climate change green party youngleader

Jack Brazil

Jack Brazil is the Green Party candidate for Dunedin. We talk with him about focusing on a “people-powered movement to build a better world”.

It’s about building a movement, sometimes with civil disobience, but always restorative and non-violent.

We have to exercise dissent – to show that there is a better way.

Jack first studied french and psychology before turning to law where a focus on justice meant for him a focus on social and environmental justice driven by a sense of care and compassion, but also a sense of impending crisis of ecological and social collapse.

We are arguing for better – we can show that “better” with a festival approach. To celebrate and take people with us.

“The tide is changing…” he says, “…the activism is back in politics”.

We can’t be too scared to be transformational, too scared to be radical.

climate change community electricity generation

Energised community action

Scott Willis believes in community action. We talk about all the ways the manager of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust has put that belief into action. Recent successes include the launch of the Blueskin Energy Network that provides a market to encourage small-scale renewable community energy sharing. The completion of the first Climate Safe House was a real milestone on a project to progress new housing models to demonstrate adaptation and innovative ownership options.

The vision is to energise our communities, to be talking about and taking action on the big issues

As I move away from myself, my influence gets less, but the potential sphere impact increases…community is a great scale to affect good change.

Demonstrating what we can do at the flaxroots, we can make change at a different scale

Energy enables us to thrive more than survive, but our profligate consumption has caused the long emergency

We need to engage with the cost of profligate use of energy

We’re democratising our electricity sector

There is always something we can do, but don’t feel burdened to get it right, be humble enough to know we are always learning how to make a difference

Working on solutions makes me happy.

Acting despite uncertainty

climate change conflict law peace

Genuine connections

Now he is a human rights researcher, but as a young man Brian Aycock joined the military. He was sent to provide security for international war crimes investigations, including watching the uncovering of mass graves. Trained to dehumanise the situation he instead developed a strong empathy for the other and returned to study history and literature.  He found community and connection in those who are activists in their daily lives, and a kinship with the downtrodden. He joined the Peace Corps and through genuine connections in places such as Malawi learnt his most important lesson – be nice to everybody. For Brian this means a respect for the other and indeed a breakdown of otherness.  Returning to the US again he worked with poor and disenfranchised on a “get out the vote” campaign – learning much about the value of positive communications.

Further study in the UK in economics led to marriage in Japan and working on refugee resettlement programmes and from there to an MA in refugee law.  He is now working for the International Academic Forum (IAFOR) in Japan, bringing people together in international cooperation of research and learning.   

We talk about the inequity of an international system that has globalised except for labour – privileging money and goods over human beings, and that we have failed to recognise that migration is at the heart of human security.  

He is continuing to research refugee law, focusing on climate refugees.  Brian argues that we urgently need an international framework for burden sharing for such environmentally displaced persons. 

Definition:  Solved before handed onto next generation. 

Superpower: Kindness

Activist: Yes, if you’re not, you’re failing as a human. If you’re not doing anything, you’re letting life pass you by.

Motivation: Respect for human beings

Miracle: Seeing each other as humans – be kind to each other

Advice: Say hello to the people around you. 

This conversation was recorded at Lingnam University in Hong Kong in November 2019.

climate change dunedin youngleader

Real positive change

Zak Rudin was one of the co-organisers of the Dunedin School Strike for Climate. Now he has finished school, we talk about what drives him and what’s next.

climate change psychology

Head in the crowds

We talk with Prof Marc Wilson of Victoria University of Wellington. Why is there such a gap between science and people who don’t believe in climate change? Psychology. Marc says that what we believe, we believe for a reason, and in this case a lot of disbelief can be linked to views on hierarchy versus equality, and orientation to authority. And this leads to entrenched positions that can’t be overcome with more facts. He says that we’ve probably saturated the market of people who will be convinced by facts.

So how can we make a difference? Marc points to changing the way we communicate “what kind of world do you want to live in in 50 years?”.

Marc is encouraged by the crowds that turned out for School Strikes for Climate. He says the very act of coming together with like-minded people is an accomplishment. Despite criticism, marchers shouldn’t feel guilty because they are carrying a mobile phone, or wearing a plastic jacket – they are part of systems that will take a long time to change, and that calls for perfection are intended to be dis-empowering. So rather than aiming for perfection, it is OK to aim for good.

Definition: Language of sustainability has been misused. Need to describe in terms of passion and energy.

Success: Students

Superpower: Tenacity, thick skin (Brian Dixon says he should have said communicator).

Activist: Increasingly. Did think that soience had to be objective, but now realises that everything is value-laden and to pretend otherwise is to do science a disservice.

Motivation: Sense of obligation. But not hard as every day exciting and different. We (university) everything has to change because the students do.

Challenge: Ongoing research into adolescent self-harm

Miracle: Emotional skills curriculum

Advice: Aim for good.

Marc was in Dunedin to speak as part of NZ Psychology Week “Living Life Well”. His talk The Elusive Climate Consensus:If it’s so obvious, why doesn’t everyone believe (or not) in climate change?

children climate change local government

Messaging for change

Matt Lawrey currently serves the community as a second term Nelson City Councillor. He is also the creator of New Zealand’s popular cartoon on family life, The Little Things. We talk about he brings from his background in the media, and how he is working to achieve a thriving green society for his family.

How do we design our city for thriving?

Encouraging people to look to the positive.

Our biggest problem is a lack of imagination

How do we fire people’s imaginations?

Questions that make people feel uncomfortable.

Getting more people thinking that engagement is the normal thing to do.

Nature gives us everything we need for free, we just need to respect that.

Giving people something to embrace.

My success is about using my voice to amplify those of others.

Definition: What works for me is how do we continue to live without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Superpower: Resilience (hammer, reject, reject, push, push, push – eventually good ideas come to surface). And speaking out, even when I know it would cost me.

Activist” Wary of the term. Certainly activist energy to give to local government. An important part of change is to take a lot of people with you. Just winning the point doesn’t make change happen.

The voices of the future are only going to get louder

This conversation was recorded in Nelson in April 2019.

climate change dunedin politics

Engaged generation



I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.


Shane: So our guest tonight is Finn Campbell from Generation Zero. Finn is a masters student at Otago University, studying politics. Generation Zero is a youth-led organisation in New Zealand, focus on transitioning society away from its dependency on fossil fuels, and combating climate change. And you’ll know if you’re a regular listener to our show, we’ve had Generation Zero on several times over the years.


So, Generation Zero was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities, and independence from fossil fuels. And the group believes that young people must be the forefront of tackling climate change, and that young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response. Welcome to our show.


Finn: Hello, how are you?


Shane: Not so bad. So, before we go on to talk about Generation Zero, let’s tell a little bit about yourself. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?


Finn: I was born in Christchurch when my dad was doing his PhD. Quickly moved over to Wagga Wagga – in Australia – for the first two years of my life. Didn’t have a great impact on me. Don’t really remember it, being a young child. And then Dad got a job at the University of Otago, and I spent the rest of my life here, living in sunny old Dunedin.


Shane: So what schools did you go to?


Finn: Opoho Primary was my first school, right around the corner from the house. Went down to Dunedin North Intermediate, and then shipped my way over to Logan Park High School before somehow ending up at University of Otago. So, I think that’s been about two kilometres of my education radius.


Shane: And if anybody doesn’t live here, that’s a very typical set of schools to go to for-


Sam: A very good high school.


Shane: Very good high school.


Finn: Thank you very much. I think-


Sam: I think so.


Shane: All our sons have gone there.   Excellent. Excellent school.


So, what got you involved with … What was your passion at school?


Finn: Passion at school … I think I had the pretence that I was going to be a dentist. And I think that was – on reflection – that was a terrible idea. But I always, at the same time, wanted to do something right. I don’t really know where to put my thumb on the mark and say, “That’s what ‘right’ is,” but I’ve always felt like, if you’re going to be doing something, you should be at least trying to make a difference. And then what’s going on around you.


Shane: Where did you pick that up from? Is that something you just developed, or is that something that’s part of your family?


Finn: I feel like it’s been a family thing. My dad is a food sociologist. Does a lot on sustainability. But at the same time, he’s never really pushed that one on me. Maybe it’s … I haven’t quite felt his breathing down my neck, telling me, “You must get into sustainability. It’s the only option for the future.” I think it’s just more of an osmosis – naturally picking up everything from just casual conversations. Seeing things going on and just realising, “Maybe that’s just the way that things should be done.”


Shane: Do you think you actively tried to avoid it?


Sam: I think he actively tried to avoid it.


Finn: I think he would have been horrified to think that he was forcing a son to do something in particular.


Shane: What did you do at school?


Finn: Lot of music. Lot of music. Played in the jazz band. Played chamber music. Did science. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. No English – I dropped that as soon as I could. I thought it was terrible. A waste of time. I thought science was the way to go. I regret that one.


Shane: Was what’s turned into, now, a bit of a direction in terms of sustainability … Did you know that was going to be there, underneath whatever the actual job you did?


Finn: I don’t think so. I think during my high school years, I didn’t really have a clue. Was just travelling through, thinking, “Got to do something, but … ” I’d sit down at a park bench and look out across the park, and say, “This is great, but what am I going to do? Perpetual existential crises of, “I’m going to have a job, but where? Why? How? I better go to University and find out.”


Shane: So, what did you do when you first got to University?


Finn: I signed myself up for a double major – Bachelor of Applied Science in Energy Management and Environmental Management. I thought my pathway to success was becoming an electrical engineer. Someone who’s very in tune with the physics. What was going on with renewable energy systems, with conventional energy systems, fossil fuels. Understanding, doing the geography parts of it. Thinking this was absolutely the pathway to go. “I’m going to change the industry from within.” And then I realised that, holy-moly, I do not like the maths. If I came out and followed that degree through, I would have been a fairly average engineer. And I thought, “The world doesn’t need another average engineer telling people what to do.” And then I realised it wasn’t changing people through action, it was changing people through actually being the positive change I wanted – without becoming an engineer. That politics and people were really the problem that we’re facing these days. That we’ve got great wind turbines, we got great solar panels. Not so great hydro-electric, but still not burning fossil fuels to use them.


Sam: Did you have a moment of epiphany that the problem’s not technical, but people?


Finn: I think getting into politics – studying politics at the University of Otago – thinking, “Holy moly, this is great.” First of all, I was really into it. Really passionate. I always thought … Reading the newspaper in the morning – I’d get really excited about what you’re reading about – was just a hobby. And maybe it still is. But, kind of clicking and going, “Oh. Politicians are the ones who are telling people how to do things.” Policy-makers. Planners. All these people having such a great influence on how we actually use what we’ve got. So I’m not going to try and tackle what we’ve got. I think what we’ve got is great. But how we’re using it, on the other hand, is where the problem lies. In my mind.


Shane: You said you started studying politics. So when did you-


Finn: Yes.


Shane: When was that? Was that like, you’re at the end of first year, went, “Ah … ”


Finn: I wish it was the end of first year. I was a little bit stubborn-headed. I went and studied for two years, doing my Bachelor of Applied Science. And thought, “I need a break,” and went and worked in a hospitality job for about a year. And went backpacking around Europe. One of those classic, “I’m just going to escape from all my problems, and maybe find some energy for energy management again.” Give it a second shot. Came back, gave it a second shot, and went, “Ah, man, no, something’s not going right, here.” But at the same time, I was picking up a politics paper, and I was just killing it. Loving it. Having a great time. Such a great time that I was kind of skipping out on my energy management work that I should have been doing.


Shane: Is it something fundamental about that energy management approach? Or is it you? Or a combination of those two?


Finn: I think energy management is excellent if you’re going to end up working in the field, or maybe telling people how to work from within the industry. But I think – for me, personally – I think I look at a problem and, for me, it’s never the numbers game. The message we have is, “Fantastic. It’s such an easy sell. How come we’re not selling it?” And so it’s always been in messaging. Messaging, messaging, messaging. Where’s it going wrong? How’s it getting lost out there, and what on Earth can we do to actually bring it back into the forefront?


Shane: So you should have been listening more to those English teachers and Drama teachers at Logan Park.


Finn: Yeah. Yes. I’m sure the English teacher would have had a few words to say about my blog post writing. Still work in progress.


Shane: So, you got yourself a politics degree.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: You sort of changed career on the basis of the first paper that you loved. Did the rest of the degree deliver on what you hoped for?


Finn: If you say maybe from where you’re around from the start in a nursing degree, or a law degree, sending you directly into a career of law or nursing. A politics degree, I think … I got pretty tired of people asking if I wanted to be an MP. But I think it’s certainly and interesting way to study how things are happening. It’s a study of people in a very strict environment, if you talk to a political scientist, political theorist. I’m sure that I can say politics is very broad, and I’ve had to write many an essay on all that.


But you say politics, and the governance, and the systems, and the understanding of power relationships and how they form – why they’re there in the first place – you have a different lens through which you approach things. You realise you can be a sort of normal citizen, but you’ve got a extra pair of glasses that suddenly see through all the nonsense that’s going on. And you go, “Why do we have to accept this?” “Why do we have to accept that?” “Why is this person even here? What are they doing? They’re monstrous.” They really don’t care. What are they in it for? Is it just a meal ticket for these politicians? I don’t know.


Sam: And why has it turned into such a game? Or theatre, perhaps?


Finn: This is one of my struggles. This could leave me leaving this interview, going home, and just staring at the ceiling for a long time. How does it end up like this? People vote for their instinct. People vote for what makes most sense to them. They voted for their interest. And you can’t fault them for that. You can’t fault someone for voting for something they believe in, because it’s just sensible to stand up and say, “I should take care of myself, because that’s in my best interest.” And so you sit there like, “Why is that your best interest? What’s been teaching you? Who’s been teaching you? What’s been involved in your life to make you think that that is your version of the optimal outcome?” That’s the problem. And then you get politician that reflect that behaviour. They’re merely a mirror of their constituents. People who just voting for self interest.


Sam: Is politics broken?


Finn: No, you can’t break politics – unless you somehow inject a whole lot of money into it, so it’s represented by corporations. But democracy … You’ve just kind of got to accept it at face value that it’s everyone gets a say.


Sam: There seems to be a lunatic in the White House.


Finn: Yes. I hold out hope that ultimately there will be a good outcome from that. He is a terrible person, but what he might do for the American political system might be good. If he goes, and goes quickly. Because they’ll say, “Let’s not let that happen again. Let’s figure out what went so horribly wrong.”


Sam: And in the meantime, he appears to have fallen out with Europe.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: Pulling out of Paris.


Shane: I was reading the articles just today, thinking, “Trump might pull out.” “Trump might pull out.” “Trump says he’s going to pull out.” “Trump has pulled out.” And I’m like, “Oh, crap.”


Finn: Oh, no. I guess that’s the problem with international agreements. International agreements always pretend to be some sort of higher authority upon states. “Look, we’ve got the UN now. Now we’re going to tell you what to do.” No, no. Every international agreement’s just pretend. People buy into it because they can, or they want to. And so they’ve got to think that there’s a reason why people should get involved. So if the US pulls out, and they think it’s not their interest, you can’t do much to stop them.


Sam: If, when they do pull out, what’s the message for New Zealand politicians, do you think? Should we pull out too?


Finn: No, I don’t think we should pull out. I think, when you’ve got the US pulling out, yeah, that’s definitely not good. But the fact that China and India are still committing to it – and they’re the sort of economies that you’ve really got to worry about with that sort of transition. They’re the ones who are often brought to the negotiation table and think, “Why should we commit to this? You’ve had a life of luxury, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain. Why should we not follow in your footsteps? We have every right to industrialise. We have every right to develop.” And the fact that they’re buying into this and continuing to say, “We’re going to move forward,” is very optimistic. It’s a great sense of possibility that these countries are still continuing to think that this is something worth following.


Shane: So, you finished your degree?


Finn: Yes.


Sam: And then went back for another one.


Finn: Back for a master’s.


Shane: Must be in the blood.


Finn: It’s terrible. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I made one smart call, in that the Masters of Politics has only been around for its second year, now. I thought, “I don’t really feel like being a guinea pig.” So, I worked in hospitality, again. Kind of escaped, I think. From where I started university in 2011 until last year, I’d spent quite a long time in and out. And I thought, “Time to just have a wee rest.” Stop thinking about it so much, academically. Do my volunteering. Do my activism, but also take a break. Recharge. Give the batteries a chance to get going again.


Shane: So, eventually, you got back?


Finn: Yes.


Shane: And you’ve decided to do what?


Finn: For my Master’s of Politics? Factors of water scarcity in conflict in what will be the Middle East will be my case studies as part of my dissertation. But it’s a part taught, part dissertation in master’s. So I still have my theoretical “Theory of Politics” paper, and then I have comparative regional conflicts. I still have to learn the whole suite of things expected to come out as an Pols student.


Sam: Did you say, “as a driver of conflict”? Water scarcity?


Finn: Yeah. As a factor, I think … When you read political journals talking about climate change and conflict, the narrative is not always the same. An I get a bit bemused by that. But I guess all my friends from Generation Zero – sustainability-minded people – go, “Of course climate change is related in scarcity. How could you not think that?” And because there’s water scarcity, of course there’s conflict. Water scarcity runs into crops. Disease. All these sorts of other factors. Of course there’s a relationship. And I’m sitting there going, “Okay. Okay. Okay, I’ll have a look at that.” I want to pull that apart, and really look at what the academics have been writing.


Some people say that is not a factor. That water scarcity is not good – there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think anyone stands up and says, “Water scarcity is fine, don’t worry about it.” Everyone seems to be saying it’s either good governance, or bad governance. You can have plenty of drought. And, “Where’s the war? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the starvation? What’s going on, here?” And the other places, which have got plenty of clean water, and far more conflict. So, with something as complex and multi-dimensional as this, you got to try and figure out some cases where you can really pull them apart, look at water scarcity, and go, “All right, this is where it’s going wrong. This is a direct factor in conflict.” And that’s what I’m looking for. Hopefully I’ll find something like that, but I guess for the sake of academic integrity, I can’t just say, “There’s going to be water scarcity. Let’s go for it.”


Sam: Presumably, just to jump ahead to a thesis you haven’t written yet … You’re going to be concluding something about complexity, systems thinking, wicked problems … It’s all that mushy stuff put together.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: You already know it’s not as simple as yes or no.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: Through that politics degree, things like complexity, system thinking, wicked problems … Are they a thing that we’re actively teaching people?


Finn: No, I don’t think so. Not at any level, I think. You’d only really start approaching that, at least in a political sense, when they do lots of conflict analysis. That’s still very much like, “Oh, you’ve got this factor, so X is going to happen. There’s no doubt about it.” And you think, “Well … We need more information. We need a better understanding of what’s going on, here.” And then you realise as soon as you start getting more, and more, and more, and more complex, that there are so many factors going on. That you can’t look at one thing and say … You can only create building blocks, which you can contribute toward something. But you can never quite say, “This is exactly what’s going to happen.”


In politics, you hear a lot about political theory trying to predict conflict – predict why states act. And all of it’s just useless forecasting, at the end of it. They have some sort of pretence that they’re going to know exactly when the next conflict’s going to rise up. When it’s going to happen. How it’s going to happen. Who’s going to be involved. And you go, “That’s a bit rubbish.”


Sam: Does political theory cope with that kind of complexity?


Finn: No, it doesn’t. Not at all. It likes to think it does, but when you start applying it you realise you almost have to become a complete specialist in one country, or one conflict to really know such of the information that’s going into it. You can’t … Specialist in the Middle East, and even then, they specialise in Syria. And then they’ve got no understanding of what’s going on, necessarily, in the Pacific Islands. And you’ve got someone else going in there. And it’s just … It’s interesting stuff. There’s no doubt. But as soon as you start getting into it, you realise you can’t really make proper claims, assessments, or forecasts without understanding the information. It just gets so complicated so bloody quickly.


Sam: So, somewhere along the line, you decided not just to study stuff, but to do something about it?


Finn: Yes.


Sam: What led to that?


Finn: I think that itch was going on in the back of my head, going, “You’ve got an obligation to be the change that you want to see going on. If you want a future, why not fight for it?” I can’t just expect to sit at my computer all day, wonderfully, in bliss, playing on my computer, reading news articles, and then expect someone round the street corner to show up and show me what the world could be like. What a nice Utopia world we have amongst us. I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.


And so, I found out three years ago that the group Generation Zero – which I’d just heard about – was doing enrolments on campus for the students. And that main goal there was actually to be completely non-involved of the politics of it. Whether you’re a National voter, Labour voter, Green, New Zealand First, ACT … We didn’t care. We said, “If you’re a young person, you should be participating.” We held events. We had a gig down at Refuel where the door entrance fee was signing up and proving that you’re on the electoral roll. And if you weren’t on the electoral roll, we had a form right there. And I remember I got my right hand onto TV-3. It was in some back shot somewhere, writing on a form.


Sam: So, give us Generation Zero 101.


Finn: Generation Zero 101. So, nationwide organisation – wonderful – where a sort of governance going on at a national level. And then you have teams based in every city, and they’re relatively autonomous. I’m the convener for Generation Zero Dunedin at the moment, or co-convener, with another person. And we do what works for Dunedin, I think. We don’t have a lot of people coming from national level team and saying, “Dunedin needs to be doing this, because this is the most important thing for all of New Zealand.” We kind of sit there as our group, and we go, “What’s going on in Dunedin? What’s actually the problems? Why is South Dunedin a big issue? What’s going on with cycleways? What’s going on with housing? Why are these things not being addressed, and how can we, as a group, best target them?


I guess we felt like being a regional-based organisation and contributing to a national cause … Sometimes you spend a lot of time feeling like you’ve got a megaphone held up to nothing. You’re just shouting your message out there, and you’re thinking, “It’s just bouncing off the walls. Surely no one’s picking this up.” So when you talk at a regional, local level, you find yourself sitting in council chambers, hearing councillors talk. You go to resource consent applications. We go onto the second generation district plan. We’ve made submissions on that. And we find that we get immediate feedback and an understanding of what impact you’re having at that level, specifically. And then through a combined effort through all these teams doing this in Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Auckland …


You find that all these major centres in New Zealand – really slowly but surely – having sustainability and Generation Zero’s vision embedded into what’s going on. So that cycleways are getting passed because there’s been a record amount of submissions coming through one of our online forms. I think Auckland team has the pride of having one of the largest submissions ever held for a consent application for the SkyPath. They adopted it. Their SkyPath wasn’t their plan, but they found out, and thought, “Wow, this is bloody excellent. How can we best make this happen?” And so they wrote an online form, basically got a couple of text boxes for people to come in on their website and say, “Yes, we want this.” And I think they got 10,000 submissions. Which I think, for anything of its kind, it was the largest.


And then councillors found out about it and said, “Yes, that’s all right.” They tried to do it again, and counted it as one. So, we had hundreds of people would come in. Thousands, whatever. They would say, “That’s the Generation Zero submission.” And we’re, “Oh, crap, we’re going to have to change our form options, because otherwise they’re going to … One person vote at a council policy submission doesn’t really count for much.” So we had to change all the forms, so everyone gets their own name put on it. And we just adjusted the system slightly, and carried on. Writing a whole boatload of those.


Sam: Is influencing the people who are sitting around the tables making decisions … Is that the best way of making change?


Finn: I think it’s one of the ways. That’s how I feel. I think there is a fairly comprehensive sustainability – so climate change – or transport movement going on in New Zealand. Or, I can speak for Dunedin – say, Dunedin, I think, has got a very interesting one. And trying to figure out what piece of the pie you make up. Everyone contributing in some particular area. You’ve got students for environmental action doing environmental focuses on campus. You’ve got SPOKES, who do cycle-related things. And we think, “How can we best fit into this piece of the puzzle, so we’re not doubling up?” We’re not expending unnecessary energy doing something that’s been done before. And the councils, planners … Whenever they hear us come along, they almost say, “Please come back. Come back for more. We need to hear what you people actually want to say.” It’s like finding out you’re the youngest person in the room by half, and then it’s amazing if someone in their 30s shows up, and you’re 24.


Shane: Not just because you’re turning up, and you’re young, but because you’re turning up and being constructive.


Sam: Yes. Because you make a point of not just having a submission saying, “We don’t like this,” but actually putting forward quite detailed proposals, and things.


Finn: We have some people in Dunedin who have background – who have done the Masters of Planning, everything. So they’ve basically got the credentials enough to become a planner. We’ve had people who are law students, and so they have a great understanding of the law, and what’s actually helpful or not. And so, we get down, we figure out what’s going on with the Resource Management Act application. We try and figure out what’s going on with the Second Generation District Plan. We try and figure out, “What are they actually trying to do, here?” And sometimes we’ve gone, “Oh, man, we’re just scratching our heads. What on Earth are they actually trying to do, here?”


And so we went along to the hearing, and we … The lady before us went, and she didn’t like wind turbines. Sitting there, bashing my head, biting my teeth, trying not to say anything as she went on a big tirade. But democracy is democracy. And she attacked wind turbines, and I went, “Oh, crap. Why is this person … ” And she just basically abused the planner. “You need to do this. You must never let these things happen in our city. Never again. This is terrible. They’re windy. Noisy.” Whatever. You name it. She’s got something wrong to say with it. And the look on the planner was just like, “What have I done to deserve this?”


And we didn’t know what to do. And we said, “What would it mean to have wind turbines, here? Why do you want to do this?” And she went, “Ah, there’s a reason X, reason Y, reason Z.” And we said, “What would it take to change the policy? Because we don’t know how to write these things. We’re not a planner. We have no idea what to do. What do we do? What do we ask for?” And they go, “Ah, you’d want to ask for this.” And we go, “Yes, please, can we have that option there?” Our wind turbines. And we got a mention from one of the other councillors, being like, “That was one of the most productive things we’ve heard from one of these sessions.”


Basically, because the planners know exactly what they’re doing, but they’ve got to write a plan that is the will of the people. And the people are showing up and abusing them. They don’t write very much. And what they write isn’t very helpful. and so we sit there and go, “We want to be helpful. What can we do? How do we say it?” Because as soon as you show up to a council meeting, you show up to anything, and you say, “I would like this,” they can do something about it. But they can’t write a vision for the city as much as they would like to.


Sam: You’ve clearly identified a point of leverage, there, that’s actually making a difference. Which is what you said you wanted to do.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Do we also need to take the community along with us?


Finn: I’d love to see the community come along for a ride. That’d be great. But, I mean, we are busy.


Sam: I mean, you don’t look like a hippie, but-


Finn: No, no. That’s probably a …


Sam: Do you get accused of being one?


Finn: Lee Vandervis described me as a climate change fundamentalist. That was wonderful. It was great fun. I had a great chuckle. I thought it was the best thing ever. I thought, “If only he knew what I looked like.” I went along to a meeting a couple of weeks after he’d said that, and he couldn’t spot me in the crowd. He had no idea who he was talking to, obviously. I mean, he was referring to Generation Zero, the climate change fundamentalists who want nothing but to ruin his life.


Could you get the community along for the ride? Yes. But I think this touches on another issue for me, which is almost – not a great big, grand issue – but it’s like, “How do we re-democratize politics for young people?” I’ve thought about that. What steps does it actually take to change the political system – the way that it is – so that engagement is there? Engagement is convenient, or that people just see the virtue, or the value, in stepping up. Putting a hand up and saying, “Maybe I want this.”


There’s a UN Youth meeting happening in a couple of weeks, and they want to talk about how to get young people involved in politics. And to make sure they do their bit. And I was tempted to go along, but I realised I’m so busy – full of exams and essays, and I got no time for … And then I sort of found out what they wanted to do. And it’s basically trying to get them involved at a national level or politics. And I thought, that’s not … Just stamping your meal ticket every three years and saying you participated is not what politics really is. It’s showing up to the meetings. Actually being a consistent voice. Actually saying, “What can I do at this meeting to embed sustainability into everything that’s being said?” If the DCC has every policy document coming out for the next ten years, and some group of plucky young people have made sure that everything says, “sustainability” in some way or another, they can’t really avoid it. They don’t really have a choice, at that point. They’ve got to do what the document says.


Sam: You’re calling yourself Generation Zero. Is there a generational divide?


Finn: Sometimes it feels like it. And then sometimes I have bigger supporters – retirees. It’s unfair, I think, to categorise everyone as, “Oh, you’re old, and you’ve got your foot out the door, and you simply don’t care.” I think that’s not true. I think there are a lot of people who see what we do, and some of our biggest supporters are from some of the older communities who think they’ve got a good message, and we can certainly give them our resources to help them achieve what they want to do. Is there a bit of a divide? Maybe, but in our advantage. For some reason, people think that when a young person shows up, a lot of the time that you don’t have to display all these sorts of credentials. You don’t have to wear your badge on your shoulder that says, “Oh, look, you’re a planner, you should know exactly what it’s talking about.” “You’re a lawyer, you need to go all … ” We’ve got these people who basically have these same sorts of credentials. Certainly not the industry experience that some of you would desire.


Shane: I mean, I think it could be part of that, as you say, you’re busy.


Finn: Yeah.


Shane: And so, somebody that would know you’re busy-


Finn: Yeah.


Shane: Or, you could just be having a party.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Yet, you’re deciding to put your time into this. People give you some respect for that, I think.


Finn: Yeah. Seems to be the case.


Sam: Generation Zero makes a point of being apolitical. Politically active, but not aligning with any party.


Finn: We try to avoid it.


Shane: Despite the fact that some obvious connections to one side, if we put it on a left/right continuum.


Finn: Up until now, yes. Since we released out Zero Carbon Act, actually, there’s been a lot of buy-in from National, which has been humbling. Surprising. Stunning. What on Earth do these guys want to do, stepping foot near this document? And I think it’s a really promising sign that maybe this change is going to happen. Is this really going to be the[party’s initiative it’s always been? Or is the shift happening? What’s going on? Struggling. Don’t know what to do. There’s no one to attack.


Shane: So, tell us what the Zero Carbon Act thing is?


Finn: It’s a piece of climate change legislation modelled off the UK Climate Change Act, which was implemented in 2008 under David Cameron’s Tory government. It passed almost unanimously, and has been quite responsible for UK’s positive climate change impacts it has on its own carbon emissions, and transport infrastructure. And so, we took the guts of the document, kind of ripped it apart – not me personally, I don’t pretend to have any law experience – but we’ve got enough policy wonks out there to basically write a document for New Zealand. And that suits New Zealand’s climate change needs. And so we’re trying to pass that at the moment. I think we have 3,500 signatories signing on. We’ve got quite a few people who are buying in who want to say that this is something that’s important. We’ve had MPs from both – across the board – saying that this is good. We’re getting Youth Party buy-in. People all over the place are saying, “Maybe climate change is not going to be an election issue.”


Sam: But somehow you need to broker that it’s okay that …


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: The first party that comes out and says, “We support it,” you don’t want the other party to knee-jerk reaction and say, “That means we don’t.”


Finn: Yeah. We spent a lot of time talking to everyone. And everyone kind of knows it’s there. Some people like it more than others. Parties maybe like it more than others. But also individuals within parties see there’s something. So maybe we don’t need a complete party buy-in from one or the other. Some people might jump across and say, “Look, this is a conscious vote from me. I want this to happen, and I can see this happen.”


Shane: Has Generation Zero – locally or nationally – worked out what you’re going to do, running up to the election this year?


Finn: Locally – I don’t want to quite say it, because it’s always got a bad word, but – lobby. People always have negative connotations of what lobbying is, because you think, “Money, guns, tobacco, alcohol, and drug companies.” And then you go, “Wait, why can’t we have nice green sustainability lobby, too?” We don’t have much money, but at least we’re cool. So, I think Generation Zero Dunedin … This year, leading up to the election, we’re going to spend a lot of time doing our standard meat and bread policy. Work with the council. But we’re going to be targeting a lot of groups, saying, “We want you to come in and buy in with us, and say that this is something you need.” That sustainability – climate change, all these things – requires a framework to work with it.


If a government’s not doing it, you’re kind of swimming against the tide. If the government’s not providing you the framework to do it, how can we expect the local councils to enact it? They’ve always sort of expressed that they’re sort of hamstrung by what national governance wants. And so, if we can get them to buy in … We had the greater Wellington regional council chair saying he wants to get all the local councils together and lobby on the behalf of the Zero Carbon Act. And I thought, well, I guess I’d better ring up Dave Cull then. I haven’t done that just yet. But that’s something we want to do. We want to make it an issue as such that where … Come next election – when it’s happened, end of September – and we’ve got a new sitting government, that they can see that this is something that young people, old people, middle-aged people, from all across the board see this as a vital part of our future. And that some bandaid policy coming out from one side is not quite going to cut it.


Sam: You said it, probably – climate change, that is – probably won’t be an election issue. But it looks like water might be.


Finn: Yes. Trouble trying to segue into it, I think, when you try and bring the conversation to climate change. People sometimes just shut off. And then go, “Why this? We’ve got housing. Climate change? We can think about that one next year. We got to figure out all these highways. Climate change can happen next.” And so it’s always on the agenda, but it’s always being deferred until next time.


Sam: I’ve always thought it was a shame that we couldn’t say, “Climate change starts next Tuesday.”


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: 4:00pm.


Finn: Come on, let’s do something about it.


Sam: Although, somebody said that that wouldn’t work, because you would get to that time, and you’d have people saying, “See? Didn’t happen.”


Finn: Yeah, and you’re going, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess-”


Sam: “Maybe it starts next year.”


Finn: “Yeah. You got me. Wow. Got you.”


Shane: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Finn: I had to think about this one. Being sustainable is acting or providing an action which you know, without a doubt, is going to be able to carry on in its form. It might adjust with the times, but a sustainable action’s something that will just carry on, no matter what. That’s how I thought about it. I don’t want to go into some deep … I can go on forever, I think, about what sustainability is. But for me, that’s … If you’re being sustainable, you’re doing something where you know it’s going to carry on.


Sam: Some people are talking about sustainability not being enough, anymore. That we need to be regenerative. We’ve wrecked the place enough that just stopping and carrying on like we are … It wouldn’t be enough.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Do you think … Do we have to not just slow the ship, but turn it around?


Finn: I feel like … Yeah. There’s something extra that will need to be done if we’re not doing something now. If it’d been 1990, and we had sat down and said, “All right, guys, let’s stop it now,” no problem. Maybe that would have been the case. Now we’re sitting here thinking, “We’re going to have to give up something unless something else changes.” We can’t predict what’s going on, here.


Sam: We’ve been using that line – that it’s not a lesser life, it’s a better life. Do you think we can still pull that off?


Finn: We’d have to change what is normal. We’d absolutely have to change what is normal, and I guess that’s part of what I’m trying to do, is trying to get people to think about what’s normal. What’s acceptable. Everything that’s going on at the moment – sustainability, whatever … Your life has been dictated by politicians. Policies. Personal choices. The influence of your parents. And all these things that … These are just normal. And right now this normal should not carry on. Can you live a happy life? Yes, I think so. But what we’ve got to accept now is that … Why are plastic bags still coming out of supermarkets? Why is there a terrible bus transport system in Dunedin? Why is it every time a cycleway gets put in, people put up in their arms and say, “These are terrible things”? Something’s got to change for what “normal” is. And people are going to appreciate that “normal” is just kind of accepting a status quo of what’s going on, and being an influence in the change that you want. Accepting normality is accepting that someone else is probably going to make a decision for you.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Finn: Last couple of years? Interesting to think that far back. I almost feel like I’ve had setbacks with last election – Greens lost a proportion of the vote. Turns out if you enrol youth at the university you get a lot more conservative ones coming down from Auckland. So, maybe next year. Next time, we’re not going to enrol so many people on campus. Immediate success … Just recently, the Dunedin city council is finally putting funding back into environmental strategy. They gave options on their annual plan submission, and said, “Do you want $150,000, or $200,000?” And we went, “More.” And we got enough people to say, “More,” that they ended up giving us – not Generation Zero specifically, but the environmental strategy [inaudible 00:41:36] – $250,000, through complaining, and saying that maybe that’s not enough. We managed to get a 25% increase on the funding for environmental strategy.


Sam: You’ve hinted at the answer to this several times. In fact, you’ve been explicit once. We’ll ask it anyway. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Finn: Yes.


Shane: Why?


Finn: Activist? Someone’s got to be active. Would I be a traditional activist? No, not really. I haven’t done many protests. I haven’t showed up to many marches. I think one I did was in 2003 against the war in Iraq. That was about as far as marches and your traditional forms of activism go. I think my form of activism, if you can call it that, is pretending you’re a grey old man in a council chamber. And pretending you’re like them, and thinking like them. And then suddenly going, “Wham! Here’s some sustainability for you!”


Sam: So, we’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. How do you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight? Other than pretending you’re a grey old man and then going, “Wham!” I’m not letting you have that.


Finn: I wouldn’t call it shape shifting, then, would it? I guess it’s all about people and communication. What I try and bring to the table is participation. My objective is making democracy easy. And when you make democracy easy, you make input – your idea of what democracy is – easy. And for hopefully most conscious, breathing people who want to see a future that does include some form of climate change/sustainability response in your daily life … And changing what we currently have – which is no good – to something excellent, which we can keep under.


Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Finn: We’ve got the Zero Carbon Act. That’s certainly going to be a big challenge. One of my personal challenges will be ensuring that this sort of movement doesn’t die off – when it’s happening because you need it. I don’t want this to be a reactionary movement that says, “We’re going to be here because there’s a problem. And as soon as this giant, pressing issue goes away, and we think the solution’s gone, we’re just going to sit down on the couch and ignore it.” I want to see that people take a more proactive, continuing approach to how they live their lives, but also their participation in everything. We got this way because we didn’t act until we needed to. So let’s not get it so we act until we need to, next time. For whatever that may be.


Sam Okay. Very quickly, because we’ve almost run out of time.


Finn: Not a problem.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?


Finn: Just, change the normal. Change what is normal.


Sam: And advice for listeners?


Finn: Participate. Participate. That’s the best part.


Shane: Fantastic. And we’re going to leave it there.


climate change economics philosophy religion values

Investing in people and the planet




The way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life.


Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr Robert Howell whose new book, Investing in People and the Planet, is published by …


Robert Howell: It’s available through Quaker Books, so if you go to the Quaker website and you’ll be able to find it there (
Samuel Mann: So let’s take a few steps back. Where did you grow up?


Robert Howell: Napier.


Samuel Mann: What was it like growing up in Napier at the time?


Robert Howell: It was very interesting because … I went to Victoria University and spent ten years in Wellington then came back to Napier as city manager and when you come back as city manager, you see the city through different eyes. Did you know that the largest storm water pumps in the country are in Napier? And the reason for that is that the earthquake my parents went through – the 1931 earthquake, so that was part of my upbringing but it never did it’s job properly. It only raised the land so far and the water didn’t drain, so coming back and looking at it in different eyes was great. Looking back now, my father wasn’t rich but we were well looked after and we had a reasonably good upbringing. It was Pakeha didn’t take much to do with Maori but it was a reasonable education and some happy times.


Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Robert Howell: Originally, I looked at being a minister of religion but I went to university and I guess that was part of my growing up and I didn’t become a minister of religion.


Samuel Mann: So what did you do at university?


Robert Howell: Well, I did philosophy originally. I’ve got a masters in philosophy and then I went … I had to years in broadcasting and then went the health sector and eventually I joined a small innovative unit that was headed up by management consultants to improve the efficiency of Wellington Hospital and I didn’t know nothing about management and even less about hospitals, I learned a hell of a lot.


Samuel Mann: Can I just take another step back. Why philosophy?


Robert Howell: Well it was part of the religious stuff, but when I look back now, I guess I had a skill and an innate desire to sort out the basic fundamental questions on life. I wouldn’t have put it like that, they just interested me. So that was part of the philosophy stuff.


Samuel Mann: Did you know at the time what you were going to do with it, or didn’t it matter?


Robert Howell: No, because I was growing up and searching and the thing about philosophy is that it gave you the intellectual tools to be able to examine the fundamental issues – that’s not the only discipline, of course, but it’s one of them.


Samuel Mann: So was it a shock going from answering the fundamental questions of life to improving the efficiency of the health service? That sounds quite operational.


Robert Howell: Well, I guess the searching has not stopped and I’ve always tried to be open to new initiatives and I didn’t grow up just by doing philosophy, you don’t grow up. In actual fact, when I got married – being married with my wife for about five years – she had education and sight training and she decided that to keep those alive, when our kids came along, she’d do marriage guidance training and her doing that led me to do that training and I would say part of my growing up was learning those basic skills to be able to relate to people and start talking about my feelings and talking about feelings of others, and those skills were just as important as the intellectual skills that I’d developed with philosophy.


Samuel Mann: So what have you been searching for?


Robert Howell: That’s a very good question. I guess I was wanting to … Because I was brought up in an evangelical religious framework. Christians like “is there a god and if there is, what is a god?” I decided that the personal, so-called ‘being’ that manipulates the world from outside and that’s part of a method of storytelling. It’s relevant for some people but not for me, and then I guess I wanted to just start learning about some of the ways in which the world worked.


Samuel Mann: And if there is a God, what’s he playing at with all the wars and climate change?


Robert Howell: Well. I don’t use the term ‘God’ now.


Samuel Mann: Okay.


Robert Howell: My wife was a Quaker and over thirty years, osmosis took place and Quakers – or one of the attractions of Quakers is that they don’t have a creedal affirmation. They have a lot of emphasis on personal experience. The Maori word for the Quakers of New Zealand ‘te Hāhi TÅ«hauwiri’ which means the group that stands shaking, blown around, buffeted by the wind of the spirit and I prefer to talk about spirit, rather than god because the term god has been so badly abused. When George Bush says that God led him to go into the Middle East, then I don’t want to use that term. So I talk about a spirit in terms of certain sorts of experiences that have profound impact on one, in terms of thinking about the purpose of life, the mysteries of life, the beauty of life and those sorts of experiences – when you feel one with the world. Doesn’t happen all the time of course.


Samuel Mann: How do you mix that with doing the job, whatever it is? Eventually you found yourself back in Napier, running the city. Is it always in your head, is it something you do at home? What’s the relationship there?


Robert Howell: Can I just go back to the hospital? I saw that my role in the hospital was to help to work at a practical level, helping people, use taxpayer resources more efficiently. I saw that if I could get a better buck for the way in which the system was run, then that was a good contribution to society. So I was brought in initially in Napier by a reforming mayor to improve it, and we did. So I was seeing my work and during that I developed skills and had training and my PhD was really in how do you measure the community’s health for planning purposes? Which led me to use my philosophical skills to say “what is health?”


I rejected the medical model, so I developed a different kind of model for health for those purposes. So it was using the philosophical skills but then embedding it with a more strategic planning framework and I guess I brought, to my work, as a change-agent, as a CEO, as a consultant, as a university teacher, I brought a strategic perspective. So the strategies, strategic processes and how we design and run our organisation. So that’s what I developed.


Samuel Mann: Did you do your PhD while you were working?


Robert Howell: I was able to … the Hospital Board gave me one day a week  – while I was working – to work on the PhD and I did that for two years. I basically read and then I got a medical research council grant to go to the States for two and a half months, and Britain for two months – that was full time – and then I came back in the light of all that experience and did all the fieldwork and wrote up and that was on a medical research council grant.


How I got into the council was that there was no immediate niche for me to get back into the health area – and I was home in Napier – and a new mayor had been elected and he didn’t want a town clerk, he wanted a city manager and he wanted somebody who could reform the council and that was part of my task – very difficult, the council was very divided but we managed to make some significant changes.


Samuel Mann: I’m just looking through your CV over the following ten years and there’s a whole pile of stuff in there. You’ve certainly kept yourself busy and working a whole lot of different areas.


Robert Howell: Yes, at times it became very awkward. In part, my wife was what I would call a social entrepreneur. So she developed a language school in Napier. She was one of the early pioneers in that area – brought Japanese students – and I met some Japanese people and when I left the council, I developed an agricultural College. College is a bit grandiose. It was really a cross between a community high school and a college, but it brought … We had one-year courses, amongst others and brought Japanese students out, gave them three months English training and then put them on farms – dairy farms – beef and sheep, horticulture and so on – practical experience stuff and then, at the same time, I started links with Massey University and they wanted me to run a course in local government and I linked up with Massey people and we did a lot of reviews of that local government process five years down the track.


One of the research projects I did was to look at the way in which governance had been changed because part of the problem of running local authorities is that I was in charge of … I forget how many staff we had now … About a thousand or something like that, a budget of about fifty million. The majority of the Councillors were in businesses that had no more than two or three staff, so the processes of organising a large operation were quite difficult for them and they wanted to get hands-on and really, the whole question of the role a council or a board and its relationship with the stakeholders was the subject of a study that I did, to see whether the reforms in the eighties had made difference … Shorter answer – they hadn’t – but during that process, I did a identified a model by Carver, an American researcher and then I used that subsequently to teach and consult that whole governance area.


Samuel Mann: When you’re working in the council, or in fact, any organisation, any business that’s operating at that kind of scale – in the tens of millions of dollars – is it possible to apply those principles that we touched on before the beauty of life and the peacemaking and all that sort of stuff? Does it work in that kind of organisation?


Robert Howell: When I first went to the council, I used more of my marriage guidance stuff because the council was divided, so it involved a lot of listening and then putting in the systems to be able to make the organisation more efficient and I think that … I mean, I see strategy and organisational design, if it’s done properly, is good problem solving. What you’re doing is avoiding the fisticuffs conflicts and you’re providing a method of resolving those issues in a nonviolent kind of way. So strategy, for me, is part of a nonviolent process if you like.


Samuel Mann: Eventually you found yourself in Auckland doing various governance things and is it about that time you started getting interested in responsible investment?


Robert Howell: What happened was that I wanted to get a consulting job with some Anglican trusts about governance, okay? And their basic job was investing, it was a bit of a mess, there were a lot of them. I never got the job, but then I got invited to be the Quaker representative on the CCANZ – the equivalent of the National National Council of Churches. So I persuaded them to set up a committee to look at church investments as a good background for me to do more consulting on this – a selfish as well as an altruistic motive and eventually, that morphed into looking at investment in not just a religious way, but a more fundamental way for everybody and I set up the Council for Socially Responsible Investment that was open to everybody, and if I could take you down where that led me, was that I then began to say “what are the kind of measures that one should look for, to know that a company is being responsible to the environment, as well as to humans – human Earth as well as the human-human relationship?


To cut a long story short, that took me to two think tanks. One was a Quaker institute for the future, which was set up in North America by the Quakers and the other one was sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand – based in New Zealand, of course. The beauty of those is that they were multi-disciplinary. There were scientist, economists, lawyers – a real mix of people and I learnt a hell of a lot from those groups. The first one was the state of the Earth for sustaining human life is pretty fragile, very fragile, far more than I ever had appreciated. Secondly, a significant reason why that is the case is because of our economic models and our financial models and the third thing was that that’s related to our ethics, and that was what really interested me in going back to my original philosophy. So I went back and did some philosophical stuff. I started reading stuff that I had sort of touched on about forty years ago, but then read quite widely in that area and what I was able to do was bring a public policy perspective as well as an integrating perspective.


So it’s part of trying to get a handle on all of this. It was a very fertile time for me. I’ve done a – what I call – a ‘wiring diagram‘ (see article). It’s on a one page and on the left-hand top are the three or four ethical positions like Aristotle, utilitarianism, the social contract and mapped it out, how over – in Aristotle’s time – over centuries, how they have moved from just being concerned about human-human relationships to include a human-Earth relationship. So all the significant philosophers today, have extended those traditions to deal with those issues.


So that was at the top. In the middle was all the economic models and how they have changed and at the bottom was the science and the major scientific discoveries and then I had little dots, related to major changes that had occurred and I found that was my way of making sense – now, I’ve given that as a lecture for over fifty-plus times and people have found it very helpful. So what I was able to do was provide an overview, an integrating perspective, to look at how the science and the economics and the ethical stuff had change in significant ways, but there were gaps, you see? The economic model that we have today is still based on crude utilitarianism and they haven’t made the changes.


The other thing that it helped me to do was really, then start to think, “well, what does this have for investment” and then that took me back to the journey that this book is about because this book is … Even though I wrote it in a month and sort of corrected it in about two months, with sending it out and proofreading and all that stuff that you’ll know about … It’s really a summation of what I’ve learnt over the last ten to fifteen years and how about ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical.


I made some surprising discoveries. Did you know, for example, that while the New Zealand government was taking on the French government and the American government and the world generally, over three decades, about nuclear weapons, during all that time government investments were invested in the nuclear weapons industry?


Samuel Mann: No.


Robert Howell: No, a lot of people don’t. So part of what I’m on about is saying to people there is a connexion between the way you invest and your values and so what I’ve tried to do is make that connexion and to say it’s really important as individuals that we make that connexion and here are the tools to be able to put your values into practise as a taxpayer and as an individual investor. How do you select the KiwiSaver fund that is consistent with your values? How do you sort out which fund – managed fund or insurance company, or bank – how do you sort out whether they are actually caring for people on the planet? How do you get through all the PR hype in simple terms and start to use the power that you, as an individual have, to be able to make those changes? That’s what the book’s about.


Samuel Mann: You’ve said ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical …


Robert Howell: Managed funds and sovereign wealth funds.


Samuel Mann: … Does unethical there, mean can operate without consideration of ethics or does it mean, somehow bad? Or is bad by definition if you’re not thinking about it?


Robert Howell: If you go through my Wiring diagram, that gives you all the sophisticated discussion, but at the very bottom line, for me personally, what it means is one needs to develop a principle for dealing with people – a human-human ethic, and then you need to deal with the human-Earth ethic. So for me, the human-human ethic is based on fairness. That’s the term that I would use. Other people use similar sorts of terms that have got similar sorts of mileage but just in simple terms, that’s the core concept.


In terms of human-Earth, I would say rather then exploitation – exploiting the Earth for human utility – one should respect the Earth. There are other terms - Schweitzer used reverence for life, there are lots of other terms, but for me, respect. So I want to then say of the companies that the New Zealand superannuation fund invests in and ACC and the KiwiSaver funds and my bank and my insurance company, the universities, the councils, do they meet those principles? Are they based on fairness? Do they actually abuse people in a fundamental kind of way – and I’ll give you an example with Nucor in just a moment – and do they actually respect the Earth, so that humans can live within the capacity of the Earth to support human life.


Now, at the moment, the way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life. Those are the two fundamental principles and I then have a series of more detailed questions that enable one to tease out whether that’s the case.


Just to give you an example of Nucor.  Nucor is the largest steel company in the United States. A number of years ago, it got pig iron from Brazil. That pig iron was produced using charcoal that came from the forests of Brazil from slave labour. A group of people in the United States, including – but there are others – the interface centre for court and responsibility, which is a grouping of Protestant and Catholic and Jewish investors with about a hundred billion under investment. They are the world’s best shareholder activists. So they ring along to Nucor and its management and its AGM and they put resolutions to say to Nucor they would adopt as policy, not to buy any pig iron from Brazil that was produced with slave labour and they also wanted Nucor to fund two groups in Brazil to independently verify that Nucor was doing what it promised to do. Now that took three years of negotiations.


So, here is a company Nucor that is using slave labour for steel. It doesn’t meet the human-human perspective. It’s not fair. So that’s one example. Plenty of examples in the human-Earth relationship. All the big Australian banks are invested in coal – fossil fuels. If we don’t get out of coal, if the world doesn’t quickly get out of the use of coal, we are into a two degrees Celsius plus warming. Now that’s got major implications and that’s likely to happen at the moment. That’s likely to happen the decade 2030 – starting 2030. It’s less than fifteen years away. So from a New Zealand point of view, a two degree warming … We have just had, recently, fires in Christchurch. In Auckland we’ve had heavy downpours which have caused quite considerable infrastructural damage. In the North of Auckland we’ve had a nine month drought, okay?


You get a two degrees Celsius warming, you’re going to have more droughts, more floods, more heavy rainfall and you’re going to have it more often. That’s going to have a major impact on New Zealanders, it’s going to have a major impact on our economies. Now, that’s just New Zealand, you need to look at what’s the impact in terms of Australia and some of our major partners we sell our milk and various other things to. It’s going to have a major effect on China.


So there are a number of companies that are simply not preparing us to be able to deal with this sort of scenario. So there’s an example of how you can apply the principles, in terms of human-Earth and human-human.


Samuel Mann: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics, expanded in space and time, and what I do in some of my teaching is expand on the trolley problem – the train racing down the track and it’s going to kill three people but you can save them but it’s still going to kill one and you can do students’ heads in quite quickly about getting them to the edge of utilitarian ethics, what happens when one of them is you grandmother, that kind of thing. My question is, well if you had a third alternative and you could divert it into a forest, what would you do? And if it’s just an empty forest, then the forest. But what if it’s got the last two remaining orangutan in it? You’ve got a much deeper understanding of this than me.


Robert Howell: These are lifeboat choices, aren’t they? Look, when you’re in the middle of a war, it’s really difficult for these choices and so what I would prefer to do is to slow the train down in the first place, okay? This is the strategic perspective that I bring and let me quote you an example of Shell – not my favourite company, but in late 1960s/70s they set up a strategic planning unit.


Now, at that time, Shell was saying that strategically we look at the oil that was supplied last year and sold and we had two percent and you had a gradual rise in the graph over a decade or so. The Strategic planning unit was asked to look at some of the strategic options and they said “well, instead of two percent, what if it’s twenty percent, what would we do as a company if all of a sudden the oil increased by twenty percent?” And then they started to say “well, these are the things that we could do.” Then the Arabs came along and did exactly that and Shell was very well placed because they’d done the thinking beforehand to be able to deal with how to respond to that.


Except, the shipbuilding sections – the tanker section of Shell – they didn’t want anything to do with this strategic planning stuff, right? And so when the Arabs increased the price of oil, they kept building ships until they had so many ships that they didn’t know what to do with them. They keep falling over them etc. Then they realised that in fact, the strategic stuff was actually relevant. So what I want to say is there are certain things that I can’t do. I think the time for averting significant climate warming … The easy options are gone.


I just think we are faced with some very difficult places and people will die and ecologies will die, animals will die. Nothing I can do about that but what I can do is start to encourage fellow colleagues – people like yourselves and people listening to this radio to say “let’s start preparing options for how we’re going to deal with adapting to these situations” and one of the advantages of the Shell analogy is that once you’ve done that, you can actually read the signs. The Shell people in the tanker division weren’t reading the signs and there are people in New Zealand, including our government, who bemoan the fact that another hundred year flood as arrived since the last five years and another one’s going to come and they’re not reading the signs. How many fires do you need, how many droughts do you need?


Well, if you start thinking about the scenarios and the signs we’re talking about, then you do read the signs and then you’re in a much better position to start preparing options. Some of those options are going to be very difficult. Can I give you another train analogy?


Samuel Mann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Robert Howell: I’m very critical of the SRI industry – social responsible industry – because I think that they have been captured by a model that’s not valid and that’s the United Nation’s principles that are responsible investment, it’s not a valid definition. A whole variety of reasons I can give for this but I’ll leave those to one side, you can come back to me if you want to. Now, what that means is that the New Zealand Superfund claims in its annual report “we are a responsible investment because we’ve signed up to the UNPRI,” but they’re invested in Exxon Mobil and they’re invested in Rio Tinto and a whole series of other companies that are really notorious for the way they treat people and the way they treat the planet and so the UNPRI is seeming to do something, it’s what I would say walking southward on a northbound train. It gives you the impression that you’re going in one direction when you’re actually going in another direction. That’s my other train story.


Samuel Mann: Okay, I’m going to add another one then and – to further extend the space and time thing – if we could have an alternative track where we put the train onto some sort of space time loop, that it disappears for ten years, but then it’s going to come back in ten years and instead of two or three people, it’s going to kill off some large number – a thousand people, what would you do? And it really does my head in to think that I’m the person that’s supposed to know this stuff and my gut reaction is to go for that one. Why are we so bad at the ethics of the future?


Robert Howell: If you’ve got two hours with me to go through the psychology of decision-making, I might answer that. Let me give you a couple of suggestions. I think that if you’re a young family with kids, you’re worried about where you’re going to live, how you’re going to pay for your house, how you’re going to get a job that’s going to give you enough, etc., you get focused on the immediate short-term. It’s very difficult to start making significant changes out of that.


So you get bound up into the business-as-usual model. So that’s one thing. The second thing is that if you want to move away from the business-as-usual model in the company … I mean, I’ve bought an electric car, I’m getting solar panels in the house, getting more water tanks – because we’ve just shifted where we are in Auckland – but there are certain things that I … If I really wanted to be purely sustainable, I’d find it very difficult because how do I look after somebody who’s sick, who needs an ambulance? The ambulance at the moment uses petrol, so what do I do? Do I deny using an ambulance to take somebody to hospital because it’s using petrol? So, you’re faced with really difficult choices.


So what you do … I like the analogy of the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan came along and saw somebody lying in the gutter. The good Samaritan was a Jew, the guy lying in the gutter was not. He helped him. Bound up his wounds and took him in. Didn’t bother to save the world, he just wanted to help that guy. So my suggestion, my focus is, where you have the opportunities to help people in small little ways, do it. Because if everybody did that, then the world would change and that’s why I come back to investments. People say “oh, its too hard, I don’t understand finance” etc. But in my book I try and spell out in very simple terms, what we, in very simple ways, can do to use our little money to actually start making some changes and when you do that for others it’s very powerful. Not sure whether answers your question, does it compare?


Samuel Mann: I think so. What it leads me to is a question of can you live ethically, when, as you’ve just described, we almost can’t live sustainably?


Robert Howell: Well the short answer is no. The society that we live in at the moment – the food we eat for example, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is the food sustainable? Do we get tomatoes from Italy? If you’re going to the supermarket and then go through as much as you can – because the labeling’s pretty terrible – ‘made in New Zealand from New Zealand and imported stuff’, but if you really did an accurate assessment of our food and how sustainable it was, it wouldn’t be. Well, one of the alternatives is to actually grow your own food, but if you’re a mum with three or four kids, there is some food that you can grow – you can grow your herbs and get a little garden going, but it’s sometimes quite difficult to be completely organic and … You can pay a bit more for organic food, but your choices are limited. So you do what you can and you try and persuade … So, that’s why I say go and start using your money because that’s a way of helping people to make the changes.


Samuel Mann: So if it’s so very difficult for us to live sustainably and ethically, is there a pathway to a positive future?


Robert Howell: Erm, I think that we all make mistakes. Aristotle talks about ethics in the terms of being an apprentice – which I like – that is that you have to learn how to be good and it takes a while and there are some things that you need to learn at seventy that you can’t learn when you’re twenty. So it’s an ongoing process and there’s some very difficult choices on the way that don’t make it easy. My wife died from cancer two years ago. I thought that I knew how to handle grief because I’d been trained as a marriage guidance counsellor, you see? But I didn’t. So that was a really difficult learning time for me, okay?


The year she died, there were some good times but there were pretty difficult times, but the year after, trying to learn to live with her – my close intimate partner for forty-five years … rat-shit year. Terrible. And it really posed, for me, some very difficult, personal, moral questions about should I have a new partner? When? How? My family didn’t want that. A number of people said “don’t do it Robert, don’t do it,” yet losing that companionship was just terrible. So how did I prepare myself for that? Well, I thought I had but I hadn’t. So life throws at you stuff that you don’t know, okay? So, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s life. What you have to do is try and be as resilient and capable. Use the strengths as you can.


Samuel Mann: Do you have a word that you use to describe what we need to be doing? Do you use ‘sustainable’, do you just use ‘resilient’?


Robert Howell: I think ‘sustainability’ has lost it’s credibility like ‘God’. It’s become a PR term – sustainable companies. Well I want to know what they’re actually doing. I want to know what their ecological footprint is. I want to know what their policies are in terms of human-Earth ethics. I want to know what they’re doing by way of planning for a world that’s going to have two degrees plus Celsius warming. Those are my three questions of the companies. When I go to annual reports and when I talk with banks and so forth, my questions are where are your policies dealing with the human-human, human-Earth relationships and the policies and your codes and conduct, so forth. Secondly, where’s you ecological footprint? Are you actually measuring that? It’s not just CO2 or CO2 equivalent, it’s water use and effect on species and so on. And thirdly, what are you doing to prepare for a two degrees celsius plus warming world? Sustainability and resilience are part of those questions and those stories.


Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations, we’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’, how would you describe you superpower? What are you bringing to the good fight?


Robert Howell: I’m not sure I like the term ‘a hero’, okay? What I would want to say is that if people can learn from the journey that I had, then I’m happy to talk about it. I think that the experiences and the stories and the learnings that I’ve had are not well-known. Not many people know about the government investing in nuclear weapons industries while they were opposing the French and the Americans. So I’m wanting to make those stories known. I’m wanting to alert the people in public office and organising organisations – both public and private – that the world is really facing some very, very serious challenges.


The thing that I brought to the think tanks – which composed of scientists and economists and so forth – was a public policy perspective and an ethical perspective. I asked questions like “what are your values and how do you integrate that into the dialogue?” So that’s what I bring. The knowledge of fifteen or so years of strategic perspective, talking about that journey. If that’s of value to people then I’d be happy to be known for that.


Samuel Mann: Okay, I’ve got four more questions and four more minutes, so minute per question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Robert Howell: Yes.


Samuel Mann: You talk about shareholder activists, is that the …


Robert Howell: That’s part of it, yeah.


Samuel Mann: What’s the activist role you have?


Robert Howell: Ah, well at the moment, I’m working with, amongst other organisations and I’ve been in dialogue with the Auckland council about its investments. I’ve taken them to the ombudsman and I’m providing examples and strategies and things to 350.


Samuel Mann: Have you always been an activist?


Robert Howell: No, because when I go back to the start of my career, what I felt is that I could best contribute to society if I worked within organisations to help them be more strategic and efficient, getting better value for money – if you got better value for money then that was a major contribution to society. So I’ve tried to do a lot of working with people. One story I haven’t told you about is that in the nineties I initiated a project to work with the Indonesian police bringing nonviolent training to the police in Indonesia and that was working with the New Zealand government to get funding and working with a group in Yogyakarta. So I was working within the system. But I’ve got to the stage now where I think a more public activist advocacy role is necessary.


Samuel Mann: Okay, we’re now down to thirty seconds per question. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Robert Howell: There are times when I get pissed off and angry. At times I want to finish on … There’s a bit of stubbornness about me. I don’t like people getting away with hypocrisy and stuff and also I’ve got three grandchildren.


Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?


Robert Howell: That’s a difficult one. Well, I really would like the government to face up to these issues of climate warming and the fact that our economic model is bust, and start doing a proper dialogue and regulating. I called New Zealand government in New Zealand the Volkswagon of the Pacific because they’re cheating. I’d like them to be honest and engage with not just the money people of New Zealand, but everybody.


Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Robert Howell: Read my book to be enabled to ask the right questions about which bank you choose, which kiwisaver fund you want, where you want to put your money and join with others to be able to make those changes.


Samuel Mann: Thank you very much.


climate change science

Community resilience disrupted

Dr Caroline Orchiston is Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago.   She has an interest in resilience from the perspectives of tourism and communities, particularly in the context of natural hazard events.

Talking points

Sustainable: Traditionally it’s always been about preserving what we have now in such a way that it doesn’t encroach on the futures ability to do so.


Success: Successfully negotiating parenthood and staying in academia as well as writing my thesis!


Activist: I love activism, personally I choose to do other things in my life to create action but I’m fully supportive of activists. I do think it is very important to make a difference at some point in your life.


Motivation: Just doing work that might have some positive environmental or societal impact.


Miracle: My miracle would be that people start accepting people of other religions and cultural perspectives, I think that would make the world a much happier place.


Advice: Engage with your community, figure out what is happening locally, if a disaster occurs those connections will be really helpful… as well as trying and find value in everything that you are doing!

climate change community geography

inspirational community movements

Sean Connelly and Doug Hil


 Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.

Shane: Our guests tonight are Dr Doug Hill and Dr Sean Connelly, both of Otago University Geography.  Sean has been on the show before so I’ll skip straight to Doug Hill. He got his BA at Australian National University and his PhD at Curtin University, Perth. His research interests include South Asia, especially India, development studies, geopolitics and trans-boundary water resources – we’ll talk to you about what they are – migrant labour, ports, labour restructuring in maritime trade, world development, participatory governance in West Bengal, urban transformation and socio-spatial segregation in India’s megacities. Both of them have just given a talk entitled, “Community Power: Exploring the process for change through the Clean Energy for Eternity campaign in New South Wales, Australia,” which we’ll talk about in detail shortly. Welcome to our show. Doug, you’re from Australia originally, yes?


Doug: I am, Shane, yes.


Shane: Where were you born?


Doug: I was born in Sydney, in St Leonards, which is a part of the northern part of Sydney. I lived there for only a couple of years and then my family moved to the country. For the majority of my childhood I grew up in a place called Tathra, which is in the far south coast of New South Wales, about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, a little coastal town surrounded by forests, et cetera.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Doug: I think, at that point I really wanted to be a pilot, because when I was about eight I took my first plane ride and it really gripped me that there was this great thing that you could do. My dad started talking to me about being a lecturer, actually. He was quite keen on history as a profession. Quite early on in my life I got this idea that this was a nice thing to do, go and work in a university. He particularly talked up this idea of a sabbatical, which thankfully here we still have.


Shane: So, you went to school. Was it kind of the idyllic Australian childhood, wandering round the forests and on the beaches. What was it like?


Doug: Yeah, it was relatively idyllic. It’s a small coastal town. A lot of people move there for lifestyle reasons, but having said that, it’s also an area that I guess was fairly socially not particularly progressive at the time that I was growing up. It’s an area where the dairy industry was predominant in that place, and so there’s fairly entrenched attitudes, I guess, around a whole a whole sorts of things. Relatively idealistic, but that always comes with those provisos about the lived experience, of what it’s like to grow up in a small country town.


Shane: Obviously your father was encouraging you to do history. What made you change direction? Was there anything in particular, or is it just that you gradually thought, “Hey, geography’s kind of cool”?


Doug: When I was at high school I was really interested in the political aspects. I was reasonably politically active as a high school student, and so when I went to university I started studying politics and economics in the first instance. The quantitative emphasis of economics completely lost me and so I started being drawn to development-type issues. A particular motivation for that was I had what now is called a gap year, in between leaving high school and going to university. I went to Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, and really opened my eyes. Quite different from small, coastal Australia. That got me really fired up about development issues around the environment, et cetera. Gradually I shifted towards that kind of trajectory.


Shane: What did you do your PhD on at Curtin? What was that?


Doug: It was a study of some villages in West Bengal, which is an eastern State of India. At the time there had been quite a reformist-minded government in that State for the last 25 years. There was a lot of plaudits at that time for the capacity to be a model for the way that poverty alleviation might happen in rural development scenarios in eastern India. I was really interested in going and exploring that. I chose two different parts of a single district, one part of which had undergone agricultural intensification and there was a lot of increasing livelihood options for local people, and the other which continued to be fairly arid and the livelihood options in that part were quite constrained. I was looking at the differences that these things made in terms of the capacity of these institutions, which this government had brought in to try and initiate poverty alleviation.


Shane: Wow, so you obviously have a huge focus on India. What’s the fascination for you and where did that come from?


Doug: The initial moment is going to Nepal when I was 18 and being grasped by this very different kind of scenario. As I was an  undergraduate at university, I started periodically going to India and in between finishing my undergraduate since starting my honours, I spent a year there. By that time, I was completely hooked. In a more general sense I think it’s just a fascinating country. There’s so much diversity there. People often think about the poverty, but from somebody who teaches development studies, the interesting thing about India is there’s so many interesting solutions coming out that country. It can really tell us a lot about the constraints of development and the kind of avenues that we’re pursuing, but also the kind of solutions which me might be able to utilize and generalize in different places.


Shane: Yeah, so your interests … I was looking at the transboundary water resources and geopolitics. That’s probably an issue in India, is it? Round that area?


Doug: It’s a huge issue in India.


Shane: Huge issue in India. Can you talk just a little bit about that? What is that?


Doug: To frame it I guess, and to get our geographic imaginations going as we like to talk about it; if you think about the Tibetan plateau, and everybody has an idea about what Tibet is and what it means in terms of those broader ideas about China and the West, et cetera. What people often don’t think about is what geographers call the third pole, as a great proportion of the world’s water resources begin in that region and then flow down the mountains in the Himalayas and cross over the borders of around 11 countries. The process of it coming from the Tibetan Plateau and flowing down into the ocean, then of course it crosses national borders, provincial borders and the way that those rivers should be utilized becomes the subject of a whole range of contestation, politics, et cetera.


For the last couple of years – I guess about the last 10 years actually – I’ve been travelling to Bangladesh, to Nepal, to India. I’m involved in various groups in different parts of the world, to looking at the dialogue processes by which we can think about how to manage those resources. With a changing climate, those issues become all the more urgent.


Shane: I was at a talk last night with the US ambassador, came down to talk about the Fulbright Forum. We were talking about Syria. The issue of Syria came up and of course the key driver of that conflict there was, in fact, a drought in the highlands, which droves the rural people down into the cities. That sparked all the conflict. How risky is it for that region that you’re looking at, for conflict to start erupting around water issues, or is that something that’s kind of outside? It is quite a serious issue.


Doug: It’s a very serious issue. Scholars who work on this like to throw around this truism that wars have never been started over water conflict, but the reality is that the intensification of contestation over water leads to grievances which then get translated into the conditions by which conflict can occur. For example, the Indus Basin, which is basically the water between India and Pakistan. At the moment there is a dispute going on between India and Pakistan – so, the last couple of weeks – over some terrorist activity which has taken place on the border between those 2 countries, which seems to have nothing to do with water ostensibly, except now India is threatening to renege on the treaties that it’s made with Pakistan over the management of that water.


Pakistan is a country of about 200 million people that is completely dependent upon just a single basin for its water and its agricultural basis very water-intensive, so how that water is used, it’s very easy for people within Pakistan, and the military within Pakistan in particular, to start saying, “Well, this is India’s fault, why this is happening.” We see variations of this happening throughout the region. India is worried about what China is doing on the Brahmaputra, for example. Bangladesh is worried about what India is doing above it, Nepal, et cetera. Then, within each of those countries there’s also provincial level disputes. It’s a very … I really like looking at it because I think that it’s a really interesting way of thinking about the contestation over resources.


Shane: Let’s get on to your talk today, which was about this amazing project, the Energy for Eternity in Australia. This is really interesting, because last week we had the Australian Prime Minister trying to blame renewable energy for some power outages, which was just this crazy response to a storm which knocked over a few pylons and disrupted the electricity system. Is it our understanding that in Australia renewable energy is a point of politics contestation? Would that be an accurate … ?


Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I think that what you find in Australia is a very divided polity when it comes to these issues. There’s a lot of people within the society that can see that Australia is a perfect laboratory for the roll out of all sorts of renewable technologies and that it’s a place where we can really develop a whole range of industries and transform the economy in profound ways through this. On the other hand, it’s also a country which has, at current estimates, about 250 years of brown coal reserves and a mining industry which is very influential in politics, a media sector that is very concentrated amongst particular groups, in particular the Murdoch press, and because of that climate change politics and by extension renewable energy is very, very contentious. It is really something which it’s difficult for politicians of any shade to really get much purchase for moving things in a more progressive direction.


That’s not to say there’s not the initiative there, or that there’s no the political will, but there’s a lot of push back towards that as well. That’s one of the things that we were talking about in the talk today.


Sam: Is Australia on the edge?


Doug: On the edge?


Sam: I’m thinking about how close they came with the 10 year drought.


Doug: Australia is definitely a place which is already feeling the effects of climate change in a pretty profound way. It’s always been a country of climatic extremes. You’ve always had droughts and bush fires and storm events, et cetera, but it’s clear that that is being exacerbated. I guess, most profoundly, some of the areas which are being impacted are those areas where there’s a significant proportion of the population living. It’s hard to say objectively what on the edge means, but it’s certainly the case that it’s a country where climate change is a lived reality now.


Sean: Which I think is a really interesting dichotomy: the politics and climate denial on the one hand but also living and experiencing the effects of climate change on almost a daily basis at the same time, which is a really interesting dynamic, I think.


Sam: Presumably they’re aware of that tension?


Doug: Of course. The particular movement that we were talking about today really began in 2006 at a time which is typically referred to as the climate change election. This took place at a period when there was a really significant drought and it had seeped into mainstream consciousness that this was something that government should be being proactive about. There was a wave of enthusiasm, I guess, at that point, which this movement, Clean Energy for Eternity, or CEFE, was able to harness to move forward and do lots of small scale initiatives.


Shane: What got you involved in starting this project, because it’s outside your research areas and it’s kind of outside where you normally work? How did you get involved with it?


Doug: So there’s 2 different things driving this. The first of them is that, in the last couple of years I’ve been working on energy issues with a think-tank based in Jakarta called Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia. We’ve been looking specifically at low-carbon transitions, so it was on my radar to start to think about these things and ask the questions. The most significant thing is that CEFE began and really prospered in Tathra, the town that I grew up in. During my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to go and spend a bit of time there. The last 10 years while I’ve been living here in Dunedin, every time I go home I hear about what CEFE is doing and look at these great initiatives and et cetera. It just seemed like a fantastic opportunity to try and understand this movement in a more significant way. Bringing Sean in is a way of really understanding that broader application of knowledge around community movements and sustainability and how we might go about understanding those.


Sam: Is it a young people’s movement?


Doug: No, absolutely not. It was started off by somebody called Dr. Matthew Nott, who’s a local orthopaedic surgeon, essentially in 2006 realized that this was a significant issue which perhaps he should be looking to try and take action on, and so organized a movement on the beach. 3,000 people turned up and spelled out, “Clean energy for eternity,” on the sand, Tathra having a population of about 1,500 at that point, and then thereafter got together a core group of people who formed the nucleus of the movement, most of whom, as far as I can see from my interviews, et cetera, are middle-aged with kids, some of them artists, some of them are professionals, some of them are environmental activists. But, it has been very good at including young people and other members of society, but at its focus, I think it’s certainly not a young person’s movement per se.


Sam: That’s one of the things that people are of about critical about Generation Zero, is that it is just coming from young people. Now, they argue that’s that’s their strength, “We are the future,” sort of stuff, but it’s kind of easy for other people to ignore them. “That’s just the kids, they’ll stop complaining eventually.” It sounds like this is quite different.


Doug: Yeah, this is quite different, and I think the way that they’re trying to initiate social change is also quite different from those sort of movements that you’re describing. They’re self-styled pragmatic, non-political organization which is interested in trying to craft local solutions and bringing in the broad tent of community members into initiating local action around climate change, so it’s not the usual suspects. I think that that also has some strengths, as well as its weaknesses as well.


Sam: You said, “Initiate social change.” Do they have a clear message or in fact idea of what that social change … What they want?


Doug: They absolutely do. After this first moment on the beach that I just described, they then formed a community group and did an environmental audit of the district and worked out where energy was being used, both in terms of electricity but also in terms of transport et cetera, and came up with a blueprint for the council called, “50 50 by 2020.” The idea here was to transition towards 50% usage of renewable energy and to have 50% efficiency gains in terms of the way that that was being utilized. 50 50 by 2020 became the calling card of this movement, as it spread from its initial moments in Tathra to become at various points a state-wide – or at least having representation within different parts of the state – and actually thereafter attracting national attention.


Shane: How big is this movement now?


Doug: It’s a bit hard to put your finger on really, because one of the strengths of it really is that it’s able to cooperate with local movements and mobilize them for specific events and then to move on and to do other things. One of the things that they’ve been interested in doing is to try and work with community groups to get renewable energy put on public buildings: surf clubs, rural fire sheds, public halls, et cetera. It brings people in, helps them to achieve these aims, and then those people may or may not be involved again. I think that nucleus of the movement, the group which is actually active around these things, is probably somewhere between 10 and 15 people, but they’re able to mobilize at various points hundreds and sometimes thousands of people for particular actions.


Sam: We went to Oamaru last year on the basis of your geography field trip who went and looked at the Transition Town. We thought we’d go and follow up on that, and it turns out it’s only 5, 10 people. This does seem like a similar thing, that it’s quite a small group of people making a big impact. One of the things that the people in Oamaru said is, they don’t need to convince all of Oamaru, they just need to put the systems in place for them to lead the better life that they want them to. Is it a similar thing here? Are they trying to change hearts and minds, or are they just trying to get it to be better somehow?


Sean: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. There’s certainly that … Doug’s told the story of the aha moment of this Dr. Nott of sitting on the beach when it’s abnormally hot, reading the weather makers and having this internal crisis of, “Oh my goodness, what kind of future are going to live? I need to do something.” Sort of that. So, it very much is rooted in, “We need to do drastic change,” but I think it’s interesting that there’s been through the interviews various people that have had that similar kind of moment and that served as motivation for them to actually get together and do something. But then, when they actually go about mobilizing hundreds or thousands of people for events, it is much more focused on the easy access: we’re making this accessible, come out, the whole community’s involved, everyone has a part to play, you can bring whatever politics you want with you when you come, as long as you’re there.


You know you’re there for a reason. You’re going to talk to your fellow community members and have a conversation around energy and climate issues. Hopefully, that will build more awareness and lead to further change, but it’s not directly involved in, “This is the kind of change we need to make.” It’s not directly confrontational in that regard.


Sam: This, “Hopefully leading to further change,” there’s the crux of the question. Do we need everybody to have this aha moment, this transformation, or can we get away with just a few people having it and somehow infecting everybody else to just make the change without having that aha moment?


Sean: I think so. I think so many of us go through our lives unthinkingly, and we use the infrastructure that’s put in front of us. If there’s a cycle path, I’ll use it. If there isn’t, I’ll get in my car, kind of thing. So many of us do that unthinkingly. Yes, I think it would be great if everyone had the aha moment and that led to a massive transformation, but I think that that point of, as long as you have key people in key roles that can make that change … There’s very few people that, I think, are fundamentally against renewable energy, are against taking action on climate change. They just struggle with, “What can I do? How can I do it? I’m already super busy. It might be inconvenient. I don’t have time.” That kind of thing, but if it’s put in front of them, they’ll embrace it. I think that changing hearts and minds, while it is important, I don’t think it is critical.


Sam: So you said that they’ve been doing things like working to put solar panels or wind on the surf club. Is that primarily to generate the energy or is it more of an awareness and education tool?


Doug: It’s both. It’s trying to make those local clubs have renewable energy, but it’s obviously also a very visible symbol of what the future might be. I think a really nice illustration of this is that last year, the culmination of a lot of campaigning and a lot of work, et cetera, CEFE in collaboration with the local council opened the first community solar panel sewerage works in the shape of the word, “Imagine.” If you’re coming along the flight path you can see these solar panels that have written, “Imagine,” there. If we’re purely talking about the efficiency of the way that those panels should be put together, where they should be facing et cetera, it’s a poor use of that technology, but nevertheless it’s taking up about 25% of the power that’s necessary to run that sewerage plant, and it’s that fantastic symbolic moment where people can think about it. Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.


Sam: To what extent is energy the easy problem we’ve gotten distracted by? We started talking about water and even in New Zealand where it’s not so intense, we don’t seem to have a solution. We don’t seem to be able to come up with a simple way of managing the stuff that doesn’t result in the water getting polluted. I can only imagine that it’s so much worse in India and Cambodia and so on. Ramp it up, put those issues on steroids. I think what I’m asking is, is that the hard stuff? Is energy, that we’ve gotten stuck on, the easy stuff, but we’ve identified energy as the poster child for sustainability, and that’s distracting us from the really hard questions?


Sean: I think part of the issue is that energy is so attractive because it lends itself well to technological change and substitution of different energy sources, so it doesn’t actually result in making us uncomfortable thinking about how we use resources. It’s that simple solution, “Oh, okay we’ll put in an energy efficient light bulb and I’ll still leave it on all day when I go to work or when I’m not around because I’m using less energy. It’s that efficiency gains. That’s all that matters.” I think that does distract us from the much more important issues around, how do we actually live differently? How do we have to change our behaviour? How do we have those really uncomfortable conversations about, “You know what? We’re consuming too much. It’s an issue of consumption, not about energy efficiency.” I think that’s why energy is so easy to latch onto because it fits that technological change, not a social change kind of model.


Shane: Is there a consciousness of that within the movement? Did you explore that, or was that something that ever came up?


Doug: I think that the emphasis of the movement is around everyday changes that people can make in terms of their own life and the simple things that they can do in order to do this, but there’s also … It’s not at the forefront of what the movement is talking about, but certainly the people who are involved in it are very frustrated by the nature of the Australian political system and the fact that you have large mineral companies and others which are very influential in terms of the agenda. I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s born of a realization that there’s some really complex political realities there to try and deal with, but these are the kind of things that we can do.


Shane: Did you have a favourite moment or event that these guys did? Apart from obviously that big … Getting 3,000 people onto a beach is pretty impressive, but was there a favourite moment you thought, “Wow, that was something else. That was something special.” Or was there something special about that you found?


Doug: A moment that I really liked, if you go from Tathra where we’re talking about and then you go towards Canberra, you go up onto a plateau, which looks not dissimilar to Central Otago, I guess. In a similar kind of a way, there’s a great potential for wind energy there. There’s a little town up there called Nimmitabel which has about, I don’t know, I would say optimistically there’s 500 people live there. They’re very water-constrained. In the summer time they often have to truck water in.


But, a few years ago there was a proposal try and put in a wind farm up there called Boco Rock. You got Nimmitabel School, which, I don’t know exactly but I imagine has fewer than 20 kids in that school, together to form a sign which made a wind turbine. They started campaigning on the fact that this was going to be a positive thing for their area, for their school, and to go back there now, and of course, it’s not because of those kids that the Boco Rock Wind Farm is there, but it certainly demonstrated the community potential or that fact that the community was very interesting in embracing that technology. That’s a nice moment in terms of these kinds of things.


Sean: I think the thing that sticks out to me in reading through the interview transcripts is, they took all these pictures of these human signs that they made on the beach and made calendars out of them. Someone talks about, they were in the local stores and the calendar was in the local store and the calendar was on the wall and they said, “Oh yeah, I was in the E, which part of the word were you under?” So, this was a point of connection and building identity around, “This is where we’re from. This is who we are, and we all have this shared experience around this wonderful event of making this human sign on the beach.”


Doug: My parents are in that boat actually. The rest of my family who lives there can point out to you where they are in that sign and it’s a nice moment.


Sam: Okay, so I’ve got a different question. Can those everyday changes, can they add up? Do they add up to a socio-ecological transformation?


Doug: I think the history of social change is about those shifts, isn’t it? Some of them are triggered by significant events that bring to the forth people to rethink things, but often it’s just a steady accretion of a particular way of approaching something which eventually wins the day. I think that absolutely, the history of transformation is about those small moments building up into large transformations.


Sam: Do we know which ones work?


Doug: I think in the case of CEFE – so there’s a very specific case there – we would say that what works is building alliances with people who you wouldn’t necessarily think were you allies, but who nevertheless are interested in being part of the community, who are interested in some kind of sense of collective identity, and are interested in changing things for the better for their community. Shifting those kinds of people towards this kind of action is likely to be more successful, if we look at the CEFE case, than an adversarial politics, which seeks to confront and speak to power head on. Having said that, I would say that we can all identify instances where it’s very much that speaking-truth-to-power moment that is absolutely necessary in order to try and force social change.


Sam: Are the people in the area and the town that they’re in, or wider, that actively think, “That’s crazy,” and are actively working against it?


Doug: In the broader region, there’s a lot of sea changes and tree changes, people that have moved there in the last say, 20 or 30 years for the lifestyle which is offered there, so I think you’ve got a fairly sympathetic constituency there. But, the general historical nature of the region is a very conservative one, so of course, when you have that situation who think that this is just trouble makers and that this is … In Australia there’s a lot of people who think that climate change is a myth anyway, but I think in this particular case, because you’ve got somebody leading the movement who is an orthopaedic surgeon rather than some kind of rat-bag intellectual or some kind environmental activist et cetera-


Sam: Geographers!


Doug: Yeah, there’s this veneer of respectability that goes that goes with that, which I think has helped the legitimacy of the movement. It’s interesting dynamics going on, but anywhere in Australia you’ve got people who are passionately opposed to climate change and people who are rabidly trying to mitigate the worst of it. That’s not necessarily the case that either of them are particularly well-informed in taking those positions.


Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Doug: This your moment.


Sean: I wouldn’t call it a definition but an approach building on what we’ve been talking about. It is fundamentally about doing something differently. Things have to change. Of course we can do things differently in a regressive way, but we can also do things differently in a way that puts us more in tune about our relationship to the environment and our relationship to each other, in ways that promote well-being. I think that’s how I would approach it.


Sam: The sample of students that you get to see is a biased subset, because they’ve chosen geography, but are they coming through getting that?


Doug: Yeah.


Sean: Yeah, I think they are. I was really taken by how you started off with the person from western Sydney around how do you embed these things into education and ensure that once they leave, that they’re actually embracing those kind values and those attributes and carrying it forward into their lives. I think for the most part, geography students do. It is a fundamental aspect of it.


Doug: I think that at the very least, they intellectually acknowledge that there’s some really serious problems with the current trajectory of the world. Now, there’s obviously going to be differences in the extent to which they then embrace that and modify their own behaviour and become actively involved in that, but I think most of them aspire to do something in their lives which is going to further sustainability. We’ve got a good cohort in that sense.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes.” How would you describe your superpower? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?


Doug: My superpower?


Sam: Yeah.


Doug: My superpower is that I’m good at grasping lots of complex ideas and explaining them in a way which is accessible to people, if that’s not too big a claim. I think that that’s really important because we need to be able to speak and have conversations about these things in lots of different ways to lots of different people in order to communicate these kind of issues. I think you need to be able to do that.


Sam: What’s the biggest success that you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Doug: I think that the work on transboundary water. I’ve been involved in a series of dialogues, different stakeholders in different parts of the region. Some of them have been sponsored by the Australian aid donors with universities in Australia, and some of them have been in European-based think tanks. I think that that’s part capacity building, part dialogue, but I think that it’s really important to try and get people from around South Asia together to talk about the commonalities and differences they have around those water issues. Being involved in that, I can’t claim any particular credit for progress, but in terms of what’s been most satisfying for seeing social change, that’s definitely right up there.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Doug: I consider myself to be an engaged teacher. I don’t think that I have the time or the energy to be an activist in a way that I would want, but I think that I’m really lucky in my job allows me talk about a whole range of different things and go and find out about them and talk to people involved in those things, and then communicate them to people here. That’s a form of activism, but it’s disingenuous perhaps, to says that’s activism, per se.


Sean: I guess, do you think that’s putting activism upon a pedestal that makes it out of reach?


Doug: Yeah, maybe. Sure.


Sean: Maybe we should rethink. Activism doesn’t have to be this big, massive marching in the streets or doing these really, really radical things. Maybe there’s all kinds of other ways, as you’re talking about, teaching …


Doug: Absolutely. Look, there’s lots of things that have changed the way that I think about the world, but one of them was about going to university. I think that we’re in a really … It’s a fantastic position to be in, that you can change the way that people think about the world. That’s a big thing.


Sam: Should we be following Bob Huish’s lead? Should we have Dissent 101?


Doug: I think that students are active to learn about how they can be involved in social change. I think that when you look around the world with campuses that run courses and degrees on activism, they’ve been incredibly popular and the students that have come out of that have gained a lot from them. I think that, if we’re interested in sustainability, we need to be helping our students to gain those kind of tools, so why not?


Sam: Do you think you could get it passed the senate or council or whoever it is? Why don’t we ask them? Shane?


Shane: There might be something in the plan. There might be something afoot already. That’s all I can say.


Sam: What motivates you?


Doug: I’m interested in stuff. It’s nice to get people to think about things in a different way.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Doug: Personally or professionally or … ?


Sam: You can have both.


Doug: I think that, as somebody who works on a region which is going to be one of the largest economies in the world in the next couple of years, and is already the third largest emitter of carbon – that is India – I’m concerned and optimistic and extremely pessimistic and all sorts of contradictory sentiments about the rise of that country and what it’s going to mean for the globe. Not for the global economy or for the lifestyles of the people in the West, but there’s 1.3 billion people there and the trajectory that it’s moving on is obviously going to put further pressure on the finite resources of our globe. That’s a big challenge.


Sam: Does sustainability mean the same thing there?


Doug: I think it depends a lot on who you’re talking to. I think that there’s a lot of people … If you have population where, somewhere between 300 and 700 million people, depending on whose figures you believe, are really below or only just above the poverty line, then sustainability for those people is being able to live a life with dignity, which means they won’t die early and see their family die early, and won’t irrevocably erode the resources around them. What sustainability means for a middle class person in India that’s now experiencing lifestyles that was unavailable to their parents, is perhaps a whole other thing. The challenge, I guess, is to try and cater for of those groups of people, have inclusive growth, but do so in a way which going to shift India towards a low-carbon economy. It’s a very, very big challenge.


Sam: For those vast numbers living in abject poverty, it would be churlish of us to begrudge them a fridge.


Doug: Of course.


Sam: But, can we do it?


Doug: Yeah, I think that it’s going to be a long time till all of those people have fridges, but I think that this is the challenge, isn’t it? To try and … I’m not saying that all of the solutions are technological, but clearly we can’t have the same fridges for 700 million people in India that we do elsewhere, otherwise … The white goods industry will be happy, but it’s going to be a problem. I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I think the rise of India as an economic force is not entirely assured, either. I think that the jury’s still out on that. We always think about it as, “Well, in the future, we’re going to suddenly have 800 million people who are middle class.” I’m not sure whether that’s true.


Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Doug: That you should be active participants in your own life, that you should try and gain different perspectives on familiar phenomena as much as you can, and if you feel strongly about something then you should try and take action on it. You should try and work out what kind of action that might mean for you, but you should nevertheless try and do that.




climate change

energy and the environment

Pat Wall

 I really want to push towards justice, be that social, economic, environmental. I really desire justice and positive change to see things get better for people.

Sust Lens: Guest tonight is Pat Wall. Now, what we did tonight was … what we did a couple weeks ago was we looked at all the candidates for the regional council because there was too many city counselors to even think about, so we looked at all the regional counselors and said like, “Who looks like to be the most sustainable person, the one who is the core candidate, he’s really exemplifying this.” You want to put him to the test, or her. Unfortunately it’s mostly men. Tonight we have Pat Wall who’s an energy and environmental management scientist and he’s Native American and he’s come and decided to stay and live and make a home here in New Zealand. He’s running for regional council. Otago Regional Council, which does our environmental management around the region. Welcome to the show, Pat.
Pat: Thank you very much for having me.
Sust Lens: You mention that you’re Native American. What part of America are you from?
Pat: Well, all over. Born in Japan but the family is from … I grew up in the southeast. My father is from the southeast. Tennessee is where he’s from. I grew up in Florida. My mom’s from Colorado. There’s actually a mixture of native on both sides. Cherokee on my dad’s side and then another western tribe that we don’t know because my grandfather’s orphaned on the other side. I grew up with the knowledge and respect of that and that has always seen me be very close to the environment. Part of my heritage, part of my soul if you will.
Sust Lens: You said were born in Japan. I’m guessing you were military family?
Pat: Yeah, yeah, which is why I’m very anti-militant right now. Fundamentally why I left the United States was I got tired of seeing all my taxes go to wars around the world when I would rather see them go to health and education for the public.
Sust Lens: Right, so what was it like growing up in the southeast of the US? What was that childhood like? How is it different from a normal non-native American? If that’s the term. I don’t know. We have [inaudible 00:02:08] here.
Pat: Well, I mean, the United States regionally is very different, and the south … I don’t have the southern accent anymore but I was a southern boy. I actually grew up in a very conservative family that most of them still don’t believe in climate change in a region where science denial, denial of facts of any sort is prevalent and racism is prevalent and I grew away from that. I look back at it, I grew up in that and I understand it and I moved to the north, central north Minnesota, Minneapolis, which is a very progressive place, a very rational place. I grew very far away from that southern upbringing, and then I travelled the world and started looking at human issues around the world in a completely different light. I was very … I had very much tunnel vision growing up in the south and it was a product of my environment, the people around me and such as that and yes, going out and traveling and studying, et cetera, broadened me. Thank God for that.
Sust Lens: You were almost escaping that.
Pat: Oh, absolutely.
Sust Lens: That world. You’re obviously very proud of your Native American culture and heritage. What lessons has that given you, like perspectives on life has that given you? How was that transmitted to you?
Pat: Well, unfortunately in the United States, in the southeastern United States, my family’s very long lived so my grandfather was born in 1880. Unfortunately … and his father was born in the 1840s or something or 30s. There was a lot of racial violence, there was the Civil War. Records were kept in churches. A lot of churches in the south were burned, so your family heritage was gone. We can look at grandma, at great grandma and such, we can take a look at that and say oh, well they’re definitely Native American. We know the local verbal history, the oral histories, but in terms of legal standpoint to make claim to a certain heritage, I didn’t have that so I couldn’t actually be a physical part of the tribe and gain the knowledge, but due to our knowledge of my background I sought to learn more about that.
Sust Lens: You started traveling the world. What kind of countries … Where did you go and how … What kind of things did you learn on that journey?
Pat: Well, I’ve traveled in over 70 countries and I mostly prefer to travel in developing poor countries. The reason for that, I never wanted to do anything easy and I always found greater knowledge. It’s interesting, I was actually reading today an article on democracy now about the Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef. He was talking about where he gained his views from and how he found himself in Peru, in a very, very poor village, being a well-healed Chilean of German heritage with money and education standing across the street from a guy in bare feet, standing in the mud with 5 kids, living in a hovel, his wife, no employment. He asked himself basically what good is our economics? I took off on a journey being from a poor family in America, but still being privileged compared to the rest of the world, having been born in Japan feeling that I really wanted to know the world because I was always looking outside of America.
I went traveling, sleeping on top of moving trains and hitchhiking through wars in Ethiopia, no kidding. I found that the poorest of people tend to have the most heart and the most creativity. I was actually reading Manfred Max Neef’s writings and he had the exact same journey and discovered the exact same things. That felt really good to me to see that somebody else, very prominent actually, took that same journey and discovered that same thing. I didn’t feel so isolated in that view. I travelled to open my mind. A very good Muslim Ethiopian friend of mine said years ago, “Pat, tell me not of your knowledge from books, but tell me of your travels, for that is where true knowledge comes from.” I literally set off on that voyage to discover the world and discover the truths of the world and how similar we all are. What we all want is the same, we just have different cultures and different ways of expressing ourselves and that I saw amazing poverty, but amazing heart and I derived a personal philosophy that I’m trying to live up to and also trying to make things better, but environment is a huge part of that.
Sust Lens: Obviously you eventually arrived in New Zealand at some point. When was that and what brought you here?
Pat: That was I think about 2001, something like that. Originally, what brought me here was a job in telecommunications. I had been living and working and the studying in Australia. I think I had previously been in Ethiopia, Brazil before that, wound up in Australia, got a job offer in New Zealand, had always thought New Zealand was beautiful. Came over here. Met a girl. Got my residency. Girl didn’t stay, but I stayed and yeah, stayed on and then after years of working in telecommunications here and working back and forth between Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, I decided that I guess … decided the writing was on the wall for the telecommunications industry and I wanted to get out, do something different, do something I believed in. I decided to go into energy and environment.
Sust Lens: How did you do that? You decided, okay, I can do anything in the environment. What was that journey about? What did you do to get there?
Pat: Well, initially I set off to Europe looking at studying in Norway or France and several other countries, but unfortunately to do undergrad, I would have had to speak the native language. I could have done that in Portugal or Spain, but the better schools were places like Norway and Germany. I didn’t have a grasp on those languages yet, but about that time I discovered that I actually could study at Otago under Bob Lloyd. I B lined it back here and started studying.
Sust Lens: That must have been quite exciting. We had Bob Lloyd n the show. He was on quite a few years ago actually. Scary to think that was a few years.
Pat: Was that at the time of the … some lectures to cheer up Bob.
Sust Lens: Right, right. Generation zero I think we were given those, yeah.
Pat: I always say I’m one of Bob’s minions.
Sust Lens: For those who don’t know, Professor Bob Lloyd is an energy physicist and an expert on climate change and energy consumption and has rather pessimistic views about the direction we’re going in. Obviously echoed by the 375 scientists from the [crosstalk 00:10:11]. Yes, exactly. He’s a realist, not a cheerleader. Anyways, you studied with Bob and you decided to get some work out there. You were involved in a few projects?
Pat: Yeah. You’re probably familiar with Bill Curry [inaudible 00:10:29].
Sust Lens: We haven’t had Bill on, no.
Pat: Oh, you should.
Sust Lens: We’ve been meaning to.
Pat: Absolutely should.
Sust Lens: Bill Murray …
Pat: Bill Curry, not Bill Murray. I met Bill actually [crosstalk 00:10:42] through the energy symposium, the c safe … c safe has a hand in putting it on, but the energy symposium, they do it every year in November and I met Bill through that and kept in touch with him while I was studying and then Bill was getting ready to go into his pre-production prototyping et cetera.
Sust Lens: Of what?
Pat: His wind turbine.
Sust Lens: Wind turbine, yeah.
Sam: One arm.
Pat: One bladed turbine with two counterbalances. I joined him on that. I had a lot of background skills in composite construction et cetera and the scientific background et cetera. As well as telecommunications. Electrical telecommunications. I went and helped him out on the prototyping and testing and refining of the design.
Sust Lens: What’s the advantage of having a singular arm …
Pat: A single blade.
Sust Lens: Single blade, sorry. Singe blade. Most of the ones I see have 3 blades.
Pat: Several things. Less noise. You have one blade going around. Your tip speed, I can’t remember the mathematical formula for it, but basically your rotational speed can be faster with the single blade due to your tip speed ratio because it’s one blade. One blade is also cheaper and you can basically make a more powerful single blade and achieve the same kind of energy output but have less price and less noise. Fundamentally, it acts like a 3 blade turbine in the fact that it has 2 counterbalances that are weighted the same as the blades, so it turns exactly like a 3 blade would. However, it also has the advantage that it can tilt out in high wind conditions and go into like a wind sock mode.
Sust Lens: Wow.
Pat: That can save it … go extremely high gusts, it breaks and flips back and goes into wind sock mode, safe yourself mode, yeah.
Sust Lens: Is it a game changer?
Pat: I think it could be. What Bill has developed is a brilliant idea. What he’s developed is very good for those cloudier, windier places. It won’t compete with solar where you have good sun. I don’t think anything is going to compete with solar. In situations where you have good wind resource but not very good sun, it is great. It is fantastic. And it’s not that expensive, especially once it gets into production, something should come down more. Game changer, no. In terms of renewable energy, no one resource can take care of everything. We need to diversify. We need to localize and diversify and it’s just another part of the mixture.
Sust Lens: Does the game need changing? What’s wrong with our current system? We turn the switch and the light turns on. It seems to be working.
Pat: Yeah. Well, here in New Zealand, you might make that argument, but worldwide, certainly not. Actually, they’re talking about bringing another fossil fueled power plant online in [inaudible 00:14:09] today, so is it? In New Zealand, about 65, 70% of our electricity is from renewable sources. They’re talking about making it less now. We do need to get off the carbon. There’s no doubt about it. We have all sorts of environmental issues playing out. The latest science says that in 100 years, due to less phytoplankton in the ocean is due to the higher temperature in the oceans, the oxygen levels at sea level will be equivalent to that at the top of Mount Everest.
There’s many impacts to climate change that people don’t even talk about. Sea level rise, everyone’s heard about, but there’s a lot of impacts that we don’t talk about. Is it a game? Sorry, so in terms of the way we’re doing our energy, we have to get off carbon. There is no doubt about that. All scientists agree on that. Localized production. Things like solar and wind I think are a very good idea in terms of sustainability. We need to localize our food production. We need to localize everything so but we still need the grid, we still need the hydro that we have. It’s the batteries, it’s the backup for our businesses. It’s a healthy combination. We need to find a healthy combination and get rid of the petrol and oil and such as that.
Sust Lens: We’ve got quite an almost luxurious position of the big thinking of the hydro engineers of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Has it made us too complacent?
Pat: Oh, I think so. You were talking about the switch thing, too. This transcends just energy. Unfortunately, our whole society, our whole modern society, we are … We’re used to flipping a switch or going to a supermarket and grabbing something pre-packaged, pre-cut meat that we didn’t grow, whatever. We do not respect that. We do not respect the energy that went into that, the effort that went into that, the true value of it, so we waste. Our whole society suffers that.
Sust Lens: What do we do? We kind of know really, but we happily ignore it.
Pat: I don’t know. You and I know, but I don’t know that a lot of people put too much thought into it. It’s a convenience, we’re busy. That’s a big thing. We talk about environmental problems. We talk about political problems. The fact of the matter is when people are busy struggling to survive, they don’t typically have the luxury of being able to think too much about things. They’re stressed out, using Joy Organics CBD cream to cope, they want to just get home, watch something, turn off their brain, watch something, get ready for another day. Only when people are really, really pushed to the wall or when they have excess income and feel very comfortable do they take the time to think. One, because they have the luxury, and the other because the must. Whereas if you’re struggling, you go and get the fast food or you go to the store and grab that, you flip the switch, you pick up the kids, you cook this or that, you watch [inaudible 00:17:27] on TV, whatever, and then you go to bed. The next morning you repeat it.
We’re too far removed from the processes, we don’t have the respect for the processes and thus we do not realize what we’re wasting. From my Native American side or traditional knowledge, people would go out hunting directly, they would kill an animal, the would thank the gods for the meat, they watched the land, as our farmers will watch the land, but we who go to the supermarket don’t watch the land. They watch the land and understand what the land is telling them and respond to it in kind and realize that that land sustained them. They needed to respect that, whereas now we have further intensification to fuel an economy, but the majority of us don’t have any real respect for the process as whole.
Sust Lens: There’s been ongoing debate for at least 40 years about whether or not farmers in the high country respect their land. They argue of course they do, and Allan Mark will argue that there’s some question on that and that the management of the tussock and so on. Do you think farmers respect the land?
Pat: I think that we can’t tar anybody with a broad brush like that. I think that just like anybody, there are good people and there are jerks. I know farmers personally that respect the land. Look, we have … I know a farmer down in Clinton that has 10 kilowatts of solar, he has wind turbine, he has 6 electric motorcycles. He’s doing everything he can. He’s managing the land well. We had several farmers up in [inaudible 00:19:23] that we just fine for basically paying slave wages to foreign workers. There’s the whole gamut there, and I think that farmers generally just like anybody else would want to do the right thing. However, unfortunately, I was talking to a farmer recently who said he’s talked to the different political parties and all of them get into finger pointing rather than trying to resolve things. Farmers, they work hard and I don’t think any farmer wants to have anybody waving a finger at them and being told you must do this, you must do that, especially when they’re up to their necks in debt. They’re trying to survive, and there are risks of potentially losing their farms and worst yet, having those farms bought by our biggest customer.
I don’t think that we can tar all farmers the same. I think that we need to engage with the farming community. The scientists, the farmers, the economists and everybody and have a reasonable, rational discussion, and I do believe that to fix problems with water, we’re probably going to have it find some sort of economic incentive or subsidy or something because at times, it’s going to cost them a lot to do some of these things. We can’t expect that if we just wave a finger right now, a farmer is going to be able to all of the sudden come up with the money to make the kinds of changes that are needed without our help, and we certainly don’t want to see them losing those farms and having those farms bought up by our largest customer.
Sust Lens: That reminds me, I was actually making a suggestion a few years ago on the new water quality control, ORC, the council’s bringing in for farms. What I was struck by was that the farmers were more than willing to comply with the new rules. They just didn’t know how to. A lot of the farmers were older gentlemen who had been farming for a very long time. [inaudible 00:21:37] asked to do water sampling and stuff and I knew from my own scientific background many years ago that the sampling they were being asked to do was actually quite complicated and technical. It would be very easy to do … not do well. They knew they didn’t know how to do this. They were kind of frustrated. It was like the regional council was saying, “You guys have to do it.” I was like, we’re missing something here. We’re missing … the farmers want to do it, the governing body is requiring them to do it, but what’s missing there is especially in the middle where we’re actually helping the farmers do the right thing. I think that keeps getting missed. My impression at just that one meeting was were missing a trick here. What’s your comment on that?
Pat: Well, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that there’d be a disconnect. Quite often, politicians have knee jerk reactions to issues or they have reactions to issues but don’t necessarily do what it takes to follow them through all the way, and potentially it’s budget issue and they didn’t think of the budget of that and they just assumed, oh, they can do this. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Certainly, if we’re going to do things right, learning something from [inaudible 00:22:59] and all of these other issues, we certainly need to take a hit from Einstein. Einstein said only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results. We need to approach this from a different direction, don’t we?
Sust Lens: Henrik Moller at CSAFE made the argument that we need to stop thinking about us being primary in the cities, nature being something that’s out in the national parks, and kind of ignoring the bit in between. Firstly, we are nature, but secondly, most of our land, most of our biodiversity is in the bit between the city and the national parks. We need to be thinking about that differently. I’m interested in … you’ve talked about trying to resolve things. Do you have a model of how to resolve competing interests?
Pat: I think that it needs to start with listening. I’ve been making this case for many years in political circles that I’m engaged with that once again, you’re not going to solve anything by rushing in, pointing fingers, casting blame, you’re just going get people’s backs up. People need to actually come together, sit at the table, come up with reasonable ways to deal with things, reasonable time frames, and support. Listen, collaborate, consult, that kind of approach. I also … look, this … When I first came from the United States years ago and entered New Zealand, there was that god awful debate of people on the dole and there was dole bashing. Dole [inaudible 00:24:54] bashing. Coming from the states, I was no stranger to it, and I was actually quite a bit right wing then than I am now. I looked around at all the possums and all these things and I said well … naively maybe, I said, “Well, why not have a hunt for the dole program?”
In all seriousness, we have lots of environmental things that we need to deal with, so why couldn’t we take … and the fact of the matter is, most people don’t want to be unemployed. Why can’t we put together public works programs whereby we are paying people who maybe don’t have another job or maybe are just interested in this to go out and help farmers to do the plantings they have to do? Maybe learning the science, the tests that need to be done so it’s not just low skilled. Why can’t we be doing that. I was in Ethiopia during a war and famine in 2000 and I was watching people all over the country moving rocks to clear fields, to build road and walls. It was the government giving people food for public works. Now, they’re planting trees.
The ex … well, he’s dead, that’s why he’s the ex president, but the president of Ethiopia, he decided that they were going to take the lead in Africa and plant millions and millions of trees, and they are. They don’t have money, but they have people that can go out and do labor. So people are going out and planting millions of trees. Also, India is. Why can’t we do this? We’re a rich country in that sense and we have an employment problem and we have farmers that need help to do things that could help our water quality and future generations just as an example. Well, why can’t we do that? That’s just an idea.
Sust Lens: Because we’re not very good at doing this stuff and even if it’s right out in front of us, Maui’s Dolphin appears to be going extinct. The water quality in the rivers is not going in the right direction, and its pretty darn obvious why and we’re doing a really good job as a society of ignoring it.
Pat: That’s the political will of a party. If we change that party, we change that political will. There are parties on the left side that want to make changes and things like that. When I came to New Zealand it was Labour and Lbour was far better. I watched the erosion of DoC in the RMA. To be honest, we are fully capable and have done and have actually been praised around the world for the kind of work we’ve done in that way. Unfortunately, there’s a different mindset in the beehive now, and we won’t get anything but tinkering around the edges for soundbites unless we actually do change our leadership.
Sust Lens: Even if we’re stuck with the same one, just humour me for a moment, what could we do? Is there something we could do if the system changed from within?
Pat: Well, in terms of fisheries, there’s probably very little we can do except keep pressure on the government, talking to those around us who feel frustrated by it and letting them know, educating them about what the problem is. A good example, we have another issue with fisheries right now where they’re talking about taking … reducing bag limit for private fishers and fundamentally, passing the blame to the private fishers. People forget that the president of the national party is a major stockholder in Sanford fisheries, $110 million worth of stock at last I knew, and there are certain issues at play that people are profiting from this and they use that with the snapper. They threw the snapper out as a red herring when we had the GCSB issue. They knew people would get incensed about the red snapper. Well, they took bag limit off of the private fishers and that went to the big fishers and Sanford is the leading fisher form red snapper so who benefited from that?
Sust Lens: If you were to end up in a minority position on a council, what would you do? Just thumping the table and saying we need to change this representation or the balance system. Let’s say that’s not going to happen. How do you work the magic from a position not of power?
Pat: Realistically, I think the writing is on the wall for councils with the local government act amendment changes they’re proposing right now. They are setting it up so they can fundamentally [inaudible 00:29:57] the whole place is they don’t like the way things are going. I think ultimately activism, individual action with other people is the way forward because we’re losing democracy all over the place. We’re losing our ability to influence things. We’re losing our ability to change the country. We’re losing it all to the big corporate interests and so unfortunately, if I were in a council, my ability to effect anything would be probably nominal because it is the central government that is …
Sust Lens: Yeah, but within the structures that you have, if someone … you’re writing a burning consent. The land plan burning consent… and you know that is fundamentally a bad idea.
Pat: Yeah.
Sust Lens: There’s only 2 or 3 people who are backing you.
Pat: Yeah.
Sust Lens: What do you do about that? That’s not a we need to change the government, that’s …
Pat: Oh yeah, true, more locally. I mean, look. That’s where negotiation and education comes in and sometimes you win this battle, sometimes you won’t. I guess it depends on your argument and the particular issues at play, but yeah, go to bad, advocate for what you know to be right, show the science, back it up, talk to the scientists and say look, here’s what we risk losing here and here’s why.
Sust Lens: You talked about principles of sound environmental management.
Pat: Yeah.
Sust Lens: If some new environmental issue appears, do you have principles that you can use to say, “We haven’t thought about whatever it might be, but we have some building blocks that we can use to build a decision.”
Pat: Yeah, kind of like the [inaudible 00:31:41] issue that’s happening right now.
Sust Lens: Yeah, where do you start from? Are there some first principles you can fall back to?
Pat: In that case, we’ll take that one specifically, I think that it’s something that … any kind of thing that risks going wild in our environment or degrading our environment, once we know about it, we really must proceed in investigating that to see if number one, it is a real threat, and number two, how that threat should be contained or controlled. Yeah, that’s very specific to that, but I think in terms of the holistic approach, we have to basically go back to Neef and we have to think about the fact that growth and economic development cannot be maintained if we are damaging the environment. The environment is what we depend upon. Our economy is fully dependent upon the environment, so we have to … with everything we do, show respect to the environment and live within the rules it provides us.
Sust Lens: Do you have a model for the relationship between the environment and the economy and society? What are the words you use to describe that relationship?
Pat: If that I’d be the first economist who actually deserved a Nobel Prize.
Sust Lens: Do you use the word balance? Is it two sides of a coin? What’s the relationship?
Pat: You talk about optimal levels of pollution and really let’s … I was actually thinking about this last night. If you’re in a car and I take a hose from the tail pipe and put it in the window of the car and the car’s window is down, what is the optimal level of pollution as we roll that window up on you? At what point do you go, whoa, that’s optimal. Is this no longer any good? And pay me the fee, the economic cost, to have me open the door and let you out. It’s a question kind of like that because literally we’re talking with micro bio and the soil the whole ecologic system, the canary and the coal mine things as it were and you have to study an awful lot of things to know that, and then you have to try to put a value on it. This is the big fundamental problem with … sorry, one of the fundamental problems with economics is the environment and the economic services externalities and how do you price those externalities? There’s people in Germany doing some very good work on that. I’m not an economist. I’ve studied economics so I can grasp it when I read it, but it’s a very complex question. We have to realize that our soils for instance and our water, we depend on those for the rest of eternity.
Sust Lens: Why should people in a city care about what a regional council does?
Pat: Well, people in a city should care about anything related to environment because an environment is where they get their food from and their water from and it’s a lot easier to live in the countryside if there’s a food scarcity because you can grow it in your own yard than in the city, and cities are going to be the first places to feel the impacts of climate change and of environmental degradation. People … if you watch any of those zombie movies, just think of that. People leaving the largely populated area looking for resources, looking for food and water, that’s why they should care because they need that to live.
Sust Lens: A place such as Dunedin relies upon the extractive industries around it. We rely on the logs going through our city. We don’t like it but we know that that’s what pays the rates. We know that we need the dairy farmers. Do we need intensification? That’s another debate. We know that we need that kind of stuff to be happening in order for us to live our city lives. We’re not in a position are we to say stop doing that.
Pat: No, that’s the problem isn’t it? We can’t. I think diversification, we need to diversify more, because we can’t be too dependent on one thing. Dairy is a good instance of that. China is bringing mega factories online and that impacts our bottom line, so we need to do more value added, we need to do more diversity of our product so that we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket. Why do the people in the city need to care about the environment? Well, we do need to be able to continue to do those activities into the future. China has tremendous environmental problems and the reason New Zealand has been so successful at exporting our products to China is because our stuff is technically clean compared to theirs and that’s desirable and that’s why they’re going and buying up land around the world to produce.
Sust Lens: We criticize China, but we happily buy cheap stuff.
Pat: Yeah, exactly. It’s the double edged sword. Actually, that’s one of the big problems of the whole neo liberal experiment. We’ve outsourced so many things to places like China. We’re not getting anymore in pay but those things are cheaper because somebody else is fundamentally a slave. Those things are cheaper so we feel richer.
Sust Lens: Okay, some questions to end with. Do you have a definition of sustainability?
Pat: Sustainability is the ability to continue to do an activity into the future, not damaging the environment and hindering the ability to do that activity no matter what that is.
Sust Lens: We’re writing a book about these talks which we’re calling Tomorrow’s Heroes and it’s describing people in terms of a super power. What is it that they’re bringing to the positive change that we’re all trying for? How would you like your super power to be described? What is it that you’re bringing to the team?
Pat: Hard head and thick skin. Since I’ve come to New Zealand and encountered tall poppy syndrome and people can be quite shy with their political views, my lowest key stands out. I’ve found that people are very happy when I speak up, because I take the burden off of them but they feel happy that somebody shares the same views and then they can get behind that, so yeah, hard head and a thick skin.
Sust Lens: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?
Pat: Getting through my thermodynamics class, to be honest. I had this wonderful dream about environment and energy, and thermodynamics is not easy stuff and math was the hard thing standing in my way. I remember talking to one of my professors in thermodynamics about terms and I said, “I can understand entropy.” I explained entropy to him. He goes, “Oh, you are going to do very well.” He was Chinese. “You’re going to do very well.” I said, “Yeah, but I can’t explain it in math.” He goes, “Oh, well you’re going to have a problem.” I survived.
Sust Lens: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Pat: What I did I want to be when I grew up?
Sust Lens: Yeah.
Pat: Cowboy or jet fighter pilot.
Sust Lens: You’re neither of those.
Pat: No, well, I do have land down in the west coast and it makes me feel a bit like a cowboy and I do para glide, so yeah. Less fossil fuels being burned there.
Sust Lens: Why para gliding?
Pat: Why para gliding? It’s freedom. It’s like being a butterfly. You can hike to the top of a mountain with it. Jump off, go somewhere else. Watch the world below you. I’ll tell you what, rock climbing para gliding, both wonderful sports. If you have bad day at the office, your boss is just not really a nice guy, abusing you, if you go out para gliding, all your life is directly dependent on your actions and your concentration. All of that goes away or it better and you can really relax and release.
Sust Lens: Relax because of that intensity?
Pat: Yeah, because you have to focus, but also it’s very beautiful. It’s good. There’s nothing like also spinning by a hillside full of scrub at 40 kilometers an hour and getting whacked with scrub. It’s really quite therapeutic.
Sust Lens: That would be a good incentive to get rid of the frustrations.
Pat: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.
Sust Lens: You don’t want to hit any random ones of those.
Pat: I’ve seen that happen.
Sust Lens: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Pat: Usually I need to pee. What motivates me though, with all the travels that I’ve done and all the things I’ve seen, I really want to push towards justice, be that social, economic, environmental. I really desire justice and positive change to see things get better for people.
Sust Lens: Justice, desire and positive change is quite a different positioning from what people tend to put the sustainable type stuff and you want us to go live in a cave and stop using my toys.
Pat: No, no, no. Not at all.
Sust Lens: How do we position it as a better future and not a lesser future?
Pat: This is the problem. This is the big propaganda tool that the right wing tends to employ against scientists and people that talk about sustainability. The sooner we get on board with renewable energy with making changes, the better our future is. The longer we wait, the closer we are to the wall and the more chance we have of living in caves. We can have a very good life on low carbon, low voltage. We do have to watch out about our population growth. That is a big factor. There is hope that we don’t have to go back and live in caves, we just have to actually get on board with it. There’s jobs and profit in that as well.
Sust Lens: In those cheer up Bob lectures that we talked about before, he posited that it’s too late. We’ve used up … We’ve squandered the power of the energy we needed to do the transition.
Pat: Yeah. Okay. I said at a talk with him and Nicole Foss, was there and I don’t know if you know but NASA released a report about 3 years ago where they reckoned that the world had about 15 years until economic collapses. Unfortunately, humanity, we’re pretty stubborn and we don’t really like to sacrifice. Our economy is like a freight train. If you want to talk about environmental collapse, I actually think that unless we actually change the way we do things, we’re going to have economic collapse before and that’s going to be the saviour of our economy. That makes Bob and David Sazuki and people like that quite depressed that we might actually hit that wall environmentally.
I choose to be an optimist. I have some land on the west coast where I can hunt and fish and grow my own stuff just in case, but I choose to be an optimist and fight for change because really, what else do you have? I think you can do positive things to mitigate that, and I also think that different countries will have different rates of moving forward, some very quickly like Germany and Denmark and Norway and other countries aren’t moving at all. Hitting the wall economically, environmentally, I don’t think it will be something that will happen just overnight. I think it will be something that we might see other countries doing. Syria, Rwanda, these are examples. North Korea are examples of hitting the wall due to several reasons and at some point, collective humanity might wake up and say, “These countries are hitting the wall more and more frequently now. Let’s change course.”
You’ve got to be an optimist. I studied under Bob. Bob’s reasoning isn’t wrong. Not at all. And Bob hasn’t given up but he’s frustrated as is David Sazuki and a lot of other scientists but we can’t give up.
Sust Lens: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?
Pat: Oh hell yes.
Sust Lens: Why?
Pat: Because I speaking out all the time in a society where tall poppy syndrome reigns and people are shy about speaking out and the government has basically killed all the good reporters and media to try and make everybody follow a line that they want everybody to follow, and I’m out there saying a line contrary to that. I’m saying we need to look at the science, we need to look at the economics, we need to actually look at things for what they are rather than continue on business as usual, and I’m trying to get more and more people to share that idea around so it goes viral so that the debates can be had, the discussions can be had honestly without the kind of spin we had at Havelock North where we learned it was birds that were the big problem in the country, speaking humorously. Tongue in cheek.
Sust Lens: We talked about before, about people have got lives to live.
Pat: Exactly, and that’s why the economy is like a freight train. Ultimately, if you compare my brother and myself. My brother is a full on American capitalist. Denies climate change, carries a gun. We couldn’t be more different. I grew up the same as him. We grew up very much the same. People thought we were twins. I grew away from that sort of thinking thinking through education and he lives in a silo. We have to educate people. We have to. That is where activism comes in. That is why anytime I’ve been out in the octagon speaking, I tell people it’s all well and fine, us talking to us in this circle here. We’re preaching to the converted. We need to actually approach the people in the world going on behind us here on the road and engage them and discuss with them what is actually going on to educate people. Nobody wants to see us hit a wall. Nobody wants to see bad things happen, and we have to discuss … We can’t come to the table with just problems. We have to come to the table with reasonable solutions. Anytime you come to the table with problems, people get their backs up people close their ears, close their minds.
Sust Lens: Quickly through the last couple of a questions in less than a minute. Biggest challenge you got in the next couple of years?
Pat: To get my land on the west coast sorted out. Get a house built and such as that. Huge economic challenge, especially as remote as it is.
Sust Lens: If you could wave a wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?
Pat: Enlightenment. People actually looking at the economic, environmental and social issues and honestly addressing the as a whole as a society.
Sust Lens: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?
Pat: Don’t watch or don’t pay much attention to the news. Find some other areas to get your news from and when you watch those things, just kind of do it for a laugh.
art climate change design energy

designers of the Anthropocene

Beth Ferguson Sara Dean

We’re mapping different types of unknown territory.

Our guests tonight are Sara Dean and Beth Ferguson.

Sara is an assistant professor of graduate design at the California College of the Arts. She is an architect and designer. Her work considers the implications of digital and social media as urban infrastructure, especially in relation to issues of sustainability

Beth Ferguson is an assistant professor in industrial design at the University of California Davis. She runs Solar Design Lab, a solar design and build company. Her work positions solar energy design as a civic and public resource.

They are here in Dunedin as collaborators in a project called Climate Kit. Climate Kit is a project commissioned by Zero1, American Arts Incubator in partnership with the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs and the US Embassy here in Wellington. Climate Kit brings together Beth, an expert on design and solar energy and Sara, an expert in digital design to create a cross disciplinarian workshop of with academics, artists, business and government leaders to discuss and share best practices on raising awareness of resiliency in climate change and how to communicate and share our best practices publicly in compelling ways.

Talking points

A question I’ve always had is what is the device that makes a problem or a challenge visible, engageable, start people moving together towards solutions.

We’re really looking at the environment through the lens of the challenges that the environment sees and as we tool up to kind of solve some of these problems on a grassroots level, they become images that can be brought into a community setting like a university or a museum to have discussions.

I think often when we deal with complex systems, we end up addressing both in the community and in interventions, addressing the effects of the systems… upstream in the system as possible so that they can make better decisions.

One of the challenges I think we have right now as a global population, and as designers, is how to connect those in a productive way to be able to not isolate people who are feeling the effects of climate change faster because we’re all going to be feeling them eventually.

Tangible glimpses at large shifts

If a community is prepared for climate change, it is significantly more affordable than responding to disaster.

That’s the language as designers that we’ve learned to use of coming up with creative ways to talk about challenges.

Sustainability is really about thinking about future generations. If we’re not designing our economies and systems, infrastructure systems to just be for our generation, the next 30 years. If we’re really thinking the next 7 generations, that is sustainability

We’re not really wired to think long, big scale or long distances. It’s a challenge. It’s probably a challenge we’ve always had, but I think the challenge of scale right now is the one that kind of obsesses me. We’re not great at thinking beyond neighbourhood and city. A lot of the challenges that we’re facing in neighbourhoods and cities are coming at us from really large scales. To me, that’s a design challenge. Time and scale right now, are a design challenge.



Shane: First of all I want to talk about you guys. Beth can I start off with you? You got into solar energy. You’re an engineer. When did you decide to become an engineer and what got you interested in solar energy?


Beth: Yeah. It’s actually a personal transportation story. I was a graduate design student at the University of Texas in Austin and really interested in small electric vehicles and just by chance saw a small electric scooter on Craigslist. It’s like a used item website in the states. For $200 I bought an electric bike and it was an awesome way to move around the city without having to deal with expensive parking or gas. I’ve quickly found challenges bringing it to my college campus. I had no place to charge it or plug it in. I’d bring it in to my study and be bothered thinking everyone thought it was a gas motorcycle. I realized, being in Texas, that there’s not infrastructure for small electric vehicles yet, but of course other more progressive states probably have that infrastructure.


This was in 2007. I had trouble finding other alternatives and worked with a small solar company and found out one solar panel could charge my electric scooter. Then I started getting into design and prototyping and thinking a solar charging station would actually be quite feasible for electric bikes and scooters and even electric cars. In 2007, electric vehicles were just catching on and the prices of solar panels, so my timing with this challenge was really good. Seeing both the solar industry get stronger as well as more electric bikes and scooters and cars available. The last seven years I’ve seen these industries really grow and I started my own studio call Solar Design Lab, where I work with other engineers, architects, designers and do public projects that are commissioned by universities, city utilities, music festivals for phone charging. We’ve brought the project to many different places.


We’re on, I think, prototype 12 right now for the city of Austin, they’re utility for a new street called electric drive. Electric drive will have demonstration areas for electric car charging, bikes and scooters as well as USB ports for outdoor phones. That’s like a quick version of many years of working in public places and bringing solar energy down to the street. The projects are the size of bus stops. They’re pretty easy for people to interact with and see how they work.


Sam: That’s incredible. Go back to your childhood. Where did you grow up?


Beth: I grew up on the coast of Maine, which is a good question because it’s not unlike Dunedin and I felt quite at home here in the hills and on the coast.


Sam: All right. As a young girl, did you imagine yourself being an engineer from a very young age or is that something you … How did you get into engineering? What’s your journey there?


Beth: I was always really interested in the environment. Living on the coast, being able to ride my bike and hike and find the environment as a big inspiration. My master’s degree is in design, but after I received that degree, I did take solar engineering courses at a local community college to get solar engineering skills. That’s kind of been my toolkit so that I’ve been able to put a lot of curriculum together. I’ve always loved teaching from a young age, working in environmental summer camps and getting to explore the outdoors. Maine is on the East Coast of the United States, very close to Canada. It’s a place that people really appreciate the environment. Coming up with alternatives that are going to be using less dependence on fossil fuels has been an interest of mine for a long time. My interest in sustainability kind of has merged with transportation solutions, transportation and electricity are huge numbers to the green house gases in the US. Coming up with solutions for the way we move through our city and the way we use electricity is very important for how we’re going to really reduce our carbon in the US.


Sam: Was that your driving passion, that pushed you through college and guided your career?


Beth: In undergraduate work, I studied ecological design. My interest art and all different types of art, public art and performance art really combined with my interest in the environment to be environmental design. I think I saw a documentary on Buckminster Fuller as a young student and that really inspired me to see the types of design that’s possible for re-envisioning the world that we want versus accepting these unsustainable models we have for the way cities are laid out. We have suburbs. I’ve always like a city you can bike and walk in. I’ve lived in New York City. I love community gardens. I love having a healthy lifestyle and I think that that is possible if we re-shift the way urban planners have made big sprawl in cities and really condense cities again to be livable and affordable with public transportation as well as small electric vehicles.


Shane: I think one of the focuses of the interview, we’re going to talk about this interest between arts and science and design and the environment. We’ll circle back to that eventually, but I want to turn to Sara and ask you the same questions. Where did you grow up and what’s your background? What got you into your career?


Sara: One of the commonalities that Beth and I have is a varied number of disciplines that we’ve kind of accumulated into a space where we want to work. I grew up in Virginia, which is in the Southeast of the United States. I originally studied communication arts, interested in how we communicate through graphic design and illustration. After that I moved to New Orleans, and worked a lot in building and renovating houses alongside the work I was doing as a graphic designer, which was geared toward community organization.


I worked as the lead graphic designer for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now for a number of years in New Orleans and that work really brought home to me how design can activate communities, can be tools to make policy and the distinctions, or the opportunity for on the ground community work design and government policy to be in a conversation together. A question I’ve always had is what is the device that makes a problem or a challenge visible, engageable, start people moving together towards solutions. That’s my kind of where I worked from. While I was in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina happened and that was a really devastating climate change moment and policy failure moment for the city and the region. I worked for a number of years after Katrina in energy policy and building practices to try to make more sustainable methods of building.


After that I went back to school for architecture, realizing that I was more interested in the built environment and wanted to tool up in that way. Since then my practice has really been to combine those two worlds. Understanding urban infrastructure and an architectural mindset and then coming from community organizing and communication structures, has put me in a position where I work with really multi disciplinary groups to tackle big infrastructural issues through many forms. Digital media, built form, manufacturing practices, and using everything from say social media and technology to house those in and other types of build work.


Shane: How did you two guys meet up? How did you meet up? What was that story?


Beth: We were really lucky that a mutual friend who is actually on the board of Solar Design Lab, my studio was giving me advice on how to scale the project and said, “You really need to meet Sara Dean.” We had a mutual dinner and then Sara and I immediately have like 15 ideas of new projects. We’ve been coming up or baking new ideas ever since and have a huge list we’ve yet to crack. Doing Climate Kit has been really fun as a real immersion in the support from the Otago Museum, the science communication department here at the University of Otago, the Zero1 American Arts Incubator, and the US State Department in Wellington, the embassy in Wellington have really helped connect so many thoughts especially in the community for us to really hear many different voices on the challenges related to climate change. Otago and Dunedin, just really big spirited people. We feel really lucky to have this month to work together as well as do community work.


Shane: Neither of you have had a typical career. It’s not like you decided to go in one direction. You’ve taken this kind of serpentine path and it’s fascinating to me that you’ve taken all these different areas and kind of blended them like hard science and soft sciences and kind of community. You’ve blended together, and you’ve brought together this amazing ideas and concepts. When you try to explain this to people, do people get it or is kind of like, “You what? What do you do?”


Sara: Probably half and half. I think for me one of the things that disciplines give us in general is a language. When I use architectural language to talk about infrastructure system problems and how social media, for example could be used as an architecture in a city. If I’m using architectural language, the architects get it. If I’m using community organizing language, the community organizations will get it, but it doesn’t quite work the other way around. Really understanding how to engage different types of disciplines is an incredible benefit as long as you can be a flexible person that’s okay with some questionable stares now and then.


Shane: One of the things that we constantly hear about, one of the major things, is the theme of narrative. How you turn your story and again you’re repeating that. Like you said, you have to tell your story in a particular way. Is this your experience as well, Beth?


Beth: Yeah, absolutely. People are so curious, especially with doing prototyping and innovation and experimenting, combining unordinary things. A lot of my solar charging stations have used 1950s gas pumps. I’ve recycled a symbol of the road trip, the American Legacy of this vintage automobilia. That humor and narrative has helped me really launch into a place as a public artist to combine cutting edge technology which are batteries, battery storage for solar energy, electric vehicles. We’re doing a project that’s charging Tesla cars. Sometimes there’s a space in the world, like a crack that hasn’t been investigated to bring new projects out into the world. When you wear as many hats that Sara and I have worn of working with Universities as researchers, us working with arts institutions, museums, architecture firms Sara has done, and starting my own studio, you really learn different ways to use multiple narratives to get visions across and that’s when the work becomes powerful.


Shane: You guys met over dinner, you have the projects and it sounds really exciting, like you guys sparked off each other. What brought the idea of the Climate Kit and I’ve seen some really interesting pictures of like a gas mask, well some sort of air filter, and a strange rod with a spiral rounded. A few bits and pieces which I think quite works and they’re quite able to identify, but fascinating museum. What is the climate Kit and just start off with that?


Sara: The question that we started with with Climate Kit is how is expedition and exploration changing in the world. When you think about California and then also thinking about New Zealand as these new frontiers that have been explored in various ways and we can picture the types of tools that go into that exploration of new territory, unknown territory, but we have different types of unknown territory now, that aren’t about mapping unknown terrain, but mapping unknown metrics or unknown data. Moving into say a big data space or a post natural space of exploration, what are the new tools that people are using. Asking that, say very broad question has gotten us a starting point to different conversations that we’ve been having here between each other and in getting the exhibit together at the Otago museum.


Old tools have different purposes now and there’s a lot of new tools being developed. That was the starting point for us. As far as what is a month long conversation basically that we could have with the science community in Dunedin around field working tools for climate.


Shane: When you come here to, I can see the appeal for Dunedin to have two amazing academics come from overseas and create a space for conversation. Can you do that in the same way in America or at home? How do you start creating that space. I can see the appeal here but how do you do that back?


Beth: One important part of Sara and I meeting that we didn’t mention is we were new to San Francisco, new to the Bay area, new to Silicon Valley. Sara had moved from Andover Michigan. I had moved from Austin Texas and we had a lot of excitement as many new pioneers in Silicon Valley to come up with some new ideas and push boundaries. Our work related to emergency is actually inspired by the threat of earthquakes in the Bay area. We’ve had constant little tremors. We’re really thinking about infrastructure and thinking about human impact on the environment. Thinking about like a field guide to the anthropocene is a part of the toolkit project we’re working on.


The lens we’ve gotten to use here in New Zealand has actually been to map and photograph and explore dams and different parts around Dunedin where there’s failure of controlling flooding. Where there are challenges related to pollution or related to a side of the hill that the houses are too moist and people are getting mould and environmental illnesses. We’re really looking at the environment through the lens of the challenges that the environment sees and as we tool up to kind of solve some of these problems on a grassroots level, they become images that can be brought into a community setting like a university or a museum to have discussions.


Our exhibition’s opening tomorrow, but Saturday we’re having a community panel and inviting people in to talk about their work in Dunedin related to climate change but also open up that conversation. That’s kind of the spring board idea of toolkit and kind of the benefit of having the whole month to really talk to people.


Sara: I’ll add there’s a huge advantage to having time. There’s nothing more luxurious than time. As much as Beth and I have been working together for two years, there’s a lot of other things happening as well and we both have our own individual practices that were also propelling forward. To get a month together to work on these questions in a new place is a huge luxury. As much as this could happen in daily life, it’s a lot easier in some ways to do it in isolation and get new inputs and kind of feed off of the new community event and all of the energy here.


Shane: How did you decide on Dunedin. It’s not the most obvious choice. Obviously we have an amazing university and Polytech. Why Dunedin?


Beth: Dunedin was chosen or recommended by the US Embassy in Wellington. I think it had a lot to do with the science festival that happened a few weeks ago. Our timing with the really exciting science festival in Dunedin was perfect in the timeline for our commission and residency was about the same time. I think it was a natural fit, the beauty of the Otago Peninsula, we just feel so lucky to have been able to come here. The other artists that have been a part of the American Art Incubator have been to the Philippines, to Vietnam, to China. This is the first group that’s come to New Zealand. We’re the lucky ones.


Shane: How do you describe yourselves? Are you scientists? Are you engineers? Are you artists? Are you all of the above? How do you describe yourselves?


Beth: We’re really in an exciting time in the world as academics and designers. I describe myself as an industrial designer. That having a multi toolkit and being able to bridge disciplines that becomes a strong problem solver. When you’re able to kind of go between a city utility and consider how electric vehicles are going to be charged on a city grid, versus an arts organization that would really amplify a story in a new way, that’s kind of the beauty of having multidisciplinary skills. Sara’s worked in architecture and myself in industrial design, as a contractor you have to be able to bring in a lot of skills to the table and execute large scale projects. This was a very fast project in one month and we have a couple years worth of research ideas that maybe we’ll still be back to do in the future.


Shane: Brilliant. Sara, how do you describe yourself?


Sara: I think of myself as an architect. I’m trained as an architect, and to me when I approach a problem, I think I approach it as an architect even though I’ve been trained as many other things as well. To me it’s about those methods of approaching a problem, methods of coming up with ways of solving it. To me, I do that architecturally. I think of it systematically. I look for a point of agency in a city or in a community or in an organization and try to find what the physical landing point of that is. I get the most mileage, personally out of thinking of that as an architect. Some architects don’t think what I do is very architectural because I use Twitter, or I use interaction design or I use visualization techniques, but to me the methodology is very architectural. That’s what I go with.


Shane: Fantastic. Neither of you have really used any kind of language like numbers or facts and stuff. You talk about narrative and art and creating spaces. That’s really interesting to me, because a lot of our society’s folks ran numbers and facts and new projections. This is a very much a new way of conceiving science within society. Do you think about it that way?


Sara: I would say, I think at least for me, what I offer are methods of approaching problems and that’s what I’m developing personally. When I go into a new project, all of the facts matter a lot, but the topic or the subject matter, say whether it’s a flooding problem or it’s a drought problem or it’s a spatial problem, the facts are incredibly important, but the methodology is what moves between projects. That’s maybe why it’s more of a narrative and how it’s described. When we came in to Dunedin we really dug in to a lot of the details of the history of Dunedin, the economy of it. We learned as many facts as we could as we went. Really the community workshops provided a lot of that knowledge for us and that’s incredibly important to us. We don’t want to come in and just make assumptions and start working and think we’re participating in the community. When we go to the next, the next thing could be very different and it would be another fact finding starting point.


Sam: When we start talking about that Anthropocene or the climate change, we’re starting to talk about complex systems. There are heavy science concepts in there. Things like, well there’s lots of data, but there’s also the science concepts of a certainty and so on. At the other end there’s people concerned about their houses and where they’re going to live and so on. How do you bridge between those two.


Sara: I think often when we deal with complex systems, we end up addressing both in the community and in interventions, addressing the effects of the systems and the systems themselves aren’t changed by the intervention. It’s incredibly important that people can feed their families and feel secure and not worry about the impact of weather and large scale environmental issues on their daily life. It’s also important that as we address that, we’re addressing it as upstream in the system as possible so that they can make better decisions.


As an example, it’s important to raise houses in flood plains and we see that in New Orleans that happened, but it’s also important to change the policies around lead use. We don’t want to just keep raising houses another couple feet every year. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s kind of how I go about it. What are points of agency within these systems that create more ability to have resilient responsive communities?


Beth: Here in New Zealand, we’ve gotten to meet with City Council members and look at some of the projections of climate change in Dunedin. There’s some amazing maps that show the different, actually kind of retraces where the marshland used to be, and where a lot of the infill is now. Looking at the future sea level rise, it’s projected that the sea level will go back to where the coast originally was. There’s a lot of interesting history that we’ve been digging up with different academics and researchers and community members that have worked with us. We’ve worked with a public school teacher. We’ve worked with a professor from the Polytechnic.


We have a project that we’re going to be launching tomorrow that’s actually using a topography mat of the Otago Peninsula that will project different layers of maps. Thinking about past, present, and future. That’s going to be revealed so we invite people to come see it. That’s been a way to think about … It’s a table and it has bumps on it so you can see the hills and the lower valley areas. When we conceptually try to think about sea level rising, it’s kind of hard to do without something that’s 3D or dimensional. That’s what we’re hoping with that project and it’s something similar, we’ve seen at a museum in the San Francisco Bay area and it’s very popular. Seeing people really consider how water moves through an area with so many coasts, I think is really important.


Sam: I think a big part of the problem is that it’s not actually that technically complicated, but it’s still a messy, wicked problem. If we take the sea level, and the houses in South Dunedin, It’s reasonably easy to understand what’s going on in terms of the water levels, the water table and so on, but solving it-


Sara: Yeah, absolutely.


Sam: -is enormously complicated.


Sara: Absolutely and it shouldn’t be simplified just because as you say, the part about the water seems simple, right? Because it’s not a simple problem when you factor in people’s properties, and safety and community and all those factors. The fact that we have historically as people, built by water means that the problem that South Dunedin is facing is the same problem that a huge number of cities in the world are facing. We’re facing it faster and we’re urbanizing faster, which is creating more dramatic run off because of all the impervious surfaces are increasing in water shed. We’re getting it from both sides. There’s both the water table rising and there’s run off and water sheds changing their behaviours. This is happening at a local scale here, and it’s happening at a local scale in many cities. One of the challenges I think we have right now as a global population, and as designers, is how to connect those in a productive way to be able to not isolate people who are feeling the effects of climate change faster because we’re all going to be feeling them eventually. How we kind of deal with these, the more immediate impacts is going to really manifest down the line.


Sam: I think for the longest time, Dunedin’s had the niggling feeling that actually a couple of degrees warmer wouldn’t do us any harm and not really thinking through the actual implications. People have been talking about for a long time that it’s not just about being a little bit warmer, it’s actually speeding up of the system and the increased floods and increased droughts and all those sorts of things and the complexities of that on where people live. There is this kind of twofold danger that people think that there’s a technological solution just out there, so we can carry on having a party, what Susan Krumdieck calls the green myth, that everyone having a party, there’s a miracle going on somewhere.


Beth: I have a comment for you on that. I think that’s exactly right. Hearing two degrees warmer doesn’t sound very big but hearing that we don’t have snow pack in California or here on the western side of the south island and thinking about without snow what does that mean? That means our rivers are not filling up. That means our dams are not producing the amount of electricity they once produced. If pastures are getting larger and larger, that means the heavy rains are going to have more nutrient rich soil run off in to the rivers. We’ve heard that kind of historically, or more recently that water quality in the south Dunedin rivers, it has to be safe enough to stand in with your gum boots. If you can stand in the river with rubber boots, it’s clean enough, but thinking about what if we could have our kids swim in that river again, or what if we can have healthy fish in that river again or what if the eels could come back and have a way to swim up river. It seems like a lot of conversations we’ve had are people wanting to raise the bar on water standards.


I got to go out last week with the Healthy Harbour Watchers, an amazing team of scientists and public school teachers and high school students that go to about 7 different points around the Otago Peninsula a few times a month and collect water samples, bring it back to the lab at the University of Otago and test for nitrates, phosphates, water salinity. They take a note of the colour of the water and I got to help take notes with them and I had such a blast. Seeing the spirit of citizen science is really amazing in Dunedin. Being part of the science festival really taught us how many great projects are happening. It’s been inspiring.


Sara: One of the projects we’ve been doing here is talking to scientists about exactly these kind of tangible glimpses at large shifts and it’s been fascinating because this is such an incredibly unique ecosystem and kind of meeting point of many environments and the impact of the ocean and the small shifts in current. I’ve learned enough to be dangerous as they say about this while I’ve been in Dunedin. A small change in temperature can change the ocean currents dramatically which will change the make up of the ocean life.


One of the issues that I’ve heard that I thought was very telling as far as this two degrees is just a little warmer kind of question is that there’s a sea urchin in Tasmania that will drift, the larva will drift on the current down to the north shore of the north island and that’s happened periodically but the temperature of the water has meant that they haven’t survived. Now with the increase in the temperature of the ocean water and the current is getting stronger, but also the water is warming up just a little bit on the north shore of the north island which means that now these sea urchin are growing up there and not dying in their larval stage. Which means that now the ecosystem of the ocean shelf on that shore is changing dramatically. The kelp is disappearing because the sea urchin are eating it. Then you can see that as it chain.


Now that they’ve taken hold on that shore, when the water gets a little warmer farther down and some larva drift down, they will survive and these kinds of impacts that are very minute changed thresholds that are very controlled and important and very minor. On top of that, and this is one of the things that’s been fascinating in talking to scientists here that work on these incredibly long timelines, is talking to them about climate change, because of course they’re like, “Well which one do you want to talk about? We’ve had them through all of history.” Thinking about human impact not as a … Thinking about human impact as an added stress to already stressed environments that animals are constantly struggling and that’s fine. That’s always been the case, but we’re making them struggle so much harder to continue. These little shifts in temperature and the little shifts in fishing and fishing for example, the lobsters on the north island meant that nothing was eating the young sea urchins when they were coming. That increased their foothold there. These kind of cascading issues can start with really minor climate differences.


Sam: One of the issues that we have is that people would rather not talk about it. Hands over our eyes, fingers in our ears. Let’s pretend it’s not happening and being quite critical of people that do. You’re very much taking the approach of engaging the community is a thing we need to be doing. I’m wondering what you’re hoping to achieve from that?


Beth: When you start preparing a community …. Actually the numbers, you guys asked about numbers. If a community is prepared for climate change, it is significantly more affordable than responding to disaster. If South Dunedin and the community at large come up with solutions now, it’ll be a much cheaper price tag than dealing with a polluted water table and homes that are not livable and all of the challenges that come with not planning. That’s the world all over. The Bay area we’ve seen numbers if we start planning in the San Francisco Bay area for climate change now, it will be much more affordable even though the price tags are big. What the climate deniers, where they kind of are comical, is they deny climate change but if you tell them, “Oh. We came up with a solution for climate change,” they say, “Great. Let’s get it.” They want a solution but at the same time they don’t want to acknowledge the problem.


That’s the language as designers that we’ve learned to use of coming up with creative ways to talk about challenges. We’ve heard from climate activists here in Dunedin that instead of calling it climate change, there’s sea inundation, backyards with saltwater at high tide. There’s ways to be less threatening but still come up with solutions for communities and families that are going to need drier homes so that their kids are healthy. Asthma rates, if your basement is damp, go up. We heard about someone digging a fence in his back yard and he had to wait until it was low tide, because the holes were filled with water at high tide.


Sea level inundation is something you can’t ignore when you’re living in it. We want to actually learn some of these tactical skills that Dunedinites are going to have to put into practice sooner than later, and share them with our home communities.


Sam: Do you think that we can get there through incremental approaches or is it going to take a revolution?


Sara: I don’t think we’ve been here long enough to say locally.


Sam: Just in California then.


Sara: …California. I think it has to be both. Some of the tipping points that we’re seeing are coming from kind of the most standard places you could think of. When insurance pulls out of a community, and the government and the community are now on the hook for the liability of home ownership, which is one of the major safety nets of families all over the world. When insurance pulls out and this happened in New Orleans, things get a lot more of an emergency a lot quicker. There was just news last week in San Francisco, the millennium tower, one of these new big development projects in San Francisco is  sinking already and it’s sinking because, well for many reasons. Okay. Now that’s a different focus. It’s important that these are not the rich and the insured that can manage to push us forward, but when we’re seeing it from both sides, where the world bank is trying to do infrastructure problems to hold off flooding, because they have an investment that needs to be secured. Meanwhile, poor communities are really suffering from that insecurity the most. The question is, how do we get everybody moving towards the same solutions rather than pit it against each other.


Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Beth: Sustainability is really about thinking about future generations. If we’re not designing our economies and systems, infrastructure systems to just be for our generation, the next 30 years. If we’re really thinking the next 7 generations, that is sustainability. The carrying capacity of one generation using up natural resources that are not going to be sustained for future generations, is unsustainable. There’s a lot of great over the sustainability movement the last 30 years. I’m teaching a course next semester on the history of sustainable design. I’m excited to bring out some old precedents even. European town and country inspirations that were done in England of bringing farmers markets, or bringing urban gardens into a city so you can grow your own food. There’s a lot of old precedents that can be brought in. Thinking about electricity and power, I was really inspired by indigenous architecture that faces in the US, the south would be the north here. The home is actually facing the direction of the sun and that the home is a solar collector, versus just having solar panels on their roof. Really thinking about designing in a way that’s going to use electricity, be comfortable and be healthy. Not be in a threat of a flood is really important.


Sam: Talking about engaging people in future generations or thinking about future generations. We’re not very good at it.


Sara: It’s true. I think people in general, we’re not really wired to think long, big scale or long distances. It’s a challenge. It’s probably a challenge we’ve always had, but I think the challenge of scale right now is the one that kind of obsesses me. We’re not great at thinking beyond neighbourhood and city. A lot of the challenges that we’re facing in neighbourhoods and cities are coming at us from really large scales. To me, that’s a design challenge. Time and scale right now, are a design challenge.


Sam: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics extended in space and time. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Beth: I’m about to install my dream project. In Texas I’ve worked with these gas pumps with solar panels, I’ve told you about. We’ve just gone through a year process of getting permits for a new solar charging station for the city of Austin that will be in this beautiful park in downtown Austin that was formerly a power station. It’s called the Sea Home Power Plant that was built in the 50s and decommissioned in the 90s and now the city is taking it over to be their ecodistrict. It has numerous features of sustainable design. Working with the city of Austin’s utility, Austin Energy, to do electric vehicle charging is where all of my more whimsical prototypes have wanted to go. I’m about to install my dream project that will be Austin Energy’s Electric Drive Solar Charging Station and it will have space for electric scooters and bikes to charge, as well as outdoor seating and plants and a beautiful solar canopy.


Keep an eye on Solar Design Lab’s website to see that project soon. That’s kind of an interesting moment for me, where as a public artist doing realistic infrastructure. The city finally took notice. It took 7 years, but persistence is really the secret to community changing. Buckminster Fuller has a great quote of, “Don’t spend time pointing out things that are not useful. Really build the things that you want to see for the future.” I think that’s important for all of us of thinking about climate change and sustainability in Dunedin, let’s build that vision as opposed to blaming and pointing fingers, let’s start building a way to make these hard transitions possible.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. We’re writing a book. Aren’t we Shane?


Shane: We are indeed. Slowly.


Sam: What we’re looking at is trying to describe people’s superpower. What’s their sustainable superpower? It’s really, what are you bringing to the sustainable team? How would you like your superpower to be described?


Sara: I think what I end up bringing to teams, I think, is finding that way to engage the platform to engage. The moment of agency in a system.


Sam: That’s cool.


Beth: Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, I think, thinking about design, not just design for the dump, but design for positive innovation. With doing solar energy projects, it’s been a really fun superpower. Someone said it’s like open source solar energy giving free solar power to the public to really experience it for the first time. It’s great to have solar panels up on rooftops, but to bring it down to the public level for them to touch and experience it. We’ve done musical festivals where we’ve charged 4,000 cellphones over 4 days. Getting to be that close to that many people wanting to try solar energy out has been really thrilling and that’s kind of helped feed this kind of work and my commitment to teaching and design is going to keep that going at the University of California Davis with continuing that research.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist.


Beth: Definitely. You asked me about my childhood, and I didn’t mention I guess in my early 20s I was part of a bike circus. It was a bicycle circus that we did month long bike trips around issues of biotechnology and environmental pollution and anti-globalization and a lot of issues that we were worried about 10, 15 years ago, we’re actually seeing play out in really terrifying ways. We’ve lost so many jobs in the US for building things. We’ve lost a lot and the cycle right now is everything being made in China and then shipped to the US, is not a sustainable path. I’m really interested in being part of some design research as well as shifting design education to come up with some ways to do local manufacturing.


Sam: Same thing?


Sara: I think I’m definitely an activist. It’s important to me that work is political. If a design, if it’s not a political project, than … I guess another way to say that is I usually make projects a political project. I think all designs should be political.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Sara: That’s a tough one. I guess there’s just a lot to do. Ways of being in collaborations, different types of groups to collaborate with, I’ll say and I’ll piggy back this on my recent success of the last three years. I’ve been working for the last couple years with a really multidisciplinary group in Jakarta, Indonesia. There’s computer scientists and geographers and engineers and urban theorists. I’m the designer on the project. It’s using social media data to get real time flood maps of the city that’s a community resource and then also a resource for the Emergency Management Agency. Ways of leveraging both community tools, open source tools, big data and real on the ground problems that’s the sweet spot, I think, for where to design. That’s been a fantastic project to be a part of and it’s been a very successful project that’s now picked up by the city of Jakarta as an official resource for community reporting. That type of … Which, you know, it’s not like those projects come along everyday, but being able to be part of projects like that where factors are being thought of through engineering and community and I can add the design eye of how to engage the public through what methods on their terms, that’s the perfect spot.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Beth: For me, kind of transitioning, the more you do work in public space the bigger the projects or the more exciting the collaboration gets. Climate Kit, has been a really fun way for Sara and I to prototype and learn from another country some of the challenges, sort of bring some of these skills and prototype ideas home is going to be really inspiring to share what we’ve learned her and really think about new infrastructure design and innovation that could come up with some bigger challenges for climate change. I just joined the University of California Davis Department of Design, with a few new faculty and we’re starting an industrial design programme for the design department. I want a lot of the curriculum to really be about solutions for climate change. That’s a big tag, but what that means is design innovation to come up with how can we have our city work on drought issues, work on aging infrastructure that needs to change, bringing more public transportation to our cities, bringing more sustainable building options. Living in smaller spaces. There’s a lot of great projects happening but how to have that be a pedagogy, a real curriculum and how to grow a program like that. I’m excited about. As well as continuing my own practice with Infrastructure for small electric vehicles.


Sam: Two more questions, we’ll have to be very quick. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?


Sara: I think I’ve eliminated all of those options from my brain. I don’t know if I can put it back in.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact?


Sara: Really engage the issue and believe that that would work. I think the thing is that, as you said, turning away from it is easier but also it’s a challenge. It’s so out scaled from an individual that getting that feeling any agency within these problems, I think is a real difficulty right now. I think that’s what it would be. Just kind of feeling like we could charge ahead in it.


Beth: We absolutely have all the solutions to these challenges and then we have precedence in the world of the amount of people that were organized for dealing world wars is possible and necessary for coming up with solutions for climate change.


Sam: Lastly, quickly. Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Beth: Enjoy the beautiful parts of Dunedin and come to our exhibition. It’s going to be at 4 o’clock at the Otago Museum. Work with each other to come up with some solutions to the challenges in this beautiful place.


Shane: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming in.




climate change communication science

Science communicator, a bit subversive.

Tim Flannery

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.

Professor Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007 and until mid-2013, was a Professor at Macquarie University and held the Panasonic Chair in Environmental Sustainability. He is the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group. He was the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, an Australian Federal Government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public, which was disbanded by the new right-wing government in 2013. Almost immediately afterwards he announced that he would join other sacked commissioners to form the independent Climate Council, that would be funded by the community. Prof Flannery is currently a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. He started his career as a mammalogist and his work has earned high praise, prompting Sir David Attenborough to describe him as being “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone”. He has published extensively but his two most famous books are “The Future Eaters” published in 1994 and “The Weather Makers” published in 2005. We literally could go on and on talking about Tim’s achievements but we have to stop somewhere so we can actually let the man do some talking…

Talking points

As much a science communicator as a scientist

Somehow I was fascinated with science from an early age

I remember finding my first fossils on the local beach, aged about eight, and taking them into the local museum and having them identified, that was a formative moment – one of those things you’ll always remember

All the time I was doing my arts degree I was volunteering at the museum – working on fossils, learning everything I could about science.

The curator would ask who wanted to go on field trips – my hand was always up.

They clearly got that I was interested in this sort of stuff.

The guy in the lab coat could have been the curator of fossils or the cleaner – it doesn’t matter to me, he changed my life.

What I love about museums is the reach into the community.

Even when I was running the museum, if the opportunity arose to talk to kid about what are interested in, I would always grab it.

If you see some kids looking at the exhibits, take the time to talk with them, it could be hugely important.

My favourite places – swamps where I looked for frogs – were being filled in with rubbish, the beach with oil and junk floating in the ocean and thinking this is not right. I asked my mother about it and she said “that’s progress”, and I decided then that this “progress” was a pretty bad thing.

I put my hat in the ring for a job – the only job in the country I really wanted, a scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney – curator of mammals.

I did twenty marvellous years doing survey work in the Pacific Islands.

We called it Rattus detentus because its ancestors had been detained on Manus island, also we were well aware of the plight of the detainees there.

(A slight subversive name?) Yeah, just to let people know they haven’t been forgotten. What can a scientist do with that sort of stuff, not much really, but this was an opportunity, and that name will be there forever, so they will be remembered.

Boaty McBoatface – if the people want it then I’m firmly of the view that they should get it.

I don’t like power structures…there is true wisdom in the people, if you can tap into that wisdom you will achieve great things as society.

As the new director of the South Australian Museum…engaging with the SA government that I became aware of what a huge challenge this climate change issue was.

Future Eaters: The people of Australia were really the first to start eating their future, eating into their capital that was meant to sustain them into the longer term.

A spectacular manifestation of the nature of what it means to be human.

The book came about from 15 years of questions I just couldn’t answer.

There’s something about my personality. I do think about difficult questions, and I tend to do it from first principles basis. I can’t just live in Australia without understanding the place.

Some of those questions are big and complicated, and do take a while to work through, but I’m very happy doing that, picking away at the puzzle, a giant jigsaw no-one’s ever done before.

Weather Makers: I tried to distil the science into a form that was understandable by the public but still faithful to the original research – all held together with a story of human impacts on this very complex climate system.

There was a nasty backlash…once climate change became a political issue in Australia there was no holds barred…it was really scary for a while, I had to have federal police protection at home for about four months – that was tough.

There’s a lot of economic interests in Australia, tied into the fossil fuel industry.

We had a bigger share of the export market for coal than Saudi Arabia does for oil.

Those industries were very embedded in government and society.

But I knew the reason this was happening is because I’m winning, I’m having an impact. If I wasn’t having an impact then none of this would be happening, they wouldn’t be bothering.

(Geological time-scales it doesn’t really matter what we do) That’s true, but what sort of argument is that? Where does that leave us as human agents? Where does that leave us in terms of care for our children and future generations?

This has to relevant to us as people in some sort of moral framework we live in.

(Are we at the point of people understand climate change but don’t want to?) If I believed that I’d be doing a different job. I think that carrying on explaining it is making a very big difference.

People come up to me all the time saying I embarked on this career, chose this PhD, because I read your book and wanted to do something…some of those people are now running significant companies – renewable energy companies and so forth.

So it makes a difference but it takes time.

I’m a really big believer in the wisdom of common people – if you can tap into that , into people as individuals and their sense of what is right and wrong, then you’ve done somthing very profound, and that’s what my life has been about. It hasn’t been about going into politics and trying to lead people, I’ve been much more interested in releasing the latent good and capacity in people.

When you reach out to people as individuals, even those antagonistic people, you get beyond the fa̤ade Рthe frightened person or the smart arse, and you can reach a real person in there, and that is where the reason and where the goodness lies.

empowering people with knowledge, reaching them as individuals, that’s the important stuff, it’s not about political leadership, nor parties or ideologies, it’s about somehow unlocking that individual goodness and letting that flow upwards into some sort of societal structure or shape that gives meaning to all our lives and makes things better for all of us.

You have to treat people with dignity and engage in a dialogue.

We are now committed by virtue of the greenhouse gas we’ve put into the atmosphere for the temperature to rise by about 1.5 degrees by the middle of the Century. We’re getting into the danger zone (has been at +1.2 degrees for a couple of months).

This El Nino has done us a favour in a way, it’s spiked temperatures by about a third of a degree – it’s giving us a little window into the future.

In some places, this view seems OK, the great Autumn we’re having, but look north to the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve just learnt that it is 93% bleached, a bleaching event six times larger than anything we’ve ever seen before. And there’s massive and long lasting consequences from that on the reef ecosystem.

Arctic ice is at its all time winter low.

The thing to remember is that climate change is a process, not a destination. It’s a process of change. 1.2 degrees will transform to 1.5 degrees then 2 and 4 if we don’t do something about the driver.

Scientists are now increasingly prepared to say “this weather event would not have occurred were it not for human greenhouse gas pollution”. That’s a big breakthrough – linking individual weather events to the cause.

This is a collective action problem – it’s something the whole world needs to act on together.

The capacity of any society to do anything about this is driven by passionate individuals.

We need that drive to come from society…to drive down emissions.

But my personal view is that’s not all we need to do, we also need to get some of the gas out of the air. That’s going to require the development of a whole series of new technologies over time.

Technology is a tool…you’ve got to have a spanner to fix the car. But having a spanner is not enough. You’ve got to have the knowledge to know how to use the spanner, and you have to have the will to actually employ it

You need all of those things, you need the technology and you need the will-power to use it. We need the right regulatory structures and the right enabling circumstances in society for this to happen.

(is third wave technology a green myth? Carry on having a party, technology to save us is just around the corner?) Excellent question, one we need to answer.

From 2016, two things are very clear, first, that we have to reduce emissions as quickly and as hard and fast as possible whether we develop new tools or not. The second is that we don’t really know at the moment whether those tools will have the capacity to draw enough CO2 out of the atmosphere at the scale needed.

At the moment humanity is putting 50 Gigatonnes of CO2equivalent into the air every year. Now, if you want to plant trees to take 5 Gigatonnes out of the atmosphere per year, you would need to plant an area larger than the size of Australia. This is a very large scale problem.

Can we manufacture carbon fibre out of the atmosphere at a scale that will make a difference? Carbon plastics, CO2 negative concretes? Silicate rocks to draw C02 out of the atmosphere? Seaweed farming? Can we do it at scale? We know all these things are possible at very tiny, laboratory scales. But do they work at the gigatonne scale? That’s the question we need to answer by 2050 if we’re to have the hope of any of these technologies making a real difference.

(Scale of problem is going to need solution at that scale, which is more industrial development, which will make extinctions worse…will a focus on climate change make everything else worse?) eg seaweed farming which are a great place to grow proteins.There’s a lot of biological desert in the world’s oceans that could feed the world…if we could cover 9% of the world’s oceans with seaweed farms we could draw down all 50 Gigatonnes.

If we can take the problem – atmospheric CO2 – and turn it into a solution (eg sky mined carbon fibre) that competes with other polluting industries you’ve done something major.

This is where technological advancements can take us, not just into a more industrialised dirty future, but as a replacement for already dirty processes, and thinking differently about the world in ways that might make a difference.

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.

There are always uncertainties, but you have to move forward, you can’t be paralysed by uncertainty.

We can have sustainable growth, it depends on what is growing and for how long, but there’s a billion people out there living in abject poverty who need betterment and a better quality of life, so we have to have at least enough grow to give them a decent standard of living.

Limits to Growth – general sentiment was right, but was wrong in that people thought we would run out of resources, but it turns out that there are lots of resources – particularly mineral resources – the volume you have is proportionate the amount of energy you’re willing to put into getting them out.

The big limits to growth turn out to be the rubbish bin – earth’s rubbish bin, the oceans and atmosphere. That’s the real limit, once the rubbish bin got full…that’s something people didn’t foresee.

We need a big political change…it entrenches privilege, it disenfranchises people…

A vision of where I think we might be going that solves these problems. Imagine a situation where politics is not a career. an you imagine if each one of us had the experience of sitting on a jury to decide the size of the defence budget, or how the health budget should be used, or an aspect of foreign policy.

Division of labour works in every area of human life and enterprise, except politics. It’s the one area where we all have to pull our own weight as citizens if we want to have a decent and just and prospering society.

(Superpower?) Empathy

(Success) Probably too early to tell, but the establishment of the Climate Council, adopted by the people of Australia. It’s taught me a lot, that process, a lot about structures that work, and how you engage people.

(Activist) No, I don’t see the world in those terms. Activist entails that there is a power out there, an authority that we’re fighting back against, and my world paradigm is not like that, I think that the big decisions need to be made outside the political system, and there’s a role for leaders outside the political system to engage in dialogue and influence the public dialogue about things…so no, not an activist, maybe a public intellectual.

(Motivation) I think it’s curiosity first and foremost about the nature of the world. And somehow I’ve always had this view that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it – and the only way to do that is to really understand the world.

I find this a paradox in me, because I’ve lived through a period where the world has self-evidently got worse, in so many ways over my lifetime – we’ve seen so many extinctions and all sorts of things happening in the environment, and yet I still have this belief that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it. So I don’t know how to explain that, except that it is a profound conviction that I have.

And real faith in human nature and people, that is the most important resource that we have- our fellow human beings and unlocking the full potential of ordinary humans to engage in the world and determine their own fate in a wise consultative way is just so central to what we are as a species.

(Challenges) Staying fit and healthy. Re-engaging in the Pacific Islands.

Community projects in the Solomon Islands trying to foster community conservation – which is really the most important type of conservation in those societies.

I reckon it’s like for a woman putting on that lipstick in the morning, you do that and you look great…well climate change is one of those things where you just can’t go and put on the lipstick in the morning, it’s too long a process, there’re very few moments where you can say we’ve won, we’ve done something, but this Pacific Islands work (community conservation), is great, “wow, I’ve already got some success”. The rest of it – climate change – will be a slow grind, I’ll be an old man before we can say we’ve overcome the problem, if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

(Miracle) To have us on a downward trajectory of about three parts per million of atmospheric CO2 per annum – a slow readjustment of the system back to where it needs to be

(Smallest thing) Get engaged with a group of like-minded citizens, because anything we achieve is achieved together.

( Advice) You’re a long time staring at the lid – get out there and do something, don’t waste any time.

Professor Flannery was in Dunedin as guest of the Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago.

art climate change science

Art explorer of the world

Gabby O Connor-01

I’m trying to make sense of the world – to understand things I don’t understand – making sense of them using the language that I have…colour, space, light.

Gabby O’Connor is an artist and interdisciplinary researcher. Her work ranges from landscape scale installations, through room-scale icebergs, and to photographing the smallest ice platelets. Her work is process based, often involving communities and children. After several years of imaginatively exploring the space and place of Antarctica, Gabby recently spent time there as an artist embedded in a research team. We are joined also by Bridie Lonie and talk about Gabby’s work and the role of the interdisciplinary researcher in both communicating and perhaps influencing the science of understanding our world.

We also talk about seal snot.

Talking points

It’s an experiment within an experiment to see if art could in turn influence science.

I’m trying to make sense of the world – to understand things I don’t understand – making sense of them using the language that I have…colour, space, light.

It’s a stereotype that there are scientists and there are artists, the process is often quite similar.

It’s like a Venn diagram, the art intersecting with the science, then there’s this education component. They can each operate separately, but in together combination the power is just just massive.

That’s that really exciting unknown space…we’re really enjoying pushing all the disciplines a little bit further.

Tensions? There’s a lot of trust because it’s a relationship built over time.

Both artists and scientists are trying to find out things that aren’t known – both trying to understand the world.

Scientists are trying to find small pieces of a puzzle that will help explain and prepare us for Climate Change, and I’m using many small fragments of information to try and tell similar stories.

(Success) Going to Antarctica.

(Activist) No, but, not protesting. Really good information, connecting with children is a really good investment.

(Motivation) I’m an artist, impractical…maybe practical and imaginative. I’m in a unique position at the moment where all my interests have intersected in a most perfect way.

(Challenges) Turning data into newer things.

(Miracle) Lost of time, dedicated space, great conversations.

(Advice) If your’re an artist, have a blog – you never know what might happen – but don’t make it a pretty things I like blog. A historical document, where you can put all those ideas. (Gabby’s blog)

climate change engineering

Engaging embodied energy

Craig Jones

The embodied energy in a disposable battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.

Dr Craig Jones of Circular Ecology is a leader in embodied energy and carbon footprinting of products, services and buildings, and in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Is is the author of the Inventory of Carbon & Energy an embodied energy and carbon database, and wrote the first book on embodied carbon in the construction industry. Circular Ecology, he tells us, comes from mixing circular economics with industrial ecology.

Talking points

Many kids start out with an environmental passion, but he older they get it just sort of disappears from them – they just get used to how society works at the moment – buy things, dispose of things, not really thinking about them.

It is disappointing that they don’t teach more about the environment and sustainability in engineering.

Engineering, design, is responsible for the products we have. It is a great opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of all the products that we use.

They (engineering graduates) don’t know enough about how to reduce impacts of products, and they just don’t have training and education to know how to do that.

It’s not the culture of companies to reduce impacts unless embedded in policies – which is not yet mainstream.

If you don’t take the opportunity when you design a building to reduce the embodied carbon then that opportunity is lost forever.

The embodied carbon, in a very short time frame, you are using 15-20 years worth of operational emissions. If you don’t take the opportunity to reduce that carbon you can’t go back, that opportunity has been lost forever.

We have the technology today – it is not really a technical issue.

It takes more energy to make a kilogram of paper than a kilogram of steel

Even though I prefer to read reports and documents on paper, I print about nothing these days – you do get used it.

Even as someone who does this full time, what’s a kilogram of carbon really? It is a difficult unit to understand, so I try to consider it in terms of units that are a bit more meaningful…if you did things differently, what is the saving in terms of other things that you do: driving the car or watching TV?

I think water footprints could quickly get more attention.

Too many people confuse carbon footprint with sustainability, and too many people confuse environmental benefits with sustainability.

True sustainability balances environmental factors with social factors and with economic factors.

If you are starting from nothing, then carbon and energy is a good place to start. But it shouldn’t be displayed or marketed as sustainability. Climate Change is one of the more pressing challenges we have at the moment, but there are other important issues out there: toxicity; eutrophication; inequality…

We need to look after our planet so we can hand it down to our children and our grandchildren. For them to have the same quality of life that we have had then we need to change – the planet needs to be healthy for that to happen.

There are so many environmental labels, it needs to be simplified and should be officially backed.
If all manufacturers of similar products had to adhere to the same label, the same assessment method, there would be nowhere to hide, you couldn’t hide behind creating your own label and doing it differently.

At the moment, most consumers don’t understand the impacts – their products are disconnected from the consequences – so the masses will just ignore those labels.

Recycling is not a benefit, it should be expected rather than congratulated.

If we are to live in a truly sustainable manner we need to stop congratulating ourselves for doing things that should be expected.

It needs to become an expectation, we should feel guilty for throwing away that plastic bottle or tin can.

If you recycle your tin can, that saves enough energy to power your TV for four hours.

The life span of a tin can is two months – from mining to discarding – so even with a 55% recycling rate, most of it is going to landfill.

A circular economy means New business models that are still profitable for companies

The embodied energy in a battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.

There are companies doing sustainability properly and they are making a profit. But it is not yet seen as mainstream. Those companies have the advantage of being ahead of the curve.

There is an opportunity for consumers, but there’s not really enough information in an easily digestible form.

(Activist) No. I do try achieve gains through my day-time job. And through giving out information freely.

(Motivation) Environmental gain.

(Challenges) There are more and more people in this area, it is becoming competitive. Reducing the costs of the assessments, especially on whole product lines.

(Miracle) Something in policy and legislation that mandated companies to measure and reduce the environmental footprints of their products, buildings and services.

(Advice) Everyone does have a choice when they buy things. You don’t have to always make that choice, other things come into it, but now and again just think about the environmental impacts of something when you purchase it. And even, think do I need that? Quite often you buy things and they end up at the bottom of the cupboard. Think about that, and it reduces the amount of things you buy and never use.

This conversation was recorded at the very pleasant Bordeaux Quay alongside Bristol’s historic Floating Harbour in September 2014.

climate change systems

Carbon footprint of everything

Mike Berners-Lee

We’re spending a lot of time chasing the wrong things. We’re pursuing things that don’t make us happy, and don’t make us healthy, and do trash the planet.

Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting is an expert in greenhouse gas footprinting and organisation development. He is the author of How Bad Are Bananas?:The carbon footprint of everything, and with Duncan Clark is co-author of The Burning Question.

Talking points

Trying to give us an instinct of where the climate change impacts are in everything.

None of us are born with that instinct, this sense of the climate change impacts…this invisible gas carbon dioxide and all the other greenhouse gases, and the emissions take place, not in front of our eyes where we can see, but the emissions take place down long distance supply chains that most of the time most of us haven’t got a clue about.

I ended up doing a physics degree…but it bored me rigid, I couldn’t really give a monkeys whether the Higgs boson exists, but I’m much more interested in questions about how we live and how to better peoples’ lives and how we build a global society.

I got a job as an outward bound instructor, and that was all about people and how they live together and how we make the most of our lives – how we think about about how we want to spend our time.

I saw that by and large, environmental consultants didn’t have the ability to bring about change…they could comment, but they didn’t seem able to make the business world or the political world do what the evidence was suggesting would be a good idea.

With climate change increasingly clear as a big deal, I thought perhaps I’d better have a go at seeing what I could do, so I formed an environmental consultancy focussed on climate change.

There’s a breakdown…there hasn’t been enough understanding of all the different perspectives that need taking into account if you’re trying to create change.

If you look at the world getting on top of sustainability issues you need much more systemic thinking – who are all the stakeholders in the world? And what really are their world views, and what can they and can’t they respond to in order to create a realistic model for change.

Small World – it is an increasingly small world. Everything that Small World does is in response to the fact that it’s an increasingly small world in relation to the power of our species.

If you look at the way that we traditionally operate as a species, we can understand the impacts that occur in front of our eyes – we’re quite good at living in small communities, no one in this room is likely to hit anyone in the next few minutes, we’d all be shocked by that because we would have seen it and understand it, but we’d be much more likely to do something that has a much more indirect and diffuse negative impact – we’re much more likely to do something that triggers a carbon footprint, which causes a diffuse negative impact on seven billion people spread over the next decades.

We’ll probably never understand what we need to become much better at tuning into that kind of abstract impact.

You can get bogged down in defining sustainability. I think we can all agree that it is about living well in a way that enables others to live well now and in the future.

Over-consumption is a part of the problem. The reason we’re doing it is we think it will enable us to live well, but it doesn’t enable us to live well.

We’re spending a lot of time chasing the wrong things. We’re pursuing things that don’t make us happy, and don’t make us healthy, and do trash the planet.

Lots of us are working harder than we need to, buying things not because of their intrinsic enjoyment but because we’re subconsciously hoping they’ll give us some sort of surrogate measure of our human worth – and of course that’s completely spurious.

It’s deeply embedded and I’m not going to pretend I’m free from this either…we’re all susceptible, we all get trapped into cultural influences.

I thought I’d outsource the number crunching and I’d do organisational change, but I couldn’t find anyone doing a practical but robust job of supplying good enough management information about the real full carbon impacts of everything we do.

You can do a process based supply chain analysis: map out all the stages back to theoretical limits, but this hugely underestimates the impacts. There are infinite pathways of infinitely long supply chains – even if you do the major ones and cover all suppliers suppliers suppliers you have billions of pathways and might only have half the impact.

In some industries there is a massive underestimation…telecoms 80% underestimated, construction something like 50%

Input/output analysis…maps out the economy by industries and attributes emissions to industries then maps out the flows between industries in economic terms…the result is capable of tracking supply chains, with some major assumptions, but it doesn’t systematically underestimate.

The best route to a credible answer is a combination of methods.

The IT industry…data centres are about half a percent of the global emissions and rising fast, a pretty big deal if you think that paper has only ever been about 1%

So is digital a route to saving carbon? If we stored the same amount of information as we once stored in filing cabinets, then it would be, be the reality is that because it is millions of times more efficient, we stored millions of millions of times more information – and not only that, we’ve still got the filing cabinets as well.

This is a classic example of a really important effect – the efficiency improvements that we assume are going to bring about less drain on resources and less environmental burden, end up increasing environmental impact. Counter intuitive, but critical for us to get our heads around.

If you track greenhouse gas emissions from 1850 you get a mathematically exponential 1.8% increase per year…some tiny variation, but exponential growth, resilient, impervious to change – short term dents around wars and so on, but the curve bounces back.

What’s going on? Surely we should be seeing some dent on the curve. Efficiency gains by default don’t bring about a reduction in total burden.

This astonishingly simple reality has passed by policy makers and politicians the world over. That’s why we wrote the Burning Question.

This astonishingly simple, uncontestable science which was so so important you couldn’t hope to get on top of climate change without integrating it properly and hard into the psyche and thinking of anyone making decisions under this agenda.

If climate change was just a bit of science and politics and technology then we would have sorted it out by now. Our species is good at solving this kind of problem, but climate change isn’t one of those problems.

Climate change is the most fascinating, as well as most pressing puzzle humans have ever had to deal with. In addition to the science and politics and technology, it involves psychology, sociology, culture…probably inescapably about art as well.

How do human beings function as a seven billion unit on a small planet?

It doesn’t work to try and solve the problem in silos.

You would think the bulletproof scientific case would translate in a problem we were taking seriously

We’re good at facing up to some pressing problems, if I were to punch you on the nose everyone in this room would wake up to a problem and we’d all start dealing with it. But climate change is abstract. It’s about an invisible gas. There’s a whole lot of difficult science you need to get on top of in order to understand what is going on, there’s uncertainty, and uncertainty makes us uncomfortable, it’s a problem about the future (increasingly about now, but primarily about the future), so we have to start tuning into what’s going to be happening in 40 years time, thinking about our kids in ways that we’re not used to – so far into the future. Somehow we have to tune into people on the other side of the world who won’t ever know that you or I exist in person, and we’re never going to meet, we’re never going to know them, and we’re going to have to start caring about them in the same way that we care about our own families and our own street.

All of those elements have completely caught us off balance. Our normal ways – of doing science, communicating science, and doing politics and economics – has be proven unfit for purpose: shown to be lacking in helping us get on top of the climate change problem.

There’s a disconnect between science and politics

How we dealt with ozone was encouraging in that it showed we can respond internationally. But dealing with the ozone problem didn’t need a fundamental reworking of so much of our economic fabric.

A carbon constrained world is an enormous opportunity to huge chunks of the business world – any industry in the business of providing efficient utility should be seeing carbon constraint as a massive opportunity.

One of the great questions is to what extent is the current economic model broken and unfit for purpose? Most people jerk to one end of the spectrum. At one end – “the way we do economics has to be taken as a given , and you can’t change that, we have to have economic growth in the way that we’ve always understood it”. And at the other end there are people who think that “all of that has been the root of all evil anyway, and we need to get away from it and climate change just gives us one more reason why we should”. This needs to be a much more balanced discussion.

This is clear. Although we’ve never managed to achieve economic growth without increasing our environmental burden in the past, it is unproven that we couldn’t do that.

We have absolutely got to have a global cap on carbon coming out of the ground.

Science tells us we need to cap the total amount of carbon ever coming out of the ground, and we’re not far from that – it could be a couple of decades on our current trajectory. Because of lags and that exponential curve…if we go past two degrees and stay on trajectory, we’ll very rapidly go past 2,3,4,5,6…

We absolutely, urgently need a cap on the carbon that ever comes out of the ground.

We can burn something like half the proven reserves, if you look at the the total amount in the ground, we can only ever burn a minuscule proportion of it.

There’s no chance that fuel scarcity will get us out of this – there’s just too much of it. As a species we’re going to to have to commit to leaving it in the ground.

If you are a fuel company and your business strategy is to sell fossil fuel, then your position is similar to being a tobacco company – trying to get people to smoke as many cigarettes as possible and your only route is to try to dodge the legislation, delay the legislation, pull the wool over as many peoples’ eyes for as long as you can – that’s the kind of business you’re going to have to be.

If you are in the business of providing utility for households, for example, so that people can be warm and comfortable – that’s a different proposition. That allows you to move away from fossil fuels, it allows you to encourage people to be efficient in households, it allows you to invest hard in other energy sources, and it gives you a pathway (at least in theory, there’s detail to work through), to be a thriving business contributing to a sustainable world.

A global carbon constraint would change the value of all kinds of product and services.

If you were in the business of enabling people to have more utility through less use of resources, then you would be a pig in shit. And that case is just starting to be grasped by large organisations.

The psychology of human denial is quite fascinating…difficult news, dealing with grief…the same applies to climate change…the difficulty is the are so many new ways in which we can put off the bad news.

If your loved one dies, there’s a hard reality, your brain can’t wriggle out of it. Climate change isn’t like that, there’s a lot more wriggle room – it’s abstract, it’s going to be going on for a few years, it doesn’t start next Tuesday,…and there’s lobby funding to create a whole storyline to help persuade you that you can put this off for another day.

Even if you accept the facts, you’ve still got a whole bag of excuses why there’s nothing htat you can can do – it’s not my problem, it’s somebody else’s, it’s really down to the politicians, businesses, consumers or maybe it’s down to people in other countries…everybody’s got a reason why it’s not them that has to be them that has to do anything about it.

We’ve got layers and layers of defenses between the evidence and the hard reality that all of us have an important and urgent role in confronting the issue right now and we can all do something about it.

The business opportunity shouldn’t be the root reason why businesses should change what they do. We should be clear and unembarrassed about this – the reason why we as people, individuals, businesses, and as countries should respond to climate change and sustainability is because it is the right thing to do. Fullstop. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about that.

Whether or not it is the most profitable thing to do, we should do it because it is the right thing, because we care about our kids, and they’ll look us in the eye and ask what we did about it.

People will look back and think “what were they thinking?” and they’ll have every right to.

They’ll look back and say “what were you doing?”.

They’ll wonder how we got swept along, they’ll wonder at our inaction and they’ll be disappointed by it, and we won’t like that feeling.

We won’t like this question “when you saw climate change fully in the face, what did you do about it? Did you really just carry on? Because you couldn’t think of anything to do or weren’t you brave enough because everyone around you was just carrying on? Were you really that weak?” I think we would all be embarrassed to think of ourselves like that.

(Activist?) I roll my sleeves up in some ways. I try to target my efforts, I could always do more.

You have to find a way of responding properly to this agenda in a way that also that works personally, and that is difficult. The person that works out the answer to this will be so infectious that our species will get it.

Young people are getting it, they’re on the case.

(Motivations) Anyone who pauses to think about it wants to be constructive in their life.

I tend to see the bigger picture better than I see little details. Once you see the bigger picture, it’s pretty hard to ignore sustainability as a big deal.

(Challenges) The Burning Question remains, if you have a clear understanding of uncontestable important realities (that we need to urgently cap fuel coming out of the ground, efficiency on it’s own won’t help us, and renewables on their own won’t help), then the biggest crunch is the gap between the evidence base and the action.

It’s all too easy to collude in just being part of the problem, doing things that look like they’re great but if you look at what is their contribution to creating the conditions, we find it doesn’t really make a perceptible contribution.

What can any of us do to be meaningfully part of creating the conditions under which the world leaves its fuel in the ground?

All the little things add up if they create meaningful cultural change.

It is possible to get quite bogged down and depressed about the state we’re in, the scale of change we need and that we need it pretty fast. I could also get quite optimistic, because the way that things can change is by systemic tipping point.

The conditions will suddenly become more right. A blend of politics, culture, science and technology…all the pieces of the pie will come together in one go and we’ll realise that we don’t have to be trapped in this exponential trajectory – we can do something different.

Those conditions will have come about by all sorts of small things that look as though they’re nothing, beating heads against the wall, all looking as if pinpoints in this economic global dynamic, that’s taking us down the long road, but they’ll all add up together, and suddenly it’ll feel like things are beginning to move a little bit.

Unfortunately we can’t really set goals on getting to tipping points, spurious really, it’s too complex, and we don’t know what we don’t know, but we are gathering momentum

(Miracle) That we create conditions for world leaders to go to the Paris 2015 climate summit knowing that their careers depended on getting progress that is commensurate with the scientific evidence.

(Advice) Think out of the box. Think really differently about how you live, what makes you happy. Go back to first principles and think about it. Break out of and challenge all the constraints about how we have to do life.

We can have tonnes more fun that we’re currently having, by being more sustainable.

This is not a doom and gloom agenda, sustainability is a let’s have a party agenda.

climate change oil politics peace science

Encouraging scientists to think differently

Stuart Parkinson

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

Dr Stuart Parkinson is Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Talking points

Our aim is to promote science, design and technology in contributing to peace, social justice and sustainability

Encourage scientists and engineers to think differently

To think differently about their role in society, prioritising environmental issues and social justice rather than a narrow economic focus

The challenge is an agenda of security through an arms industry – we argue for science and technology not based on yet another generation of highly destructive technologies

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

There’s an acceptance of the arms industry – “it keeps us safe” – we want to question that.

We try and fill gaps, ask the awkward questions.

Not just responding to problems with a technofix – another technology.

Part of the concern is that technology is often grabbed as a simple answer and it turns out not to be – it might deal with one problem but create another.

Trying to get around the techofix mentality

The term activist is so often used as a pejorative. If it’s about about questions, proposing different solutions to mainstream, challenging systems and offering something constructive, then it’s an activist organisation.

Working in the arms industry made me ask awkward questions, ones I hadn’t faced before – severely questioning what I was doing.

One of the challenges of the environment is ‘oh we don’t need to worry about that because it is too uncertain’ but on the other hand, we’re willing to believe economists, where the uncertainties are orders of magnitude bigger than the environmental ones.

We’re willing to take at face value economic models…despite being hugely unreliable and based on so many assumptions you can make them prove whatever you want according to your political viewpoint.

We’ve developed an economic system that’s not very stable (or fair or sustainable) so takes a lot of tuning – our news has become fixated on this.

(why sticking to growth narrative) because we haven’t come up with an alternative economic model that works in the way we’ve become used to.

SGR has ethical principles rather than specific polices on every subject. We encourage debate and discussion to apply principles.

(On demilitarisation) moving towards a society that solves its conflicts through dialogue and building trust and diplomacy rather than trying to build new generations of weapons

We need a to follow cautionary principle, rather than doing things just because we can

Some scientists can create a new technology, and other scientists can ask awkward questions about that technology – like what’s the impact, social implications and will it improve quality of life.

We’re being driven along by an economic imperative, not considering broader pros and cons.

We’re breaching environmental limits, some clearly, others either we don’t know or we will breach them in few decades – and that’s really scary.

We need to change norms of international behaviour that says nuclear weapons are unacceptable for anybody to have.

Challenge the assumption that there is a technofix. Technology is just one group of approaches, we need scientists and engineers to know that there are other groups of approaches

Codes of ethics (in professional bodies) are very narrow. Our organisation’s name is Global Responsibility – derived from social responsibility, corporate, environmental responsibility.

Ethics so often in professional institutions is interpreted very narrowly – professional ethics of do you job well, don’t lie, don’t plagiarise, don’t make something that’s going to blow up as soon as you’ve sold it. We think that’s far too narrow, you’ve got to think about your role in society, your place in society as an engineer, as your company, as your profession – and think are we doing the right thing?

Activist: Yes. For same reasons the organisation can be considered activist

Making things unacceptable is a very powerful idea. At the moment nuclear weapons aren’t something to be ashamed of for a lot of countries – chemical weapons are, biological weapons are – that shame that comes with breaching international law that’s built up over a couple of hundred years – its more powerful than people realise.

(What do we need to do to preload students with awkward questions?) We want to inspire students with science, give them at least sight and experience of something else.

The science and technology that is presented as exciting, especially for boys, is things like explosions, fighter planes and warships…we’re trying to present an alternative to that, still desirable, kind of nicer, this is what society is about, helping each other and using technologies that help us to help each other. And this is how is how you can live a good life – not being dazzled by the flashing lights and loud noises of the problematic technologies.

Being affected enough to make a different choice in their lives.

This conversation was recorded in the Common House at Lancaster Cohousing (see earlier conversation with Cathy and Alison).

climate change local government urban

Cities of change

Jinty MacTavish

Cities all across the planet are coming from the same place – a desire to ensure that our communities are prepared to play our role in both responding to and mitigating possible future shocks.

Jinty MacTavish is a Dunedin City Councillor. She recently returned from presenting a Council initiative at ICLEI resilient cities in Bonn, and took the opportunity to visit several inspiring developments across Europe.

This is a wide ranging conversation, with many highlights, including:

  • ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. Resilient Cities Congress 2014. Jinty talks about various blue-green approaches such as Copenhagen’s stormwater management.
  • Copenhagen said ‘we need to have a Climate Change adaptation strategy that prepares us for these big rainfall events that we’ll be getting on a more regular basis, how do we do that instead of just putting in more pipes and more channels and more grey infrastructure, how do we do that in a way that promotes other outcomes – that promotes biodiversity, promotes our city’s livability, the needs we have around recreational space, avenues for active transport. With that overlay, as soon as you start to see things in that way…their entire climate change adaptation programme is based around expanding green space and enhancing water retention capacity in their blue space.

    The Copenhagen approach is to say “we don’t want this climate change adaption to be a negative, we want it to work for us in terms of improving livability”.

  • Berlin’s Templehof airport as a centre for urban regeneration (, 2).
  • Leipzig urban regeneration and Clara Park
  • Freiburg integrated transport planning (Academic paper 1, )
  • Freiburg has seen 30 years of unflinching investment in integrated transport hub with a focus on active and public transport.

    I get frustrated with the speed of change, we can’t move the discussion on fast enough, part of that is that we are hindered by finances, we can’t do things fast enough and comprehensively enough that we can’t prove it works, we do these bits…people say it’s not connected…now we’re focussing on a complete network

  • Locality: Local by Default
  • Bristol: Bristol Pound and Bristol 2015 European Green Capital
  • Local currency has transformed the visitor experience in that community.

    You really get a sense of what an empowered community can achieve when you visit Bristol – there’s not a street that doesn’t have some form of community enterprise on it

  • Cardiff Food Council