Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Be wary of the doomsayers

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The famous American satirist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken reckoned that: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populous alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Perhaps inevitable then that back in 2008 Green Party demigod Russel Norman would proclaim that petrol would be $10 a litre within a decade. “Petrol at that price would make the Government’s entire motorway building project a white elephant - modern day Easter Island statues. Our new motorways would be monuments to short-sightedness and profligate waste of resources,” Dr Norman said.

In 2008 the average price of petrol was $1.82 a litre.

I like keeping records of these typical hobgoblin-style statements to look back on. I have for instance a copy of an article dated the 12th of July 1988 printed in the once-popular Wellington daily The Evening Post which informs its intrepid readers that global warming has arrived.

It says in part: “The severe four-day southerly storms which traditionally smashed the capital three or four times a year have become a thing of the past as Wellington bathes in almost permanently year-round balmy weather. Spring flowers are appearing up to two months earlier than usual and heating bills are way down.”

The article goes on to caution that sea levels were rising and sea walls in Lower Hutt and Wanganui would need to be built. The author however thought some smaller towns such as Raglan were probably doomed as they were not of sufficient size and importance to justify the expense of saving.

A year before this, in 1987, the engineers on the Wairarapa Catchment Board warned that the sea at Riversdale was encroaching landward at the rate of a metre a year. They told the Masterton District Council that a hazard zone should be put in place as a large number of dwellings were under threat. I was chairman of the Riversdale Ratepayers Association at the time and we were determined to fight the council over this zoning bye-law given that it would lower the value of many properties and possibly even make them unsaleable.

We engaged legal counsel at considerable cost, but lost the case when the hazard zone was eventually put in place in 1996. By then I wasn’t on the ratepayers association, but was a district councillor - voting against the proposal of course, but to no avail.

I was a member of the Riversdale Surf Lifesaving Club in 1957 when the original clubhouse was opened and I viewed the glorious vista from the balcony. Last week I stood on the balcony of the splendid new clubrooms built on the same site and I have to report, surprise, surprise, that sixty years on the sea is still lapping the shores in exactly the same place.

At the time of writing this column Gull’s Masterton service station was selling petrol for $1.88 a litre and the beachfront homeowners at Riversdale and the 3000 people who live and love in Raglan all still had their heads above water.

“When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.” - Sir Winston Churchill


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