Kia ora: I write this on the evening of a glorious spring day in Wellington, except, I thought that the people of Seddon needed fine weather, not rain, as they dealt with the aftermath of the present stream of earthquakes. We, in Wellington and central New Zealand have a new understanding of how Christchurch people have been feeling since the 2010 earthquake.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand extends our congratulations to same sex couples who have married on or since same sex marriage became legal on Monday 19 August. We welcome this change to the law and recall the suffering of Allan Turing, widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, regarded by many as a genius of his time, who died on 7 June 1954, age 42, after being persecuted for his sexual orientation.

Monthly Meeting: Monday 26 August
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend

WORLD HUNGER: Why Don’t We Help More?

What we are doing.

In our world of bounty, people die from poverty and starvation while we live comfortable lives of relative luxury. Each one of us could do more to help the truly destitute overseas, yet we don’t. Why? Is inactivity immoral? Peter Singer thinks so. Matt Hirshberg will discuss Singers views and some of the psychological reasons why we don’t always live up to the ethical aspirations of moral philosophers. Then we will watch a video of Singer speaking on, “The why and how of effective altruism.” During this meeting we will discuss philosophical arguments on world hunger and moral obligation, social-psychological explanations for non-altruistic behaviour and outline various forms of effective action.

Matt is a former political science professor, spending fourteen years on the faculty at the University of Canterbury. His research on the psychology of altruism includes, “Robin Hood Revisited: Theft, Charity and the Ethics of Inequality,” in Journal of Poverty (2000.) He has a BA in government and economics, an MS in journalism, and an MA and PhD in political science.

Mark Honeychurch from the NZ Skeptics will give a brief outline of the upcoming Skeptics Conference to be held in Wellington 6-8 September. Further information at

Peter Singer: The why and how of effective altruism (18mins)

If you’re lucky enough to live without want, it’s a natural impulse to be altruistic to others. But, asks philosopher Peter Singer, what’s the most effective way to give? He talks through some surprising thought experiments to help you balance emotion and practicality. Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher. And finally to make us laugh.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm
*** Please note the day and venue ***
Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff Street, Wellington.

Moncrieff Street is off Elizabeth Street, which is off Kent Terrace, Wellington – a short distance from Courtenay Place on trolley bus routes 1 & 3.
Meetings for 2013 will be held on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.

Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 14 Sep, 12 Oct, and 9 Nov
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

2013 AGM – Saturday October 12th 2013, at 2:00 pm at Old Government Buildings

Room GB34 is on the ground floor of the Victoria University Law School, 55 Lambton Quay, Wellington.
Please contact us if you would like to join the committee. We would be pleased to welcome you.
After the AGM Cathy Iorns BA LLB(Hons) Well, LLM Yale, Senior Law Lecturer at the law School will give a presentation Climate Reality 2013, Cathy has recently attend an Al Gore climate change seminar in the USA.

Obituary: Jamie Vinton-Boot, 30, son of Wellington member Gerald Boot and Jennifer Vinton, died in an avalanche while climbing in the Remarkables near Queenstown. A memorable service has been held in Christchurch. Our thoughts are with his parents and Jamie’s family at this sad time.

From the Big Bang to God – our awe-inspiring journey of evolution:
This is Sir Lloyd Geering’s recent publication. An accompanying set of 4 DVDs records the recent lecture series that Sir Lloyd presented at St Andrews on the Terrace. This slim very readable volume of less than 200 pages gives us a vast panorama of the interlocking of science, philosophy and religion from the Big Bang until the present day. An absolute feast to read!

Bryan Bruce Documentary: MIND THE GAP Screens on TV3 at 7.30 pm on Thursday 29th August
Bryan writes of his documentary: ‘I know that despite a lot of big words and clever mathematics, Economics isn’t a science and isn’t founded on immutable laws of the universe. We have invented our economy and the theories we think should describe and govern it. And sometimes economists make mistakes. In 1984 we adopted the economic theory of Neo-liberalism because Treasury convinced Roger Douglas who convinced the 4th Labour Cabinet that de-regulation and privatisation would make life better for all of us. It hasn’t. Overnight we changed from a WE society to a ME society because back in the 1980’s we didn’t just import an economic theory from the UK and the USA, we imported the Politics of Selfishness. I certainly know from interviewing families up and down our country and from discussions with some of the world’s best economists that the Neo-liberal economic theory we’ve been living under for the last 30 years has failed to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And lastly I know that the economic tail is wagging the moral dog in our country at the moment. We need to decide who we are and what we stand for as a people and then figure out how we are going to pay for it, because right now the economic theory we’re living under is damaging the lives of too many of our children and young people, limiting our human potential and diminishing us as a people. As a Nobel Prize Winning Economist put it during my interview with him … “We follow the theory. Theory should be following Us!” ’

Like us on Facebook Look us up on Facebook, add your views, see Humanist–Atheist–Secular items of interest.

Last months meeting: Talk Fest:
It was pleasing to see some familiar faces and some not so frequent attenders at last months meeting. The meeting on the evening of Monday 22 July was held a little over 24 hours after the magnitude 6.5 Cook Strait earthquake that damage 35 buildings and caused broken glass and dislodged masonary to fall in some Wellington Streets. With parts of the city centre closed and the aftershocks still being felt it was understandable that some members deceided not to attend. Our venue, a wooden building, was undamaged by the earthquake and aftershocks. Those who did attend were interested in the video presentations and an interesting discussion followed. Of particular in terest was Alan Savory’s contention that the process of desertification was a major contributor to the release of carbon dioxided into the atmosphere, that this was largely a result of human management of areas prone to desertification, and that alternative management of these areas will reverse this process.

From our June meeting:
Perceptions and beliefs about Endangered Species presented by Dr Pamela Mace (Continued):

In the July newsletter Endangered Animals were covered. Pamela also discussed Endangered Plants and Fish.

The beautiful Orchid is endangered! CITES lists more than 25,000 species of which are endangered. Fanatic collectors are worldwide – the Japanese Grand Prix orchid show is attended by over 400,000 people. Poaching is lucrative as even though orchids can be grown in large numbers from seeds and cloning, wild specimens are preferred as more “exotic”. Collectors think wild species are doomed anyway due to destruction of rainforests so they are doing the world a favour! The figures for Forest Destruction are alarming: 76% of original primary forest worldwide was destroyed by the late 1980s. 99.2% of the Caledonian forest of Scotland has been cleared. 95% of original primary forest destroyed in Australia by late 1980s .76% of original primary forest destroyed in New Zealand by late 1980s. 98.5% of Brazilian Amazon forests is destroyed (Source Noss et al 1995)

Pamela attended the CITES Conference in Thailand in March this year where some of the species proposed for endangered listing were the New Zealand jewelled gecko, the Saiga antelope, Giant manta rays, Sawfish, the Porbeagle shark, the Oceanic Whitetip Shark and Hammerhead sharks. There is a famous market in Bangkok, the Chatuchak weekend market, where almost anything may be procured. At the market, during the conference, police found 14 albino lions from Africa, hundreds of birds, meerkats, tortoises, peafowls, monkeys and other species believed to be from overseas and Thailand. Police also found a hornbill and a leopard cat that are protected by Thai law. Thailand is a hub of the international black market in protected animals.

Our own NZ Green Geckos are at risk. In Terraristika in Hamm, Germany there is an exotic amphibian and reptile market, held four times per year, with up to 10,000 visitors. Dealers claim that the Geckos they sell are captive-bred from specimens transported out of New Zealand many years ago when trade was legal – BUT while jewelled geckos may survive well in captivity, they don’t bred well! While 9 species of our geckos are listed under CITES, Germany doesn’t enforce this ruling. On 4 May 2012 a German poacher was jailed for 4 months for attempted smuggling of New Zealand rare native geckos – each of which can fetch $8,000 on the European illegal black market, and seven foreign nationals have now been caught coming to New Zealand specifically to poach protected wildlife.

The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a critically endangered antelope which originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and Caucasus into Dzungaria and Mongolia. They also lived in North America during the Pleistocene. Today, the nominate subspecies (S. t. tatarica) is only found in one location in Russia and three areas in Kazakhstan. It is extinct in China and south-western Mongolia. The Mongolian subspecies (S. t. mongolica) is found only in western Mongolia. The populations have shrunk as much as 95% in 15 years. An estimated 50,000 saigas survive today in Kalmykia, three areas of Kazakhstan and in two isolated areas of Mongolia. Another small population in the Pre-Caspian region of Russia remains under extreme threat. The Saiga antelope horn is prized because 1 kg of dried ground up Saiga antelope horn can cure 18,000 people of fever and bring down one’s “heatiness” BUT so does aspirin and many other related products that are readily available and cheap. Most consumers think the horns are deciduous like antelopes horns but they are not.

Among Marine Species, Coelacanths, sawfishes, sturgeon, Whale shark, basking shark, white shark, European eel, seahorses, and many species of corals are endangered. There is a lucrative trade in Giant Manta Rays. There is a “new” form of Traditional Chinese medicine where the processed gillrakers are said to “reduce toxins in the blood by purifying and cooling it, especially in those whose core temperature is too warm” or to “boost the immune system by reducing toxins and enhancing blood circulation, cure cancer, chickenpox, throat and skin ailments, male kidney issues and even fertility issues. Sawfish Rostrums are highly prized as a curiosity, fins are a delicacy, and their liver oil is used in traditional medicine. Sometimes the rostrums are cut off and the sawfish lives… though probably not for long. The sawfish has not been seen for 20 years in areas where they used to be abundant. Some Oceanic shark populations are reduced by more than 95%. A CITES proposal to place sharks on the endangered lists was defeated in 2010 but was passed this year. There was a concerted effort to undermine these listing proposals led by China and like-minded countries that benefit from either export or import of these species, primarily for the shark fin soup trade – an estimated 33 million to 73 million are caught and finned each year to support this market. China claimed that shark fin soup is an important cultural tradition, and western nations should not be trying to impose their cultural values on States that value this commodity. There is a huge resistance to listing marine species as endangered as some believe that fisheries management should be the responsibility of national and international fisheries agencies that already exist. International waters are still perceived to be open to whoever can develop the capacity to fish them. There have been huge increases in fishing capacity in China and other countries in recent years. Many think that commercially-exploited marine species are resilient. For example the California Sardine was fished heavily in the 1930s to 1950s, and then “crashed” by 1964. By the mid-80s the California Sardine was recovering at a rate of about 35% per year. The Georges Bank Haddock was heavily fished and by 1973 there was substantial decline, however, there has been a recovery since 1993. There have been success stories in terms of over-exploited stocks that have been rebuilt through concerted efforts to reduce fishing mortality examples of which are North Atlantic swordfish, Norwegian spring herring, North Sea herring, South African sardine, Georges Bank haddock, Acadian redfish, Georges Bank / Gulf of Maine herring, Atlantic windowpane flounder, Atlantic silver hake, Georges Bank / Gulf of Maine red hake, Atlantic summer flounder, NW Atlantic barndoor skate, Atlantic striped bass, New Zealand hoki.

There are reasons for the continued decline of endangered species. There is the Traditional Chinese Medicine culture which exploits tigers, bears, rhinos, antelopes. The Mafia culture exploiting mahogany and other tree species. The idea that there is a right to own exotic pets, e.g. NZ geckos. The right to be cured of life-threatening diseases citing culture even without scientific proof: e.g. rhinos; or to live a long life: e.g. coelacanths. The right to be cured of non-threatening ailments using endangered species, even though modern medicine is readily available, eg. Saiga antelope, manta ray gill rakers. By poaching endangered species, poorer peoples can alleviate poverty. Money obtained from poaching can also fund insurgencies and destabilise governments. Perhaps there is also a ‘religious’ culture: that “they’re ours to exploit”.

2013 Dates This year our monthly meetings will be on the fourth Monday of the month. Mark your diaries now so that you do not miss a meeting.