Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The numbers game

Do you ever feel you are just being treated like a number? I know I do quite often. Most of us get that feeling when you go to see our bank manager and if you’ve ever had to deal with government bureaucracies – those ones that are ‘there to help us’ you will also begin to get that feeling pretty quickly. Election time is another at which we are reminded that as far as those in power are concerned, we are just numbers to get them elected, or numbers they have to overcome to get elected.

However this whole numbers issue goes a lot further and dominates many other areas of our lives. Frequently governments deny funding to services because they claim there is not enough people who will benefit and just this week we have seen more cruel examples of the government’s drug buying agency (doesn’t that have a ring to it?), Pharmac denying treatment to a desperately ill woman because basically as far as they are concerned she is just one and therefore not a large enough number to justify the expense of her treatment. While it is hard to deny the fiscal logic behind such moves it is impossible to avoid the obvious moral issues involved.

But it doesn’t end there; an even more pernicious form of ‘the numbers game’ is being practiced by a body who on the surface of it seem like a jolly good bunch of chaps and chapesses with the well-being of our country in general and its native fauna in particular. What makes this even worse is that this body has gained the backing of a government official who by the very nature of her position carries with her an implied credibility.

The group to which I refer is the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Incorporated or Forest & Bird as they are more commonly known. This incorporated society that purports to be keen on preserving our native fauna is a keen supporter of sodium fluoroacetate (FCH2CO2Na) a nasty metabolic poison that is highly toxic to mammals and insects. We more usually know of it as 1080.

Their new cheer leader is the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright. Well sorry Ms Wright, but you are very wrong in this case and, just for the record, you are no bloody friend to the environment you are charged with protecting.

But what has this to do with numbers, apart from the name of the death agent? Well it is the old story of scare tactics involving numbers (as they usually do). According to the New Zealand Herald, Ms (Not) Wright says that unless 1080 is used over large areas (numbers again) of the mainland ‘iwi could vanish from unprotected areas within a generation and native birds could disappear from New Zealand's forests.’ Now I’m sure the commissioner actually meant KIWI, but that’s Granny Herald for you – and of course that masterstroke that APN pulled  a while ago by centralising their subbing operations and cutting down on the number of subbies left to do it. It might have been a Freudian slip, but that implies the powers behind APN actually think about these things and that might be stretching it a bit. The scariest thing about that misprint is that it could be true for both kiwi and iwi if they DO keep using 1080.

(Can’t Be) Wright says 1080 is cost-effective and safe (er what part of toxic to insects did you not understand?). Furthermore she claims a moratorium on 1080 would destroy more of the landscape. So if we don’t spread this poison that WILL (not might) kill a whole lot of non-target species all over our land, we will lose ALL of our fauna and flora?

Well have I got news for her! First piece of news that will blow her sweat shop produced socks off is that I have found a point of agreement with that ridiculous looking hairstyle known as Peter Dunne. Ol’ Dunne & Dusted and I are in agreement over the need to stop the use of 1080. Who would have thought it?

And Dunne has pointed out to the Commissioner that 1080 has been used for around 50 years and we are not making any headway at all. We currently spend $100M each year on the stuff and still we have not managed to get on top of the problem. The Hairstyle says we are only spending $2M a year looking for a better way. Now I might not be the brightest financial bulb on the tree but it occurs to me that you could achieve quite a lot of less harmful and better directed possum, mustelid and rat eradication programmes for $102M than you can for just $2M. (Check out those numbers!)

But it’s not just the numbers that are a nonsense here; it is also the entire approach. You see numbers need to be kept in some sort of context to have any real meaning and it is easy to throw around big numbers to tempt people. Too often we choose short-term gains over the bigger picture. For example it is easy get a lot of people to buy cheap sweat shop produced socks that fall apart after a few months than to pay a much higher price for a pair that were made in a safety conscious factory where the workers are valued and well paid. It doesn’t seem to matter much of the time that the initially dearer items will last so much longer they will, actually work out cheaper because they won’t have to be replaced so soon.

Thus it is with issues like control of exotic pests. Nobody wants to do the hard yards and actually put some effort into finding a way to do this without polluting the environment which will be much dearer to put right even if it can be done at all.

We’ve got to stop acting like he old woman who swallowed a fly. I’m sure we can all remember the final line:

I don’t know why she swallowed the fly

Perhaps she’ll die

There’s nothing surer if we don’t stop using these sorts of methods. Forest & Bird should be trapped and released to some remote island and Ms Wright needs some serious corrections.

No comments:

Post a Comment