Researcher’s national impact achieves national recognition

22 November 2022

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Professor Ann Brower’s tenacity in putting her research in front of decision-makers has successfully changed laws in Aotearoa New Zealand. Through tough journeys achieving wins for high-country pastoral land and making building facades safer, she’s learnt some valuable lessons about impact, advocacy and choosing her battles.

  • Ann Brower Royal Society

    Professor Ann Brower has won Te Apārangi Royal Society 2022 Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement, for the protection of the New Zealand environment.

SDG 15

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: Life on Land

Professor Brower was today named winner of Te Apārangi Royal Society 2022 Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement, for the protection of the New Zealand environment. The prestigious award is only granted every three years and reaffirms UC’s place as leading in environmental science teaching and research.

“South Island high-country land reform and quake prone buildings taught me a lot about politics and policy,” she says. “I also learned that the ‘little guy’ can make a difference but only if the ‘little guys’ team up strategically, and play all the cards we’ve got, and play them very, very well.”

Professor Brower dedicated 15 years of research to high-country pastoral tenure after discovering that the Crown was selling lakeside land at a loss. Her work sparked a High Court case, a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment investigation, and two Cabinet-level national policy changes, eventually resulting in Parliament-level legislative change. She worked with Cabinet Ministers in several governments, including Ministers from National, Labour, and Greens parties.

At the same time, she was instrumental in the Building Act being amended to prioritise the reinforcing of masonry, parapets and facades following the Christchurch earthquakes, which she advocated for through participating in select committees.

Many scientists eschew political action, however it will surprise no one that Professor Brower studied a Master of Political Science, followed by a PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, at the University of California, Berkeley, and continues to put the political skills she learned to strategic use.

Speaking up is not easy. She’s been called ‘the chirpy anti-christ’ by media, and ‘a socialist infection’ by Federated Farmers, but she has also won accolades including the Gama Foundation’s Critic & Conscience of Society Award, the UC Innovation Medal, and now the Royal Society accolade, so perhaps she is about even.

For her next challenge, Professor Brower is taking her hard-won experience into securing the unclaimed land between rivers and farmland. She’s committed for the long haul once again and is pragmatic about the odds.

“You’ve got to choose your battles because they might go on for a while. The decks are stacked against public interest groups - this is just basic Economics and Political Science 101. It’s a basic truth of politics that the few defeat the many with regularity.” 

Yet, she carries on. “The battles you need to fight are those where you can’t count on sleeping if you failed to try. There’s a big difference between trying but failing and failing to try. The ability to sleep at night lies in the balance between the two,” she says.  

Professor Brower encourages her students to speak up and get involved in the rough and tumble of change agency. “In order to be effective citizens we need to understand politics. Politics is a competition of ideas, visions, and values. Put your vision out there, I say. State it clearly and state it strongly.”   

Professor Paul Millar, also from UC, won the Te Apārangi Royal Society 2022 Pou Aronui Award, for distinguished service to humanities-aronui over a sustained period of time. Read story here. 

Read more: The Little Guy’s Guide to Making a Difference

Watch: Ann Brower 2022 UC Innovation medal video

  • Ann Brower
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