Just because someone thinks it might not be achievable, shouldn’t mean we don’t try

The Government recently released its latest report titled “90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040”. Inside the report, the Minister for Environment and Minister for Primary Industries (The Ministers) are standing by a brown-ish waterway with big smiles, presumably proud of their 96 page report.

But hang on a sec … before I even start reading the report, I’m stuck on the title.

“90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040”?? Sorry, but did I miss the memo? I thought NZ was “100% Pure”. When did we decide 90% Pure was good enough??

The Ministers justify their target of 90% of waterways being swimmable by saying “Requiring every place to be swimmable all of the time is unachievable and would lack credibility”. Really?? Has it come to this that in the land of the long white cloud … the land that says to the world “100% Pure” … The Ministers no longer support the brand identity NZ uses in the world?

When it comes to goal setting, I have learned many things. One of the main lessons is that whatever goal you set yourself, only a few will reach or exceed whatever goal they set. Most people fail to reach their goals. They usually get to a point where they say to themselves “that’s good enough now thank you”.

It’s time for NZ to review the size of our BHAGs

That’s why, in business, we talk about having BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals A goal so ‘wild’, and so ambitious that it’s a game changer if you reach it. Not everyone ever reaches their BHAG (assuming they had one to start with … because let’s face it … BHAGs are ambitious and not for the faint of heart). But those people who have BHAGs do better than average anyway because they strived for so much.

People who have BHAG’s aim for the stars and even if they don’t get there, they reach the moon. People who aim for the moon, and who don’t get there, fall back to Earth with a SPLAT! So if we aim for 100%, we may only get to 90% but that’s a lot better than aiming for 90%, and only getting to 80%.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it” – Michelangelo.

100% Pure is a BHAG. It’s difficult because let’s face it … we (the collective people of NZ) don’t take ownership and responsibility for our impact on our water as a whole. We could all do better and the Government wouldn’t have to get involved. I love the idea of 100% Pure for NZ. I know we’re not 100% Pure – just look at the rivers today compared to 40 years ago. But I’d rather continue to push for 100% Pure than settle for 90% because The Ministers lack ambition and/or achieving a target of 100% supposedly lacks credibility.

Who says aiming for 100% of waterways being safe to swim in lacks credibility? That’s purely a lack of imagination. I’m sure 200 years ago people would have said you would have lacked credibility if you said you were going to fly. And yet in 1903 someone did it.

And if we accept it’s okay to drop our standards now, where will this end if this attitude is allowed to continue? If 90% is the standard we want now, and we don’t reach it, won’t it just drop in another 10 or more years from now to 80% or 70% because (using the words of The Ministers, and assuming we’re happy to water down NZ’s clean green image further, and assuming we’re happy to accept mediocrity), “Requiring 90% of waterways to be swimmable all of the time is unachievable and would lack credibility”.

I hope not! I don’t want my daughter growing up in NZ and learning it’s okay to ‘settle’ and to not set ambitious goals.

Now I know The Ministers believe they have set ambitious goals of 90% of waterways being safe to swim in. And to be fair it’s not going to be easy because there are a lot of factors that impact on our waterways. But that’s not the point.

Since when was it okay for our Government to do less than what the image of NZ calls for? Since when is it okay for an employee to only aim for 90% of what their employer asks them to do with the excuse that “Requiring me to do everything you asked me to is unachievable and would lack credibility”. I don’t think employers would see it that way. Since when is it okay for a citizen to only aim for 90% of what society asks them to do with the excuse that “Requiring me to do everything society asks me to is unachievable and would lack credibility”? I don’t think the Judges in the Courts would see it that way.

It’s simply not okay!!!

And I don’t care about what the rest of the world is doing about this. That’s like the question my parents posed me as a child “if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”. Hell no! Especially not if everyone else is being dumb. So just because another country sets a minimum safe swimming standard of a 1 in 20 chance of contracting campylobacter (a nasty gastro illness), shouldn’t mean we should accept that. Do those other countries have a 100% Pure image? No they don’t! So why should we follow their standards?

Let’s be brave. Let’s make a stand. Let’s set the standard of 100% of waterways being safe to swim in (and not 90%). And let’s stop making excuses that a waterway where there is no more than a 1 in 20 chance of getting an E.coli infection is safe to swim in. It’s not!

The standard for swimming in water should not be some glorified scientific standard – whether that’s set by scientists or other countries. It seems pretty simple to me. If I swim in a waterway, the chances are I might swallow some water. If I swallow that water, I don’t want to get sick. So the common sense standard for swimming should be its drinkable and my chances of getting sick from swallowing that water are none. Or better still, I’d let my daughter swim in it. Or even better still, The Ministers would let their children swim in it. If they can’t or won’t do that then it’s not good enough.

In a country that took a stand and went nuclear free. In a country that was first to give women the right to vote. Why can’t we be the country that makes a stand for 100% of our waterways being swimmable? Let’s not settle for anything less and instead let’s roll out the number 8 wire we’re so famous for, and find solutions we need to reach that goal … and by doing so, show the world anything is possible. Let us challenge those who say “it’s too hard” or “it’s not possible”. And maybe … if we can learn to do that … we’ll have a country of can-do people willing to take on anything that the future presents – now that’s a world I can get excited about!

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