Reintroduction Biology

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Another inaugural professorial lecture, this time for Philip Seddon.  I arrived in time for the lecture after visiting my flat to get my washing in before dusk, and ominous clouds.  The lecture theatre filled up, with the overflow watching in another of Archway theatres on live-streaming.  This was a popular lecture.  The benefits of becoming a professor is that you end up on a lot more committees.

We are becoming alienated from the natural world.  More people live in urban areas, over 50% of the world’s population.  The example was sighted that in a survey of school children done while Seddon was in Saudi Arabia 50% of the pupils described the desert fox as ‘dangerous’.  Yes, really!

This puts pressure on wildlife populations.  September 2014 is the centennial of the death of the last passenger pigeon.  She was called ‘Martha’.  It is dangerous to be named as the last of a species.  Ask Lonesome George who was last of an island of Galapagos Tortoises.  The last of mainland Kakapo, died 1987, was Richard Henry Kakapo, named for Richard Treacy Henry.  The human Henry unsuccessfully established Resolution Island as a sanctuary for native birds.  It was too close to the mainland and the stoats got in, a fatal winter.

This was not the first attempt at conservation translocation.  At the same time Edward McIlhenny, famous for his ubiquitous tabasco sauce, founded the sanctuary Bird City in Lousiana.  In 1907 the American Bison Society began the restoration of bison on the great plains, having previously shot as many as possible to break the hold on land by the Plains Indians.

A little over quarter of the translocations happen in New Zealand.  Species cannot be restored to the state that they were previously.  It is a dynamic state.  Species cannot be restored to environments where preditors now exist.  Climate change will also make a difference, like to what a tuatara’s gender will be.  Species are introduced to non-historical habitats to allow them to survive and flourish.  There has to be a balance between the wolves and the elks.

Sometimes we need to make ecological substitutes.  After goats and pests were removed from Galapagos Islands giant tortoises were reintroduced to graze on weeds and allow indigenous plants to flower.  They were not the same sub-species there before, now extinct.  The ecology was put back together again.  Good to have all the pieces.

Can we resurrect species? Through breeding, cloning and splicing?  Technically yes.  They won’t be the same species.  Do we need new giant rattites in New Zealand?  How about we save the kiwi!

Like in industrial fishing the baselines are shifting as the ecologies become poorer.  We are dealing with limited resources.

Gone: by Isabella Kirkland, a still life of extinct species

Gone: by Isabella Kirkland, a still life of extinct species

Time to Vote

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Fiji voted  earlier this week, and it looks like that they are keeping their government.

Scotland voted in their referendum and it looks like the Unionists won.

Saturday New Zealand goes to the polls.

The electoral office has been open for early voting for a couple of weeks now.  I wanted to vote before participating in our candidates night at Opoho Church.  There were three people in the booths ahead of me, a middle-aged couple had arrived in with wheelchair-bound mum, and all three made their vote.

Our candidates’ meeting was a success.  The community came out en masse.  One count from the front was 160 people in the audience.  The back of the church was packed with people.  This is an occasion that I live for, seeing that people care and are willing to come out to be informed.  I was timekeeper with my pocket watch and a deer-horn.  At least one candidate has skin like boiled leather with an ability to rebuff critical questions.

Tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a wet day.  I’ll do my errands to the supermarket.  I really need to get a haircut, and I want to take a book back to the university library.  I can look up words while I’m there for Brithenig.  A lot of other people are going to take their chance to vote as well.  There is a lot of interest in this election.  Don’t let the weather put you off.  If you are going to vote, make a difference.


Why Listening Matters for Mission and Ministry

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An open lecture from Lynne Baab for the launch of her new book, The Power of Listening.

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

John 17:18

Go into the community, see where the work is, and join in.

For her study on Listening Lynne Baab conducted interviews in 31 churches in America and Britain, and two New Zealand Methodists who happened to be on hand during her interviews.  In the majority of cases church people were not practising intentional listening.

She cited the case of a foodbank in Seattle where a church foodbank put on a meal to provide a space to sit down with their clients.  After five years of doing this the providers became aware the major need of Seattle’s poor and homeless was work and housing.  When they began to listen in this social space the thrust of their mission changed.

Spire, First Church of Otago, Dunedin, by Dave Baab, 2008

Spire, First Church of Otago, Dunedin, by Dave Baab, 2008

Congregations vary widely in their commitment to listening to the wider community.  They listen to themselves and provide support.  There is a lot of work going on there.  Intentional listening to the wider community may be thin on the ground; and we need to identify and recognise our wider communities.

Most of the interviews were not working on debriefing after listening to the wider community.  What was happening was a lot of reflection and the use of contemplative prayer, usually at an individual level.  This was not related to listening for mission.  The decision on communal mission is not rushed.

Lynne raised the confusion between consensus and discernment.  Consensus means a situation in which there is general agreement; and any number of motives behind that proposal.  Discernment is the prayerful reflection leading to understanding of direction.  Discernment should have a high level of agreement.  It doesn’t have to be 100%.

Many obstacles keep Christians from listening well: we don’t want to hear because of institutional fear; we don’t have the resources available to respond to voiced needs.  The obstacles need to be addressed.

Pastoral care listening is integral to mission.  It shows up in the life of Jesus in the gospels.  In a diverse society we don’t share the same language of faith, so we need to listen harder.  We cannot assume that we know what motivates other people or what their needs or desires are.  Our leaders need to be listeners.

Presbyterian Research Network Spring Lecture: Frank Glen: Researching religious history in a secular world view

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One of our older ministers who surprises people by being not dead yet.  He has provided the Hewitson Library with one of the largest private collections of manuscripts relating to Gallipoli, and the New Zealand Land Wars.  His next collection project is developing a collection of Muslim, and Nazi studies.

According to the New Zealand census statistics 43% of New Zealanders claim to be secular or to have no religion.  What we are seeing is a failure of the interface between a generation of post-Christian historians and the motives of an earlier generation with a belief system felt in the emotional domains of the gut, and heart, and mind.  In a secular world view humankind does not need to relate to divinity to achieve full potential.

Religious history is the history of people who have been ‘inner-directed’.  Convictions that caused people to awaken to the numinous, to unite for better working conditions, to free the enslaved, to cross the world; and convictions that led to the deaths of six million people in Germany.  In a secular world people are still living out faith; both Christian and non-Christian convictions can be realised.  It is alive with spiritual history.  We can find out where we are at a given time, discover what direction we go in to meet the challenges of today, be enlightended by a Christian world view in a secular society.

The secular church needs some inner-directedness from a god who occasionally pops in to add a bit of transcendence.

The United States and Arab-Israeli Conflict

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An open lecture by visiting Professor Mark Miller of the University of Delaware hosted by Political Studies.  Held in Quad 1 I thought the attendance looked small.  As the lecture got underway it quickly filled out with people arriving at the last moment.

It is the propensity of states to engage in mistaken policies for long and disastrous periods of time

Most Americans don’t care or know about the rest of the world.  (If you are an American reader you may be inclined to disagree.)  The providential nature of America, to be a light on the hill to all the world, assures them of a sense of superiority.

They recognised themselves in the Zionist project.  In the 1890s this was a fanciful idea.  Its history was not manifest.  The Great War of 1914-1918 led to circumstances where Britain gave support to a Jewish homeland (not a state) in Palestine.  A pro-Zionist lobby group was nascent in America.  I would have liked to have heard more about this group and its history.  The Wilson Administration favoured self-determination.  World War II made the Zionist lobby more pronounced in American domestic politics.  Domestic politics has the interest of the nation.  The consequences of the tragic Holocaust led to radical Zionism, adopted by both political parties of American politics.  There was pressure on the British mandate in Palestine to allow more immigration and building of the Jewish state.

Until the beginning of the 1970s America remained evenhanded.  When Britain, France and Israel occupied the Sinai peninsula the Americans ordered them out.  After that time it became good domestic politics to embrace Israel.  Nixon and Kissenger supplied the Israelis with armaments from America.  The Israelis became a major military power in the region.

After that, rinse and repeat.  The hostility between both sides: Arab and Israeli, has become entrenched.  America maintains that it is evenhanded.  Jewish population arrived in America from Eastern Europe at the same time as the Zionist project.  They concentrated in the significant electoral states of America.  Where they are organised voters and campaign supporters.  The political elite are sensitive to this.  Other narrative is silenced. No reference was made to Christian support for Zionism to their own messianic beliefs.  I suspect that this is another important factor for American leaders.

Israel continues in a generation-long trend in its beseiged mentality to radical right-wing politics: xenophobic, anti-alien (including non-Arabs coming from Africa), authoritarian and populist.  The left-wing in Israeli life find it easier to emigrate.

Last year’s Interfaith Peace Lecture in Dunedin was addressed by a progressive rabbi from Wellington who left Israel so his children could grow up without serving in the army.  In the audience was a Palestinian mother who left Palestine for the same reason.  They could acknowledge each other across the room, away from their homeland.

Meanwhile demographics show a trend for a Jewish population governing a non-Jewish majority.

Eventually there will be a re-balancing in the state.  My fear is that the current situation will remain until scarcity at the end of the current age of civilisation causes American patronage to become isolated.  The change will be severe and violent.  It seems to be the only way for it to end.  We can only hope for an optimistic alternative.

The problems created by human beings can eventually be solved by human beings.

The fate of the Antarctic Ice Sheet

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Enough of the elections already.  The big lecture of the week was visiting professor Rob DeConto talking about climate change and its effect on the Antarctic ice cap.  Looking ahead 500 years proved to be more important than looking ahead to the next election cycle.

Sea level rise is beginning to accelerate.  More melt-water is coming off the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica  In the Southern Ocean relatively warm water is hitting the Antarctic ice cap.  A loss of the glacial ice from Greenland will lead to a rise of sea levels to 7 metres, the West Antarctic Ice sheet 4 metres, East Antarctica 50 metres.

There’s not much action on the East Antarctican front yet.  There was a week in July 2012 when the entire Greenlandic Ice sheet was above freezing point.  It was effectively raining in a dry land.  Greenland is a robust ice sheet that survived the last inter-glacial period.  The mass of the Greenland Ice sheet is dense enough to pull water to it.  The loss of water from Greenland won’t affect the surrounding North Atlantic coast line, from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Instead, further away, in the South Atlantic will be most affected.

Likewise the Antarctic melt-off won’t be felt in the Southern Ocean.  It will be felt in the mid-Pacific gyre.  The West Antarctica melt affects North America, centring on Washington DC.  Scientists call this the Karma effect!

Most of West Antarctica is sitting on bedrock below sea level.  It is sensitve to ocean temperature.  Ice flows down, off the ice cap, to the ocean.  Where it flows of the West Antarctica into the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea the ice shelf is buttressed by the limits of the land that encloses it, and obstacles that it encounters, like sea mountains.  Warm water thins the buttressing and the ice flows faster into the ocean.  At the ice shelf’s edge it calves off into ice bergs and floating sea ice.

If the Ice sheet is not buttressed it loses mass.  The edge begins to float and the grounded ice sheet moves back.  The ice cap rests in a bowl of bedrock that is above sea level.  The slope of the ice sheet mirrors the slope it is grounded on the bed of the continental shelf.

The last time carbon emissions in the atmosphere is as high as they are now was during the Plyocene period three million years ago.  During that period there was no West Antarctic ice sheet and sea levels were 20 metres higher then the current Holocene period.  See I’m back to reporting on climate change again!

It turns out that as well as the underwater basin in the West Antarctic ice sheet that there are deep basins in East Antarctica, and these are the thickest parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet.  The grounded ice sheet cannot contain its own weight.  Floating at 100 metres above the sea the Ice cliff will break up under its own weight.  Ice cliff failure will retreat the ice sheet until its supporting weight will re-stabilise. 

We are beginning to see melt water on the Ross ice shelf, standing water above freezing point.  Eventually vulnerable basins in East Antarctica will show the same warning signs.  It will take 500 years for Antarctica to reveal its new coast-line.  However our ‘business-as-usual’ policy towards carbon emissions shows that we are on schedule.  By the end of the century we will see sea rises of 1-2 metres, and an encroachment on our coasts that will be measured in centimetres per year, not millimetres as it currently is.  Coastal properties may not be a good investment.

Warning: sea levels can rise quickly making the return trip difficult and dangerous.

Antarctica showing ice sheets sitting below sea level marked in blue

Antarctica showing ice sheets sitting below sea level marked in blue


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The second lecture I attended this week: Generation Zero’s live-feed from their candidates meeting in Auckland.

While the attendance in Auckland looked thin on the ground, as it did in the lecture theatre in Dunedin, it filled up in the Auckland auditorium.

The event was presented and chaired by Samantha Hayes, a journalist and news presenter from TV3.  She volunteered her time, introducing the speakers and spreading the questions around.

Most of the parties were in attendance.  Act and the Conservatives were not in attendance, which kept the conversation away from chem trails. 

The debate was conducted on the assumption that the causes of climate change were resolved in the rational world.  (Where assumably rationality is not applied to climate change deniers.)

If we are not world leaders in climate change action then we are still batting above our weight class.  We have been foot-dragging to become pioneers under the government of the last six years.  This doesn’t mean that we are not concerned.

Tracey Martin showed that there is more to New Zealand First than yes men to Winston Peters.  In the conversation over transport she argued that the conversation needs to be extended from talking only about metropolitan Auckland to include connectivity to Auckland’s satelite towns.  She cited her constituency Warkworth, a community which is also home to the largest migrant Kiribati population in New Zealand.  There is more to New Zealand First’s immigration policy than just being opposed to New Zealand becoming a bolt-hole for Chinese millionaires.

If New Zealand First goes through a leadership change during the next term and people like Tracey Martin step out of the media shadow cast by Winston Peters then that party could prove to be interesting to watch.

Transport needs to be more than feeding roads.  It needs to be about improving networks.

Tim Groser: “Have you seen us abolish the ETS?” (Emissions Trading Scheme)  David Parker and Russell Norman: “Affectively Yes!”  I’m pretty sure that they both chorused that response.

The government is reliant on the high level of renewable energy (70%) to justify reducing incentive to take action to go further to higher levels of renewable energy.

Tracey Martin jumped in again to say that National and Labour think they know everything, both supporting the ETS while a group of smaller parties favour the Carbon Tax.  The two biggest parties need to be less arrogant.  She is really earning her pay-check this week.

There is a role for the Centre-Right parties to carry their people to act on climate change.  Tim Groser may look like an obstacle in this forum; addressing a room of 200 farmers he becomes an advocate for acting on climate change.  It was pointed out by the panel after the main event that he didn’t play the ‘environment-is-nice-to-have-but-we-can’t-afford-it’ card.  The National Party still needs to watch out, especially if the fiscal conservative faction becomes the dominant faction in that party.

Climate Voter

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