Categories
business communication values

Purposeful optimism

Tim Jones of Grow Good tells us he realised that the credo statements on the walls of many businesses are a complete lie – they claim values based on people, but really, its about profit. He describes a “purpose journey” of discovering what companies (and the people who make them) can contribute. This brings a sense of optimism, and reveals who you really are.

See if you can make that positive difference.

Categories
communication politics

Taking responsibility, positively.

Hysterical negativity doesn’t drive opportunities. We have to make room to be positive.

Prof Joseph Haldane is founder, chair and CEO of the International Academic Forum (IAFOR).

With a doctorate in french studies, his research and teaching is on history, politics, international affairs and international education, as well as governance and decision making.

We talk about global governance and ethics and the politics of fear. The Machiavellian playbook of fear is being used quite deliberately – setting up the “other” and changing the balance of victimhood. From this we see “fake news” and strongman politics. But Haldane is positive and sees a path of positive politics and international cooperation . Travel, he says, is breaking down racist paradigms. But to do that we have to change to a future of thriving and regenerative future. While the challenge is intergenerational, it is also urgent, so we can’t be forced into inaction by negativity.

Definition: We have to be the best version of whatever we have at the moment

Superpower: Decent host, bringing the right people together.

Activist: I have the ability to run, to be excited by projects, and to focus on the long term drivers of change.

Miracle: Inequality is the most egregious injustice. We need meaningful international and national public policy to address.

This conversation was recorded at IAFOR’s Asian Conference on Education in Tokyo in November 2019.

Categories
communication

golden thread: positive values

Kathy New is a researcher at Lancaster University on the socio-digital sustainability team. With a background in ecology and teaching and in the charity sector, Kathy is interested in social justice in energy markets, particularly the links between food poverty and fuel poverty.

If we’re looking for my golden thread, I would have to say values, positive values.

How to meld science, ethics and philosophy into one lovely, agreed, positive way for the planet.

Education to make a positive difference to lives of vulnerable people.

Success: Empowering women

Activist: Yes. I am active – if I see a problem I try and change it, don’t accept what is.

Superpower: Listening, asking questions

Motivation: Possibility of new day. Positivity.

Challenge: Finishing PhD

Miracle: For people to be kind to each other.

Advice: People know what is the right thing to do.

Categories
communication education museum science

Telling the story of science

Amadeo Enriquez-Ballestero is science presentation co-ordinator at Otago Museum.

If we all did a little bit, we could make big differences in the world.

My motivation is offering the experiences that I would have wanted as a child to kids around New Zealand, and seeing that I can make a difference.

Don’t stop feeling life – do logic after you have felt something – otherwise life is worthless.

We are facing another major extinction, and maybe we can do something about it – the dinosaurs went extinct due to rapidly decreasing oxygen levels, we are facing with a similar issue of sky-rocketing carbon dioxide levels. We’ve seen it happen before and if we don’t do something about it, humans will become extinct.

Categories
behaviour change communication community

Positive mindful interaction

Dr Liz Shepherd  specialises in sustainability and wellbeing with a particular interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Liz works with Cartrefi Conwy to improve their overall sustainability and improve the energy efficiency of their housing stock as a means of addressing fuel poverty and improving quality of life for tenants.  Liz is also Bangor University’s Campus Environmental Performance Team’s Energy and Water Co-ordinator.  She is resolutely positive towards a transformative future, and we talk about what that would take.

 


Talking points

The sustainability as “less bad”, without “more good” is not enough.  The world requires a significant change, sustainability has to more revolutionary than that.

We need a transformative level change

The future is bleak without significant change, we’re kidding ourselves with little changes.

Pessimism not a good place to promote change

Nudge and use choice architectures, you should not police

Sustainable: Sustainability is about ensuring that the way we live currently doesn’t have excessive negative impacts on the environment and the people that have to live in it.  Mindful interaction

Success: Writing the sustainability strategy for the Cartrefi Conwy and having it being approved by the board without any need for revision. Another personal achievement was getting a food waste recycling system implemented in the Cartrefi Conwy, which dramatically reduced the amount of food waste going to the landfill.

Superpower: I’d like to think that I am enthusiast and I can make other people enthusiast and things that they weren’t previously enthusiast about, including food waste. (as well as making an awesome cake!)

Activist: No, well I am, but not as much as I think I should be.

Motivation: I believe in the work that we do here, I really enjoy working with the people and meeting and enthusing previously unenthusiastic people, getting people interested in sustainability.

Challenges: Definitely taking on the environmental and energy management for the university, it is a big change for how the university on a whole has managed its environmental impacts. On a personal level it’s not something that i’ve done on such a large scale before, so I see a lot of opportunity for improvement.

Miracle: Firstly, Make everyone vegetarian. Secondly,  find a infinite fuel for everything that we currently use that doesn’t release carbon into the atmosphere and isn’t nuclear.

Advice: Always keep trying no matter what happens, and try and stay positive!

 

 

This conversation was made with help of the Sustainability Lab at the Bangor University.

Categories
architecture communication design

Synthesis through design thinking


A collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives.

Shane: So, our guest tonight is Ray Maher and he’s from the University of Queensland with the School of Earth and Environmental Science, and the Global Change Institute and its space in Australia. He is a Masters in Architecture and a Bachelor of Design. So Ray is a researcher in sustainability strategies, a building designer, a teacher of sustainable design and an active member of various NGOs and research groups. And he’s undertaking his PhD at the University of Queensland on Integrated Sustainability Strategies, which seeks to synthesise the complex and interdependent fields of sustainability and present them simply via visuals.

 

  The reason why he’s here in Otago is because Sam is one of his supervisors. He has recently begun Project Habitation with his wife and Ray’s main expertise is in drawing together the many diverse aspects of sustainability and synthesising them into mutually supportive design responses. Welcome to our show, Ray. How’s it going?

 

Ray: Good, good.

 

Shane: Were you born in Australia?

 

Ray: I was. I was born in far north Queensland, actually, so up in the jungle and beaches north of Cairns.

 

Shane: Oh, lovely. And what was it like growing up in that environment?

 

Ray: I don’t remember it well. I left pretty young. It was a beautiful place, though. And from there, after my sister came along, we travelled south and my parents found a new home in Northern Rivers, New South Wales, which is sort of another very beautiful place of subtropical forest and a pretty lovely place to grow up, actually.

 

Shane: What was it like growing up in Australia as a kid? Did you wander around the forests every night or chasing koalas or-

 

Ray: I suppose I spent a lot of time outside in the bush and every weekend we would be either going camping or going to local national parks, or going to the beach nearby. So it’s pretty glorious, and just one of those things you take for granted, I suppose. Also, dad’s a builder so he built us a beautiful house and we got a block of land there. Five acres, two and a half hectares, and mum started regenerating the forest that used to be there. So I’ve got to see that kind of grow and develop over time. And it’s, yeah, a pretty wonderful spot, actually.

 

Shane: I was going to ask you what got you involved in design and sustainability, but I’m beginning to think that was your parents that inspired that? Or was it something you watched and …

 

Ray: Well, I began with design and architecture so when I finished high school, moved to Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland and study architecture there. And that was a real shift, I suppose, in the way that I thought. Design brings with it a pretty incredible way of thinking, way of seeing the world, I suppose. You learn to see things not just as they are but how they could be. And that becomes really the focus of how I perceive things.

 

  It took a while, living in Brisbane, especially when you start uni. It’s all pretty social and sort of being in a new place and everything. But then after a while, maybe a couple of years, I suppose, I started to miss something without recognising what it was. And it took a while to realise that it’s sort of the natural environments. It’s being in the wilderness a lot, which I’d stopped doing. And all of a sudden it seemed really strange to me why all of these people lived in a place that was so lacking in natural diversity. And from my perspective, it was certainly not as dynamic and beautiful an environment as I was used to.

 

  Then I suppose I started to realise from that the scale of it all. That, you know, what I had taken for granted and had been a norm for my life up until then was the exception to the rule, and that most people lived in pretty urban environments. And around the world, the rate of change of natural environments to human uses has just been so rapid and so all-encompassing around the world that those kind of places are pretty special, and we’ve got to work pretty hard to keep what we’ve got.

 

Sam: What were you hoping to achieve going off to do architecture?

 

Ray: Mostly it was just purely a field of interest. I wanted to do something where every day would be different. Where I could approach problems from different angles, and architecture certainly is that. I think I got that bit right and I do love the whole field for that reason. But then within architecture I had some fantastic teachers, actually, and learnt from them, I suppose, more about sustainability and some of the issues that we’re facing. And the significance of the built environment within potential solutions to those problems.

 

  We invest a huge amount of our time and our money and effort and resources in building the places that we live in around us. And the way we do that can either be a massive force for destruction of the environment and people’s lives, or it can be a massive force for regeneration. There is just such a vast difference between the two that I suppose I really grew to love architecture both because of its way of perceiving the world and thinking about things, and also because of the significance of the built environment in addressing these major problems that we’re facing.

 

Sam: But isn’t architecture all about enabling development? And by development, I mean bulldozers.

 

Ray: It certainly can be. I mean, as within any field or discipline, there’s a very broad range of perspectives within it. And that’s something that interests me about it too, I suppose. It can be about enabling that but because architects are shaping the world around them to some degree, they have a lot of influence over the experience that people have when living in buildings and in the built environment. And over the sorts of materials that we use and the types of industries that happen. Energy sources, the way we consume water, all of these sorts of things which have these incredible ripple effects out into society and into the natural environment.

 

  It’s pretty empowering, I suppose, and certainly students that I’ve monitored, that I speak to. I think it can be really empowering to recognise the significance of that, of the responsibility and the influence that comes with it in making these decisions about shaping the world around us.

 

Sam: So if you have a big influence over how we live – and, as you say, the ripple effects and that’s empowering – is the duty of care that’s implicit in that. In your education, was that made explicit?

 

Ray: Well, yes and no. Again, there’s this huge diversity so many people including practitioners and at university overlook it. Architecture is very diverse. There is just so much going on. There’s so many different forces that you’re considering and trying to not only avoid conflicts between them, but to bring them into some sort of harmonious resolution. It’s complex and different people typically focus on different aspects of it.

 

  And that’s fair enough. We should expect that and it’s good for education, for people who have different levels of expertise. But it does mean that some people tend to overlook these aspects of architecture that I’m interested in, that I think are particularly important. And others are it’s front and centre and they do an incredible job. They’re making strides in changing the way that we build.

 

Sam: Just quickly before we leave off your architectural education, was the sustainable part of it explicit, implicit? How was it embedded?

 

Ray: I keep repeating this, but it varied enormously. So with some lecturers, which of course are researchers and practitioners themselves, it was all of the above. It was embedded in the core of their work and the way that they perceived the world, and the focus of their actions when designing and when teaching about architecture. And in others it was just kind of off the radar or, if not that, it was secondary to other interests.

 

Sam: Yep. But there’s something about that way of thinking which has been important for you. You said at some stage, I’ve forgotten the exact line that you said, but it was something like we could eat wicked problems for breakfast.

 

Ray: Yes, I think something I’ve come to realise is more recently, actually, during my PhD. After I finished my Masters of Architecture I did some research on a range of things, but then I began my PhD with the School of Earth and Environmental Science. So working with a lot of landscape ecologists and conservation biologists, et cetera, and looking at … It became really clear to me, all of a sudden, that the quite a different perspective that designers and scientists have, for example. And each of these perspectives are critical in understanding the world and responding to problems and et cetera.

 

  But I became really aware of the power of design in addressing the kinds of problems that we face in sustainability. So the way science has worked traditionally, especially in the early days, is one of reduction. One of looking at the world through a magnifying glass or a telescope. Pulling the world apart and looking at the elements that make it up. And that’s been an incredibly powerful force.

 

  But its’ not very good for solving complex problems. It’s certainly not very good for solving wicked problems. It’s an essential part of providing us a rigorous understanding of how the world works and of outcomes of some of our decisions. But I think much more suited to solving the sorts of problems that we face in sustainability is perspective-like design, where you’re not just balancing and compromising on different goals but you’re trying to find strategies for solving multiple goals simultaneously.

 

  When you look at, certainly in sustainable design but many other different problems, even our food systems, our water systems, et cetera, there’s just so many different issues embedded with them. Every time we make a new policy, every time we make a new decision or have a new development project, there’s so many implications of that. Across the natural environment, across the built environment, across society. And design is, I think, a pretty powerful way of understanding that bigger picture and developing a response where you get synergy, where the parts are working together to give you multiple benefits.

 

Sam: So if you were to liken designing a solution for sustainability to designing a house, what’s the process that you would go through in designing a house that we can borrow for how to solve problems in sustainability?

 

Ray: Okay. First of all, when you’re designing a house you’ve got to approach it from a number of different directions. And each new perspective that you take, when considering the challenge, sheds new light on the problem and brings forward new potential solutions.

 

  So you might consider you’ve got a new client, a new design that you’re going to undertake, and you might consider it firstly from the perspective of the clients. You know, what are these people looking for? What do they really want, underlying what they’re telling you? What are they really seeking to achieve? What would make their lives better?

 

  But that perspective alone isn’t enough. You also take on the perspective of the engineer, so how can we make sure these structures stand up? How can it actually be built? And each new perspective brings new information. Then it’s once you start to find a strategy, an approach to designing a building that starts to give you benefits across multiples of these perspectives, then you’re probably on the right track.

 

  If you can find, for example, a strategy that’s beginning to achieve the client’s ambitions, structural challenges, economic challenges, environmental issues, et cetera, then that’s at least a seed of a good design. And from there you can go and test it. I think that holds up very true for pretty much all the sustainability challenges that we face. That they’re so embedded in the environment and society that, if we’re facing a problem about sustainable farming in Otago, then we need the perspective of the farmer but we also need the perspective of the ecologist and the water systems engineer and the local council and the economist and everyone else.

 

  And each new perspective gives us a richer understanding of the problem and expands the potential solutions we’ve got to work with.

 

Sam: In architecture, if I was, as a client, describing what might on the surface seem to be an intractable problem.

 

Ray: They always are.

 

Sam: That I’m describing something, that I’m saying I want fantastic views but I also want no windows. I just made that up. How does that not just do your head in?

 

Ray: Sometimes it does, temporarily, but you’ve always got to look deeper. You’ve got to look below the surface. There’s another saying that you’ll often hear from designers is “first idea, worst idea”. You know, you’ll have a brainwave. You’ll be hearing these designs of a client and see all the challenges underlying it. “Oh, I know what the answer is. It’ll be X.” And you start sketching it out on paper.

 

  Almost invariably, it’s not a good approach to the problem. It seemed like it at the time. You know, you were working with what you had. You begin the process and, okay, there’s issues with this. But just through going through that process, you can start to see where the problems are and where new opportunities begin to arise.

 

  So each time you go through that process of testing an idea or having an idea, putting it out on paper, testing it from different perspectives, learning about what worked and what didn’t, and then taking that back to the next layer of thinking, it certainly develops your understanding of the problem and it broadens your number of different approaches that you could take to solving it.

 

Sam: One of the challenges of sustainability is that notion of think global, act local. And I think that in building a house – We haven’t talked about this but it’s just popped into my head – is that you’ve almost got the solution to that problem because at the same time you’re having to think about the overall house, but also where the doors go.

 

Shane: I was just about to ask that.

 

Sam: But if you were to start with the design of the doors and then separately do the design of the windows, you’re going to end up with a higgledy-piggledy mismatch.

 

Ray: Yeah, I suppose that’s how society typically works. We’ll go big scale for a minute. Sort of post-industrial revolution, the scale of humanity’s total endeavour is going through the roof. We’re getting enormous specialisations, different fields. So you’ve got to somehow organise that.

 

  The scientific approach, which had been so valuable so far and continues to be, partly resulted in dividing up people working in different fields into different disciplines. And, I mean, that goes back to Plato and before, but that really got accentuated. So now when we approach a problem, then that’s a typical way to do it. Who works out the solution to the water infrastructure problem? Well, that must be the water system engineers. Who works out the problem with farming? Well, that must be the farmers.

 

  But if you took that approach with a building, let’s just think what would happen. So imaging a client comes along. “I want this building to house my family and live on this piece of land and have a lovely life.” Imagine if you did that by going, “Okay, well first of all we’ll get the engineer to design some footings. We’ll get someone else to design some windows and openings. We’ll get someone else to design a roof and someone else to design some walls and someone else to design a kitchen and a bathroom.”

 

  And everyone else goes away and does their parts. You bring them all back together and what do you get? It’s a complete mess. It’s a Frankenstein. Nothing works together. Even if each part could have worked well in isolation. But that’s not how the world works. And it’s not how a building works. Everything is working together, or should be, and it’s not how society and the environment work. Everything is completely integrated. There is no way of isolating something, except in theory.

 

  Because of that, I think this design approach, and this collaborative approach as essential of that, of bringing together different minds and different perspectives, is really the only way that we can solve the most challenging problems that we’ve got. We’ve solved a lot of the easy problems. That’s why so many things are going so wonderfully. We’ve got to not forget that. But the ones we’re left with are the really challenging ones that we can’t solve from our typical institutional arrangements and the way we typically think by dividing up the world.

 

Shane: So what are you doing about it?

 

Ray: You said earlier that there was a rare moment of optimism in your numbers this morning. I think there’s a lot of great moments for optimism. They’re not always at the forefront of your mind. I mean, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of problems. But there are just so many people from so many backgrounds doing so many great things, you can actually be overwhelmed by that aspect of it as well. It is pretty full-on how seriously and how successfully so many people have approached these problems.

 

  The momentum we’ve had since the 70s and 80s has actually worked. It has actually built up. We’ve got institutions around the world with teams of researchers analysing every part of the problem. We’ve got thousands of new businesses working at different aspects of providing solutions. We’ve got different types of professionals we didn’t have before. We’d got, as you said, different policies. Et cetera.

 

  I find that very optimistic but most of the time these groups are still working in isolation. So I really want to try and do what I can to bring together these different perspectives and reconnect between different people working on different parts of the problem. So to do that, that’s what my PhD is all about, is developing a new way of thinking, in part, that brings together these isolated perspectives that different disciplines have, and to embed that in a website for collaboration so that we can have a technical way of communicating more effectively and bringing together people from all different backgrounds.

 

Sam: How might we go about doing that? I mean, if you had an ecologist and an economist talking about something, they just talk past each other. There’s no overlap in the things they’re talking about.

 

Ray: It would seem not. I suppose upon further investigation, you can discover there is. But it doesn’t happen often enough. Okay, well the way that architecture and design deal with that problem is through visual communication. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to design anything, especially not something as complex as a building, without having a way of communicating that and describing it visually. That visual way of working becomes a visual way of thinking for an architect, and I think that’s partly what’s lacking.

 

  There’s been some success here too, but there’s a lot of opportunities in sustainability for visualising the perspectives of different people and visualising different pieces of important information, and that can provide a common platform. You know, a common language and a common platform for people to share ideas. So I think, partly via the right systems of visual communication, you can get the ecologist and the economist on the same page, appreciating each other’s perspectives and even finding common links between what they’re working on and their different perspectives.

 

  Once you can find that point of commonality, or at least two different perspectives on the same thing, then that gives you a great opportunity for collaboration where you can start to develop solutions which actually encompass multiple perspectives.

 

Sam: We always ask people if they’ve got a go-to definition of sustainability. I’m not going to ask that. At least I might ask it later.

 

Ray: You’re welcome to.

 

Sam: But now I’m going to ask if you’ve got a go-to diagram of sustainability.

 

Ray: I do. One I’ve been developing. A part of my research has been looking at different diagrams of sustainability. To look at how different people understand the challenges that we face, and the relationships between parts. You know, where the emphasis is in our thinking and in our actions. So I’ve been developing a diagram that synthesises these different perspectives as a way to help synthesise the actual thinking behind it. The thinking is the important part but visuals and diagrams can help us to do that, just like in architecture.

 

Sam: And?

 

Ray: And, okay, so this particular diagram, words certainly don’t do it justice. But they never do. That’s another part of our research, is the communication that’s needed is verbal can’t solve all our problems. We like to talk a lot better. So this particular diagram and the thinking behind it brings together different aspects of our natural environment and the built environment and society, and begins to show links between different parts of that.

 

  So if we’re unpacking a problem about water systems, we can see how water consumption, for example, which might be happening at a personal level, the decision that you or I make about how we consume water, are impacted upon by the infrastructure that we have in the built environment and by different government policy. And they have impacts going out into the natural environment in terms of waste systems or the need for new dams and the effects that has on ecosystems, et cetera. Again, this is very complex to communicate with words but some of these things become incredibly vivid when you see them on paper or on a screen.

 

Shane: And you’re imagining that people would use it. How?

 

Ray: Well, again like a building … keep using the metaphor. A building does a lot of things, doesn’t it? You don’t ask someone about their home, you know, what does your home do? What is the answer? Well, it’s everything. It’s a part of our identity, it’s a place to live, et cetera. So this diagram and this way of structuring thinking on sustainability, we want to form the basis of a digital platform for collaboration.

 

  Different people would use it in different way. A researcher might use it to explore and communicate the different aspects of their research and to help them understand how that fits in, how what they do relates to the big sustainability issues. I mean, this is something that a lot of researchers have a lot of trouble doing, and one of the reasons why there’s this sort of divide between. A lot of common perceptions of research is that it’s so inaccessible. It’s this alien thing that people do in these ivory towers.

 

  That certainly happens, but if you can communicate effectively what you’re doing and how this new piece of technology you’re working on is actually helping to solve climate change, or how this new way of approaching management problems is actually going to help us alleviate policy in the third world. I mean, this is a big deal. And that can help to, I think, give a lot more weight and value out of all this great research that’s already happening.

 

  So I suppose that’s from a researcher’s perspective. But if you’re a business and have a new piece of technology or a service that you’re providing, people need to know what it does and people need to be able to see the relationships between the things that they care about – whether that’s biodiversity or climate change or other issues – and some of the solutions that are already being developed to achieve that.

 

Sam: I was talking about an ecologist and an economist before. If those two people were employed to work on a problem, how might they go about using it to communicate?

 

Ray: Back to the big picture. A core part of the way that people are now thinking about sustainability is through systems. It’s through understanding. You mentioned at the beginning of the show that it’s through understanding how different things relate to each other. And, of course, diagrams are a key part of communicating that. So through this system, it’s possible for an ecologist to create a systems model, a diagram that shows how different issues relate to each other.

 

  Which is as simple as talking a bubble or an icon representing the health of the local river and an arrow leading to it from the local water infrastructure, like dams and things. You can build up these models visually that show how different elements of our social, ecological system relate to each other. So an ecologist might build up elements of their way of viewing the problem, and an economist could come in and add in elements that they think the ecologist has overlooked.

 

  Well, you know, you’re not seeing these market mechanisms which are an important part of the solution here. They can be added incrementally to the system and once you get a few minds on the job, this system can help to sort of synthesise these different perspectives until you get this collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives. Like in architecture, then you can get a more holistic view of the problem and of potential solutions.

 

Sam: It could be because we’re referring to the diagram here, but you’re seeing a much bigger system. Sort of a crowd-sourcing, pulling together of ideas?

 

Ray: Yeah, that’s right. I suppose if you look at the enormous global movement into online networks and the kind of revolutions that we’ve seen in how we communicate with each other. Things like Facebook, other knowledge sharing platforms like Wikipedia. You know, now the largest encyclopaedia that we’ve ever had has just been crowd-sourced for free. The Uber. Do you have Uber in New Zealand? Yeah, like a beginning? It’s very big in Australia –  Ride sharing. And these things are really transforming elements of society and how we do things.

 

  We haven’t seen that same kind of transformative networking platform for sustainability yet. We’ve seen a lot of seeds of that. There’s a lot of great collaborative platforms and knowledge-sharing platforms in existence but nothing that really brings together a comprehensive set of issues and communicates it in a way that’s accessible to everyone, from an interested member of the public to a policy-maker to a researcher. That’s the aspirations that we’ve got for this thing and we’ll take it as far along that path as we possibly can.

 

Sam: And what are you doing here? Talking with me, obviously.

 

Ray: Talking with you.

 

Sam: But you’re working with some research groups to map out their-

 

Ray: Yeah, it’s been a fantastic process, actually. To test this system and develop the ideas, critical feedback is essential. In the same way that you test other kinds of design, it’s important to develop ideas and then test them. At the University of Queensland, we’ve run a number of workshops with students from very different disciplines to use this system to try and explore the ideas and the problems that they face.

 

  Whether that be architecture students looking at a sustainable eco-village and understanding the issues there. We’ve spoken with and worked with ecologists and landscape ecologists and used it to unpack a problem from their perspective. And now in Dunedin we’re at Otago Polytechnic and, this Friday actually, we’re working with a group of Masters students doing a Masters of Geography.

 

  And what I know of it is that each student’s got quite a different and very interesting project in their Masters, all with some relation to sustainability. We’re going to sit down together, map out each of their different problems and each of the different aspects of research that they’re doing, and to see how they relate to each other. And to see how the understanding that each has can help to enrich the projects of the others.

 

Sam And you’ve got international interest?

 

Ray: Yeah, we’ve actually-

 

Sam: I’m not saying Australia being international from here, of course.

 

Ray: [crosstalk 00:32:40]. Yeah, we’ve just had some very big international interest, actually. The Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden is a very major research institution on sustainability and they are working with a number of other institutions including Future Earth, which is a great collaboration platform online. They’re running a programme of sustainable development goal labs. So these are, they call them social innovation labs. Ways of developing innovative ideas collaboratively and bringing out some great new solutions, in this case for the purpose of achieving sustainable development goals.

 

  They had an invitation to people from all around the world to present different ideas on how they would use collaborative thinking to develop an innovation that would help to achieve sustainability goals. We were successful against phenomenal odds and so …

 

Sam: Ninety four percent rejection rate!

 

Ray: Ninety four percent rejection rate. Yes, so now we’re developing these ideas and we’ll be presenting them in Stockholm in August. And with their support, continuing to develop them from there.

 

sam: Okay. I’ve let time rattle away on me so we’re going to have to hurry through these questions. So here’s your chance. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Ray: Just the dictionary definition, which is sustainability is the ability to maintain a process or a state indefinitely. So any process or state that we’re considering that could not be maintained indefinitely is fundamentally unsustainable and won’t be continued indefinitely. So whether that’s our rate of our extraction of resources or anything else that we might do.

 

  And I think it’s kind of a knife edge definition, but it gives us a pretty clear understanding of the inevitability of change in an unsustainable society or an unsustainable system. Things will change one way or another because things are not sustainable, and it’s up to us to determine which way they go.

 

Sam: It’s a real challenge, isn’t it, that necessary juxtaposition of things staying the same but in order to do that they have to change?

 

Ray: Absolutely, yeah. I suppose that’s where the resilience perspective also comes in, that there’s a certain amount of change that a system or a society or environment can cope with. And if we’re gentle enough with ourselves or the place we live, then we can deal with certain changes and still maintain a functioning system. But if we push things too far beyond certain limits, we get systems collapse. We’ve seen ecosystems and even societies around the world that have collapsed because they’ve pushed their systems too far.

 

Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years? I’ll let you have one free hit about a five month old.

 

Ray: Yeah, certainly. I’ve just become a dad and it’s an exciting time of your life. There’s a lot going on there. It makes the challenges with work et cetera. But he’s an incredible human and it’s just, I suppose, the thought that the change that my kid is going to see within his life is just going to be absolutely phenomenal. I spend my life thinking about these future changes and where we can shift it in a good direction, and I am totally confident that I have no idea of the scale of change that he’s going to see.

 

  Now, if I think of my grandfather, died not too many years ago, but he went to school in a horse and cart and wrote on board with charcoal. That’s my grandad. There’s people alive, of course, who around the world are still doing that. But even in our modern, wealthy societies, they did that as children and here we are now with everything that we’ve got. The change has been phenomenal. The next generation of change is going to continue at the exponential growth and it will be vastly more so.

 

Shane: Are you optimistic? Do you think he’s going to have a better life?

 

Ray: I think anyone born at this point of time, into a society like Australia or New Zealand … I won’t say anyone, but as a whole we are incredibly lucky. Again as a whole, we’ve got one of the highest standards of living around the world, and certainly the highest standard of living that’s ever been achieved throughout human history. So that’s part of what he’s born into.

 

  But he’s also born into the mammoth challenges that we’re facing. When teams of the best scientists around the world are telling you that we’re facing a system collapse, or that with climate change we’re facing the largest migration in human history, bigger than all the world wars combined, that is a big deal. There is no underestimating the scale of the problem.

 

  So, I suppose, he’s going to live through all of that and I don’t know which way it’s going to go. We just push it as far as we can in the best direction we think.

 

Sam: Okay, well we only have done two of these questions. We really are going to have to rattle. It’s my fault for distracting you. We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So what’s your super power?

 

Ray: Super power? It would be the ability to take on the perspective of someone else who I met and fully see the world from their view. You know, everyone’s got so much to contribute, I’d love to be able to get their take on things.

 

Sam: What have you got now? What’s your super power that you have now? What are you bringing to this?

 

Ray: I suppose design thinking to sustainability problems and ways of synthesising all different sorts of perspectives. I think there’s a huge amount of potential in that.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Ray: I’ve never used that word to describe myself but I’m certain that we need large scale, systemic change to have a wonderful future instead of a terrible one. So I suppose if I’m seeking systemic change, then that to a degree does make me an activist, I guess, doesn’t it?

 

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

 

Ray: The gap. The gap between how things are and how things could be is just so vast. The potential futures that lay out in front of us are so widely different that there is just so much at stake in choosing the best path over the worst one. And we really could go any way right now. There’s so much pushing us towards horrific outcomes and there is so much pushing us towards fantastic outcomes that it’s a big pendulum to swing. So swinging it as far as I can towards a good future is, I suppose, all anyone can do.

 

Sam: What challenge are you looking forward to in the next year or so?

 

Ray: Bringing this platform to fruition. It’s got to happen. Everything is lining up. You never know when you begin something, a big challenge, how it’s going to go. But you’ve just kind of got to go with it. And then sometimes things don’t go in the right direction. Okay, I’ll approach some new challenge. But other times, things start to line up. And with this one, everything is beginning to line up really nicely.

 

  We’re bringing together some very diverse thinking into a cohesive system. We’ve got a lot of the right people on board and we’re having the right conversations. And we’ve got the right support from some big institutions. So I think there’s a lot of hope for this.

 

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

 

Ray: I suppose everyone’s got different things that they’ve got to think about and devote their time to but, just for a single moment, if everyone in the world could get a glimpse into the different futures that are possible, vividly, I think that would just … I couldn’t imagine a greater force for change. When people can see how things could be, one direction or another. So there, I’d click my fingers and we’d all see into the future 50 years.

 

Sam: A follow-up question to that one is what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact towards that? I’m not sure how possible that is but what could we do that would do that?

 

Ray: Well, we can see the future. We do it all the time. You know, we look both ways before we cross the road. We can track the path of a ball through the air when we play sports. We vote for someone who will do things in the future which we hope it’s happening in a good direction. And we’ve got incredible science at our back.

 

  I think we can do a lot in predicting futures. We’ve just go to start looking at the information we’ve got, which means it has to be accessible. We’ve got to see what’s there. And you can feel the trajectory, can’t you? Like, we can all think of an institution, anything, and get some direction of, well, where is this headed? And if that’s not a good direction, how can we steer it?

 

Sam: I like that idea of glimpsing into the future and we do it anyway. How can we formalise that?

 

Ray: Well, I’m hoping that’s part of this platform that we’re developing. But how can we formalise that? There are different-

 

Sam: I mean, in architecture you draw the picture of the house and you put a picture of the house surrounded by trees, looking like it’s been there for a long time and everyone’s enjoying it.

 

Ray: Right.

 

Sam: So we explicitly visualise it.

 

Ray: We do explicit … yeah. That’s, I suppose, one of the great things about architecture. The ability to imagine a future state that doesn’t yet exist and bring it to life in our minds first so that we can then bring it to life in real life. It’s a powerful thing, I suppose. Again, that’s where the power of visual communication behind design comes in so powerfully. And there’s lots of people looking at developing scenarios. I mean, some of this is sort of complex systems modelling and economic scenarios, et cetera.

 

  But whatever we can do to get a glimpse at that future and share that knowledge amongst people, I think is a very powerful tool.

 

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Ray: Which listeners?

 

Sam: All of them.

 

Ray: I suppose if you’re going through life and you’re seeing something that you think needs to happen, you’ve just got to start taking steps in that direction. If you’ve got doubts about how it might turn out, then all that means is that you’re doing something of value. Something that isn’t the default option for you.

 

  So just take a chance. Just step forward and do that thing that you’ve been thinking about doing that you think is something that someone needs to do. Start doing it. Talk to people about it. Take the steps to do that, whether that’s through a business or education or collaboration. Anything. Just push forward.

 

Shane: Thank you very much.

 

Categories
art communication community occupational therapy urban

Creating opportunities for resourcefulness


I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

Recycling, reusing, reducing, remodeling, and reselling! Juliet Arnott’s social enterprise ‘Rekindle’ is all about diverting reusable resources from waste via creativity and craftsmanship.  Juliet Arnott studied at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Occupational Therapy and went on to use her creativity and craftsmanship with community groups, schools, health groups, artists and designers. Rekindle originally focused on diverting timber from waste within residential demolition in Christchurch, turning it into furniture, interiors, sculpture and jewellery. One of Juliet’s more famous projects was Whole House Reuse, where her team deconstructed and transformed an entire earthquake damaged house into beautiful and purposeful artefacts. More than 250 people from around New Zealand and the world were involved, creating everything from a delicately carved taonga puoro to a finely crafted backyard studio.

Juliet will be honoured in May as one of Otago Polytechnic’s distinguished alumni.

 

 

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 making a positive difference and applying their skills to 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 Juliet Arnott, the artist, a founder of Rekindle, and an occupational therapist.  You trained at Otago Polytech.

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s right. Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Juliet Arnott: Pleasure. It’s lovely to be here.

 

Samuel Mann: Let’s start with questions about you. Where did you grow up?

 

Juliet Arnott: I grew up in a little place called Canvastown, in Marlborough. It’s between Nelson and Blenheim, near Havelock. We were farming and pretty self sufficient, really, back then in the 70’s. Yeah, that was pretty …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you say Canvastown?

 

Juliet Arnott: Canvastown.

 

Samuel Mann: Like tents?

 

Juliet Arnott: Which was a gold rush. Yes. It had this wonderful history. In fact, we spent a fair bit of time in our childhood with our gold pans in the river, ever hopeful. It was a pretty lovely existence, living off the land and living pretty closely with the resources around us, I suppose.

 

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

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I really had a clear sense of that. I just remember being encouraged by mum, particularly, towards being creative. But no, generally I don’t recall what I was particularly aiming at.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you get involved in?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was a pretty rural community, so it was barefoot running around. I just remember being outside, I remember being on the farm, involved in all the usual farming activities, and really enjoying that. I do have this story that I recall, which relates to how things did develop in my life, which was Mum and Dad had this beautiful rush basket, that acted as our bread basket. I remember quite clearly, this experience. I must have been really quite young, maybe five or six, going out down to the paddock below the house, which was full of rushes, a different kind of rush, and attempting to weave a basket, but I was completely inept. I absolutely didn’t have the understanding of how to do it, but I remember the magic of that basket as an object, and that’s kind of lingered with me, I think. It’s definitely part of what has since rolled out in my life, I suppose, as that journey towards understanding how those simple resources can be harnessed and valued.

 

Samuel Mann: I won’t make the obvious connection between baskets and occupational therapy, but is that what got you into occupational therapy?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was!  My mother was a nurse, and I think in my teenage years, when I was starting to think about what I wanted to be, she did encourage me, or my parents encouraged me towards a health profession. I remember one day, bizarrely, we were taken on a tour of the local … In Nelson, where I was at school, taken on a tour of the local … What was then a psychiatric institution, called Ngawhatu. It was really the old fashioned style of institution, and we were walked through it, which I look back and think how bizarre that really was for school students. I saw this woman working in the industrial woodwork shop, and I saw her role and thought what an incredible role to have, to be able to work creatively with people, to work practically in that way, I suppose. That was all I really knew of occupational therapy, in some regards. It was only when I showed up at Otago Polytech and got onto the course in 1993, that I realised that actually, I had hit the jackpot and I actually had found something that was really aligned with what I valued and was really intrigued by, I think, by its diversity and the fact that it connects with what we do every day.

 

Samuel Mann: Did it deliver what you were hoping?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes it did, and it didn’t. It did in the sense that I learnt a lot. I learnt a huge amount through my training, and through the first probably, fifteen years of my practise, where I was attempting to … Where I was learning about the health system and how it functions, and then attempting to find my place within it. In terms of being able to work well, and truly therapeutically within that system. I think I continuously hit up against the struggles of that system, and whether it was the lack of funding around the time that I could spend with people, or the way that services were limited in the way that they could genuinely support people through big change and challenge in their life. It was helpful in learning some realities, but it’s also been frustrating, I suppose, to be exposed to some of the current systemic challenges. But then, it’s pushed me on to look at something beyond that more conventional occupational therapy role.

 

Samuel Mann: Because you wanted to do more than was in those bounds, or …?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. One of the common struggles for me, and I think definitely for other occupational therapists, is that you end up working within the health system, and you work with the people who have needed your support for the time that the service allows them to be a part of that service, but then you have to support that person back into their home, or back into their daily existence outside of the service. And often, there’s not enough there. I’m particularly thinking in terms of mental health services. There’s simply not enough there, to aid that person, to bridge that gap between being really quite unwell and being quite dependent on a service, through to living a really healthy, productive existence, engaged in community. That gap really was something that’s difficult to do anything about, from inside the service. I guess what has happened gradually over the last few years, has been that I have been attempting to create some of these opportunities that I would like for people going through those challenges to have the opportunity to experience. I guess part of the journey recently has been about trying to evolve, and what I was frustrated with the lack of in the past.

 

Samuel Mann: What was your first venture outside of the conventional bounds?

 

Juliet Arnott: In part, it was probably … For quite some years, I worked conventionally as an occupational therapist, but on the side I would continue my own creative practise, and the two co-existed. I would go to work and talk about doing my basket weaving, and my colleagues would laugh at me, and I would try and explain to them how important it actually was. I had these two very separate parts of my life, and the creative practise was very much, that was when I was living in the UK, and it was very much about my own personal connection with the environment that I was living in, but it was also about revealing the value of materials that were being wasted in the community around me. That became a bigger and bigger part of my life outside of occupational therapy, to the point where I was being commissioned to make work, sculpturally, with these waste materials, and would do that half the time, then in the winter when I wasn’t doing it, I would work as an occupational therapist.

 

It’s been a gradual journey to the point where returning to New Zealand, that’s when I started Rekindle and the two came together more indefinitely.

 

Samuel Mann: What prompted the interest in waste materials?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think the reality was, growing up in that fairly idyllic farming situation, you’re exposed to a fairly simple relationship to the resources around you and understanding where the natural limits lie, and how to live well with what you have around you. Then, I was quite struck, in a fairly naïve way, when I did move to the UK in my mid twenties, and even in rural England, was surprised that there was quite a strong culture of consumption and disposal. It was that really, that pushed me to really look around in my day to day existence, and to really want to make something of the material resources that I was seeing around me that were going to waste. That particularly started with things like the prunings from the hedge rose when they were trimmed. Corpus material that was cut from Willow or Hazel trees. Then, that moved on through and to … As I learnt crafts to use those materials, then through to use of a lot of the waste that washes up on the beaches in the UK, a lot of rope and plastics. It evolved as my wanting, needing, to make sense really, of what I was seeing around me, in some sort of vain attempt I suppose, to show the value of what that stuff was, because mostly, it was being ignored.

 

Samuel Mann: And you came back here?

 

Juliet Arnott: I came back in 2009, after 9 years away, and was feeling relatively displaced, and didn’t really have a grand plan for my return home, and found myself in Auckland for the first time, which I enjoyed. But again, I realise now I was quite naively struck by the waste that I found there. I think that I had imagined that in New Zealand we were well beyond things like landfills, but I obviously found we weren’t, and was just surprised at the dependence on the land fill mechanism and at that time. A lot has changed since, but at that time was surprised to find a big pile of wood out at one of the transfer stations in Auckland, and that is what I responded to with the initial furniture designs that I came up with for Rekindle.

 

Samuel Mann: You established Rekindle…so Rekindle 101…?

 

Juliet Arnott: Rekindle 101, yes, it’s definitely been a big journey since then. Rekindle 101, in a sense … I was living in Grey Lynn in Auckland at the time and I was appreciating all the beautiful old villas around in that area, and other suburbs of Auckland, and realising that there was a fairly common sight to see skips with a fair amount of timbers in them, whether renovations were happening, or to see demolitions underway, and I guess that combined with the wood pile I had seen in the transfer station, I was very intrigued to understand what this was all about, and then to learn that of course, demolition and construction waste are such big contributors to our land filling here. I decided to try and come up with a furniture design that would just reveal some of the structural integrity of that material, some of its beautiful aesthetic value and obviously its cultural value, in terms of it being ancient indigenous timber. I did that with the help of a couple of furniture makers in Auckland, we worked together to prototype the first chair, and then tables, stools and the like.

 

I had just started putting those out into the world, and made a first couple of sales up in Auckland, and then started … I guess being aware through my previous relationship with Christchurch, that my old home that I had lived in in my early twenties was now facing of course, this mess of challenge with regards to demolition waste and the dis empowerment that was occurring as part of that hasty process. That was when I started to think about coming back here, and what role I could play really, in that period of demolition.

 

Samuel Mann: Your website makes the connection between not just the waste, but the community?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: And you just talked about that sort of, in the dis empowerment and the waste. Tell me how you’re bringing those two things together.

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I find it hard to look at waste without wondering how making waste affects us as humans. I think it’s something that we take for granted that we do, which of course, naturally, many of the inhabitants of this earth make waste. I don’t think we think enough about the impact of that. I think when your ability to hold on to something that you value, is taken away from you, and when the resources that you have owned are taken away from you, and their disposal is managed by someone else, that … In terms of how the demolition played out here, was very difficult for a lot of people. When people are choosing to dispose of their own resources, that’s a whole other story, but I think for people to have that choice taken away from them, was very difficult. Both taken away by the earthquakes themselves and by the damage that occurred, and of course, by the bureaucratic processes that would naturally unfold afterwards.

 

I think for me, as an occupational therapist, I see both naturally the environmental concern about the waste, but for me it’s much more than that, it’s the human experience of disposing of materials that we still see as having value. There’s something futile about that, there’s something even a little hopeless about not being able to take the time to value the things that we would perhaps even feel a bit guilty about throwing out ourselves, if we had done it ourselves. It relates to our need to demonstrate value, when that exists. I think if we’re not experiencing that, if we’re not given the opportunity to experience that, that becomes quite problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Are we not quite happy having somebody take it away?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think we definitely are –

 

Samuel Mann: We put the bin out at the curb and it disappears.

 

Juliet Arnott: Absolutely. We would say that we probably would, in most cases, not value the material that we’re putting in those bins, versus say the residential demolition. Different thing. I think … It’s such a complex thing, but you know there’s that thing about there’s hidden nature being useful at times, when we don’t have to face the land fill. If the land fill was just over there, and we saw the seagulls, we might feel slightly uncomfortable, versus what we were seeing with the residential process that was that obvious to us, it was in our faces and that was incredibly difficult to witness.

 

Samuel Mann: You arrived back in Christchurch, thousands of houses being knocked down.

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Where do you start?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was quite overwhelming. I didn’t really know what the solution was at that time. It was a very difficult bureaucratic process to even understand, let alone intercept. I spent probably a year speaking with demolition contractors, gaining their trust, getting them to understand that what I wanted to do wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t unsafe, that I wouldn’t slow them down. Initially, we did a lot of salvage just on sites where the diggers had been, and they’d just left a pile of crushed timbers and we would haul out what was still viable for furniture. But, over that first year, we worked out a way that worked, and with the contractors so that we would salvage before the diggers arrive. That’s how we got rolling really. It was only a symbolic thing in the sense that we were definitely not [occurring] … We were definitely not able to grow this capacity to salvage timber, to the degree that we could really address the whole problem, but I guess we just did our best within the constraints at play.

 

The second big response I had to the scale of it all, was the Whole House Reuse project, that very much acknowledged the fact that there were at least 9,000 homes in the red zone, and more, demolished beyond that. How on earth do you attempt to make a statement or celebrate the homes that were lost, or even define the value of a home. It was really hard to know how to even begin to think about these issues. I decided that perhaps if we just put all of our energies into this, to the ultimately resourceful response, to just one home, that we might see something from that that feels heartening for us, so that’s what we did. It didn’t happen for the first … We worked on it for years, but didn’t really get underway until Kate McIntyre came on board as the project manager and we managed to get a red zone home from a demolition contractor, and all of the funds raised to allow us to fully deconstruct that home. We then published a book with a catalogue with all the materials from the home. We used that book launch around the country to call for creatives to submit designs of the materials from that home.

 

That lead to those successful designs being then issued. The people that submitted those were then issued the materials. We sent the materials all around the country and across the world, in fact. And then, the successful objects were sent back. We’ve received around 400 objects made from the home that were later exhibited in Canterbury Museum in 2015.

 

Samuel Mann: So, nice and slowly…you took it apart?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Piece by piece?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Laid it all out somewhere?

 

Juliet Arnott: Literally, Kate and a team of volunteers put it on trailer loads and took it to the storage unit, categorised it, photographed it, measured it, and created this taxonomy of what we think is the first time in the world that a whole house has been classified in that way. We utilised that catalogue to call for designs, then we had designs submitted from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, from people, from professional designers and makers through to hobbyists and school children, and really fantastic craftspeople, legends of their time, like Brian Flintoff who is New Zealand’s, one of the most remarkable carvers of taonga puoro. With things like an amazing artist on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, we sent her some broken window panes and she sent back some beautiful slumped glass vessels. Some really wonderful creative responses that valued the material.

 

Samuel Mann: Did people put in a bid, and say ‘I want two taps and a cupboard door’?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes. They all had to kind of … They all had the same catalogue so it was quite a logistical process, making sure that different people didn’t want the same stuff and all of that, and getting it out to people and then getting the finished objects back. But, generally, Kate managed that process and generally it seemed to work quite well.

 

Samuel Mann: What was the most sought after bit?

 

Juliet Arnott: Do you know what, I don’t know. I think the timbers … The obvious things, like the beautiful rimu and things were pretty popular, but that actually worked out, that was actually quite well spread. That was kind of … We also did it in a couple of rounds, so it wasn’t all at once. We had the first wave of designs, then we had the second wave, it was helpful to co-ordinate it in that way. Yeah. Then, the variety of things that people made were just extraordinary.

 

Samuel Mann: What sort of things did you get back?

 

Juliet Arnott: I mentioned Brian’s taonga puoro, he made some beautiful floats and wind instruments, traditionally carved with [inaudible 00:21:30]. He carved these most beautiful boxes that were traditionally made to store the huia feathers, so they were just three really beautiful ornamentally carved, boxes. And we had Tim McGurk who made a whole lot of stuff with his partner Emma Burn. He made a double bass, which was called the Double Basin, which had a basin as the resonator for the instrument, and it was playable. We had David Trubridge make a magazine rack/coffee table. We had Nic Moon and Lynn Russell from Nelson make the largest object, which was this really beautiful studio building, and it was built in Nic’s  –Nic’s an artist in Nelson, it was built in Nic’s garden, built for deconstruction, so that it could be deconstructed to be brought down here to be reconstructed in the museum. That was pretty amazing, and very beautifully furnished. She worked on it very laboriously and the whole finish was very painstaking and beautiful. There are some beautiful images of it on the website, actually.

 

Through to, tiny little pieces of jewellery, beautiful jewellery made by people like Jeremy Leeming, and thinking of also the beautiful wooden type. We had some whole synopsis of type carved out of rimu framing, by a type fanatic, Russell Frost, in London. He’s a New Zealander but he was over there, he did that, and we’ve since been printing with that, so it’s quite beautiful to …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you attempt to value the …

 

Juliet Arnott: What, the outcome?

 

Samuel Mann: Yeah.

 

Juliet Arnott: We’re actually just in the middle of finalising an academic article on this, because we have. What happened at the end of the exhibition was that the makers could decide what happened to the objects. Half of them chose to put the objects forward into a charitable auction, so we literally have a monetary value associated with those objects, as to what they sold for. Some of the makers also chose to gift their objects to the home owners, which was really wonderful, then the rest … Most of the rest either they went back to the makers, because the makers weren’t paid anything, they did this out of their own goodwill, so they could take their objects back or they could gift them into the community, if they had a specific community purpose in Christchurch. We are doing sums around the value, the monetary value, we’re also doing some sums around essentially what was diverted and how much of an impact that would essentially have. That’s quite useful information to reflect on, the rest of what happened here in Christchurch.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you get stuck with anything at the end?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. We really wanted to reuse the whole house. The shame of it all was, we actually ran out of time. We would’ve been able to. We could’ve kept pushing it, but actually we had to commit to the exhibition and we literally ran out of time, so we were left with a couple of toilet bowls. We still had some weird things like corrugated iron. Weird things like buckets of nails, because the other quite interesting thing was that, when the makers received the materials, their waste from their making processes, we asked them to send that back, so we actually received buckets of nails from the de-nailed timber. Things like that had a ready place on the scrap metal market, for example. If nothing else. In the end … I’m trying to think what was really hard to deal with. There were things like the boreded timber, for example. The idea with that was that … We weren’t allowed to go to the Canterbury Museum funnily enough, so that stayed in the paddock. Things like that can become wood chip, depending on it’s use.

 

We did really well. I can’t remember the number of items we had left, but there was a chunk, but not too many given the scale, I think.

 

Samuel Mann: Did the house have visible history? Layers of wallpaper, and things?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, there was some cool things like that. There was things like … And actually, some of the photographs, before we deconstructed the home, we had an amazing photographer, Guy Frederick, come and document the home. There’s things like, there’s this beautiful cupboard in the laundry bathroom area, you opened the cupboard up and inside there was this bright orange patterned wallpaper from the 70’s. There’s definite areas in the home where you could see the patina of life in there. We spent time before we deconstructed it, with the family and we invited in some of the older families that had lived in the home before the current homeowners, so we really traced as much of that history as we could and documented that, and we showed that in the exhibition with photographs and the like.

 

We really wanted to celebrate the life that that home had held.

 

Samuel Mann: Is this story ongoing?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s paused at the moment. The next part we would really like to raise funds for, is to document where all of these objects have ended up and end in their current use. One of the key criteria that we had in the design brief is that the objects needed to have utility, so we would love to be able to follow the story of the objects and see the full life of the house and its new use. Otherwise, we have looked at, with enviro schools, at creating an educational resource from it also, so hopefully we’ll get to do that at some point. But, that’s probably acting otherwise, but its legacy in the sense that we learnt a lot in that is certainly spilling out into my work now in Kokoda, for example. It was certainly a journey. We were quite pleased to get to the end of the exhibition, just because it literally, physically, it was an enormous process to manage.

 

Samuel Mann: You worked with the museum to do the communication, the narrative around it?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes, and to show the work there. There’s actually a lovely film online, on the Whole House Reuse website, that depicts the whole story and gives you some sense of what was seen the in museum.

 

Samuel Mann: Would you do it again?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s funny you ask that. I’ve been asked that several times, in some cases it was a genuine wish to do it again, and I don’t think I would. I think I would do parts of it again. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it easier. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it have greater impact, too. I think it’s a wonderful way for a community to come together around something that they’re feeling concerned about.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked about how building the community in terms of volunteers. Are enterprises springing up out of this sort of work?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, I think to a degree. I think there’s various things that happened here, in Christchurch. We certainly saw a boom in the demolition industry and the salvage industry. I don’t know in terms of creative entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t say there’s been that much. My sense about that in Christchurch is that there’s been a lot of things that people have been dealing with. I think when you look at waste minimization across New Zealand though, we are seeing more and more of a thoughtful, creative response to waste, as a means of raising its value, so to divert it from land fill, and it’s really lovely to see that, I think. You know, certainly see that, and the work of the community recycling network across the country, and the awesome organisations like Extreme Zero Waste in Raglan, and Wanaka Wastebusters, and those organisations. They’ve been doing that for some time.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked before about a resourceful response. What’s your take on resourceful?

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s become a really big focus for me, I think. When I finished the Whole House Reuse project, when we packed that up and had taken a bit of a holiday, I realised that I didn’t have the energy left to keep working with the focus of wastefulness. It was too … The machine, the big waste making machine, whatever it might be, and whatever is contributing to that, is so vast and there’s so much of it, that for me intellectually, it was becoming a struggle to see how to keep working with that positively. I did a lot of thinking about what’s the other, what’s the antithesis of wastefulness, and really out of that thought came this notion of resourcefulness. That, if we were to look at our lives in that healthy state, and that opposite state to wastefulness, it would be a resourceful way of life. It would be a way of living that allows us to be very much in touch with the resources around us, with the natural limits of those resources. I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

 

I think, for me, more and more I’m focused in terms of developing that concept of resourcefulness, what it looks like, what are the realities of that, what do we do, how do we build that positive relationship with the material resources around us. I think you can’t help but reflect on that, by reflecting on your inner resources as well. You can’t just think about … You can’t separate out really, our relationship with what’s around us, without considering how that makes us feel. I can’t, anyway, I should say. Resourcefulness for me, reflects both that positive state, in terms of our [inaudible 00:32:46] and consideration of the earth and the resources that we utilise from it, but also how that impacts on us. If we act resourcefully and repair a piece of furniture, or an appliance that breaks, then that changes the way we feel. We feel it builds our sense of the resources we have to cope, to feel confident, we have what it takes to manage when we don’t have much money, but we have something break on us. It builds our confidence that we have hands that do the things that we need them to do, or that we know about materials, we know about wood, or textiles, you know. That intimacy between us as humans and the resources that we live around constantly, and interact with, is something that is so present that sometimes we don’t really … We almost don’t think about it.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you feel as though you are fighting a machine?

 

Juliet Arnott: I feel less like it now. The work that I’m doing currently with Rekindle, is very much focused on the resourcefulness, on depicting and bringing out experiences of that. Offering people opportunities, to feel resourceful, as well as still doing some work that is directly addressing wastefulness. It’s not that I’ve given up on that, it’s just that the two for me need to … I need to show them both, as parts of a continuum or spectrum, for me to feel that we’re really focusing on what’s positive and possible in all of this.

 

Samuel Mann: What does a resourceful world look like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s one where we are just fundamentally really aware of our relationship with what’s around us, so therefore we don’t discard of materials before they’ve had a full life. We also don’t chose to use materials that area harmful to their origin, or to the earth or to each other. There’s all of that knowledge about where things come from, where materials have come from, how we use them in relation to how that impacts the environment, and then also how we share those resources. Because, how we share those resources, how they flow within our communities, also relates to our access to resources, and in terms of poverty and the like, I think there’s a huge amount to be gained from living resourcefully in communities, in terms of improving our access to resources.

 

Samuel Mann: Have we lost the ability to do that, though?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s definitely compromised, currently. I think our consumption and a lot of autonomy in our daily lives around … Not so much autonomy, but anonymity, I mean. Each household tends to do whatever they do, with waste. They’re not obviously accountable for anyone else, or anything. There’s not a lot of shared problem solving around that, there’s not a lot of shared responsibility around how we care for the resources that we have. I know for efficiencies sake, it’s good that we have great waste minimization organisations helping streamline that, but the bottom line is that it takes away our sense of need to deal with these things. In some ways, I think that’s problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you have any idea how much of the, whether you want to see it as a positive or a negative, but, how much of our individual contribution to the waste we actually have control of? How much of it is upstream or downstream of us, and we don’t actually have much control over?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think we do. I think nowadays we have significant opportunities to control it. For example, the use of the second-hand market has been demonstrated to be a really considerable opportunity to divert material from land fill. I guess, effectively, simply that choice of buying new or buying second hand, that can really impact what ends up going to land fill. It’s not all about the designers or who’s creating what we find on the supermarket shelves. Yes, that certainly contributes to things, and packaging and all of that is problematic, but we absolutely have the choices. Many of the choices that we need around us, in terms of avoidance of packaging, and buying locally without packaging at all, and shopping second hand. That kind of thing.

 

Samuel Mann: One of the things that we like to talk about is how a sustainable future is a better future, not a lesser future. I think well framing that, in terms of this positive relationship. But, to what extent are you and I, and a disappointingly small band of others, kidding ourselves?

 

Juliet Arnott: The occupational therapist in me, looks at mental health statistics, for example. I can’t help but look at that and think, that is such a massive sign that we as a race are really, really struggling with our current way of doing things, and that our search for meaning if you like, in itself, is really challenged by the current way that we do life. I think things are becoming so dire, both in terms of our mental health, but also in terms of the economic struggles that we’re seeing around the world, struggles over natural resources and the like, that I can’t help but think that when things change, as things change, that there will be some improvements there, because it’s bringing us back to some of the fundamental realities, like the fact that we have limited resources. Therefore, we have to learn to care for what we do have around us. I guess, I’m so biased that I can’t see.

 

Samuel Mann: As a species, you’d like to think we’re not stupid. How come we’ve been distracted by this party going on?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think it’s so convenient. There’s an allure of the sophistication of being able to purchase what you want, being able to have what you want, being able to wear what you want, when you want, eat whatever food you like, wherever in the world it’s come from, whenever you like, whatever season it is. All of that stuff. But, actually, we’ve splurged on that now. People know that they can … Not everyone of course, but people understand those realities now. The impact is such that it doesn’t really make a difference. It doesn’t really mean that we have everything we need, because in fact it’s distracted us probably from what we really need.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. I don’t think we’ve covered this one already, so let’s do it now. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Juliet Arnott: You see, I stay well away from the word. Just simply because, I think it is a word that for me, has been overused in some regards. I find it easier to talK about some of the more specific concepts that make up a part of that, like resourcefulness.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: Success. That’s hard. I think probably the most meaningful thing that’s happened in terms of my work, was recently when supporting some of the planning that’s happening up in Kaikoura, post-quake. I was sitting in a room with a lot of others who had been heavily involved in the demolition process of the red zone, here in Christchurch, residential red zone, was to hear the will for change, so that community can be more involved in deconstruction outcomes, following these kinds of disasters. That for me, was incredibly heartening. It felt like a definite sense that we have learnt something from what happened here.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes.’ Looking back at the people who are doing the work. How would you like to describe your superpower?

 

Juliet Arnott: My superpower. I think probably, it’s something to do with being … My superpower, that’s really …. Something to do with maybe being able to see the inherent value of material resources and being able to transform them.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I do nowadays. I suppose I do. Just in the sense that I can’t help but …

 

Samuel Mann: That sounds reluctant though. A reluctant action, or a reluctant label?

 

Juliet Arnott: A reluctant label. The action isn’t reluctant, it’s something I can’t help. I probably don’t call myself that, no.

 

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

 

Juliet Arnott: Just, what’s yet to be done. I guess the opportunities that are there, and the impact that I see that that could have for people who would benefit from, like myself, who would benefit from being creative with resources that are undervalued.

 

Samuel Mann: What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: I’m looking forward to doing more green wood working. We’ve just got a project that’s being launched at the moment, that’s pushing green wood working into the centre of Christchurch, we’ve set up a workshop in the middle of the city, so I’m looking forward to doing more and more of that myself, working with some beautiful old timbers from within the city.

 

Samuel Mann: Two more. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would you like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I would just love to see … I would love to have a huge craft workshop facilities, that had all of the wonderful tools, and everyone knew about them, and people were coming and sharing their skills and I didn’t have to make it happen.

 

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

 

Juliet Arnott: Nothing that comes to mind.

 

Samuel Mann: If someone gave you a big billboard that you could write on by a motorway, what would you put on it?

 

Juliet Arnott: I guess I would say something like … I guess I would ask people to consider that wastefulness is kind of like … Them being wasteful, is in effect missed opportunities for resourcefulness, you know? If you think about where those opportunities for resourcefulness lie, and seek them out, that probably will assist your will to get out of bed in the morning.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience, on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability projects, brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago access radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org we are building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields, who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.

 

In our conversations we are trying to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens, even if they don’t call it that. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Juliet Arnott, founder of Rekindle.

 

You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via Itunes as well as all the other poddy sorts of places. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann, I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

Sam’s pictures from the Whole House Reuse exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

Categories
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 façade – the 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.

Categories
communication community computing participation

Empowering communities

robComber

Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.


Rob Comber is a a Lecturer in Computer Mediated Communication based at Newcastle University’s Open Lab. With training in psychology, Rob has worked on the role of online communities and now is focussed on food, activism, urban space, and sustainability – all through a lens of civic engagement.

Talking points

How people construct, create, and maintain relationships with each other through some of the mechanisms of pressing buttons and friending each other

How can you create a community when all you can really say is “I like this person” or “I like this thing that they’ve said”?

“Do online communities have the same characteristics as real communities?” is where I started, but I found there’s no real difference between them – same values, people commit to them, spend time building relationships and doing things.

Online, digital, virtual isn’t replacing but augmenting what we are doing in our everyday lives.

Yes it is easier to press like…but you’ve done a lot of work to construct that community around you – so saying it is easier to press like is a bit like saying that if you are already a member of that club then it is easier for you to open the door and walk in.

So the idea that “slacktivism” is easy hides the work people have to do beforehand. It’s public too – you have to make a real commitment to say this is who I am. People can use that quite carefully to construct an image of themselves – this is the person who I am, and this statement is of value because I am making that commitment in front of other people

A challenge of looking at online communities is the romanticisation of offline communities.

Being exposed to poly-vocality, multiple voices and perspectives really enriches the way that we think about the world.

Why do we buy two to get one free, when we only need half?

Trying to find ways to connect communities together to improve the sharing of knowledge and expertise that they already have…inclusion and social sustainability.

Issues of resilience – looking at unrealised and under-realised capital that’s already there

We found a focus on behaviour change was quite useful if you wanted to stop someone from doing something, but very difficult to do if you wanted someone to try something new and to keep doing it.

Civic engagement: not saying “we know best we can tell you what to do and here’s how you can make your city better”, instead it’s “we know you know how to make your city better, we want you to tell us so we can help you do it”.

Working with communities to empower them rather than to change them.

Realise that we don’t have that power to magically change a community, it’s much more beneficial to work together with them.

Role of a Civic University means the local community is not just the place where we are, but it is the place that we are.

We have to engage with the issues that arise here, partly because it is a disadvantaged area, but also because it is fundamental to what a university should be doing.

We have to be really able to demonstrate value and if we can show that it is intertwined and embedded in the lives of the people around the university then you don’t have to struggle to find why you are doing what you are doing, it comes from the people who are there already.

Water, energy and food nexus – trying to understand how these resources come together…how they are connected as systems.

How do you know if engagement is doing good? You get a sense of it, do the people I engage with see value in that engagement? Do they see outcomes they might have otherwise not anticipated? Unlike behaviour change work where we decide what we will change and therefore can evaluate it…but with engagement…what has changed for you?

We try to activate the activists. Find people who will take on that engagement and take on the role of saying “we need something more here, we need something better here” –whatever they decide. It’s being able to say that when we have to leave, that it becomes sustained by the community.

What a community should be…agonism…continually questioning the world around us.

We’re good at looking at ourselves and asking “is it good now”, we’re not so good at asking “will we still be happy with this situation in 5, 10, 50 years?”

A sense of questioning the status quo, but also questioning the future of that

Questioning across scales, but identifying other communities where you might be having an impact is a significant challenge even before you think about what that impact might be.

A sense of belonging is important, place tied to history, but we rarely think of a sense of belonging in terms of future generations.

In the same way that we look to previous generations for our sense of place, future generations belong to us in that way.

People think of technology as the future, so let’s use technology to represent the future back to us now.

Engagement: there’s no simple message of how to convince people to change behaviour, the point is that you’re not really convincing them, they have to convince themselves.

The long term element of engagement is a time scale of 3, 10 or 50 years – compared to nice results after a year or six months or a year for publishing “this is what we did it was amazing”.

We recognise the easy life, but if that was an amazing future then we wouldn’t need to be subversive.

The questioning itself is an important part – we need to take this critical stance in designing technology, even if the response is that we won’t design technology. This is different from a basis (of computing) of selling more new stuff

It is important to say can we sell less stuff? Can we even ask that question?

(Sustainable Superpower): People to be able to see connections between the things that they do – spatially, temporally, socially.

(Success): Being and to work in a research lab that values engagement and in ten years time we might be able to say that we did some good in hat engagement.

(Activist): I wouldn’t see myself as an activist. I wouldn’t see myself as the person who has the responsibility as the person in the community who knows and who knows which action is best. Academic research, when it’s well intentioned, when it’s working best through engagement is facilitative – is the aim of that to facilitate activism? I think so. Am I a facilitator? I hope so.

(Motivation): People. Above all else, taking a humanist perspective, and saying people are good, we need to work from that as a basic principle of what we are doing.

(Challenge): Engagement – being able to demonstrate that engagement is useful.

(Miracle): 100% turn out in every bit of local, national government – for people to wake up in the morning and really think about the society around them and something that they are involved and not to just take the easy life of sailing through it.

(Advice): Think about the world around you, and the people that are in it, and work with those people.

This conversation was recorded at Open Lab in Newcastle in September 2015.

Categories
communication local government

Nature’s tales

Neville Peat

Wake up each day and salute the sun if it’s out, appreciate the natural processes around you, We’re here for a short time on this beautiful planet and we’re here in a caretaker role.


Neville Peat is a writer and photographer, and a Dunedin City Councillor.

Talking points

I’ve always enjoyed conveying stories about our landscape, and issues of the day.

Growing up we weren’t really conscious of the wildlife on our doorstep.

You’re telling a story, trying to convey ideas.

It’s about finding an angle, describing what you see in as few words as possible, my most recent effort (in the ODT) described the Milford Track as “mountains of water”.

The environmental movement was continually banging its head up against applications for resource consent for this that and the next thing…so we set up an organisation that could carry the message of sustainability or doing things good for the environment through the Green Business Challenge, that became the Dunedin Environmental Business Network. The idea was to get alongside people in business.

This was a new way of working, we weren’t just banging on doors and writing submissions, we were working proactively to get our message across.

This led to the Otago Regional Council – I knew I could make a difference. We set up a Biodiversity Committee, the first in NZ, I was chair of that.

But in my nine years in the Regional Council, I can only think of two good examples of sustainable management of natural resources based on a scientific tool. (Tussock burning based on 3 tests: coverage density, dry weight matter and height). Here at last, I thought, we can actually measure whether this classic snow tussock grassland would actually be sustained. (Secondly, irrigation allocation in the Kakanui catchment).

The Regional Councils are primarily responsible for the sustainable management of natural resources, you would think a whole range of tools to help them, but really they haven’t. They continue to monitor decline in a whole lot of areas, without giving us a way forward, a tool, something we can grasp.

Shrinking baseline is such an important concept. It’s so easy for each generation to come along and say “that’s the normal” (not even new normal), “that’s how much quality we can expect out of this river, wetland or whatever” and not realise that it has shrunk in their parents’ time. With each generation you get a steady decline in quality, which can only be countered by action of some sort – and this is starting to require a behaviour change in people. And as we know…changing people’s behaviour…whether its giving up on driving to work or doing something to enhance the environment they live in, plant more food in the backyard, or whatever, that’s hard, the easiest way is just to do nothing, a laissez-faire attitude, just hope we can ride it out, “why should it be my responsibility?”

(Is there a formal way of considering future generations in decision making?) Only if you keep waking up in the morning thinking “what’s the definition of sustainability? – it does include “without compromising the needs of future generations”. If you wake up with that you get a clear sense of your role. You are here not as a user, but a caretaker. It’s up to you to do your best.

We are just here temporarily on a planet that is supremely beautiful.

Often you get a moment of inspiration, a moment where it all seems right, its almost a mystical effect.

It’s more effective to convey an idea than to say it…that’s what my work is all about conveying an appreciation of nature.

The Dunedin draft Environmental Strategy is setting the scene for future generations.

How do we relate to this planet – because we’ve only got one.

The Dunedin natural environment is unbelievably special.

(Success in last couple of years?) New edition of Wild Dunedin. Environment Strategy.

(Activist?) Not as much as I was. I’m still active. I’m working pretty hard really, but I’m not a foot soldier any more – I’m trying to be a bit more of a leader.

(Motivation?) Nature has to be given full expression, the moment we have conquered nature in any form we lose the plot. The mysteries and mystique of nature have to be retained. When my ancestors came here in the 1850s they saw nature as something to be conquered. Now five generations later, I’m saying let’s embrace nature for what it is and not as something to be beaten down.

(Challenges?) More writing.

(Miracle? or smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) The stoat in the Orakanui ecosanctuary

(Advice for listeners?) Wake up each day and salute the sun if it’s out, appreciate the natural processes around you, We’re here for a short time on the planet and we’re here in a caretaker role.

Categories
author communication community

Stories of community transition

Nathalie Brown

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world.


Nathalie Brown is a journalist living in Oamaru. She tells us how she first found Oamaru a “wondrous place”, and on returning decades later, an influx of artists and artisans had breathed new life into the town. She is involved in the Natural Heritage Society and is busily unearthing stories of people doing their bit to create a positive future.

Talking points

Oamaru became home 11 or 12 years ago, it really is the most extraordinary and remarkable place, I just love it.

I came back to Oamaru and found people in fabulous tartan kilts, with feathers in their hair…extraordinary people with wonderful life and I thought this is for me.

There’s something about the energy of the place that you don’t find in other places.

I don’t know if the people created the spirit, or the spirit created the people. I think the first thing was the built heritage. The establishment of the Whitestone Civic Trust in 1989 brought new blood into the town.

It was resisted strongly by some of the local people – you’re used to living in a certain way…”all these people dressed up in fancy costumes, who do they think they are?”

I was always socially aware, leftie, greenie, but I didn’t really have anything to pin it to.

The implications of climate change and peak oil…something’s not right, what can we do about it? what can anyone do about it other than throw your hands in the air and being in despair?

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world…

There’s more than a lifetime’s exploring to do here.

I love encountering people in their workplaces and their homes, and talking to them about what gets them out of bed in the morning.

You have to be curious. You find unusual people doing extraordinary things.

What have we got, how can we make the most of it for everyone?

(Success in last couple of years?) Being here for my aged parents, and being at my mother’s bedside while she was dying – the most extraordinary, magnificent, wonderful , phenomenal experience I’ve every had.

(Activist?) Yes. In terms of getting involved in groups and committees. If something really gets me going then I’m going to pursue it – seeing where I can take this social justice issue of the workers in the residential care social places – I will be pursuing that.

(Motivation?) Compassion.

(Challenges?) Learning how to earn a living.

(Miracle? or smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) Some kind of universal will to do something about the effects of climate change.

The nuns taught us, if you have a sense of moral outrage, then you can do something.

Who would have thought that apartheid would collapse? it was just one of those things that is. If we could get a political will at the next climate change meeting – we’ve stuffed it up, what can we do to keep it under two degrees? What can we do? Let’s do it. It would be a miracle, but it could happen.

What’s Oamaru going to be like in 20 years time? What’s the world going to be like in 20 years time – it could be fabulous. But on the other hand it could be absolutely dreadful.

(Advice for listeners?) Learn to meditate.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

Categories
communication community computing education maori

Virtual marae

Dee O'Carroll

It’s cold pressing your nose against the screen


Dr Acushla Dee O’Carroll  (Ngaruahine Rangi, Ngāti Ruanui, Te Āti Awa) is a Senior Research Officer at AUT University.  She recently completed her PhD Kanohi ki te kanohi – a thing of the past? An examination of Māori use of social networking sites and the implications for Māori culture and society.  Dr O’Carroll’s research explores the tensions that Māori face as they negotiate virtual spaces and navigate new territories of social networks, highlighting the pressures on kanohi ki te kanohi practice (face to face). We ask if there can really be a virtual marae?  and what are the implications of this on tuakiritanga (cultural identity) and tikanga (customary practices).  What impacts are facebook and twitter having on indigenous ways of communicating? and should marae develop social media policies?

Dee was at Otago Polytechnic as part of the Ako Aoteroa funded National Project in Learners and mobile devices (#NPF14LMD): A framework for enhanced learning and institutional change.

 

 

Categories
communication community computing

Playfully supporting system change

Stephen Blyth

 

Playful ways of engaging people in a way that gets people’s attention – a laugh or a smile is vital.  If we are browbeaten into being involved, who’s going to last?


 

Stephen Blyth works to empower people in Tangata Whenua, community and volunteer groups.  He is a Net Squared Ambassador and we talk about that role – it’s not about a long list of apps, but about getting a better understanding of where technology fits in to support social change.  Stephen found himself helping to create the first version of CommunityNet Aotearoa in 1998.  He’s barely turned his back on the community and the internet ever since. After leading this pioneering community website he has worked in a wide variety of advisory, capacity building and communications roles for government agencies, and tangata whenua, commuity and voluntary sector organisations. Currently he is instigator of Common Knowledge, a provider of services to good causes to help them effectively use the web, and works part-time for Community Research.

Talking points

I decided to spend my career involved in change.

There’s a large number of people on the planet, we’re a finite planet, the quality of life that we’re experiencing is very different in different parts of the world and even within our own country.

I believe that everyone could have a good life, with rewarding work, healthy families in an environment that is sustained for all our future generations.  But unfortunately we seem to be trapped in a pattern that is going against the inbuilt and inherent care that we as humans have for other people.

What has to change is quite a lot, but in a way it’s getting back to living out some of the human values that have been brushed over in what I consider a very materialistic, individualistic society.

It’s not about doing without. The way that we live,  highly urbanised, driving everywhere, thinking that we can buy happiness – just doesn’t gel for me.

We really have to fight to make sure that other world views are heard.

We need the time to create things, we’ve gotten sucked into the idea that we have to buy everything.

A 40 hour work week is the norm – more for many people –  is that as satisfying as it could be for an individual,  or could some richness and other benefits come from being part of an active community?

People participating on their own terms.

Often in a workplace the work is about the skills and experience you bring, but not about you – you have to leave yourself at the door – there’s not a role for the fuller complexity of your life.  In a community setting you can be more yourself.

We undervalue the important services, but its not about the individuals, it’s about the structure that we’re in, and it’s a structure of great inequality.

There’s an inbuilt inertia and an inbuilt set of set of incentives for a certain group of people to maintain things as they are.

There’s a different way of doing things, we don’t all have to become mini-businesses.

We’ve held ourselves hostage to a set of assumptions that a health society is about growth.

The danger of monetising everything, costing harm as monetary harm, that it leads “pay it  off, pay some money and eliminate the harm”  – but its a falsehood – the harm still exists.

I want to encourage more cooperation – individual achievements still respected, but people coming together in a common place.

People are no longer loyal to one community group – I like this cause now – so a lot of work has to go into staying visible.  But ethics and a good perspective are key.

Technical tools for social change.

(On campaigns such as Greenpeace’s polar bear costume) You’ve got to appeal to people, and its not just about ideas.  That’s one of the traps for people who really believe in good causes – “if only people understood the rational, logic of the ideas about parts per million, or the concentration of this…” that would win people over, but its actually also about your heart.   So you need to attend to both.

I know that there’s a lot of bad stuff, but I choose to get involved in things that will give me the energy to carry on.

My personal line on activism is where it causes harm to others, I struggle with this, and I respect others for the line they walk – sometimes a very fine line.

Local groups are about engaging people in local stories, the numbers (of people) don’t matter so much.

We can’t privilege one set of knowledge over another.

Activist?  Change maker.  Activist sensibility in critiquing and wanting to challenge.  I’ve definitely had my moments.

Challenges: Fighting apathy and cyncism.  The challenges we face are so huge.   It worries me deeply, especially as a father – what world are we creating for our children?   So I’m challenged by my own sense of whether I can make a change.    I involve myself in things that reward me and give me energy to carry on and make a change.  As long as I’m involved in the fray in the smallest way I’ll be happy.

I wish to stay positive and surround myself with people that have that sense of positivity that we can bring about the change that we so deeply need.

Advice: Be kind to yourselves, be dedicated to the sense of change but have fun.  Whatever we need to achieve won’t be achieved in our own lifespan.  We’re not going solve this just by our intellects, we have to bring our full selves, so allow yourself to have some fun.

Categories
climate change communication policy politics

Shifting the paradigm

Nathan Argent


Nathan Argent is the Chief Policy Advisor for Greenpeace New Zealand. He says we need to challenge the current narrative, that fossil fuels are the future: “New Zealand can get back it’s Mojo, putting us back on the world stage for being the innovators of a smarter greener society, that’s the challenge for us”.

Talking points:

(Am I an activist) An activist largely depends on peoples’ definition an perception of what an activist does. The young me was definitely an activist, I’ve been with Greenpeace now for nearly 12 years. Am I active in trying to change the way we do business, the way we power our homes – that we do in in a much smarter cleaner way, that we reduce pollution? then yes, I’m an activist in that sense, But I think as I’m becoming older and my experience and knowledge has grown, I’m probably more of a pragmatist..pragmatic but in a disruptive sense.

I’m probably more of a pragmatist..pragmatic but in a disruptive sense. Thinking about the landscape, thinking what are the pragmatic ways that we can reach our goals, but ensuring that those goals are always pushing the boundaries of change. Trying to disrupt the ways we do things, trying to shift the paradigm.

One side to Greenpeace, we need to be out there agitating, and we are reliant on the vast number of people who come to us to volunteer to be part of the grassroots activist movement, but we are also an organisation that has to through necessity sit at the boardroom table and engage with business, and push business in the right direction – and sometimes hold their hand if need be.

Sometimes once we’ve put someone on the front pages if need be – if they’ve done something wrong, my job is to go in there to work them to get it right – to embed more sustainable ways of doing business.

We are an activist organisation, but there’s also a degree of pragmatism as well.

The lions share, 90% of our work is solutions focussed – thinking about he science, working with experts, academia to think about the best and quickest way that we can deliver those solutions to our environmental challenges, the greatest of all being climate change. A lot of our solution side work never gets any pick up. The media perception of us and that’s largely the lens through which people see us is all about us breaking the law or climbing onto ships to stop them coming into port, so we need to think about how we tell our story better, but sometimes the substance of that solutions is seen as not really newsworthy when I would like to see that it should be.

People on the phone think “oh no, Greenpeace is on the phone what have I done wrong”, when that’s not the case at all, I see them as an important stakeholder in the problem and want to work with them to try and find that solution.

Our role is to keep pushing the envelope. There is a real sense of urgency about the work we need to do. Not just as an organisation, but there’s a sense of urgency that we’re not doing enough as a society to deal with the problems we have. And that’s when we go back to being the activist organisation, we need to keep pushing the envelope, we need to keep spiking interest in those issues, so that we create the space for that conversations to be had and for those solutions to be found.

At the moment we (NZ) has got a government tat is very pre-occupied in investing all its political capital in resource extraction, typically oil and gas, and that’s largely overlooking that fact that New Zealand as a country has become very good at through several generations at generating clean green energy. We are also very good at pioneering innovation…(yet we’re investing in inviting oil and gas companies to come here).

Given that there’s a growing sense of urgency globally about climate change, and countries and businesses around the world are investing the types of technology that New Zealand is very good at…we would rather see the NZ government put its emphasis on supporting our own engineers and innovators now before it becomes too late.

We don’t endorse any party…we will work with anybody who is prepared to have a conversation about delivering those progressive policies that we need to embed. But, by the same token, as a lobby group we are politically active, and we will criticise a government for not doing the right thing.

The current government in NZ has been woeful on its efforts to tackle climate change, their rolling back of environmental safeguards across the board, our emissions profile is going up instead of down, and we’re not growing our clean energy potential in the way that we should be, so we will be critical of that.

We need to fundamentally challenge the paradigm, we can’t continue to grow and grow and grow infinitely and and just tweak it to a cleaner smarter way. Perhaps growth is too often used to talk about the economy. As part of a transition – this is the practical side of Greenpeace – the radical side of us would say we need to fundamentally address growth, and really think about how we sustain ourselves and embed the environment and understand that the environment is core to everything that we do and we are dependent on our environment. But I think that as part of the transition we need to position ourselves in the debate.

Climate change is the greatest challenge we face, if you look an environmental, or developmental challenges – even if you can separate the two and I don’t think you can – climate change will lead to displaced populations, lack of water resources, more extreme weather events – the impacts are very broad, very widespread and will have severe consequences for many regions or the world.

The way we see it is, all roads lead to dealing with this overwhelming challenge that is climate change.

Climate change is the symptom of everything we do.

The scientific community needs to become better at communicating what they do.

There should no longer be any oxygen for the climate denial debate.

Conversation is dictated by me trying to reason with them about the scientific certainty about climate change, when I’d much rather be talking about what we could all do to deal with the problem. Accept that there is a problem we need to get on and do something collectively, and dealing with the problem doesn’t need to be that painful.

In the longer term it makes sense to do things in a cleaner, smarter cheaper way. If we get locked into a high carbon economy, that’s going to cots you and I a lot of money – there’s going to be a lot of stranded assets. So why not start now.

It’s about putting in place those safe-guards so our kids have got a future to look forward to- that we don’t have oil washing up on our beaches, that we’re no longer inhaling pollutants in the cities we live in, it all makes sense, why would we disagree with it when the outcomes are better for everybody, and most importantly the planet.

Is it the neo-liberal ideology that the markets will come up with a solution? Markets are the problem. Climate change is an absolute market failure. And the market hasn’t come up with a solution.

Plans to feed the world from NZ with dairy product… completely fails to recognise the limits of our country. We can’t multiply our dairy industry by a factor of two or three to meet these needs. It would ruin New Zealand.

Until there’s a price on activity, and you can continue to externalise costs so that the rest of the taxpayers have to pay because we suffer because we can’t swim in the rivers of the taxpayer has to pay for clean-up programmes, until you start making the farmers pay for the resource use, then there’s no incentive for them to do things in a cleaner way.

(On carbon pricing increasing the cost to families) It’s a politically paralysing story to tell when it’s an incomplete story. There’s always a lack of political will to do something if it’s going to hit the taxpayer in the pocket and this is often a reason for not doing stuff. The cost needs to be kept with the producer, but the whole premise of increasing cost is to make them change their behaviour, but the system seems to be incomplete.

Our actions are often bourne of frustration – it’s the final tool we’ve got in our toolbox when dialogue has broken down.

We do have to put things in the public eye. Sometimes the most effective thing in moving a company is consumer pressure. Unless consumers know that there’s a problem with the products, and that through their buying power they can change the company’s policy, so sometimes that’s the most effective thing.

Companies are acutely sensitive to their brand. We use that a lot and we’re not shy about saying so. Sometimes putting a company on the front page of a paper is the most effective way you can get them to move – and move really quickly.

This can transform an industry, as a major player doing the right thing, and telling their customers they’re doing the right thing they get an advantage, and that can be the gravity or the catalyst for others to be doing the right thing so it has a positive knock-on effect.

(On criticism of anti-oil protesters driving cars) It is demotivating , because people think “Well, yeah, actually I did drive my car here. Does that make me a hypocrite?”, well no I don’t think it does. We all pay taxes, do we not have a right to say where our taxes should be spent, whether it’s on education or arms. The system is not working, it’s failing, pollution is an absolute failure of the current system we live in, does that mean we’re not allowed to ask questions and challenge that and ask that it be done in a better smarter way. Ideally we’d all drive electric cars to those protests, but currently we can’t because the system doesn’t allow that. But surely we’re entitled as individuals to ask that we do change the system. Then we won’t need to drive to protests, or banners on the beach, because there won’t be a need to do so.

Other Sustainable Lens conversations mentioned in this podcast:

Mike Sammons
Naomi Oreskes
Rob Burton.

Categories
communication conservation biology

Rekindling the inner frog

Robin Moore


There’s an inner frog within all of us, we just need to rekindle that

The Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Dr Robin Moore aims to get people concerned with conserving less charismatic creatures. Robin explores how we can scale up conservation efforts for the most threatened vertebrate group, the amphibians. In particular he questions how we might engage a public that is disempowered by prophecies of inevitable doom. We talk about several unconventional projects in amphibian conservation, including: the Search for Lost Frogs campaign; the Metamorphosis project; and the Frame of Mind campaign. What is clear is that storytelling takes engagement to a whole different level as humankind explores our connection with amphibians and the wider environment.

Talking points

Kermit makes it easier – he is an amiable character, he helps people relate to frogs

You do need the poster frogs – we’re picking the sexiest of the relatively unsexy.  To just focus on the ecologically valuable – the small brown frogs – wouldn’t engage the public.

The future of frogs is in our hands, we’re bound by the same fate of environment

Scientists are trained to be so objective, to remove human bias or emotional attachment toward study subject. But truth is, there is always a human bias, the fact that there are 500 times more studies on mammals than amphibians is a human bias towards mammals. Scientists always approach something with unique experience and perspectives

My eyes were opened to the power of story-telling and using art first of all through the Search for Lost Frogs.  I realised that that resonated with people not because we were trying to tell them that a third of amphibians were threatened, but because we were telling stories and I think people respond in a different way when you’re telling stories and not just delivering the dry facts.

You can fit facts around your existing attitudes. Climate Change is a perfect example, the more facts you tell them they can dig in their heels.

Walking a fine line with maintaining scientific integrity, when you engage with the media you lose to a certain extent the control of the message. The story that gets picked up may not be the story that you want to tell.

When you are trying to save the frogs, you are really trying to save the environment – you are not trying to save the frogs in isolation. And when you’re trying to save the environment, you’re essentially trying to change people’s behaviour and attitudes. So conservation, more often than not, boils down to working with people.

One of the challenges is the perception of the environment as something separate from us, something to be exploited and abused

Improving the state of the environment and the lives of the people is the same deal. You can’t improve the lives of the humans if you are destroying the environment. (In Haiti) a lot of the problems are linked to the state if the environment.

It is a false dichotomy to look at human welfare and think it is conservation versus development.

(Am I an activist?). I guess so, yeah, I don’t often use that word. (You used it to describe the model you worked with . She does consider herself to be activist?) I think so. I can from a background of reporting conservation and working with local groups, I didn’t feel that was activism so much. Whereas Gabby really does focus on the messaging and getting the message out there, whereas my work with amphibian survival alliance, is also supporting habitat protection projects – which I don’t think of as activism. Perhaps an element of what I do is activism, but not the whole suite.

You can’t not answer a 12 year old who is asking a question about her future.

Dr Moore was in Dunedin for the Science Teller Festival organised by the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago. We are grateful for the organisers of the Festival in their help in arranging this episode of Sustainable Lens.

Categories
climate change communication

Communicating climate science

Andrew Tait


I’m driven by the communication of science – how information is used – can it influence somebody? can it open people’s eyes to possibilities?

Dr Andrew Tait is a Principal Scientist in the climate team at NIWA. A geographer, he focusses on the application of climate information. We talk about his role and the challenges of communicating science.

Talking points:

Objectivity is needed rather than an emotional response

Denialism is beyond what a scientist can really handle. They’ve got a world view and if your information doesn’t fit that worldview the they’re just closed to it

Climate information is a part of the landscape of being able to do what you do sustainably

I’m impressed by the adoption of sustainable principles – as a nation we’re managing drought on a large scale – this has been a change in thinking

People appreciate the effort you make to try to connect with them, and saying if you want to be able to making the best decisions you possibly can then please take account of this information

The enormity of decision making such as sea level rise – boy oh boy – it evokes interesting and sometimes heated discussions with people concerned for the future value of their properties

Have to ask the question, would we be better off if we didn’t know, or didn’t attempt to know just because there may be significant implications?

There’s got to be a strategic push for people to actually start doing the work – seriously thinking about implications. We have a hesitancy to start doing that work because of perceived implications of what the results might show

I’m driven by the communication of science – how information is used – can it influence somebody? can it open people’s eyes to possibilities?

(Do you make a point of staying out of the political?) For sure. (safe is a politically charged term, should scientists use such terms?). To me is going beyond what a scientist should be doing, but there’s a frustration for a scientist who wants to provide the best information they possibly can for a decision-maker to use and seeing that the information isn’t being used well. There’s a big frustration there, and I can understand why others, particularly if they’ve got a global soapbox will, and have got into this debate – that of why isn’t more being done? From my perspective I’m not prepared to get into that area. I want to help as much as I possibly can. … We’re such a small community of scientists, that we do get involved in discussions with policy makers at all levels – and we can be at the personal level of talking to a minister, or a CEO. But they don’t want us to be telling them what to do. I don’t think anyone wants someone coming in from an ivory tower telling them what to do. But people appreciate the effort that we make to try to connect with them – to say, if you want to making the best decisions you possibly can, then please take account of this information and understand how it was derived and what its implications are. The scientist can do a lot to make that bridge.

The old model of scientist as the remote expert is gone, people are part of the system so they have to part of the research

Categories
communication documentary ocean science

Whalers turned citizen scientists

Tess Brosnan


The story of how whalers have become passionate protectors is the story of the change we all need to make

Tess Brosnan describes herself as a humble reporter on a quest to package science stories better. Tess has almost completed her Masters in Science Communication. Her film Whale Chasers, tracks the story of Cook Strait whalers who are now passionate about the future of whales and every year undertake the Cook Strait Whale Count. This is, Tess tells us, an iconic example of Citizen Science. We talk about science communication, documentary film-making, citizen science and hopeful tourism.

In her thesis, Tess describes how citizen science is helping to bridge the gaps between two communities who need to better understand each other. Hopeful tourism is a new discipline which aspires to do the same, rejecting prevailing tourism ideology. There is much evidence of a desire for more meaningful experiences which contribute to fulfillment of life purpose, rather than exploitation of people, animals and environment, materialism etc. There is also an immediate need to reduce human impact on our ecosystem, and for fine-scale monitoring to protect this ecosystem. It is here that citizen science may prove to be the perfect new form of tourism, mitigating human destruction, helping science, and instilling joy, knowledge and stewardship into those who participate.­­­

Film-making 101: don’t squeal when you see a whale

I’m not an activist, I’m a packager, I can be more useful by remaining neutral

Whale Chasers premiers at the Regent Theatre on the 25th October as part of the Science Teller Festival.

Shane’s number of the week: 95. Ninety five percent certainty that climate change is a result of human activity according to IPCC.

Sam’s joined up thinking: A European Commission report this week puts a price on the underpresentation of women in the ICT industry. The European Commission estimates that bringing more women into the ICT industry would boost European GDP by €9 billion. That ICT suffers underrepresention is not new, the challenge is what to do about it. This week I’ve been considering the new landscape of qualifications for computing and wondering if the new structure will help. I’m reminded of the computing for social good discussions we had with Mikey Goldweber and ask if we’re still missing the boat.

Categories
communication science

The story and the science

Jean Fleming


The good story will always win – even over facts, so we need to make sure science has both the story and the facts right

Jean Fleming is a Professor of Science Communication in the University of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication, where she convenes the Popularising Science MSciComm. She is also a reproductive biologist in the Department of Anatomy, with research interests in the molecular and cellular origins of ovarian cancer.

Talking points:

information is easy, but there are no easy answers for attitudes and wisdom. Emotional connections through stories.

not everyone can look at the bigger picture, science communication can help with that

Science communication is jolly good fun

You can’t stop people believing the wrong information, we’ve got masses of information out there – information not wisdom, and people will believe what they feel comfortable with

With that masses of scientific information emerging, perhaps too much for people to digest – we need to help tell the stories

rise and rise of market and corporate idea that science must make a buck

Somehow we have to step down from growth

Despite all evidence, great denial about Climate Change, (mostly engineered by vested interests).

People do need to know what is happening to contribute to societal debate

(Am I an activist ?). Not quite yet, I’ve got to retire first next year. (Alan Mark said he was an activist, a requirement of an academic), actually yes, I’ve been an activist all my life. When I went to the royal commission on GM I had to suddenly wear a bra, and be like a judge, and so that really put the kibosh on me being a real activist for quite a while – I’m just beginning to come out the other end now. I was a great feminist in the 70s and 80s. And that got knocked out of me but the dark is rising.

Shane’s number of the week: 10. Ten years of Pacific cooling. In the last 10 years there has been a slowing in the increase in temperature across the globe from that predicted by the increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So since about 1970 the increase in global temperature has tracked the increase in CO2 levels very closely until about 10 years ago when the correlation started to diverge. Climate change deniers have made much of this and it has been a bit of a mystery – until now. There is a cooling effect on the atmosphere – one of the many long term climate altering cycles… so Waters in the eastern tropical regions of the Pacific have been notably cooler in recent years, owing to the effects of one of the world’s biggest ocean circulatory systems, the Pacific decadal oscillation. Here in the pacific we are used to El Nino and El Nina affecting our weather and climate patterns but this is a longer cycle which brings cooler weather and can last decades. The last time this oscillation was in its cooling phase was back from the 1940s to the 1970s (Scripps Institution of Oceanography and supported by the US government’s National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration NOAA, and was published in the journal Nature).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: The Audacious Student Business Challenge has expanded this year to encourage business for good with a social enterprise category. It has also moved to encourage wider participation with a new crowd-sourcing platform Skulksource. You can encourage the development of sustainable start-ups by voting for the fledgling businesses such as:

    • Spread the Help: Spread your donation across multiple charities, and Spread your Help to your community, by giving.
    • Resource Locus: Resource Locus proposes to foster farmers’ market culture by providing an online meeting place.
    • Flowbot: An innovative, reusable drink bottle to help fight obesity in kids through interactive design.
    • Ecoplug: EcoPlug is a simple way of bringing homes and offices into the 21st century
    • Dunedin Street Bikes: Using on-street fleets of bikes to improve social mobility, the environmental image of Dunedin & its economic development
    • Fur Retreival: Ethical Possum eradication to ensure the sustainability of the eco-system through natural methods
    • Humblebee: Taking the toxic out of protective textiles and staying dry in a deluge using nature’s ancient tech
    • Farmscape: An educational game that teaches people about sustainable agriculture. #farmerfromwayback
    • Eureka Energy: Eureka energy provides small energy solution to create a more sustainible future
    • Fixing Faults: Fixing Faults gives you the space, skills and resources to turn your boring junk into funk!
    • HandiConnect: HandiConnect – Connect handicaps to the world and help them live a life with no difference.