I gave a talk on “Understanding and valuing our plants” at the recent open day of Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington. I’m very interested in why New Zealand’s native species might be valued. I am hoping you can help me think about that – I welcome your input; see below.
As background, New Zealand has over 8500 indigenous kinds of plants – see the blog post How many plants are in New Zealand?
What value are New Zealand’s indigenous plants?
Human society is absolutely dependent on biodiversity. We need plants, fungi, animals, and other organisms for foods and materials, and for cleaning and stabilising our environment.
But does New Zealand society need its indigenous plants and other biodiversity? Comparatively few provide direct economic benefits (e.g., mānuka and its honey).
I’ve a technocratic bent, and think that if New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity was eliminated and replaced with life-sustaining species from elsewhere in the world, human society would persist just fine in New Zealand. After all, most of the world’s humans already live without New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity – so why should we value and look after it?
Some people think that all organisms have a ‘right’ to exist, and/or that we as humans are interconnected with the rest of the living world, and have a duty to care for it. I’m not sure how compelling these ideas are to the public at large.
Recently, I’ve pondered this issue in the context of identity. People often connect with places, and our place – Aotearoa New Zealand – has unique biodiversity that figuratively immerses us.
Personally, I derive a substantial portion of my identity as a New Zealander from our environment, including the plants and animals. Consequently, this means I feel a duty of care for the indigenous organisms that set New Zealand apart from the rest of the world.
This connection of kaitiakitanga applies even when I don’t know what those indigenous organisms look like – they are New Zealanders, like me, and I value (or empathise with) them for it. It means, for example, that I regarded the decision to proceed with the Denniston mine, which will make eight Threatened species even rarer, as an insult to my New Zealandness.
But what do you think?
Please leave a comment below.
Why do you value New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity? And, why do you think others should similarly care? Or, conversely, perhaps you’re a New Zealander who regards the indigenous biodiversity as irrelevant – why?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially as New Zealanders’ relationships with their biodiversity is very relevant as Te Papa refreshes its natural history exhibitions.