India science systems

systems across scales

Sylvia Nagl

Dr Sylvia Nagl is a transdisciplinary scientist specialising in systems thinking. Her research focuses on complexity of the human body and its interrelations with natural and built environments across multiple scales. We talk about the basis of systems thinking as it is applied to scales ranging from the cellular to the landscape and community and even global in climate change models. Prompted by questions of the relationship between the computer model and the real world, Sylvia is working in India with the Daughters of Yamuna where she hopes to mainstream womens’ knowledge through the creation of new knowledge economies.

In this wide ranging interview we talk about; the relationship between art and science; the coherence of community; democratic knowledge ecologies; resilience and culture; computational thinking and slime moulds.

botany conservation biology ecology

Prof Sir Alan Mark


Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark is New Zealand’s first Knight honoured for services to conservation. We explore the relationship between science and championing change. So long as you have the science behind you, Sir Alan has no problem with taking an activist role – indeed, he says, it is an obligation of the privileged position of the academic. We talk about Sir Alan’s love for New Zealand’s alpine ecosystems – a passion and deep knowledge that he shares in his new book Above the treeline: A nature guide to alpine New Zealand.

Sir Alan is currently involved in the Wise Response ( campaign, a call for a national risk assessment of the “unprecedented threats to our collective security” facing the country as a result of climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and economic and ecological uncertainty.

Shane’s number of the week: 1.2 is the percentage of material used in the production of goods left usable after six weeks. In other words, we’re wasting 98.2% of what we consume.

geography history landscape

Prof Peter Holland


Professor Peter Holland‘s new book “Home in the Howling Wilderness: Settlers and the Environment in Southern New Zealand” explores the complexities and nuances of the relationships between early settlers and their environment. Peter tells us of his journey through his career in biogeography in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Africa and back to New Zealand.

Shane’s number of the week: 12.9° The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center reports that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the contiguous U.S. (lower 48 states). The average temperature in 2012 was 12.9 Celsius, 3.2 degrees higher than the average for the 20th century. As well as being the warmest, it was also the second most extreme with multiple “significant weather events”. (There are lots more numbers from this report here).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: There’s a debate raging amongst our student community about the merits of a new computer suite. But rather than fan-boy arguments about preferred interaction style, the debate centres on multinational business practices and the ethics of IT education. (see more>>>).

Africa geography

Marginal sustainability

Professor Tony Binns is the Ron Lister Chair of Geography at the University of Otago. Tony has written extensively on the geographies of marginalisation. His recent books include Sustainable Development (2007) and the Geographies of Development (2008).

We explore the role of geography in sustainability education, then traverse Tony’s journey from secondary school teaching in the UK to an academic career focussed in African development – he summarises as “Marginal lands, marginal people, marginal geographies”. In a fascinating interview we talk poverty, inequality, Sierra Leone diamond mines, resource conflict and food systems. Despite all this, Tony stresses the positive – there is much we can learn from Africa.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: With the recent release of a great visualisation of technology trends from Envisioningtech, Sam wonders what we could put on an additional column – global societal change mediated by technology. When, for example might truly globalised education appear on the timeline?

Train-spotting: we talk train-spotting!

agriculture economics

Pursuit of happiness or pursuit of wealth?

Dr. John Ikerd is emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His most recent book is “The Essentials of Economic Sustainability“.

Sustainable capitalism is possible, just not the capitalistic economy we currently have.

Ikerd argues that in classical economics – Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo – there was a belief in the invisible hand of the free market but that this operated entirely within the context of a just society. People would pursue their economic interests within the context of societies and cultures that would place social and ethical constraints on their pursuit of individual self interests. In the later development of neo-classical economics the drive to make a pure science, the moral and social aspects were excluded. The resulting focus on rational preferences is based on the assumption that maximising individual self interest is also good for society as a whole.

Ikerd contrasts ethical and social values with economic values. First, economic value describes individual benefit. Second, economic value is instrumental – it carries the expectation of getting something of equal or greater value in return. Third, economic value has to be impersonal – so it can be traded. The outcome of this that it makes no economic sense to invest in anything for benefit of future generations or the good of humanity of as a whole.

Ikerd says stemming from this mistaken reliance solely on economic value we have wrongly equated happiness with wealth. This means we have gotten on to a futile treadmill of more and more cheap stuff. We have lost sight of the pursuit of happiness in the pursuit of wealth.

Society is held hostage by this relentless pursuit of ever more income, ever more wealth, ever more cheap stuff because we’ve led to believe it will make us happy.

The outcome of this is a very fragile economy exhausting finite resources teetering at the edge of a collapse. We have a very short time to anticipate the necessity for change and make changes voluntarily before they are forced upon us.

That we need to return to basic principles of human relationships is really a matter of common sense – something we all know if we just stop and think.

Shane’s number of the week: 200 million Euros. That is how much climate change cost Unilever, which depends on agricultural commodities, in 2011.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: The Dunedin City Council has released its draft Social Well-Being Strategy. It is an excellent document and a good example of consultation. Sam would like to see moer attention paid to sense of place, mention of intergenerational equity, a less insular focus, and consideration of a total human ecosystem approach (rather than environment being somewhere “out there” to go an visit). The strategy is open for comment until the 21st September.


Dr Bill Tomlinson

Professor Bill Tomlinson is Director of the Social Code Group at the University of California Irvine. Author of
Greening through IT, Bill is the lead author on Collapse Informatics which recently won the CCC Sustainability Award.


Dr Mick Abbott

Instead of limiting the numbers of people who have access to the wilderness could we have a goal to maximise the impact – the more people the better it is?

Editor of a new book Wild Heart: The possibility of wilderness in New Zealand, Dr Mick Abbott has strong views about the wilderness. For starters, let’s lose the idea that there is such a place. Rather than defined by geography, for Mick, wilderness is any place where we can have respectful relationships with indigenous ecosystems. Thus the wilderness is a way of understanding – of generativity and richness – rather than a specific place.

From bungy jumping to brushing teeth in Antarctica, this is our widest ranging interview yet.

Shane’s number of the week: 32. That’s 32 Celsius which was the temperature in Chicago in mid March.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Are the Millennium Goals aspirational targets, achievable, or low hanging fruit?

Trainspotting: Extra points for answers to these ten burning questions:

  1. How does the experience of a bungy jump take months?
  2. Why should we stop treating our land as if we were all motelliers?
  3. Is design an indulgence?
  4. What can we learn from Antarctica?
  5. How did he come to the realisation that the more stuff I carry with me, the less I ask of the place
  6. Why does he support a tunnel, but not a monorail?
  7. Where is water explicitly energy?
  8. How is 100% Pure an opportunity for us?
  9. Why do we take photos of places and ignore the real story behind the camera?
  10. How many months are there until the end of the Century?
climate change government

Prof Jonathan Boston

Prof Jonathan Boston

Know your Kyoto from your Durban? How about your COP from your UNFCCC? How do burping cows come into multi-lateral agreements? In this interview Prof Jonathan Boston untangles the mysteries of global climate change negotiations. He presents an ideal model and a way forward.

Earlier in the week, Prof Boston gave a public lecture, here are some of the slides.

Trainspotting: A long interview so Shane’s number of the week, and Sam’s joined up thinking will have to wait a week.

conservation biology

Dr Liz Slooten

In a show where Anton describes dolphins as “unicorns, only wetter”, our guest is Dr Liz Slooten.

Listen in to find answers to these burning questions and more:

  • Why is the concept of “sustainable bycatch” for marine mammals a bit of a nonsense? (hint: we wouldn’t accept a bycatch of kiwi, yet NZ’s sea mammals are endangered and declining).
  • Is a “blue economy” possible? Can the ocean withstand any further industrialisation? (hint: no).
  • What is good, and bad about fisheries Quota Management System? (hint: it doesn’t specify method controls).
  • Why do Hector’s Dolphin click but not whistle? (might have been other way around).
  • What is New Zealand’s most polluted species? (hint: its initials are HD).
  • Why can’t the dolphins learn to get out of gill nets? (hint: it is fatal).
  • What is “fission fusion”? (hint: a dolphin party).
  • How much would it cost to protect NZ’s remaining dolphins? (hint: a really small number).

On a more sombre note, Liz describes the recent death of a Maui’s dolphin off Cape Egmont. How it happened and what wasn’t done to protect it.

Associate Professor Liz Slooten is New Zealand’s leading authority on the use of population modelling to estimate sustainable levels of marine mammal bycatch in fishing operations. Her teaching and research interests include a wide range of scientific approaches to ensuring that intentional and unintentional impacts on animal populations are sustainable. These include visual and acoustic census techniques, study of survival and movements of identifiable individuals, study of pollutant levels in marine mammals and other animals, effects of tourism on marine mammal behaviour, reproductive biology, population modelling, risk assessment and decision analysis. Dr Slooten represents New Zealand at the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

Shane’s number of the week: 21. Shane argues that the denial of assistive technology to green MP Mojo Mathers is a breach of Article 21 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. (Mojo Mather’s Maiden Speech).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: The Resilient People: Resilient Planet reaffirms the goals of the Brundtland report. It asks what we have to do to make a difference.

design education

Prof Samuel Mann

Our own Dr Samuel Mann from Otago Polytechnic sat in the guest chair this week. We talked about his new book “Sustainable Lens: a visual guide“. We trace the development of sustainability through its representation in diagrams. The book presents a model for seeing the world through a sustainability-driven perspective.

Shane’s number of the week: 20 000,000,000,000. 20 trillion is the amount of money that would have to be written off the value of the oil companies worldwide if we moved to a sustainable future – which is why companies and governments are so unwilling to move in that direction…

agriculture behaviour change landscape

Dr Janet Stephenson


Janet Stephenson is from Otago University CSAFE.  Janet explores the passions of landscape, the importance and difficulty of behaviour change, the role of the power of influence, and how prosumers are leading the way with visions for energy futures.  With Jacinta Ruru and Mick Abbot, Janet has recently co-edited “Making our Place: Exploring land-use tensions in Aotearoa New Zealand”.


Shane’s number of the week:   68.    68% of the biggest 500 companies in the world are taking action on climate change as part of their business strategy.  This information comes from the 10th Annual Carbon Disclosure Project, and compares with the figure of 48% last year.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Planning is well underway for the Sustainable Lens Election Focus.

conservation biology

Dr Phil Bishop

Dr Phil Bishop was recently appointed Chief Scientist for the world’s frogs. In this interview he tells us how frogs outlasted the dinosaurs but are in real trouble now. He tells us how a mild mannered Dunedin herpetologist was transformed into one of the world’s leading conservation biologists. We talk about valuing species, habitat destruction, chytrid fungus, and how NZ’s Archie’s frog is considered the most important frog of all. As an added bonus we hear about belly-flopping frogs and the problem with Kermit.

Shane’s number of the week: 50. Fifty out of 204 conflicts in the last decade were triggered in part by El Nino. The risk of such conflict is less in developed nations, which is put down to having systems that can better absorb shocks. Shane asks what this foretells for a climate changed world with an increase in extreme weather.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: This week Sam is taking the Live Below the Line Challenge. He is spending only $2.25 per day on food to raise awareness of extreme poverty. He is hungry.

computing education

Dr Michael Goldweber

Computational thinking needn’t be restricted to commerce or abstract maths, Dr Michael Goldweber dreams of a time when people wanting to make a positive impact choose computing as a career.

Dr Goldweber says that students are looking to make a positive social impact. We can do this without sacrificing rigour within the discipline by using social good as the motivating examples in courses. Dr Goldweber teaches at Xavier University in Ohio. He was in New Zealand as keynote speaker at CITRENZ, and in Dunedin to speak at Otago Polytechnic.

Shane’s number of the week: 5. OK, its a fraction: 5 out of 8 tuna species at risk of extinction.

Sam’s joined up thinking: Social translucence is the basis on which Mary Barreto connects visibility, awareness and accountability (entire interview with Mary >>)

climate change politics

Dr James Hansen


We interrupted our normal program to bring you James Hansen’s lecture that he gave at Otago University on the 18th May 2011.

He talks about climate change, what the future may hold for our children and grandchildren and how we may be able to solve some of these problems.