Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Floods, Weather and Global Warming

Some of you might have heard of the recent extreme weather events we’ve had in New Zealand, leading to huge damage, destruction and loss of life. I thought I’d give a bit of a background to this.

New Zealand is a ‘wet’ country, with a moderately high rainfall. We’ve also had a wet winter, wet spring, and wet summer, at least in the North Island. So the land was already at its limit. And then one day in January, Auckland got a downpour that was equivalent to an entire summer’s rainfall in a few hours. Mayhem ensued. The soil, and the city’s drainage systems, were simply unable to cope. Flooding, collapsed hillsides, roads wrecked, homes and backyards left uninhabitable. People died. Many still can’t return to their homes, and some will never be able to.

Then there was the more recent Cyclone Gabrielle which also wreaked havoc, especially along the North Island’s East Coast. Even more widespread damage, and the loss of more lives. Whole areas are destroyed. Hawkes Bay is normally prime horticultural land, producing many of NZ’s fruit and vegetables. The country around Gisborne, a bit further north, is also prime grape and corn growing land. Much of it is now metres deep in muddy silt. Crops are ruined, stock have died, houses wiped out. Big farmers cry on national TV when they look at what has happened to their land.

The most productive parts of the East Coast are the coastal river flats. And yes, there were stopbanks, but they either weren’t enough or they broke under pressure of the deluge. Roads and bridges in the area have also been destroyed, adding to the difficulty of clean up, repairs to viral services, and getting supplies in.

There’s also the problem of forestry ‘slash’. For those who don’t know the term, it’s the parts of trees that get trimmed off and left behind by the forestry companies. Because behind the river flats, much of the East Coast is steep hill country, and when the storms come, that slash gets washed down, destroying infrastructure, choking streams and riverbeds, piling up on farms and fouling normally beautiful beaches for tens of kilometres. This has been a problem for years, and the forestry companies are supposed to be cleaning up their act, but not much has changed it seems.

And then there’s that silt. What is it exactly? It’s the filtered loose soil, washed down from the hills by the rain, and left behind when the waters recede. Because what isn’t forestry up there is mainly sheep farms. And anyone who’s ever travelled through that country knows how bare and ‘bony’ the hills look. Barely a tree in sight, except for those forestry blocks. The once-dense native bush that used to clothe them and hold the soil in place has long been cleared. But the towns, orchards, farms and vineyards downstream are now paying the price. Long-term of course, this sediment raises stream and river levels, which will only lead to worse flooding..... And the wet weather isn’t done with us yet.

All of this has sparked talk about things like rebuilding roads to be more weatherproof or further inland or both, ‘managed retreat’ from coastal areas now under threat as sea levels rise and storms get worse and more frequent, building higher and better stopbanks, and replanting hillsides in native bush. The government has ordered an inquiry into the forestry industry. It’s also become obvious that improving/rebuilding city and town drainage systems is essential, especially in Auckland where much of the network is up to a hundred years old, and totally inadequate for modern times.

Now New Zealand is not a stranger to rebuilding after natural disasters, thanks to the Christchurch earthquake. Much of that city is still being rebuilt, and many people there are still traumatised. So we know something of how long it’s likely to take to rebuild not just a city but an entire region. The public and the government know it’s not going to be easy, and that the cost will be immense – and that’s without taking into account the effect on food prices, already skyrocketing post-Covid.

The human cost is likely to be high too. Stress and trauma take their toll, even for those not directly affected. I live in a part of my town that could possibly be flooded if the stopbanks give way in a storm. Every time it rains, I think ‘is this The One? Am I going to be flooded out? What should I pack, what should I take, where should I go, how can I get through this? What am I likely to lose?’ It’s always nerve-wracking. I used to think that a roof being blown off was the worst that a storm could do to me, but now…

Global warming affects us all. We are all vulnerable. Things have gotten very real, very fast. It’s been a wake-up call for us, but what happened here in New Zealand could happen anywhere. Even Australia, dry and often drought-stricken country that it is, has had its share of floods and destruction in recent years. No-one is safe. That’s the message to be taken away from this. No-one knows what’s going to happen. Always plan for the worst.

And know that global warming is going to affect you too, in some way and to some degree, sooner rather than later. It’s here folks, and it’s real.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

I Don't Fit Into This World

I don’t fit into this world. I never have, in so many ways.

Being autistic is of course a biggie. There’s the constant everyday jarring against the world, the sensory challenges, the social challenges, the practical challenges, especially if like me you also have executive dysfunction. It’s feeling like a square peg in a round-holed world. A world that doesn’t want me, and would sooner I didn’t exist.

But in turn I don’t value much of it either. I look at the hypocrisy, distorted attitudes, closed minds, hatred, injustices, oppression, prejudices and ‘isms’ everywhere, and I wonder how those people live with themselves. I look at the mess the world is in, and wonder if and when it’s going to all come crashing down. Environment-wise, I see that starting to happen already. I don’t have a lot of hope for the future, to be honest.

Being gay of course is yet another way I ‘don’t fit’ in. It’s more accepted now than it was, but there’s still the assumption that you’re straight unless you say otherwise. Even where there isn’t prejudice, we’re still in a tiny minority, out of synch with a relentlessly hetero world. And as an autistic, I never felt ‘in synch’ with other lesbians anyway. I have very little interaction with the lesbian community now. So I feel like I’m kind of out here on my own.

Then there’s being non-binary, and the pressure to ‘fit your gender’. My mother was a wonderful person, but to the day she died, she couldn’t grasp that I didn’t want to look or be ‘feminine’. Many others are the same. There is this expectation that you’re male or female, and sometimes desperate attempts to have you fit in to this binary, so they can treat you accordingly. But I don’t, and don’t want to either.

I’m also aromantic. When I finally stopped putting pressure on myself to enter into relationships, it was a huge relief. But most people seem to think that an intimate relationship is the only way to ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfilment’. I never found that. One of the few good parts about getting older is that people stop trying to match you up with others. I’m seen as ‘just another old person living alone’, rather than a pathetic loser who can’t get someone to love them.

Poverty is another way not to fit in. When you just can’t afford so much of what others have, the standard of living they assume as ‘normal’, you do feel out of it. This wasn’t how I assumed my life would go when I was younger. I don’t come from wealth or even the middle class, but there was an expectation of working hard, scrimping and saving, buying a modest house in the burbs, and Getting Ahead. It never happened. And it’s extremely unlikely it ever will. I’m out here on the margins, and it’s where I expect to stay.

Then there’s how I’m a thorough introvert in a very extrovert-dominated world. ‘Come out of your shell!’ ‘Why aren’t you talking?’ ‘You need to make more friends!’ And so on. How about just some peace and quiet? Is that really so much to ask? Other introverts will know of what I speak.

On top of these, there’s my various physical disabilities and illnesses, my CFS, arthritis, diabetes, wonky ankle, low thyroid… Whether I’ve had them for decades or acquired them more recently, they still serve to separate me from others.

These are the Big Things, but there are so many small ways I don’t fit in. Take drinks, for example. I’ve never liked coffee or tea, herb teas upset my stomach, and I’ve even given up coffee substitutes. Rest assured, I get plenty of fluids. But visiting people, I invariably get asked ‘would you like tea or coffee?’ As though these are the only possible choices. When I decline, they’re like ‘oh…. so... what do you drink then? Herb tea?’ They’re always puzzled when I say I prefer a nice cold water. (I don’t drink alcohol either.)

And take how I’m wanting to move back to the city, after many years away from it. There were reasons for leaving it, and good reasons to go back. But so many are wanting to move out of cities, it’s become almost a fashionable thing. I have news for them - the country isn’t as quiet as you’d think, and small town people aren’t always as friendly as city folks assume either. But the point here is that I am going against the tide. Again. 

And talking of housing, I’m also not into the current ‘tiny house’ thing. After decades of living in cramped spaces (poverty, remember?), I want more space, not less. I’m tired of things like having to edge sideways to get to the other side of my bed, or having to put away all my creative stuff in order to eat. Even exercise is problematic when there just isn’t enough ROOM. Enough. I want room to move, to live how I want, to do what I want. And I’m not going to get that in a tiny house.

I’m struggling to think of ways I do ‘go with the flow’, fit into the majority, etc. Being white is the obvious one. But I’m too aware of racism for a lot of white people either (I was in the NZ anti-racism movement back in the 80s). It’s similar with being a ‘Westerner’, and knowing the effects of imperialism, colonialism, etc, which most white people would rather not look at or even acknowledge. I can’t sympathise or identify with others solely on the basis of my European ancestry, even as I acknowledge the white privilege that goes with it.

There is a cumulative effect of course from all these differences. Most TV programs, ads, etc, even much of everyday life, leaves me feeling alienated, on edge, cynical, tired and disgusted, with a kind of existential pain and unfocused anger that I try very much not to burden others with. It’s not their fault that I’m different, but sometimes I wish they’d extend the same courtesy to me.

I don’t fit in, I know that I don’t fit in, that I’m an outsider wherever I go. But this is me. I can’t be anything else than what I am, I just wish sometimes that I wasn’t always the different one, in almost every category of humanity. I still have things to do, and people I care about, so I’m committed to staying on the planet, but it’s a daily trial.