small space over there,” she says. “It gives them the opportunity to come to us for more detail if they want to, or are interested in it.”

There is still more of the Natural Wonders project to go, but Jo says they are getting there. “We had a list of priorities to do, this is a huge collection,” she says, with the insects, most of the plants and out in the exhibition done. “The useful stuff is definitely well and truly on its way to being completed,” she says.


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The Road to Paris - UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres

by Veronika Meduna Veronika.Meduna@radionz.co.nz

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres expects that a global and legally binding agreement will emerge from a climate summit in Paris later this year, but she concedes that the commitments countries have made so far fall short of keeping temperature rise below two degrees.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit will be held in Paris in December, and 196 countries will come together to nut out a new climate change agreement to set the world on a path to taming global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fifty countries, including New Zealand, have already submitted their national targets (pdf) ahead of the negotiations, but Ms Figueres says the sum total of these commitments, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, is still above “what we should have in order to stay underneath the limit of two degrees”.


Since 1990, the world has already warmed by 0.9 degrees Celsius on average, with some areas such as the polar regions warming faster than others. The New Zealand government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 11 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, and has a gazetted long-term target of bringing emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Ms Figueres says keeping temperature rise globally below two degrees is an important goal because “anything other than that does not give any chance of survival to the most vulnerable”.

You sitting in New Zealand are very aware of the fate of all the Pacific islands very close to you and you know what it would mean for New Zealand for those islands to be under environmental pressure under sea level rise. You know what it would mean just in terms of immigration to start with.

She says she is certain the Paris meeting will achieve a legally binding agreement that includes all countries, but it will be just the first step.

“This agreement is more like building a very broad highway that has many different lanes in it, whereby some countries will get in the fast lane, some countries will get in the slow lane. It is a very broad highway where everyone will slot themselves into a particular pace … but it is a highway that goes in one direction towards climate neutrality and towards restoring the ecological balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the natural absorptive capacity of the planet.”

Each country’s commitment will become the baseline, and they will have to return to the negotiating table to increase their target over time. “Whatever you are putting in now is the floor and you are not allowed to go back down below that. It is a very important principle that has already been agreed to.”

Ms Figueres says another element of ongoing negotiations will be to work out how to make the agreement legally binding. “The agreement will be a complex arrangement where some components will be internationally legally binding and some domestically legally binding, but that’s still under consideration.”

The Paris summit is the 21st annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21), and Ms Figueres says she is confident it will succeed because of several recent changes.

“Renewable technology has come down in price remarkably. Solar is down by 80 per cent in cost since 2009, wind is down in cost and efficiency in both has gone up. Combined with investments in battery storage, renewables are now truly competitive with fossil fuels even for grid-connected electricity.”

She says investment flows are also increasingly going towards renewable energy and “the markets are definitely beginning to understand the risks on not acting on climate change”.

Going into a low-carbon economy is … the mega-development project of this century. It creates many new industries, it creates jobs, it creates growth – and it is actually the engine of power and of growth this century.

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick agrees that political will to act on climate change is on the rise, but he says the description of the COP21 meeting as the first stop on the "zero-carbon highway" is overly optimistic.

"It makes it sound as though we have ample time to get on top of emissions reductions."

He says the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that the only future scenario that could keep us below a two-degree warming is the most ambitious pathway, which requires fast and radical reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond about 2070 we need to be actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using technologies that have not yet been developed. Global emissions have risen 31 per cent since 1990 so this represents a major turn-around that needs to happen pretty urgently. If we start today, reductions of 1.5 per cent per year from today’s emissions would have us on track. The longer we wait, the steeper the average annual reductions need to be.

Former climate change ambassador Adrian Macey says the New Zealand government has not yet made the change to a long-term transition pathway of our economy and the 2030 target looks modest.

"It is highly hedged with conditions about future access to action by others, carbon markets, forestry rules etc. This delays certainty about our domestic direction since it will be ages before we know the answers to all these points - at least three years I would say. 

"It contains no sense of our long-term pathway to carbon neutrality or a low-carbon economy and there is scant attention given to the possible, indeed likely, benefits to New Zealand of this transition."


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A Community Wind Farm for Blueskin Bay

By Alison Ballance

“We’re not really discussing whether climate change is occurring. We can see that it is. This is the next step, which is that it’s one thing to say ‘this is terrible, this is bad’ but it’s harder to think about what you might do instead. And we’ve picked on the wind project as a way of showing that local communities can make a difference.”
Craig Marshall, Chair, Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust

View south across Blueskin Bay from near the proposed wind farm site, with the settlement of Doctors Point scattered along the inlet's southern shoreline.

View south across Blueskin Bay from near the proposed wind farm site, with the settlement of Doctors Point scattered along the inlet's southern shoreline.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Blueskin Bay resident Scott Willis is the manager of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust, and leads the Blueskin Energy project

Blueskin Bay resident Scott Willis is the manager of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust, and leads the Blueskin Energy project

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

While Tony Abbott, Prime Minster of Australia, has been loudly railing against wind turbines and solar power in his country recently, the residents of Blueskin Bay, just north of Dunedin, can’t wait to have the blades of their own wind turbines turning on their skyline. The turbines will belong to community-owned Blueskin Energy Ltd, which has been developing the idea of a community wind farm for the past eight years.

Wind farm proposals are often cursed with NIMBY or ‘not in my backyard’ opposition but Blueskin Energy Ltd’s Scott Willis says the reverse is the case in Blueskin Bay.

“We actually want them in our front yard. Many years ago there was a student here doing some research into small wind and he asked the question ‘what would you say about wind turbines in your environment.’ And he got “I really wouldn’t like them if they’re owned by a big corporate’, and “I love them, I want to have them – if they’re owned by us’.”

An enthusiasm for locally-produced renewable electricity generation isn’t the only thing that sets the Blueskin Bay communities apart from many others.

Newly defined coastal hazard zones, for example, which identify low-lying areas that will be at risk from sea level rise, have Christchurch and Kapiti Coast residents up in arms, but the low-lying Blueskin Bay communities have decided that denial and inaction are not options, and instead they are actively planning what their future might look like as rising sea levels begin to threaten their houses.


The residents are part of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust (BRCT), a group of concerned residents who were galvanised into action following severe floods in 2006 which isolated Waitati for several days.

“After the flood in Waitati in 2006 a small group of people got together and said ‘this is no good – we need to look after ourselves’,” says Purakanui resident Ross Johnston. “And as a result they started to do a number of things to support the sustainability of their community.”

Rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change are just some of many issues being discussed by the 1000-or-so households that are embraced by the BRCT. Energy literacy, warm well-insulated homes, community gardens and fruit trees, car-pooling and a desire for energy independence are also part of the community  conversation.

“What would you do if we had another flood? But in the long term, what about energy resilience, what about the fact that we can’t continue to use resources the way we have. Should we consider continuing to live on the flat down there?” asks current BRCT Chair Craig Marshall. “Those are hard questions, and it’s not clear there are any obvious answers, but you should be starting to think about it anyway.”

The 30-metre testing tower visible in the middle distance is on the site for one of the proposed wind turbines. The Blueskin Energy Project has been measuring wind speeds at the site since May 2011 to be sure that the wind supply is enough to generate good amounts of power.

The 30-metre testing tower visible in the middle distance is on the site for one of the proposed wind turbines. The Blueskin Energy Project has been measuring wind speeds at the site since May 2011 to be sure that the wind supply is enough to generate good amounts of power.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Waitati resident Antony Deaker says that for him, as for many people, these conversations began in the playground as parents waited to collect kids after school. They expanded to become kitchen table conversations, and soon to public hall meetings. The Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust was formed in 2008, and it began a series of visioning and community engagement workshops, some of which involved Janet Stephenson and students from the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability.

“It’s an interesting community because it’s very varied and it’s open to new ideas,” says Craig Marshall. “One of the nice things about it is that people have strong views, and they do something about them. And that I think is the key thing about it – that people don’t just think about doing something, they actually do it.”

Community Wind

Picture of wind speed measurement: while this story was being recorded the wind speed at the testing tower was around 20-21 metres per second, which is about 75 kilometres per hour.

While this story was being recorded the wind speed at the testing tower was around 20-21 metres per second, which is about 75 kilometres per hour.

Photo: Scott Willis/BRCT

The most ambitious thing that the Blueskin Bay communities have done is to embark on a project to build three community-owned wind turbines. The Blueskin Energy project is being led by Scott Willis, and after years of planning Blueskin Energy Ltd has just signed an agreement with a local farmer to site the three turbines on top of Porteous Hill on the northern side of Blueskin Bay. The next step is to apply for resource consent. The turbines will be small, sub-megawatt turbines, and the key to the location is not just good amounts of quality wind but also close proximity to a substation which will allow the power produced to be easily fed into the national network. The three turbines will have a very small footprint on the ground and will not affect the day-to-day working of the farm

“This is one of the magical things about wind,” Says Scott. “Although it’s a costly development because you’ve got to build something up front it enables everything else to keep on going all around it, and it doesn’t cost through its lifetime because the wind is free of course.”

Originally the community wanted to produce and then use their own power, but eventually came to the realisation that with the way the electricity market is structured it made more sense to sell the power and then use the income from that to benefit the community.

Producer Alison Ballance leans into the gale force winds that were blasting the proposed wind farm site and threatening to blow her off her feet as she recorded this story.

Producer Alison Ballance leans into the gale force winds that were blasting the proposed wind farm site and threatening to blow her off her feet as she recorded this story.

Photo: Scott Willis/BRCT

The wind project will cost between five to six million dollars, and local resident and investment advisor Charles Abraham is planning to approach experienced investors to raise the capital required.

Community-owned renewable energy projects are common in the United Kingdom, where there are more than 5000, but rare in New Zealand. The only other community wind generator that I am aware of is Pioneer Generation in Central Otago, a community-owned organisation that has exclusive rights to generate, distribute and supply electricity to the wider Central Otago area. Pioneer Generation is just completing the 8-turbine Flat Hill wind farm at Bluff.

According to the New Zealand Wind Energy Association web site there are 19 wind farms either operating or under construction in New Zealand.

Solar

Many households in the Blueskin Bay area have already installed photovoltaic panels on the roofs and are selling the power back into the national grid.

Janet Stephenson from the University of Otago says the high uptake of solar in the Blueskin Bay area accounts for most of the solar installations in Otago, and that as prices for photovoltaic panels become more affordable rates of solar installation are rising rapidly nationwide.


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