Hot Tub Talk Machine

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
25 November, 2016

Some opportunities you know you’d really regret passing over. And so I found myself on Saturday in a hot tub full of milk with Canterbury law lecturer David Round, Christchurch activist artist Sam Mahon, and chef-in-training Camila Nieuwlands.

Gaby Montejo is one of Christchurch’s more interesting artists, and the post-quake Christchurch arts scene is especially entrepreneurial. Gaby, and others, improvised wonderfully around the city’s demolished and ruined spaces, giving everyone little bits of whimsy and beauty.

I couldn’t really say no when he asked if I’d join in a performance exhibition he was putting on at Christchurch’s Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA).

He wanted a panel discussion about dairy and the environment in an art space surrounded by other works on environmental themes, but different. Rather than sit at the front of the room at a table with a lectern, we sat in Gaby’s “Honeymoon Latte” – a warm hot tub full of milk – for a conversation about dairy, the environment, and economics, and the amusement of a few dozen spectators who came around to listen in.

I assumed my job was to add a few shots of espresso to the mix, and so had a lot of fun.

David Round reminisced about childhood rivers and prophesised environmental doom. Sam Mahon wondered where all of the promised economic benefits of dairying have turned up, as he couldn’t see them in New Zealand’s small towns. And Camila argued we should try giving up eating dairy as it would make us all feel better.

When the steamy discussion turned to the state of rivers and aquifers, I argued that we have a pricing problem. Water is allocated by resource consents, and trading is pretty limited.

Objectors blocked an Ashburton water bottling plant, but nobody really knows whether it makes more sense to irrigate paddocks and ship milk, or to cut out the middle cow and just ship water. Better water systems could let us find that out.

America ended acid rain with markets in sulphur dioxide emissions. Markets solved a large environmental problem, and can do so in other areas too. New Zealand may yet fix dairy runoff with tradeable permit systems like the Lake Taupo nutrient management regime.

I doubt that the Initiative will adopt hot-tub based report launches. But I’m really glad I was able to make it down to Christchurch for Gaby’s hot tub talk machine.


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 Photos: Janneth Gil

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