energy and the environment

Pat Wall

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

 

Sust Lens: Guest tonight is Pat Wall. Now, what we did tonight was … what we did a couple weeks ago was we looked at all the candidates for the regional council because there was too many city counselors to even think about, so we looked at all the regional counselors and said like, “Who looks like to be the most sustainable person, the one who is the core candidate, he’s really exemplifying this.” You want to put him to the test, or her. Unfortunately it’s mostly men. Tonight we have Pat Wall who’s an energy and environmental management scientist and he’s Native American and he’s come and decided to stay and live and make a home here in New Zealand. He’s running for regional council. Otago Regional Council, which does our environmental management around the region. Welcome to the show, Pat.

 

Pat: Thank you very much for having me.

 

Sust Lens: You mention that you’re Native American. What part of America are you from?

 

Pat: Well, all over. Born in Japan but the family is from … I grew up in the southeast. My father is from the southeast. Tennessee is where he’s from. I grew up in Florida. My mom’s from Colorado. There’s actually a mixture of native on both sides. Cherokee on my dad’s side and then another western tribe that we don’t know because my grandfather’s orphaned on the other side. I grew up with the knowledge and respect of that and that has always seen me be very close to the environment. Part of my heritage, part of my soul if you will.

 

Sust Lens: You said were born in Japan. I’m guessing you were military family?

 

Pat: Yeah, yeah, which is why I’m very anti-militant right now. Fundamentally why I left the United States was I got tired of seeing all my taxes go to wars around the world when I would rather see them go to health and education for the public.

 

Sust Lens: Right, so what was it like growing up in the southeast of the US? What was that childhood like? How is it different from a normal non-native American? If that’s the term. I don’t know. We have [inaudible 00:02:08] here.

 

Pat: Well, I mean, the United States regionally is very different, and the south … I don’t have the southern accent anymore but I was a southern boy. I actually grew up in a very conservative family that most of them still don’t believe in climate change in a region where science denial, denial of facts of any sort is prevalent and racism is prevalent and I grew away from that. I look back at it, I grew up in that and I understand it and I moved to the north, central north Minnesota, Minneapolis, which is a very progressive place, a very rational place. I grew very far away from that southern upbringing, and then I travelled the world and started looking at human issues around the world in a completely different light. I was very … I had very much tunnel vision growing up in the south and it was a product of my environment, the people around me and such as that and yes, going out and traveling and studying, et cetera, broadened me. Thank God for that.

 

Sust Lens: You were almost escaping that.

 

Pat: Oh, absolutely.

 

Sust Lens: That world. You’re obviously very proud of your Native American culture and heritage. What lessons has that given you, like perspectives on life has that given you? How was that transmitted to you?

 

Pat: Well, unfortunately in the United States, in the southeastern United States, my family’s very long lived so my grandfather was born in 1880. Unfortunately … and his father was born in the 1840s or something or 30s. There was a lot of racial violence, there was the Civil War. Records were kept in churches. A lot of churches in the south were burned, so your family heritage was gone. We can look at grandma, at great grandma and such, we can take a look at that and say oh, well they’re definitely Native American. We know the local verbal history, the oral histories, but in terms of legal standpoint to make claim to a certain heritage, I didn’t have that so I couldn’t actually be a physical part of the tribe and gain the knowledge, but due to our knowledge of my background I sought to learn more about that.

 

Sust Lens: You started traveling the world. What kind of countries … Where did you go and how … What kind of things did you learn on that journey?

 

Pat: Well, I’ve traveled in over 70 countries and I mostly prefer to travel in developing poor countries. The reason for that, I never wanted to do anything easy and I always found greater knowledge. It’s interesting, I was actually reading today an article on democracy now about the Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef. He was talking about where he gained his views from and how he found himself in Peru, in a very, very poor village, being a well-healed Chilean of German heritage with money and education standing across the street from a guy in bare feet, standing in the mud with 5 kids, living in a hovel, his wife, no employment. He asked himself basically what good is our economics? I took off on a journey being from a poor family in America, but still being privileged compared to the rest of the world, having been born in Japan feeling that I really wanted to know the world because I was always looking outside of America.

 

I went traveling, sleeping on top of moving trains and hitchhiking through wars in Ethiopia, no kidding. I found that the poorest of people tend to have the most heart and the most creativity. I was actually reading Manfred Max Neef’s writings and he had the exact same journey and discovered the exact same things. That felt really good to me to see that somebody else, very prominent actually, took that same journey and discovered that same thing. I didn’t feel so isolated in that view. I travelled to open my mind. A very good Muslim Ethiopian friend of mine said years ago, “Pat, tell me not of your knowledge from books, but tell me of your travels, for that is where true knowledge comes from.” I literally set off on that voyage to discover the world and discover the truths of the world and how similar we all are. What we all want is the same, we just have different cultures and different ways of expressing ourselves and that I saw amazing poverty, but amazing heart and I derived a personal philosophy that I’m trying to live up to and also trying to make things better, but environment is a huge part of that.

 

Sust Lens: Obviously you eventually arrived in New Zealand at some point. When was that and what brought you here?

 

Pat: That was I think about 2001, something like that. Originally, what brought me here was a job in telecommunications. I had been living and working and the studying in Australia. I think I had previously been in Ethiopia, Brazil before that, wound up in Australia, got a job offer in New Zealand, had always thought New Zealand was beautiful. Came over here. Met a girl. Got my residency. Girl didn’t stay, but I stayed and yeah, stayed on and then after years of working in telecommunications here and working back and forth between Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, I decided that I guess … decided the writing was on the wall for the telecommunications industry and I wanted to get out, do something different, do something I believed in. I decided to go into energy and environment.

 

Sust Lens: How did you do that? You decided, okay, I can do anything in the environment. What was that journey about? What did you do to get there?

 

Pat: Well, initially I set off to Europe looking at studying in Norway or France and several other countries, but unfortunately to do undergrad, I would have had to speak the native language. I could have done that in Portugal or Spain, but the better schools were places like Norway and Germany. I didn’t have a grasp on those languages yet, but about that time I discovered that I actually could study at Otago under Bob Lloyd. I B lined it back here and started studying.

 

Sust Lens: That must have been quite exciting. We had Bob Lloyd n the show. He was on quite a few years ago actually. Scary to think that was a few years.

 

Pat: Was that at the time of the … some lectures to cheer up Bob.

 

Sust Lens: Right, right. Generation zero I think we were given those, yeah.

 

Pat: I always say I’m one of Bob’s minions.

 

Sust Lens: For those who don’t know, Professor Bob Lloyd is an energy physicist and an expert on climate change and energy consumption and has rather pessimistic views about the direction we’re going in. Obviously echoed by the 375 scientists from the [crosstalk 00:10:11]. Yes, exactly. He’s a realist, not a cheerleader. Anyways, you studied with Bob and you decided to get some work out there. You were involved in a few projects?

 

Pat: Yeah. You’re probably familiar with Bill Curry [inaudible 00:10:29].

 

Sust Lens: We haven’t had Bill on, no.

 

Pat: Oh, you should.

 

Sust Lens: We’ve been meaning to.

 

Pat: Absolutely should.

 

Sust Lens: Bill Murray …

 

Pat: Bill Curry, not Bill Murray. I met Bill actually [crosstalk 00:10:42] through the energy symposium, the c safe … c safe has a hand in putting it on, but the energy symposium, they do it every year in November and I met Bill through that and kept in touch with him while I was studying and then Bill was getting ready to go into his pre-production prototyping et cetera.

 

Sust Lens: Of what?

 

Pat: His wind turbine.

 

Sust Lens: Wind turbine, yeah.

 

Sam: One arm.

 

Pat: One bladed turbine with two counterbalances. I joined him on that. I had a lot of background skills in composite construction et cetera and the scientific background et cetera. As well as telecommunications. Electrical telecommunications. I went and helped him out on the prototyping and testing and refining of the design.

 

Sust Lens: What’s the advantage of having a singular arm …

 

Pat: A single blade.

 

Sust Lens: Single blade, sorry. Singe blade. Most of the ones I see have 3 blades.

 

Pat: Several things. Less noise. You have one blade going around. Your tip speed, I can’t remember the mathematical formula for it, but basically your rotational speed can be faster with the single blade due to your tip speed ratio because it’s one blade. One blade is also cheaper and you can basically make a more powerful single blade and achieve the same kind of energy output but have less price and less noise. Fundamentally, it acts like a 3 blade turbine in the fact that it has 2 counterbalances that are weighted the same as the blades, so it turns exactly like a 3 blade would. However, it also has the advantage that it can tilt out in high wind conditions and go into like a wind sock mode.

 

Sust Lens: Wow.

 

Pat: That can save it … go extremely high gusts, it breaks and flips back and goes into wind sock mode, safe yourself mode, yeah.

 

Sust Lens: Is it a game changer?

 

Pat: I think it could be. What Bill has developed is a brilliant idea. What he’s developed is very good for those cloudier, windier places. It won’t compete with solar where you have good sun. I don’t think anything is going to compete with solar. In situations where you have good wind resource but not very good sun, it is great. It is fantastic. And it’s not that expensive, especially once it gets into production, something should come down more. Game changer, no. In terms of renewable energy, no one resource can take care of everything. We need to diversify. We need to localize and diversify and it’s just another part of the mixture.

 

Sust Lens: Does the game need changing? What’s wrong with our current system? We turn the switch and the light turns on. It seems to be working.

 

Pat: Yeah. Well, here in New Zealand, you might make that argument, but worldwide, certainly not. Actually, they’re talking about bringing another fossil fueled power plant online in [inaudible 00:14:09] today, so is it? In New Zealand, about 65, 70% of our electricity is from renewable sources. They’re talking about making it less now. We do need to get off the carbon. There’s no doubt about it. We have all sorts of environmental issues playing out. The latest science says that in 100 years, due to less phytoplankton in the ocean is due to the higher temperature in the oceans, the oxygen levels at sea level will be equivalent to that at the top of Mount Everest.

 

There’s many impacts to climate change that people don’t even talk about. Sea level rise, everyone’s heard about, but there’s a lot of impacts that we don’t talk about. Is it a game? Sorry, so in terms of the way we’re doing our energy, we have to get off carbon. There is no doubt about that. All scientists agree on that. Localized production. Things like solar and wind I think are a very good idea in terms of sustainability. We need to localize our food production. We need to localize everything so but we still need the grid, we still need the hydro that we have. It’s the batteries, it’s the backup for our businesses. It’s a healthy combination. We need to find a healthy combination and get rid of the petrol and oil and such as that.

 

Sust Lens: We’ve got quite an almost luxurious position of the big thinking of the hydro engineers of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Has it made us too complacent?

 

Pat: Oh, I think so. You were talking about the switch thing, too. This transcends just energy. Unfortunately, our whole society, our whole modern society, we are … We’re used to flipping a switch or going to a supermarket and grabbing something pre-packaged, pre-cut meat that we didn’t grow, whatever. We do not respect that. We do not respect the energy that went into that, the effort that went into that, the true value of it, so we waste. Our whole society suffers that.

 

Sust Lens: What do we do? We kind of know really, but we happily ignore it.

 

Pat: I don’t know. You and I know, but I don’t know that a lot of people put too much thought into it. It’s a convenience, we’re busy. That’s a big thing. We talk about environmental problems. We talk about political problems. The fact of the matter is when people are busy struggling to survive, they don’t typically have the luxury of being able to think too much about things. They’re stressed out, they want to just get home, watch something, turn off their brain, watch something, get ready for another day. Only when people are really, really pushed to the wall or when they have excess income and feel very comfortable do they take the time to think. One, because they have the luxury, and the other because the must. Whereas if you’re struggling, you go and get the fast food or you go to the store and grab that, you flip the switch, you pick up the kids, you cook this or that, you watch [inaudible 00:17:27] on TV, whatever, and then you go to bed. The next morning you repeat it.

 

We’re too far removed from the processes, we don’t have the respect for the processes and thus we do not realize what we’re wasting. From my Native American side or traditional knowledge, people would go out hunting directly, they would kill an animal, the would thank the gods for the meat, they watched the land, as our farmers will watch the land, but we who go to the supermarket don’t watch the land. They watch the land and understand what the land is telling them and respond to it in kind and realize that that land sustained them. They needed to respect that, whereas now we have further intensification to fuel an economy, but the majority of us don’t have any real respect for the process as whole.

 

Sust Lens: There’s been ongoing debate for at least 40 years about whether or not farmers in the high country respect their land. They argue of course they do, and Allan Mark will argue that there’s some question on that and that the management of the tussock and so on. Do you think farmers respect the land?

 

Pat: I think that we can’t tar anybody with a broad brush like that. I think that just like anybody, there are good people and there are jerks. I know farmers personally that respect the land. Look, we have … I know a farmer down in Clinton that has 10 kilowatts of solar, he has wind turbine, he has 6 electric motorcycles. He’s doing everything he can. He’s managing the land well. We had several farmers up in [inaudible 00:19:23] that we just fine for basically paying slave wages to foreign workers. There’s the whole gamut there, and I think that farmers generally just like anybody else would want to do the right thing. However, unfortunately, I was talking to a farmer recently who said he’s talked to the different political parties and all of them get into finger pointing rather than trying to resolve things. Farmers, they work hard and I don’t think any farmer wants to have anybody waving a finger at them and being told you must do this, you must do that, especially when they’re up to their necks in debt. They’re trying to survive, and there are risks of potentially losing their farms and worst yet, having those farms bought by our biggest customer.

 

I don’t think that we can tar all farmers the same. I think that we need to engage with the farming community. The scientists, the farmers, the economists and everybody and have a reasonable, rational discussion, and I do believe that to fix problems with water, we’re probably going to have it find some sort of economic incentive or subsidy or something because at times, it’s going to cost them a lot to do some of these things. We can’t expect that if we just wave a finger right now, a farmer is going to be able to all of the sudden come up with the money to make the kinds of changes that are needed without our help, and we certainly don’t want to see them losing those farms and having those farms bought up by our largest customer.

 

Sust Lens: That reminds me, I was actually making a suggestion a few years ago on the new water quality control, ORC, the council’s bringing in for farms. What I was struck by was that the farmers were more than willing to comply with the new rules. They just didn’t know how to. A lot of the farmers were older gentlemen who had been farming for a very long time. [inaudible 00:21:37] asked to do water sampling and stuff and I knew from my own scientific background many years ago that the sampling they were being asked to do was actually quite complicated and technical. It would be very easy to do … not do well. They knew they didn’t know how to do this. They were kind of frustrated. It was like the regional council was saying, “You guys have to do it.” I was like, we’re missing something here. We’re missing … the farmers want to do it, the governing body is requiring them to do it, but what’s missing there is especially in the middle where we’re actually helping the farmers do the right thing. I think that keeps getting missed. My impression at just that one meeting was were missing a trick here. What’s your comment on that?

 

Pat: Well, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that there’d be a disconnect. Quite often, politicians have knee jerk reactions to issues or they have reactions to issues but don’t necessarily do what it takes to follow them through all the way, and potentially it’s budget issue and they didn’t think of the budget of that and they just assumed, oh, they can do this. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Certainly, if we’re going to do things right, learning something from [inaudible 00:22:59] and all of these other issues, we certainly need to take a hit from Einstein. Einstein said only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results. We need to approach this from a different direction, don’t we?

 

Sust Lens: Henrik Moller at CSAFE made the argument that we need to stop thinking about us being primary in the cities, nature being something that’s out in the national parks, and kind of ignoring the bit in between. Firstly, we are nature, but secondly, most of our land, most of our biodiversity is in the bit between the city and the national parks. We need to be thinking about that differently. I’m interested in … you’ve talked about trying to resolve things. Do you have a model of how to resolve competing interests?

 

Pat: I think that it needs to start with listening. I’ve been making this case for many years in political circles that I’m engaged with that once again, you’re not going to solve anything by rushing in, pointing fingers, casting blame, you’re just going get people’s backs up. People need to actually come together, sit at the table, come up with reasonable ways to deal with things, reasonable time frames, and support. Listen, collaborate, consult, that kind of approach. I also … look, this … When I first came from the United States years ago and entered New Zealand, there was that god awful debate of people on the dole and there was dole bashing. Dole [inaudible 00:24:54] bashing. Coming from the states, I was no stranger to it, and I was actually quite a bit right wing then than I am now. I looked around at all the possums and all these things and I said well … naively maybe, I said, “Well, why not have a hunt for the dole program?”

 

In all seriousness, we have lots of environmental things that we need to deal with, so why couldn’t we take … and the fact of the matter is, most people don’t want to be unemployed. Why can’t we put together public works programs whereby we are paying people who maybe don’t have another job or maybe are just interested in this to go out and help farmers to do the plantings they have to do? Maybe learning the science, the tests that need to be done so it’s not just low skilled. Why can’t we be doing that. I was in Ethiopia during a war and famine in 2000 and I was watching people all over the country moving rocks to clear fields, to build road and walls. It was the government giving people food for public works. Now, they’re planting trees.

 

The ex … well, he’s dead, that’s why he’s the ex president, but the president of Ethiopia, he decided that they were going to take the lead in Africa and plant millions and millions of trees, and they are. They don’t have money, but they have people that can go out and do labor. So people are going out and planting millions of trees. Also, India is. Why can’t we do this? We’re a rich country in that sense and we have an employment problem and we have farmers that need help to do things that could help our water quality and future generations just as an example. Well, why can’t we do that? That’s just an idea.

 

Sust Lens: Because we’re not very good at doing this stuff and even if it’s right out in front of us, Maui’s Dolphin appears to be going extinct. The water quality in the rivers is not going in the right direction, and its pretty darn obvious why and we’re doing a really good job as a society of ignoring it.

 

Pat: That’s the political will of a party. If we change that party, we change that political will. There are parties on the left side that want to make changes and things like that. When I came to New Zealand it was Labour and Lbour was far better. I watched the erosion of DoC in the RMA. To be honest, we are fully capable and have done and have actually been praised around the world for the kind of work we’ve done in that way. Unfortunately, there’s a different mindset in the beehive now, and we won’t get anything but tinkering around the edges for soundbites unless we actually do change our leadership.

 

Sust Lens: Even if we’re stuck with the same one, just humour me for a moment, what could we do? Is there something we could do if the system changed from within?

 

Pat: Well, in terms of fisheries, there’s probably very little we can do except keep pressure on the government, talking to those around us who feel frustrated by it and letting them know, educating them about what the problem is. A good example, we have another issue with fisheries right now where they’re talking about taking … reducing bag limit for private fishers and fundamentally, passing the blame to the private fishers. People forget that the president of the national party is a major stockholder in Sanford fisheries, $110 million worth of stock at last I knew, and there are certain issues at play that people are profiting from this and they use that with the snapper. They threw the snapper out as a red herring when we had the GCSB issue. They knew people would get incensed about the red snapper. Well, they took bag limit off of the private fishers and that went to the big fishers and Sanford is the leading fisher form red snapper so who benefited from that?

 

Sust Lens: If you were to end up in a minority position on a council, what would you do? Just thumping the table and saying we need to change this representation or the balance system. Let’s say that’s not going to happen. How do you work the magic from a position not of power?

 

Pat: Realistically, I think the writing is on the wall for councils with the local government act amendment changes they’re proposing right now. They are setting it up so they can fundamentally [inaudible 00:29:57] the whole place is they don’t like the way things are going. I think ultimately activism, individual action with other people is the way forward because we’re losing democracy all over the place. We’re losing our ability to influence things. We’re losing our ability to change the country. We’re losing it all to the big corporate interests and so unfortunately, if I were in a council, my ability to effect anything would be probably nominal because it is the central government that is …

 

Sust Lens: Yeah, but within the structures that you have, if someone … you’re writing a burning consent. The land plan burning consent… and you know that is fundamentally a bad idea.

 

Pat: Yeah.

 

Sust Lens: There’s only 2 or 3 people who are backing you.

 

Pat: Yeah.

 

Sust Lens: What do you do about that? That’s not a we need to change the government, that’s …

 

Pat: Oh yeah, true, more locally. I mean, look. That’s where negotiation and education comes in and sometimes you win this battle, sometimes you won’t. I guess it depends on your argument and the particular issues at play, but yeah, go to bad, advocate for what you know to be right, show the science, back it up, talk to the scientists and say look, here’s what we risk losing here and here’s why.

 

Sust Lens: You talked about principles of sound environmental management.

 

Pat: Yeah.

 

Sust Lens: If some new environmental issue appears, do you have principles that you can use to say, “We haven’t thought about whatever it might be, but we have some building blocks that we can use to build a decision.”

 

Pat: Yeah, kind of like the [inaudible 00:31:41] issue that’s happening right now.

 

Sust Lens: Yeah, where do you start from? Are there some first principles you can fall back to?

 

Pat: In that case, we’ll take that one specifically, I think that it’s something that … any kind of thing that risks going wild in our environment or degrading our environment, once we know about it, we really must proceed in investigating that to see if number one, it is a real threat, and number two, how that threat should be contained or controlled. Yeah, that’s very specific to that, but I think in terms of the holistic approach, we have to basically go back to Neef and we have to think about the fact that growth and economic development cannot be maintained if we are damaging the environment. The environment is what we depend upon. Our economy is fully dependent upon the environment, so we have to … with everything we do, show respect to the environment and live within the rules it provides us.

 

Sust Lens: Do you have a model for the relationship between the environment and the economy and society? What are the words you use to describe that relationship?

 

Pat: If that I’d be the first economist who actually deserved a Nobel Prize.

 

Sust Lens: Do you use the word balance? Is it two sides of a coin? What’s the relationship?

 

Pat: You talk about optimal levels of pollution and really let’s … I was actually thinking about this last night. If you’re in a car and I take a hose from the tail pipe and put it in the window of the car and the car’s window is down, what is the optimal level of pollution as we roll that window up on you? At what point do you go, whoa, that’s optimal. Is this no longer any good? And pay me the fee, the economic cost, to have me open the door and let you out. It’s a question kind of like that because literally we’re talking with micro bio and the soil the whole ecologic system, the canary and the coal mine things as it were and you have to study an awful lot of things to know that, and then you have to try to put a value on it. This is the big fundamental problem with … sorry, one of the fundamental problems with economics is the environment and the economic services externalities and how do you price those externalities? There’s people in Germany doing some very good work on that. I’m not an economist. I’ve studied economics so I can grasp it when I read it, but it’s a very complex question. We have to realize that our soils for instance and our water, we depend on those for the rest of eternity.

 

Sust Lens: Why should people in a city care about what a regional council does?

 

Pat: Well, people in a city should care about anything related to environment because an environment is where they get their food from and their water from and it’s a lot easier to live in the countryside if there’s a food scarcity because you can grow it in your own yard than in the city, and cities are going to be the first places to feel the impacts of climate change and of environmental degradation. People … if you watch any of those zombie movies, just think of that. People leaving the largely populated area looking for resources, looking for food and water, that’s why they should care because they need that to live.

 

Sust Lens: A place such as Dunedin relies upon the extractive industries around it. We rely on the logs going through our city. We don’t like it but we know that that’s what pays the rates. We know that we need the dairy farmers. Do we need intensification? That’s another debate. We know that we need that kind of stuff to be happening in order for us to live our city lives. We’re not in a position are we to say stop doing that.

 

Pat: No, that’s the problem isn’t it? We can’t. I think diversification, we need to diversify more, because we can’t be too dependent on one thing. Dairy is a good instance of that. China is bringing mega factories online and that impacts our bottom line, so we need to do more value added, we need to do more diversity of our product so that we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket. Why do the people in the city need to care about the environment? Well, we do need to be able to continue to do those activities into the future. China has tremendous environmental problems and the reason New Zealand has been so successful at exporting our products to China is because our stuff is technically clean compared to theirs and that’s desirable and that’s why they’re going and buying up land around the world to produce.

 

Sust Lens: We criticize China, but we happily buy cheap stuff.

 

Pat: Yeah, exactly. It’s the double edged sword. Actually, that’s one of the big problems of the whole neo liberal experiment. We’ve outsourced so many things to places like China. We’re not getting anymore in pay but those things are cheaper because somebody else is fundamentally a slave. Those things are cheaper so we feel richer.

 

Sust Lens: Okay, some questions to end with. Do you have a definition of sustainability?

 

Pat: Sustainability is the ability to continue to do an activity into the future, not damaging the environment and hindering the ability to do that activity no matter what that is.

 

Sust Lens: We’re writing a book about these talks which we’re calling Tomorrow’s Heroes and it’s describing people in terms of a super power. What is it that they’re bringing to the positive change that we’re all trying for? How would you like your super power to be described? What is it that you’re bringing to the team?

 

Pat: Hard head and thick skin. Since I’ve come to New Zealand and encountered tall poppy syndrome and people can be quite shy with their political views, my lowest key stands out. I’ve found that people are very happy when I speak up, because I take the burden off of them but they feel happy that somebody shares the same views and then they can get behind that, so yeah, hard head and a thick skin.

 

Sust Lens: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Pat: Getting through my thermodynamics class, to be honest. I had this wonderful dream about environment and energy, and thermodynamics is not easy stuff and math was the hard thing standing in my way. I remember talking to one of my professors in thermodynamics about terms and I said, “I can understand entropy.” I explained entropy to him. He goes, “Oh, you are going to do very well.” He was Chinese. “You’re going to do very well.” I said, “Yeah, but I can’t explain it in math.” He goes, “Oh, well you’re going to have a problem.” I survived.

 

Sust Lens: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Pat: What I did I want to be when I grew up?

 

Sust Lens: Yeah.

 

Pat: Cowboy or jet fighter pilot.

 

Sust Lens: You’re neither of those.

 

Pat: No, well, I do have land down in the west coast and it makes me feel a bit like a cowboy and I do para glide, so yeah. Less fossil fuels being burned there.

 

Sust Lens: Why para gliding?

 

Pat: Why para gliding? It’s freedom. It’s like being a butterfly. You can hike to the top of a mountain with it. Jump off, go somewhere else. Watch the world below you. I’ll tell you what, rock climbing para gliding, both wonderful sports. If you have bad day at the office, your boss is just not really a nice guy, abusing you, if you go out para gliding, all your life is directly dependent on your actions and your concentration. All of that goes away or it better and you can really relax and release.

 

Sust Lens: Relax because of that intensity?

 

Pat: Yeah, because you have to focus, but also it’s very beautiful. It’s good. There’s nothing like also spinning by a hillside full of scrub at 40 kilometers an hour and getting whacked with scrub. It’s really quite therapeutic.

 

Sust Lens: That would be a good incentive to get rid of the frustrations.

 

Pat: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.

 

Sust Lens: You don’t want to hit any random ones of those.

 

Pat: I’ve seen that happen.

 

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

 

Pat: Usually I need to pee. What motivates me though, with all the travels that I’ve done and all the things I’ve seen, I really want to push towards justice, be that social, economic, environmental. I really desire justice and positive change to see things get better for people.

 

Sust Lens: Justice, desire and positive change is quite a different positioning from what people tend to put the sustainable type stuff and you want us to go live in a cave and stop using my toys.

 

Pat: No, no, no. Not at all.

 

Sust Lens: How do we position it as a better future and not a lesser future?

 

Pat: This is the problem. This is the big propaganda tool that the right wing tends to employ against scientists and people that talk about sustainability. The sooner we get on board with renewable energy with making changes, the better our future is. The longer we wait, the closer we are to the wall and the more chance we have of living in caves. We can have a very good life on low carbon, low voltage. We do have to watch out about our population growth. That is a big factor. There is hope that we don’t have to go back and live in caves, we just have to actually get on board with it. There’s jobs and profit in that as well.

 

Sust Lens: In those cheer up Bob lectures that we talked about before, he posited that it’s too late. We’ve used up … We’ve squandered the power of the energy we needed to do the transition.

 

Pat: Yeah. Okay. I said at a talk with him and Nicole Foss, was there and I don’t know if you know but NASA released a report about 3 years ago where they reckoned that the world had about 15 years until economic collapses. Unfortunately, humanity, we’re pretty stubborn and we don’t really like to sacrifice. Our economy is like a freight train. If you want to talk about environmental collapse, I actually think that unless we actually change the way we do things, we’re going to have economic collapse before and that’s going to be the saviour of our economy. That makes Bob and David Sazuki and people like that quite depressed that we might actually hit that wall environmentally.

 

I choose to be an optimist. I have some land on the west coast where I can hunt and fish and grow my own stuff just in case, but I choose to be an optimist and fight for change because really, what else do you have? I think you can do positive things to mitigate that, and I also think that different countries will have different rates of moving forward, some very quickly like Germany and Denmark and Norway and other countries aren’t moving at all. Hitting the wall economically, environmentally, I don’t think it will be something that will happen just overnight. I think it will be something that we might see other countries doing. Syria, Rwanda, these are examples. North Korea are examples of hitting the wall due to several reasons and at some point, collective humanity might wake up and say, “These countries are hitting the wall more and more frequently now. Let’s change course.”

 

You’ve got to be an optimist. I studied under Bob. Bob’s reasoning isn’t wrong. Not at all. And Bob hasn’t given up but he’s frustrated as is David Sazuki and a lot of other scientists but we can’t give up.

 

Sust Lens: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Pat: Oh hell yes.

 

Sust Lens: Why?

 

Pat: Because I speaking out all the time in a society where tall poppy syndrome reigns and people are shy about speaking out and the government has basically killed all the good reporters and media to try and make everybody follow a line that they want everybody to follow, and I’m out there saying a line contrary to that. I’m saying we need to look at the science, we need to look at the economics, we need to actually look at things for what they are rather than continue on business as usual, and I’m trying to get more and more people to share that idea around so it goes viral so that the debates can be had, the discussions can be had honestly without the kind of spin we had at Havelock North where we learned it was birds that were the big problem in the country, speaking humorously. Tongue in cheek.

 

Sust Lens: We talked about before, about people have got lives to live.

 

Pat: Exactly, and that’s why the economy is like a freight train. Ultimately, if you compare my brother and myself. My brother is a full on American capitalist. Denies climate change, carries a gun. We couldn’t be more different. I grew up the same as him. We grew up very much the same. People thought we were twins. I grew away from that sort of thinking thinking through education and he lives in a silo. We have to educate people. We have to. That is where activism comes in. That is why anytime I’ve been out in the octagon speaking, I tell people it’s all well and fine, us talking to us in this circle here. We’re preaching to the converted. We need to actually approach the people in the world going on behind us here on the road and engage them and discuss with them what is actually going on to educate people. Nobody wants to see us hit a wall. Nobody wants to see bad things happen, and we have to discuss … We can’t come to the table with just problems. We have to come to the table with reasonable solutions. Anytime you come to the table with problems, people get their backs up people close their ears, close their minds.

 

Sust Lens: Quickly through the last couple of a questions in less than a minute. Biggest challenge you got in the next couple of years?

 

Pat: To get my land on the west coast sorted out. Get a house built and such as that. Huge economic challenge, especially as remote as it is.

 

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

 

Pat: Enlightenment. People actually looking at the economic, environmental and social issues and honestly addressing the as a whole as a society.

 

Sust Lens: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Pat: Don’t watch or don’t pay much attention to the news. Find some other areas to get your news from and when you watch those things, just kind of do it for a laugh.

 

 

 

 

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Author: Samuel Mann

An Associate Professor with a background in both IT and land management, Sam has developed applied IT for regional government, crown research institutes and large organisations. He has taught computing since 1994, at Otago Polytechnic Information Technology since 1997, including five years as Head of Department. Sam has published over 150 conference and journal papers in the fields of augmented experiences; sustainability; and computer education. Sam is responsible for the development of Education for Sustainability at Otago Polytechnic where we are committed to every graduate thinking and acting as a sustainable practitioner

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