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Oturehua poet Brian Turner has long written of his desire to see New Zealanders afford more respect to their landscape and waterways. As The News‘ Protecting our Water series moves towards spring, Turner writes a guest editorial reminding us of our duty to protect this natural resource.

It’s hard to avoid grieving for what humankind is doing to our lands and rivers and lakes and oceans .

Back in the faraway 1960s a noted provincial field hockey coach whose team I played for regularly reminded us to carefully consider what others asserted and advocated before “we bought it”. Often, after listening to what I and teammates had to say, he’d quip, “You know, with some people it’s not their ignorance that astounds, it’s the extent of it”.

He’d chuckle a bit to ensure we didn’t feel humiliated or wounded. For the most part I found what he said contained a lot of truth. We were being warned of the dangers of falling foul to, and going along with, those driven by what he saw as short-sightedness, ignorance, insufficient knowledge and, sometimes, unhelpful biases.

Central landscape . . . Oturehua writer Brian Turner is flanked by a sunset on his beloved Blackstone Hill. PHOTO: DECLAN WONG

What our coach was saying, as I see it, could be applied to life and living generally, both then and today.

In the early 1970s I remember David Attenborough saying that we humans had become “a plague upon the planet”. Ever since I’ve been unable to rebut that and, sadly, perplexingly, only a few of those we elect to govern us share Attenborough’s view.

In the 1960s – in my early 20s – I became aligned to groups of “environmental activists”. We fought off a proposed aluminium smelter at the entrance to Otago Harbour.

In ensuing years I was one of those opposing large hydro schemes at Manapouri and, subsequently, others big and small elsewhere in the south. Think of the Mackenzie Country and the Nevis and so on and on.

Then there was the fight to stop a whopping wind farm – 100-plus turbines – on the Lammerlaws, and later a dam on the Nevis. And so it goes. Beware the Manuherikia!

So many of the environmental changes proposed and wrought to our lands and waterways continue to be promoted and justified in the name of “progress and development”. Efforts to protect and preserve the diversity of what evolved over centuries are often derided.

When I hear people discussing their “right to develop” and what goes with it, I can hear my father’s voice reminding me and my brothers that, “yes, we have rights, but we also have duties and responsibilities”. Environmentally – one way or another – many of us continue to avoid or evade exercising our duties towards nature and humans who follow us.

We still won’t accept that we’re eating up our “natural capital” fast.

Very few of the rivers and streams and lakes anywhere in New Zealand are environmentally in as good and diverse and healthy a condition as they were when I was a youth.

It’s hard to avoid grieving for what humankind is doing to our lands and rivers and lakes and oceans on this once more-gloriously diverse and healthy planet we occupy.

Wake up elected members of the Otago Regional Council and Central Otago District Council!