Categories
community education leadership rural sociology

Remote engagement

Karsten Henriksen has held education leadership positions in several communities in rural and remote northern Canada, most recently Nunavat Arctic College and at Lambton College. There he has specialised in aligning programmes with the needs of communities. We talk about growing up in Vancouver, sociology, remote communities, storytelling, and indigenising curriculum and self-determination.

Was I really a person who deserved to be there?

Aligning programmes with the needs of communities

Complexity of challenges

Authentic relationships with rural and remote communities

Being authentic means focusing entirely on relationship – everything else will come from that.

Sustainable: We are stewards of the world in which we live. Our actions today will impact future generations – and we will be judged by that.

Activist: Facilitate improvements

Superpower: Lessons learned from others. Never ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. Being authentic.

Motivation: The challenge of the day – making life better for that one student. Creating an environment where people feel they belong.

Advice: Be kind to one another – think about global society and coming together collectively.

Categories
sociology

Social movements to change the world

Andrew Szasz

It will take major generational shifts rather than individual consumer choice.


Prof Andrew Szasz is a thought leader in environmental sociology. Professor and Chair in Sociology at UC Santa Cruz, he has written Shopping Our Way to Safety and EcoPopulism: Toxic Waste and the Movement for Environmental Justice.

We begin this conversation with his coming to America after starting his life in Hungary. Whether the streets were paved with gold, it wasn’t long before he was engaged in student social activism…

Talking points

I went to very first earth day…my vision of what to fight for in terms of improving American society, changed from anti-war and social poverty, justice issues to encompass a more environmental focus as well.

I didn’t grow up with nature – my parents were much more comfortable in a coffee house than the great outdoors…I didn’t connect the environment with the troubles in society until that (first Earth) day

Later, I travelled to the spectacular National Parks and really fell in love with the outdoors, that really cemented my interest – I became a sociologist and discovered a group of people, environmental sociologists.

I read an article that became the foundation document of environmental sociology, that said sociologists had neglected nature and were reproducing an exceptionalism that exists in the general culture that separates us from nature.

There was a general discussion (amongst my classmates) about what is the relationship between all this political activity, anti-war and so on, and how we are being prepared to work on individual psychological issues? A time of much broader questioning…so it wasn’t a great leap to what is this other dimension that we haven’t really considered yet?

I was drawn to sociology as one of the few places in academia where one could have a radical critique of society

I don’t think I ever wanted to become just an ecologist, a biological scientist, it was always about social change.

It was revelation to me, the race issues that were going on.

Moment where federal government was vastly expanding the regulatory state…the Clear Air Act, the Clean Water Act…the Environmental Protection Agency…a rapid expansion of regulatory apparatus putting controls on the private economy for the sake of worker’s health and for the general environment, for the sake of the population not being exposed to dirty air, dirty water. (But is was a) two directional movement, formation of regulation, and the mounting of counter attack, a backlash.

I’ve been interested in the role of non-social movement institutions, or entities who are not into climate denial but are quite powerful – who could then be the foundation of a climate change coalition – the insurance industry, the churches, and the military.

There’s a part of the national political elite that is in deep denial, and militantly so, and these are the same people who really like the whole military apparatus and are hawks in terms of foreign policy. But they don’t listen when the army, and the navy and the CIA come to them and say “hey, this is trouble and we’ve got to do something about it now”.

Climate change is a threat multiplier. Places in the world that are already having trouble feeding themselves, getting enough potable water – that’s going to get worse. There are going to be failed states, civil wars, potentially hundreds of millions of climate refugees. That’s a national security issue.

(you can’t build a wall against climate change) You can’t build a wall against anything.

(Green consumption isn’t going to get us there) Does green consuming have a politicising effect? Are your lightbulbs and your Prius materially decreasing the collective trouble. And then there’s the ideological or political effect, if you start thinking about your life in that way, is it radicalising? Do you broadly become an environmental activist? My argument is that it does the opposite (you’ve ticked that box), right, and there’s so many other things you have to worry about – your health, your family, ageing parents…and if you think you’ve protected your family by creating this green bubble, why do anything more? Other people have argued that it’s a first step, you go and make those changes and it sensitises you, next you’re going to the local farmers market and so on..

Consuming green has to do with consumer choice, you go to the market and there are pesticide apples and non-pesticide apples, but so much of our consumption is constrained. When you buy a house, you don’t design your own house, you go onto the housing market. The social geography is already in place and in many places in America this requires you to own your own car because public transportation is really weak and cities have sprawled out…so you can buy a car with higher mileage (but the big decisions are already taken). It will take major generational shifts rather than individual consumer choice.

There’s something going on in the younger generation that Bernie has revealed. We always knew that the younger generation was socially more progressive…we hadn’t realised that they may be also economically progressive.

(will it take a revolution?) I see some positive movements…(but) I think it will take a series of major catastrophes to focus the world’s attention, I hate to say that.

America’s guns..is a growth of irrational weird culture. Bizarre developments

(Superpower) Transition to non-polluting energy. We have to respect the desire of millions of poor people around the world for a stable society and lifestyle, and if you’re not going to kill off most humanity, seven billion people, then they’ve got feel secure and they’ve got to eat and you have to do that in a way that doesn’t cook the planet

(Success): Books I’ve written, and planning to write, try to foster a reassessment of climate change

(Activist) I do, First of all, I’m a teacher.

Every environmental sociology class I teach is divided half and half between making the students upset and depressed by telling them how awful their world is about to become and then spending the second half teaching them about the history of the environmental, worker and community based movements

I want my students to feel knowledgable but not hopeless.

People have in the past been able to clean up the cities, win the ten hour day, win the eight hour day, achieve safer workplaces…social movements really have had successes.

I want to leave my students feeling hopeful that collectively they can do something.

(Motivation) Understanding how things work and a sense of empathy for the rest of creation…and a sense of fighting for justice.

(Challenges) trying to change Sociology 1. Changing the textbooks, that’s the challenge we’re working on.

(Miracle): The disappearance of climate denial

Categories
education local government

Lively communities taking sustainability seriously

Alexa Forbes

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.


Alexa Forbes is a researcher and development and sustainability advisor for Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice. She is a District Councillor for the Queenstown Lakes District Council. She is a musician, a journalist and founder of a successful communications business.

We open the conversation with her context – where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you grew up? It turns out that Alexa has a colourful background with a lot of stories so it takes longer than usual to get to what she is doing now.

Talking points

Going to Vermont as an AFS student – shaped a lot of my future thinking

I’ve never really been on much of a mission – things just happen.

Where did sustainable practice come from? I’ve explored that recently – I’m studying for a Master in Professional Practice – it comes from my childhood. An interesting childhood, I come from a doctor and an activist, artist musician mother. A lot of environmental concerns built in really early in my life. We were always in the bush, camping, tramping, learning to fish, to hunt – learning to be careful of the environment, to respect it, and to try not to damage it and to be part of it – that was always important.

Sustainability was a spearhead for me – I was working as a journalist, and watching tourism grow…exponential growth…impact on the Queenstown environment

I thought I would love Queenstown to start thinking about the impact of tourism

There were campaigns – take only photos, leave only footprints – and I thought these were feel good, but a lot was being left, damage to our ecosystems that was not being acknowledged, not being addressed.

There’s something in this…

Tourism and the environment is a major tension in Queenstown – most of my job is drawing attention to the tension

I’ve sat in rooms with tourism leaders when I’ve challenged them on environmental impact, and they’ve looked at me like I’m mad and said “we love this environment, we make a living from this environment, we would never hurt it”, which tells me something about the massive amount of ignorance. But I wouldn’t get very far by telling them that, clearly, so I have to be quite careful and unpick some of the knots in people’s thinking.

I’ve never considered myself a greenie – I just think I’m sensible, and a good mother.

Do I need them to vote for me? We if I don’t, I don’t get in and I can’t continue my work, but that doesn’t really concern me either, because if I don’t have their buy in then I can’t continue my work anyway.

I feel that I’m better off on inside than outside.

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

(Compromise?) I operate from a set of values.

I don’t know – none of us know – whether we’ve gone past the ability to retrieve or regenerate ecosystems to a level that they are still friendly to humans, we don’t know if we can managed that or not. But concentrating on recycling schemes and changing lightbulbs is pretty much just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I’m operating within a value system, I would get nowhere by holding a firm activist position, I do view myself as a bit of an activist, certainly an environmentalist,

I’m an activist in that I try to get people to recognise and to question what they are doing.

I don’t expect the helicopters to close down, but I do expect them to accept that they are externalising costs onto a future community

That’s what I want people really understand – when you are doing what you are doing, how are you thinking about mitigating the costs that you are putting onto your grandchildren? That’s a line in the sand, people should know that I won’t move from that.

I follow the Natural Step System Conditions. (see previous SustainableLens conversations)

We’re still very head-in-the-sand in New Zealand, we still believe the 100% Pure. We can still pull that wool over our own eyes.

None of us has come up with how we can do this quickly enough to make a difference.

I have to operate from my values in the most pure way that I can.

It disappoints me that our government refuses to take responsibility – I don’t know what they are thinking. Making it worse in so many ways. Allowing the dairy industry to externalise its costs. All over the country ratepayers are paying to clean up after the dairy industry – it’s not good enough.

It appals me, I can get really angry, or I can go back to my own values, and say I’m not going to allow traffic to increase in Queenstown under my watch.

(Can Councils deliver intergenerational equity?) It’s the only vehicle we’ve got.

You have to take that into account when you are voting, what are you voting for? Are you voting for peoples’ values? We have to get away from a from popularity contests

We (with Ella Lawton) stood for Council because we thought it was a place we could make some change. I think we’re making headway – enough for me not to have thrown up my hands in horror.

I don’t concern myself with whether I’ve got a job tomorrow – I’m quite capable of going back to my old job – and frankly, Council pays a lot less – so it’s not about that.

Here we are, sitting in this amazing nexus of change – exponential change in technology and exponential change in our environment, and in that nexus we face exponential social change. Every thing is changing so fast technologically, everything is changing environmentally much faster than we expected, much faster than we ever thought it would, so it is making us socially incredibly uncomfortable.

I’m one of those people that think that technology will save us if we let it, but we have to change – we have to understand our true natures.

Part of that for me was understanding our waste.

(Success?) I just got a distinguished alumni award from Otago Polytechnic. Selling my business and being willing to embark on a new Masters and a a new career.

(Motivation?) I love life. I really do love life. I love my work with Otago Polytechnic, and I love my work with the Council.

(Activist?) I’m starting to be. I didn’t think I was, but I am starting to think that I am now. I try to keep it low key. I’ve only just realised that my opinions are a bit more radical than most people. I though that most people thought like me until quite recently, so now I’ve become a bit more outspoken – I didn’t realise that it was unusual. So I’m comfortable with that box – I’m an activist on the inside really. I like to stir people up and challenge their thinking. I don’t want to hurt them, and I don’t believe that I’m always right. My own thinking needs challenging, and I don’t want to take hard and fast positions that force people into corners because it’s not helpful and I might not be right.

I go for a consensus model, but I’m not sure that’s right. Looking back on the last three years we’ve always gone for consensus…but I think it has watered some things down too much. That’s a hard one. When you vote against something, personally you’re counted as voting against that and that may have some personal benefit, but – and this is why I’ve gone for consensus, are you better to just go a little way along the way, to put the shot across the bow, planted the seed, let’s move on. So in the past…once it is lost…let’s make this the best it can be, but I’m not sure that it is always right.

(Challenges?) Moving my projects on further. Transport Strategy…would positively affect so many people’s lives. And in education, the programme we offer really on the edge we need to mainstream sustainability – or the education for it

(Miracle?) People will have woken up to the environmental challenges and to their externalisation of costs to the next generation, and that the y want to educate themselves to stop doing that.

(Advice?) Please wake up, look at what you do and ask “am I putting costs onto my children and grandchildren by doing this? How could I do thins properly? And it’s not just about recycling. Look at yourself, look at the way you live, look at why you are, how you are – that’s a most enjoyable thing to do. Give yourself time to reflect properly on where you’ve come from, why you’re here, and what you want to leave behind.

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
computing crisis

Social computing responses to disasters

Leysia Palen

In our physical social networks, neighbourhoods and neighbours matter – and our digital neighbours matter too.


Leysia Palen is Professor of Computer Science, and Professor and Founding Chair of the newly established Department of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. We talk of crisis informatics and the transformational role that social computing can play in the way society responds to mass emergencies and disasters.

Talking points

Obligation to think of computing as vision of future that is not simply entertaining but one through which we can engage with natural environment and lead more responsible lives

Everyday connected technologies

Default settings on calendars…culture of environment in which technology is created in gets baked into technology itself…colonising values to different places.

Technology is hugely value laden and they may or may not be your values

In a crisis, everyone goes into an intensified information seeking mode

The information gap is an opportunity for the crowd to help

Disaster – there’s a hazard that exceeds what the emergency personnel can respond to…even the emergency responders don’t have all the information – a disruption to social order across the board

We adapt to the events that are happening – what are the salient problems for which research will have something useful to say?

We have an ethical responsibility, an obligation to do something that matters

We have to be agile to think about what is useful research as these different events happen around the world

We wouldn’t presume to think we can be useful for something we can’t understand…so we try to partner with people on the ground

We’ve been tracking how social media crisis behaviour has changed

We try to debunk from the start – the movie panic – the media and twitter focusses on the sensational and silly, but there’s a great deal of stuff underneath the surface

Finding it can be difficult, but those who need it, they find it and do something with it – they’re persistent because they need it.

People are looking for the signal in the noise , and we need to separate the global audience versus the geovulnerable

Who people communicate with during a disaster is different than before

They’re looking for individuals who can provide information

Individuals in neighbourhoods who are able to localise the messages from emergency management

But when people are in hugely stressful situations they’re not able to manage the information, then we get people on the outside who want to help, and curate information – increasing the signal of the good information.

Multiple forms of self organising communication mechanisms

A research focus is how do we amplify the signal?

Emergency management social media protocols…those that work best are those that.. might have a list of ten but review and say these five worked, and these other things…responding to a changing environment

Local emergency management groups, they need to perceive themselves as being experimental in this as well

The practices around outgoing messaging are becoming very good, but listening strategy…they’re not listening.

They’re very good at listening well, but how do you listen well when you through social media don’t know if the people who need help most are able to express themselves

A terrible situation…but people remain analytical, if anything because of the desperate situation they’re working within they have to become concise and precise about their actions

The idea that people can’t work through things, that they’re helpless – this is dangerous – people have always been their own advocates in a disaster, so we need to be careful not to project these helpless myths onto social media then we’re not really able to see the potential

Social media is a stage upon which people are acting, it’s a place of convergence. So even though we can see the jokes, the dark humour and the sensational stuff, but underneath that is really important work being done.

So our job as researchers developing better technologies for our future is amplifying that important work

We need to pay attention to practice – how people actually do things.

Things happen in situations, and our technology has to be able to adapt to that.

Working in disaster response…lends itself to policy design, and that, like technology creation it prefers rational ideas… disasters are disorderly and we want them to be orderly…but the way we can look at how new characteristics (such as social media) is by looking at how we actually practice them in a disaster

The emergence of best practice technology solutions…we’re in a state of massive change, it would be comforting to have all the answers, but we can’t presume we can freeze it all tomorrow and that’s the answer – but we’re in a stage of invention

We need to prepare, but we must be willing to be inventive, be adaptable and be not quite right and iterate

We see stronger responses – higher resilience – from areas that are prepared with good social networks already – it is a good thing to extend that to our technological practice

In our physical social networks, neighbourhoods and neighbours matter – and our digital neighbours matter too.

Haiti…wasn’t so much social media from on the ground…but the international response…open street maps, digital humanitarianism…the attention brought to events through observant and curious audience might start out as concern and oogling but can and does transform into real help

People want to do more than digital prayers and clicking for donations – but they want to do more.

There’s new attention to idea that disasters and management of resilience is both a highly localised activity – communities need to solve these things for themselves – but there’s also this outward facing, attachments to other communities

There’s something about this pleasant tension between this highly local and this global set of relationships

People want to help themselves they do want to help others – they want to feel connected to many others and to our local communities

(what can we learn from crisis to the longer, slow burn crisis?) Hurricanes, wildfire and so on are going to become more violent, more frequent…how do we communicate risk? how do we understand risk to our planet, to our children and grandchildren.

How do we understand risk so that we can change our behaviour?

It’s about communicating risk but it is also about communicating solutions to different populations.

(Activist?) I am an activist, I’m an activist of knowledge, of reality, of sober and sombre understandings of our relationship with our technological world, and each other, and I am sympathetic to the problems that we face.

As a researcher I try not to bring any presumptions into the questions that I bring there but to bring a critical eye to bore through the rhetoric of things like disaster which are politically charged.

I pursue the truth – sounds pretty trite I know – and I try to communicate that. I feel very strongly about finding the right words and communicating that for different audiences, so in that way I am an activist.

(Motivation?) I want to know, I want others to know, I want us to be concious and conscientious.

(Challenges?) We’ve been working in Crisis Informatics for 10 years, we’ve made a lot of inroads with students being able to take on more complex problems – I want to get beyond dismantling the myths and work even deeper on the problems.

As new chair of department I want to create a curriculum for our undergraduate students and have them be able to address a range of societal problems as well as commercial challenges, but in this way that deals with data in ethical, mathematically responsible, ethnographically responsible ways.

(Miracle?) That my children and all of our children wouldn’t have to worry about disasters and the effects of climate change. And that if they do worry, which they will, that we’ve left them the tools – intellectual and built – to mitigate whatever it is that we’ve given them.

(Advice?) Be attentive. Don’t presume. Be watchful for how technology is driving us in particular directions, but also don’t be over-cautious about that either.

Categories
economics innovation oil politics social-ecological transformation

Transforming industrial society

Staffan Laestadius

If you take climate change seriously, you also have to discuss how to transform society, not just industry but also
transforming life in society so that it will keep providing welfare.


Staffan Laestadius is Professor of Industrial Dynamics. He says his work starts where Climate Change research finishes. He tells us how industrial and societal transformation are inextricably linked. He also tells us that such transformation is possible – a path to emission reduction without miracles.

Talking points

Silent Spring, for me, and many of my generation…that was the first step into sustainability.

Limits to Growth…widely discussed, heavily criticised not least by economists, but also by people who thought this book was something that was telling the the rest of the world now the northern part of the world have got their lifestyle, there is no time, no space for the others to catch up. I think that was the wrong conclusion – I think the Limits to Growth book got too bad a reputation, but many of the forecasts have turned out to be relatively true now.

Industrial transformation…how analyse and understand processes of industrial change.

It isn’t enough to put new fuels in old cars.

The energy transformation required is huge…the elephant in the room, so huge, dramatic and challenging we don’t want to talk about it

We don’t want to talk about what do we have to do to take climate change seriously..but I try to do that.

I try to show it is possible to change

Industrial processes and social change

In Northern Europe we have developed a welfare state, a process modality, people believe that they have got all their welfare, their technology, their cars, and you will not convince people to leave all that to leave all that to go into a stone age economy just to preserve the climate.

You have to show that instead of man as master of nature…to a more circular system that provides a similar or comparable standard of living..that it is the challenge.

Show it is possible without decline in welfare….welfare based on a new sustainability based industrial system

The standard reaction…new technological solutions but from old thinking, linear thinking.

We could have fixed it with these old solutions 50 years ago, but now those solutions are not there any more, we have to be more humble and look to more sustainable solutions.

Now it needs a new way of thinking

There are limits to what we can do

Accepting the planetary boundaries work, my contribution is “What are the consequences for industrial and social transformation?”.

You can’t get people to accept transformation promising that everything will be worse – whether you continue on the same path or accept a sustainable path – so you must find a path of achieving transformation that can provide welfare for society – that is sustainable.

It is easy to fall back to “we’re too small, nothing I do matters”…but a message is the snowball effect – somebody has to go ahead.

We have to show that is possible to transform, increase competitiveness and welfare

To show it is possible we have to break down the enormous task…4 dimensions. 1 half of reductions…2. you should reduce activity levels first, then efficiency…3. it is possible to start, you don’t have to do everything now…4. 4% per year as long as we have growth, intensity is of no interest to nature…so absolute reductions.

We should focus first on doing less of carbon intensive processes

It is possible, but it is tough, because time is running out.

Reduce activity, increase efficiency, then substitution. This is the logical order, but of course they can be worked on together.

This is not a technology revolution…technology is there already…

For the coming years – at least until 2030 we have the technology, it is a political problem to calibrate the system so it becomes politically and socially attractive to join the solution.

Fossil fuels have been so successful, so cheap because externalities ignored

The basic training of economists, externalities so small we don’t have to worry about them. But now we see the basic problem is externalities.

We need to leave 2/3rd of fossil fuel in the ground

Sometimes when I go to sleep I think this is too tough but I think it is worth fighting for

We need to find a pricing model that makes it rational to transform

We need to transform the economy but also to keep the welfare model

(Will the transformation come anyhow?) Stakeholders in old regime…people know more, we have to get politicians to coordinate.
Political leadership is not just doing what they believe the electorate wants, they have to lead in the right direction…climate change a real challenge to traditional left wing/right wing…..we have to find political alliances

(a gentle revolution?) I think this may be necessary in a few years as the climate situation gets worse.

(New book Triple Challenges for Europe) Triple challenges…climate change, economic development, governance.

End austerity politics with investment in green solutions

(Success) not sucess or failure…returning to the synthesis of sustainability in my personal view and work… integrating industrial and social change…a coherent view

Instead of narrowing focus on details of technical transformation, widening scope go more into debate and how to get impact and work with transformation

(Activist) The third task for academics – societal influence – mine is impact on transforming our industrial society. Not an activist. Was when young, but basically I’m an academic.

I wouldn’t say that I’m an activist, but I would say I’m not scared to take a position that is solidly based.

If you take climate change seriously, then you have to work with a transformation…this is the magnitude of the challenge
(Motivation) – I still think I have a lot to do

I have a broader interest…too many things…I work with social, industrial and technology…it keeps me engaged in the debate

(Challenges) Swedish government could agree on transformation of our carbon dependence, way to achieve 4% per annum, and show the world that it is possible.

It will get worse before it gets better.

Maybe we have to face some more disasters and then we can mobilise a transformation

I think it is possible for all of us on an individual level to make the first half…it is possible…the rest will be dificult

I have reduced my car travel to less than half without any problem at all.

I have to do more, and we all have to do more in future, but it is possible to reduce by half with no suffering.

Categories
democracy dunedin ecology local government

Environmental strategy

Jinty MacTavish

We need infrastructure and systems to support positive environmental outcomes.


Chair of the Dunedin City Council’s Community and Environment Committee, Councillor Jinty MacTavish on the draft environment strategy Te Ao Tūroa – The Natural World.
Good friend of the show, Councillor Jinty MacTavish is back to talk us though Dunedin’s draft environment strategy Te Ao Tūroa – The Natural World.

The draft strategy has three themes:

  • Theme 1: Treasuring the environment / Kaitiakitaka
  • Theme 2: Healthy natural environment / He ao tūroa, he ao hauora
  • Theme 3: Environment for the future / Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei
  • Consultation on the strategy is open until the end of August.

    Talking points

    Not having had an environment strategy has been a fraught thing for five years because it means that environmental concerns or issue have, I think, been inadequately considered as part of report development and subsequent Council decision.

    This is a starting point for conversations rather than a final document.

    Staff went back through the last 5 years of submissions, 11,000 submissions and pulled out the key themes people we telling us about the environment.

    (Mayor Dave Cull’s introduction – all part of the Dunedin Ecosystem) Yes, I don’t think we’re entirely there yet, that concept of humans as part of ecosystem isn’t quite reflected right the way through the document, but he intent is there.

    .

    Ecotourism is an activity that leverages environmental strength

    (11% of City protected, cf 33% nationally) Proportionately, we could be protecting more of our land. In terms of a gradation from natural environments to human dominated space, we’ve got a bit of work to do in thinking about projecting land for its natural value alone.

    When we started this strategy, we quickly realised that if we were just doing for Council’s influence in terms of land it owns, it would be pretty limited when we’re talking about the environment.

    I fought hard to get in here human connection with environment… there is challenge for us in helping people understand their role in the ecosystem when they are only seeing a very small part of it.

    The presence of the Otago Regional Council as an environmental regulator doesn’t mean that we ought not have people dedicated to getting outcomes on the ground in terms of this strategy. we’re hoping for feedback from the community on the types of roles that will be needed. The Economic Development Unit, for example, is populated with people who are charged with delivering on specific projects under the Economic Development Strategy.

    Working with different stakeholders, range of mechanisms and incentives…

    Whenever you are writing an environment strategy, it is tempting to think of the environment as something that it “out there, that we can put a fence around and as long as we’re protecting it from possums and not developing it then it’s fine”, but we all know that that’s not going to work, that we are part of this ecosystem and that we need to be adapting and changing the ways that we are operating if we are to ensure that our environment in the broadest sense has a future.

    Clearly our systems are not sustainable. We are too carbon intensive, we are destructive in that how we create our systems at present. We need to be starting to think about how we design our infrastructure and systems that support positive environmental outcomes rather than being just less bad.

    Unless we as a population really understand what it is to be part of an ecosystem, and understand and treasure and feel connected to the ecosystem of which we are a part, we’re simply not going to care about protecting it. You need that motivator, you need that connection, you need that physical connection.

    We should be designing infrastructure that enhances connection, not cutting off connection.

    I would love to hear from people what parts of the environment they don’t feel connected to, and what would facilitate that connection.

    The theme is about community connection, it’s not just about me caring.

    I think there is a growing sense of the collective

    We need infrastructure and systems to support positive environmental outcomes.

    We need to move beyond the minimalist mentality, the mentality that says we can only ever do less bad. Then we can start to think about setting some aspirational targets in terms of giving back to our environment.

    You can clearly have appropriate development, and you can have inappropriate development – and what this document is saying is that we want to set some pretty high standards for the type of development into the future to ensure that environmental concerns and aspirations are wrapped up in that development and taken into account at the front end. So that we don’t see the sort of development that erodes the life supporting capacity of our systems.

    We have to as aspirational with this document as we have been with all of the others.

    We have to be aspirational with our environmental goals, because when we get to conversations about trade-offs or synergy points, the environment strategy needs to be putting just as strong a stake in the ground as any of the other strategies.

    (Is it possible to tell the percentage of Council spend that will come under this strategy?) No, everything the Council does will be influenced by this strategy.

    Categories
    engineering transition engineering

    Transition Engineering

    Susan Krumdieck

    Everything around you is an engineered system – start demanding of the engineers to change things.


    Prof Susan Krumdieck is developing Transition Engineering at the University of Canterbury. We talk about green energy mythologies, transition engineering of complex systems, growing up in Colorado, and how her son’s persistent questioning led her to look for ways or making real change.

    Talking points

    My concern is what we are doing that is not sustainable, and changing that – transition engineering.

    People can adapt to whatever situation they’re in, and they can do that if they have the ability to see what’s happening, understand what’s happening, trust one another and work together on it.

    Mechanical engineers have made these big systems work really well, but they have not been given the task of winding them down in a way that is sustainable.

    The conundrum, that if you are going to engineer your systems even more tso that you can overcome bad behaviour – you’ve introduced more reliance on the engineered system instead of reliance on people thinking.

    How engineering interacts with people is at the core of sustainability

    We tell ourselves these big stories – and then start to believe them.

    Green energy mythologies – may be as important as mythologies have always been for people – that we have a belief in our own progress and in our own development, and

    we need stories and mythologies that support that belief. But the facts tell us we are in trouble.

    Our development, our progress – that we’ve been so success at is a trap, and a bit suicidal – a lot suicidal – and we don’t know how to deal with that except to believe more in the story.

    The party we’ve been having – we’ve come to a trough that is bottomless, an all-you-can-eat banquet with a free returns card, and we we’ve come to think that’s how things are, but we gotten quite obese – it’s not good for us, it will kill us, and yet we’re afraid of change.

    We know continued growth is doomed, so we’ve shifted our growth over to the green category – it’s still doomed, the miracle green energy is a myth.

    Basically anything that anybody sends you with a big “Yay!” Solar roads, house batteries…everybody, your green energy myth radar should just ping.

    Solar panels…something that says to people something about you that you will probably be quite smug about…it will fulfil an emotional need that you have, but what

    I call it is green bling. – you didn’t need it, it didn’t change your circumstances or add value to your life. It is decoration for your house, not a legitimate part of the energy system. But something you couldn’t see – perhaps insulation – would make so much more difference.

    If we really want to talk about the route to sustainable, what we really have to talk about is what is not sustainable – that’s it.

    We’ll never really be sustainable. All we can do is look at the most stupid things we do, and tell the engineers that are making them “thank you very much, but we want something that isn’t that bad, we want you to rethink this.

    Anything that is disposable, not reusable, not returnable – all of those we’re engineered that way on purpose, we can change that.

    Engineering has to be where we start with these changes.

    Somebody has to actually do things that changes things – transition engineering.

    Adaptive change have to be engineered – it has to be done on purpose.

    Green energy myths give false hope.

    Simple solutions might be the answer, but they have to be real.

    The way we use energy has become so embedded in our social structure and our belief system – we’re talking a fundamental change in our shared cultural values.

    It is possible to do change- to take on what seemed like impossible situations. We’ve done it before in safety engineering and environmental engineering.

    You can’t solve the world in one do, so frame the problem – every engineered system can be re-engineered.

    The entire profession is responsible for everything that we’ve done that is unsustainable.

    We’ve reached a point where our progress, our own technological success is indeed the biggest threat to us.

    At the turn of the last Century, our factories, mines and transport were engineered in a way that they were extremely successful for the owners, investors making huge amounts of money…but people were dying or being maimed at rates we can’t contemplate today…so there was a huge change over 40-50 years – that was the impact of safety engineering.

    The change was exponential, so huge at the beginning – so simply think about what’s wrong and work on that.

    When we make a big mess we need the engineering field to look at itself and say “we can do better than this”.

    Everything around you is an engineered system – start demanding of the engineers to change things.

    You are in a system that is engineered to work beautifully, it is also self destructive, it is also designed to fail.

    Turn around and look at the people who designed these systems and say “I hope you’re busy figuring out how to change things”.

    We need the emergence of transition engineering just like we needed safety engineering, natural hazard engineering, environmental engineering.

    We’ve got ourselves into a progress trap, we’ve done a very good job and now it is the biggest threat to ourselves and we need to figure that out. We as engineers need to get together and do what we do and get this sorted out.

    Most people don’t understand what is going on behind the engineering curtain, but they can demand that engineers fix this stuff they’ve made.

    (Activist?) Indeed an activist within the engineering profession. I am pushing the comfort zone of the engineering professional to challenge them to take on this responsibility.

    They say “we already do sustainability engineering – recycling systems and so on” but this is a bolt-on to unsustainable systems. We need engineering to boldly take on the big unsustainable systems.

    I wish solar, wind, hydrogen were miracle solutions, but they’re not.

    If I can help any engineer not waste the ten years I wasted on Hydrogen, then that gets us closer to real change.

    Transition is about change, about changing engineering, and if you can change engineering, you can change the world.

    (Motivation) My son said “Mom, you have to do something, if something doesn’t change then it’s going to be really bad, you have to figure out how to change things”.

    There’s a future out there where we have changed things now. In 100 years we people look back, it’s a good thing that that thing happened. What is that thing?

    Anyone who is trying to work on a positive outcome is part of the positive outcome.

    The difference between a future where the experiment we started a couple of hundred years ago, the future where we keep hoping for green technology miracles and the don’t come but we keep hoping and telling ourselves that story as civilisation winds down in not a nice way and in the meantime they didn’t change to make the climate more liveable, and a different future, where something profound happened.

    Ask 100 people what changed 100 years ago that made a profound change, not one would say “safety engineering”.

    (Challenge?) Establish transition engineering

    (Miracle?) I think about this all the time – what is the trigger point for change? For me it is funding to establish transition engineering.

    (Advice?) Stay with the math and science, especially the young women. We need people who understand that it’s complex systems but you can change them – you just have to think in systemic ways – and if we could could get women to be half of the tiny percentage of people who are engineers, we’d we well on our way.

    Do not accept anything less than a global perspective, learn what is known but do not accept that we have to cook this planet as part of human requirements.

    Categories
    community transition towns

    Transition Oamaru

    Gail May-Sherman

    I would like to do the sorts of projects that 30 years down the line, if the world has gone to hell, people will say “thank god we did this”, and if 30 years down the line nothing has gone to hell and everything is fine then people will say “oh my god, I’m so glad we did this”.


    Gail May-Sherman is chair of the Natural Heritage Society – the group behind Transition Oamaru and Waitaki District.

    Talking points

    There’s a group of people here who shared our ideals and really wanted to make a difference.

    We need to interact with people – we need to be unified in times to come.

    We are preparing out community for changes

    Trying to get people to understand that lifestyles need to change and it needs to change pretty rapidly

    Realisation that just organic farming wasn’t enough – we need skills

    We don’t expect everyone to stand up and be warriors

    Whether these changes happen or not, I’m want to able to say I’m so glad we did this.

    Our criteria for a course in the Summer School is that it has to help our community either by keeping certain skills in the community, or by helping people reach out and become more connected to each other.

    Music brings people together

    in the Summer School, we’re not trying to convince anybody of anything, we’re trying to offer things to make sure our community has these skills. Whether these bad things happen in the community or not, it will still make our community a better place.

    I would like to do something positive, regardless of what the future holds.

    I grew up in Colorado – changes in the climate are much more obvious there than in New Zealand. When I was a little girl, if you planted a garden before the 1st of June, there was a really high probability that you would lose everything to the last frost at the end of May. By the time I left, if I hadn’t planted by garden by the end of April, I wouldn’t get a harvest. Because not only had the frosts left by the middle of April, but by the middle of June temperatures would be 37-40 degrees C, and they would stay that way for three months, with effectively no rain – and watering restrictions because of droughts, extreme droughts. Gardening became an entirely different thing. I have two children. I saw these changes happening to where I grew up. I used to read the newspaper…I saw what was happening with politics and finances, and I saw people around me becoming desperate, living amongst relatively affluent home owners, but still people were struggling, yet the prices of everything were increasing, and there was this tremendous pressure to keep buying. And then we learned about Peak Oil, and the US without cheap oil will be a disaster. So I slowly but surely felt like a person chained to the rail-road tracks and saw the train coming. I felt like myself, and my family, and everyone I loved was in terrible peril, because I couldn’t see any way of making where we lived a place that could survive the kinds of changes that seem to be coming on us. So when we decided to leave, I promised myself that wherever we went I didn’t ever find myself in that position – that I felt totally helpless.

    The US is a place that’s on a track and I don’t see it going off – it’s going where it’s going, and I don’t think you can change it – I’d be delighted for someone to prove me wrong. But here you can make a difference.

    Anywhere you go, you find the same mix – people who see what is happening and who are afraid and want to do something about it, and people who either don’t see it at all or see it and are afraid and therefore want to pretend it doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone, but I do believe that that there are a large number of people who simply choose not to believe it because believing it is too hard, too scary.

    We can complain, or we can see opportunities. It behoves us to make the best of the opportunity, because that’s the way it is. Turn challenges into community vision and do something really valuable.

    I would like to see Oamaru become a city where community members are connected, and know each other and take care of each another. Where we can supply our own basic needs – our food, shelter and clothing. Where our energy requirements can come from non-polluting – or at least, less polluting – more long term sources.

    There are all these challenges about reducing our fossil fuel consumption, while not forcing people to go live in caves – a phrase I hear a lot “you guys just want us to go live in caves” – but that’s exactly what we don’t want. So we would like to see Oamaru use a lot of solar and wind power.

    A town like Oamaru has very few energy needs that cannot be met through alternative energy sources if we put our minds to it.

    The biggest factor is getting people to remember how to take care of each other – to me that’s the biggest goal, to get rid of that social isolation that is such a part of modern life.

    Being old isn’t such a tragedy if you are surrounded by a community that cares for you. being young having children isn’t so difficult if you are surrounded by a community that cares for you.

    Pick one project, Get people together even if only half a dozen, and get that project working and visible and strong, and you will get more people interested and eventually you will be able to spread your fingers into other pies. The school connected us to a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skills that have now taken off with other projects – so it helps if your project connects a whole lot of community members to begin with.

    (Success?) Summer School, community garden propagation, food forest project. In the last few months we’ve taken on at least five new projects.

    (Activist?) Kind of. When I think of activist I think of people who go with signs and protesting – and I do that from time to time. I guess I’m an activist but I do it more with an idea of cooperation. When I think of activist I think of people who are trying to make conflict with a particular source that aggravates them – I am not a very conflict oriented individual….I am activist that works through cooperation rather than conflict.

    (Motivation?) the future I see my children having. I watched the Soylent Green dystopian vision when my son was about six months old. In the movie one of the characters is an old man who remembers life back when energy was plentiful and food was plentiful and there was flowers and trees, and it suddenly occurred to me that my son was that old man – he was the generation that was was very likely to be the last ones that would remember that kind of world. Unless we change something dramatically, by the time my son is an old man things could be very much worse. And now my daughter is about to have her first baby. Not only would I like my old age to be relatively pleasant, I would like their old ages to be relatively pleasant too. That’s probably the biggest thing that motivates me.

    (Challenges?) Getting our community to recognise a need for a change in the way the economy works. We need to start realising that the emphasis on stuff has to go away. We need to learn to live without growing – you have to learn to live with what you have. The last 150 years of growth brought to us by the fossil fuel industry has been fabulous, but we can’t do that any more. We need to change our priorities so that rather than having more and more and getting bigger and bigger, we can live comfortably with where we are.

    (Miracle?) Change in attitude. Having people recognise that we can’t keep exploiting things – we have to live in balance. If I could make the fossil fuels go away in a single whoosh then I would, but only if I could be sure it wouldn’t make everyone’s lives hell. That’s the problem with magic wands – you never know what the consequences are going to be. So I don’t want to say there’s one little thing, but if I could just make people see that we can still live wonderful happy lives, they don’t have to be tarred and horrible and miserable…without constantly getting more stuff. If I could get everyone to see that could be not just as nice but could quite easily be preferable as a lifestyle, that would be the wand that I would wave.

    (Advice?) If you think that these issues are a problem then you need to start acting on that, it is time for everyone to act. You don’t have to start whole movements, but you need to start making changes, and you need to start supporting other people in making those changes.

    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
    green party politics

    Activist at heart

    Kevin Hague

    The pre-eminence of the economy and its treatment as if it were the point of society is so powerful, consumerism has been such a powerful force, that people believe their primary relationship is with the economy and not with their fellow members of society.


    Green Party MP Kevin Hague has followed his heart through several intertwining careers, in health, in commerce, and in activism. We ask what motivates him and how he sees the world.

    Talking points

    If I see something that needs doing…I don’t get how you can live with yourself and allow an injustice to continue.

    (in the anti-apartheid protests) we created circumstances where people had to make a stand

    That experience tells me that it is possible. It tells me that we can go from 20 people on a picket and within six months have 200,000.

    It turned our national identity on its head.

    It was of justice and deep ethics…

    It is possible to awaken some deep sense in New Zealanders that motivates them to move from passivity to action

    Climate change maybe the thing. It doesn’t have the same national identity aspects, but there are still the same deep ethical duties that could be awakened.

    What is our duty to our kids and their kids? What is our duty to those future generations? What is our duty to the Pacific – our neighbours?

    I suspect that when we crack the formula of making the connection for New Zealanders between climate change and their lives and their sense of duty to those future generations – they’re going to be very angry.

    Boiling down the sense of duty…what’s the relationship between me as an individual and the collective – being part of a society.

    Any one of us in New Zealand could probably construct a life that is a bit insulated from the effect of climate change, but the world cannot insulate itself from climate change. The consequences of the climate change that we have already locked in are going to be catastrophic.

    If we can find the key that can unlock that relationship between each of us as individuals and our responsibility to each other and to future generations, that is what will get the 200,000 on Queen Street again.

    One of the slogans of the occupy movement that I really loved was “citizen, not consumer”.

    A sense of engagement and ownership of government is an essential component of making change.

    We have the relationship wrong between the economy, environment and society. We have a situation where the environment is constructed as the raw materials or the waste disposal for the economy. And people are the consumers or the labour input into the firm. And that treats the economy as the end-point, it says the economy is some kind of immutable force of nature that the environment and society need to serve. That’s 100% wrong. We made the economy, it’s not something that can’t be changed – we made it to do a particular set of things, largely to make a small proportion of society richer at the expense of everyone else and the natural world. Well, we can make it do different things. We need to start with our environmental and social goals and then recognise the economy as being the set of tools that we use to achieve those.

    We need to be asking the question – what is government for anyway? It is about achieving our environmental and our social goals. A sustainable relationship with the environment, a just society where everybody’s needs are met – those are fundamental to what government is for. And our economy is very clearly not meeting those.

    Reaching a consensus on some goals, then working with citizens to understand their agency – their power as a collective – to change that relationship between the economy and those goals. This is high on my list of what we need to try and do as a society.

    What we have now is essentially unfettered profit maximisation. If I am a business, I am setting out to maximise my profit, the way I do that is minimising my cost, and that means spending the least I possibly can on labour, and the least that I possibly can on raw materials and waste disposal.

    Profit maximisation in a largely unregulated setting leads to environmental degradation, and massive inequality and exploitation of working people.

    Deregulation kills people.

    People’s health status is a function of their environments

    I have a personal theme of inter-generational equity and empowering people

    We need to recognise that the lion’s share of the benefit that comes from public education is public good

    (Role of student loans in diminished student political movements) Student movements have been a crucial part of the conscience of society…it clearly suits neo-liberal establishment to silence critics.

    The pre-eminence of the economy and its treatment as if it were the point of society is so powerful, consumerism has been such a powerful force, that people believe their primary relationship is with the economy and not with their fellow members of society.

    Consumerism has atomised and disempowered people, and that’s no accident.

    Is there something that I can add? The thing that tipped the balance was climate change. The urgency around climate change was such that if I felt that I could add something, then the duty that I had was to take that risk and give it go.

    (Activist) Interesting question. I don’t think of myself as an activist. I see myself and the Green Party in Parliament as the parliamentary wing of a bigger movement for progressive environmental and societal change. That’s the job I have now. I don’t go out and organise demonstrations, I do develop strategy, I do participate in partnership with community based organisations that very definitely are activists. I’m absolutely proud of my record of activism, of the convictions that I have for all of those protest related activities – badges of honour.

    (Motivation) I’m motivated by the same things that have motivated me all along – social justice. I don’t see how anyone can be satisfied with their own life knowing that so many people do not have the same opportunities, knowing that so many people live in injustice and poverty. I don’t see how anyone can be happy with their life knowing that we have this unsustainable relationship with the environment that condemns future generations – our kids and our grandkids to a poorer life than we have now.

    (Challenges) Enter government, implement green policy for years to come.

    (Miracle) A reversal of fortunes. The primary task is to engage a bigger consensus of citizens.

    (Advice) Vote Green. Please engage in the process of taking back democracy. Demand the citizenship rights that you are owed.

    Categories
    climate change local government urban

    Cities of change

    Jinty MacTavish

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Cardiff Food Council
  • Categories
    government green party politics transport

    Changing transport win:win

    Julie Anne Genter

    I realised that there’s not much you can do to improve things (in urban planning) if you don’t address transport…it affects many of the public spaces between the buildings, it impacts on the energy we have to use to get from place to place, and it also has a big impact on household expenses.


    Julie Anne Genter is a Member of Parliament for the Green Party. Amongst other roles, she is spokesperson for Transport.

    Talking points

    Transport is the easy win:win the thing we can change that would have a positive economic impact, positive impacts for society, and very positive impacts for the environment

    How can walking, cycling and public transport possibly be more expensive than every household being utterly dependent on two or more cars?

    “No blood for oil”…I was 12,and that made perfect sense to me, we shouldn’t be going to war, and certainly not for oil.

    It would be useful to have more critical training. In politics there’s a lot of logical fallacies being used and they’re repeated in the mainstream media. It’s not that hard to pick it apart with training in critical thinking, but if people haven’t had that training there’s no reason people should be able to innately do it.

    (On the argumentative theory of reason) Most people are quite bad at abstract reasoning…reason isn’t something that people use individually, it’s something that functions in a collective, it works through argument.. .people are really good at arguing their case, they’ve already got a position and they’re really good at finding arguments to support their position – whether they are logical or not – so reason operates as part of a group, we argue and debate, it is the wisdom of the crowds that sorts out which argument is best and makes the right decision.

    Maybe what we need is critical thinking, but on the other hand maybe what we need is to be less afraid of having open debates…maybe that’s what’s missing in our democracy is having more people engaging in debate.

    (one of the four values of the Green Party charter) appropriate decision making…decisions will be made at the lowest level at which they affect people…it’s important for all of the different points of view to be represented in political debate and that we have to be willing and open minded about listening to each other in order for us to make good decisions as a society…that doesn’t happen in parliament, the political parties already have their positions decided and most of the debate is just for show.

    We’re not really listening, it’s like one party gets in power and they do whatever they want, then another party gets in power and does something different, but aren’t collectively having a debate and making decisions based on the information that’s available to all the different citizens of New Zealand, and I think we’d make better decisions if we were able to do that.

    Spending almost half the entire transport budget on 4% of vehicle trips is a huge opportunity cost – those projects aren’t going to substantially reduce transport costs for households or business, they’re not going to reduce congestion in the medium or even short term…dumping more cars onto congested local roads…and it’s so crazy…spending this much money on new highways when we know highways don’t reduce congestion, they don’t increase economic productivity…what we could buy with 12 billion dollars to invest in the rail network, in public transport, in walking and cycling in towns and cities…we could have a much more balanced transport system.

    It’s very strange that the rail network is expected to be funded by the profit from a rail company while we’re dumping billions of dollars on the state highway network.

    the government treats them as two separate things…despite there being obvious benefits for the road network from improvements in the rail network.

    Very few people benefit from the status quo

    Getting more people onto public transport, walking and cycling is great for freeing up the roads for people who need to drive, including the truck drivers.

    It’s a huge opportunity, it’s going to be so easy to do things smarter because we’re doing them so stupidly at the moment. What a win:win, we could spend the same amount of money on transport from a government perspective but spend a lot less in terms of vehicles and fuel, get massive health benefits…

    When you look at the benefits of reducing vehicle dependency, it can be justified on economic grounds alone on the money your save, but also there’s the health benefits, benefits in terms of reducing air pollution and water pollution, benefits in terms of using land more efficiently, safety benefits…

    (do we have the population density?) We had high functioning rail network and public transport before when we had a smaller population, more spread out…being a long skinny (country) lends itself to rail

    Our system is built now for the car, and that has spread things out.

    We don’t have to keep doing it…if we invest in the alternatives, people will still be able to drive but some people will have the option to walk, cycle or take public transport, and move their goods by rail or coastal shipping, and that will make the roads function better and people will make different location decisions.

    We’re not talking about replacing the car, about replacing every car trip people make now with a public transport trip or a bicycle trip, it’s about getting it from 8 or 9 out of 10 to maybe 5 or 6 out of 10 – an incremental process. But that incremental change of getting back in balance requires a total revolution in funding and policy because otherwise we’re going to keep going in the car dependent direction.

    People everywhere systematically overestimate the importance of car parking and car access to their businesses

    It’s either a vicious or virtuous cycle and we can quite easily break the vicious cycle of car dependence because we’re the ones who started it….transport and planning bureaucrats who made the decision to do everything around cars

    Electric vehicles solves the fuel problem but not everything else

    (about the response to banners on the beach protesters being dismissed because they drove their car there) their argument is that you can’t argue for things to be different inf you are living in the world as it currently is – I don’t think that is a good argument, it says ‘if you want things to be different then you should somehow make the different’, but that’s what people are trying to do. I don’t blame people from using a car because we’ve created an environment where it is pretty difficult to do anything but use a car. That’s why I’m advocating for government to change its funding and policies to make it easier for more people not to rely on a car.

    People are saying they want other choices, but they can’t go and live in a cave somewhere and change the world.

    The only place where people call the Greens crazy is the National Party in parliament..they repeat this point over and over again in order not to have to engage in a proper debate with us, it somewhat works but it’s starting to make them look bad – for example over the climate plan…they called us “off the planet crazy” but they haven’t got a real argument.

    I’m not anti-car and there’s nothing anti-car about our policies, this is going to be good for people that need to drive… we plan to increase road maintenance, increase the programme of road safety works, have a more ambitious road safety target…

    Resources
    Green Charter
    Green’s Climate protection plan

    Categories
    computing energy

    Energy literacy

    Robert Brewer

    An intuition of  what is a kilowatt hour..it’s a fundamental thing about our society that you need to know now.  And people’s intuition tends to be stunningly bad.


    Dr Robert Brewer  is a postdoctoral researcher on the EcoSense and Virtual Power Plant for Smart Grid Ready Buildings and Customers(VPP4) projects in theComputer Science department of Aarhus University in Denmark, with a focus on residential energy-use behaviors guided by sensor data.    For  several years Robert was an entrepreneur in Hawaii then for his PhD he developed the Kukui Cup, a gamified energy challenge for university dorms.

    Talking points:  

    An Inconvenient Truth was a turning point for me, I’d always considered myself green – tried to recycle and so forth – but An Inconvenient Truth made me feel ‘this is what I should focus my life on’, my research, why should I do my research on something else when I can do my research on something I feel passionately about.

    It is common that people have the attitudes and knowledge about the importance of sustainability but that societal structures are such that it is very hard sometimes to put these into effect.

    Sometimes people want to express energy as – say number of hamburgers or miles driven and , but … understanding what a kilowatt hour is, or having an  intuition of  what is a kilowatt hour…. is the same as you should really have an intuition of what kilometer is, or a kilogram.  It’s a fundamental thing about our society that you need to know now.  And people’s intuition tends to be stunningly bad.

    People focus on things like their phones as ‘energy hogs’ and are concerned about charging their cellular phone, but the refrigerator uses vastly more energy than their phone does, even including the infrastructure, because the refrigerator is on 24/7 for the rest of your life.

    I looked at energy literacy and energy use.

    When people ask us how much electricity we (the challenge saved), we say that’s the wrong question, we hoped that there would be significant energy savings, we didn’t see that but the fact that there was so much variation shows us that trying to compress the entire behaviour of these floors into a number – into kilowatt hours – is just a bad idea. That’s driven my change in perspective to this practice orientation, you need to understand whats going on in the dorms in a way that we didn’t have the opportunity to find out.

    Some game action was clearly not sustainable – camping out rather than using the measured dorms.   Other game techniques had social benefits such as more time visiting other floors.

    A better measure of success is engagement and energy literacy.

    A key is not just to reduce energy use but to shift its time of use – to reduce large peaks.

    We need shifts in sustainable computing that are scaleable, sticky and multidisciplinary.

    Scalability: Since the scale of sustainability is a multi-generational issue, that’s going to take really big changes…to get the scale we need to have tools and services that scale.

    Sticky:  We need to have ways that keep people engaged. There are lots things that look and sound really cool when you first see them…but people use it a lot when they first got it, but then the device makes mistakes and the people think its working and the novelty has worn off.

    If it’s primarily novelty that’s keeping you involved, you’ll find out that the novelty wears off. You need a reason to come back.

    We’re mixing the practice orientation with a rich set of sensors into what we hope is a virtuous cycle.

    Take a look at the resources you are using…it goes back to building the intuition of what you are using.

    Categories
    climate change policy

    Climate change diplomacy

    adrianMacey_formal-01

     We have a target gazetted to reduce emissions by half by 2050, and if you look at projections, they’re way up, double by 2050.  How do you join those things up?  There’s currently no government statements around that.  The target was put in place in 2011 but since then it’s hard to find any mention in official government statements, or any action by government departments.


    A New Zealand diplomat with postings including Bankok, TokelauParis and Geneva, Dr Adrian Macey was New Zealand’s first climate change ambassador Dr Adrian Macey.  He describes his proudest achievement as chairing the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol negotiations during the critical year where it was established that there would be a second commitment period.   Dr Macey is currently with Victoria University’s Institute for Governance.

    Talking points:

    As a diplomat you follow the will of the government of the day but you always avoid closing options

    You can see climate change as a moral issue – responsibility for future generations – you can also see it as an opportunity – if your city is using lower carbon, lower energy, that’s more money staying in the local pool.

    Consumers have some ability to affect things, but it’s very hard in the absence of long-term central government policy

    When you put together all the pledges that everyone has made, it doesn’t add up to what we need to do to keep warming down to 2 degrees.

    Developing countries need money on the table to support their efforts on mitigation and adaptation.  The developed countries need to take historic responsibility.

    The language used is important, “grave concern” was useful to change minds.

    Three factors helpful in current rounds: greater certainty, plain language, mainstream estimates.  Still worrying, doesn’t mean complacency, but looks more manageable from a policy sense.

    Perverse tendency, you can’t use the fear for too long.  There’re two levers civil society has tried to use, one is fear of terrible consequences and the other is guilt or shame – you should be doing more, it’s your duty to future generations or other countries – neither of those levers can be effective indefinitely.   We’re coming back to rethinking by civil society, using another register.  One example is Greenpeace’s report on the future of energy,  looking at the future of renewable energy – that’s appealing to a different part of government.  Governments have an interest in having sensible policies, and if something looks rational and achievable – and not constant hammering about guilt and shame – then maybe that’s going to prove a more effective way through.

    We need massive changes in the energy system it’s not something the citizen as an individual has much control over…individual choices of consumers – buying something with a slightly lower footprint –  are not quantitatively all that important, though they are from a moral perspective, but the big shift we’ve got to do is get off fossil fuels.

    The transport sector is the one we’ve got to deal with.  The difficulty is that our country is long, narrow and not very highly populated – but that’s the obvious area for gains.

    Businesses that have a stake in our “clean green reputation” – those people are in a position to try to influence government.  If they think that where we’re heading is a bit out of kilter with that image we have of ourselves as we start to lag behind.

    There’s no easy glib response, that if a few 10,000 of you do x, then you’re going to make a massive effect, we have to get at the energy systems.

    Rich countries need to accept historical responsibility,

     

     

     

    Categories
    energy science

    Energy transformation

    Gerry Carrington

     

    The fossil fuel era is a hang-over from the hunter-gatherer era.   Finding fossil fuels is something that is a bit speculative – a form of hunting, and digging it up is a form of gathering.  We’ve moved away from that, most of us, 10-12,000 years ago in relation to food, we just haven’t done it in relation to energy yet.


     

    Physicist Emeritus Professor Gerry Carrington was lead author on Royal Society of New Zealand’s recent paper on Facing the Future: Towards a Green Economy for New Zealand.

     

    Talking points:

    Energy efficiency is an open ended opportunity – it’s something that we can continue to work on and transform the way society works if you take it seriously.

    65% efficiency is probably the sweetspot

    Moving to electricity as a means to deliver energy

    Just seeing the beginning of the  transition.   Nobody knows how quickly it will occur or when it will reach full maturity.

    Some transitions in the past have taken place extraordinarily quickly, in the US when they transformed from being mostly run by horses to people having cars, the transition from 10% to 90% took place in 10-15 years.

    Managing what you’ve got really well.

    In the era we moved away from hunting the people that made arrows and spears found that business didn’t go so well, so yes there will be winners, and there will be losers and we have to find ways of dealing with that.

    We need to have inclusive processes for developing a vision of a sustainable future

    There’s no real relationship between emissions and social progress

    I’m not one for preaching Armageddon, there are lots of opportunities, but we need to move purposefully, and stop sweeping things under the carpet

    Sam’s joined-up-thinking:  Previously on Sustainable Lens, Dr Bran Knowles described how appealling to the selfish “do this because it will save you money” not only doesn’t work but does a disservice to sustainability.  This week Energy Minister Simon Bridges blamed the failure of power switch policies to lower power prices upon individuals not acting in their own best interests – we need to be more selfish he says.  This shows for me that while selfish behaviours might work at an individual level, they should not form the basis of public policy.  Instead we need structural change, and as Bran said, appeals to wider, perhaps altruistic motivations.

     Shane’s number of the week: 38.  That’s 38%, the predicted loss in food production for China with a 2 degree increase in global temperature (via Gwynne Dyer).

     

    Categories
    sociology

    Societal tensions

    Katharine Legun

    Environmental/economic tension is rising and this overlaps with questions of social equity – who is benefiting from extraction and who is suffering ills from that?


    Dr Katharine Legun is an environmental sociologist in Otago University’s Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work.    She is interested in the relationship between the economy, social organization, and the environment.

    Talking points:

    Stretched out commodity chains have separated the consumer from the environment.

    Food is an essential resource that goes beyond nutritional aspects – food politics is concerned with social security and your place in the world.

    I believe in the power of conversation and political dialogue – this enables democratic processes

    Economy, environment and society are not actually separate, but separated in institutional practices.

    Resources: Dunedin free university

    Shane’s number of the week: 2%.  Global warming will cut crop harvests by 2% each decade (more>>>).
    Sam’s joined-up-thinking:  Jon Kolko describes the empowering role of teaching entrepreneurial hustle – the idea that you can actively cause things to happen rather than passively have things happen to you (more>>>).

    Categories
    agriculture geography

    Cultural sustainability on the farm

    Rob Burton

    There’s a real problem for sustainability when you start using all of the resources – you have no capacity if something goes wrong – because then if it goes wrong it goes very wrong.


    Dr Rob Burton is a senior researcher from the Centre for Rural Research (Bygdeforskning) in Trondhiem, Norway. Rob’s work has focused on exploring the role culture and identity play in determining farming behaviours – particularly as they relate to agri-environmental activity.

    Rob is part of an EU COST programme looking at the concept of cultural sustainability with a focus on the influence of farming culture on the adoption of agri-environmental schemes.

    We talk about policy and sustainability frameworks as related to agricultural areas in Europe and New Zealand (spoiler: NZ is not outstanding in the field).

    Talking pointing

    As I was sitting there watching the glacier melt, I suddenly realised I didn’t want to spend my life sitting watching glaciers melt when the real cause of the problem is actually people

    (In terms of policies for agriculture that look beyond production) NZ not just has a long way to go, but is going rapidly in the wrong direction.

    Norway does the opposite of population-based funding, if an area doesn’t have enough population, they fund it better…to try to keep a regional distribution of population.

    (In regards to environmental policies around farming, have we got something fundamentally wrong?) Yes, I think you have. While many farmers are really good, you don’t need too many to ruin it for the rest. I think there needs to be more of an element of compulsion for breaching environmental standards. The industry is trying, and many farmers are trying, but there’s the bad ones that somewhere along the lines you’re going to have to pull up.

    Also the fast tracking of development for dairy is probably wrong. Particularly its expansion into regions that are dry and depend increasingly on irrigation – that creates difficulties, farmers have to borrow a hell of a lot of money to set up a dairy farm and really the environment is the last thing they want to worry about when they just have to make the business profitable. This will resolve itself in the future once the investment and growth development stops and farmers spend a bit of time getting the capital back and they can invest in things like the environment. But if you want it now, this is a problem I can’t see being resolved.

    There’s a real problem for sustainability when you start using all of the resources – you have no capacity if something goes wrong – because then if it goes wrong it goes very wrong. And this effectively what we do by relying on economics to drive the development of agriculture – which of course is going to maximise the use of every drop of water that’s out there which is fine except…you’re losing sheep and beef farms and if we have a period extreme drought through climate change then we’re in trouble.

    (Beyond post-productive farmer self-identity) When people do studies of farmers, they generally find that farmers are very pro-environment and then when they look at the farmer behaviours they don’t seem to match up. A lot of researchers in the past have concluded that the farmers are just liars – they don’t think this about the environment at all. Our point is about multiple identities, it’s about hierarchies of identities. You have an identity as an environmentalist that you can apply sometimes, and you can care greatly about the environment – but it is like going into a supermarket, you want to do the right thing in terms of purchasing organics and so on, but your first priority is feeding your family with the money you have in your pocket. In general, production remains the first priority for farmers – it doesn’t mean that when they talk about the environment and don’t act that way that it is hypocritical , it is just that they don’t prioritise it very often or as often as they should in some cases.

    (Are you an activist?) No, I’m not an activist. I’m a cynic, sometimes I’m a realist which is a cynic with a better cause than just being cynical. But in my work I always try to do things that are important rather than unimportant. There is unimportant work being done out there that is pretty irrelevant – I don’t like doing that. It’s not something that gives me a lot of satisfaction. But I’ve never protested anything…no I don’t think I’m an activist but I do what I can… but like to be able to put a perspective across that may make people think a bit differently- or make a difference in the end, but I don’t really believe that going out there and protesting is necessarily the best way of doing it because people have been doing that for too long and governments are really too savvy on that. They’ve got the spin doctors who are quite able to nullify any legitimate protest anyway.

    Categories
    museum

    Engaging to change lives

    Ian Griffin


    Our job is to inspire people to take in interest in the world around them.

    We talk with Otago Museum’s Dr Ian Griffin on mixing authentic story, interactivity, collection and quality into an engaging treasure house to be proud of.

    Dr Ian Griffin, the eighth Director of the Otago Museum. With a PhD in astronomy and the discovery of 27 asteroids among his accomplishments, Ian brings a strong scientific background to the Museum. Ian’s last role before joining the Museum was as Chief Executive of the Oxford Trust in Oxford, England – a charitable foundation encouraging the pursuit of science. His other previous roles have included Director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England; Head of Office of Public Outreach and Director NASA Origins Education Forum Space Telescope Science Institute; and CEO of the Auckland Observatory and Planetarium Trust. Ian has also been appointed an honorary fellow in the University of Otago Physics Department.

    Talking points:

    I want to work in a museum because museums have the potential to change lives.

    Museums are places where you come to help make sense of the world.

    The museums job is to help you connect.

    Do you need to believe it to be real?

    The role of the collection is critical in understanding your part of the world.

    A key part of what the museum must do is not so much is this important now, but asking could it be important in the future?

    A key thing scientists need to do better is communicate the process of science – that’s a role for the museum. It’s almost impossible to come to a final understanding.

    We have to communicate to our visitors that science is changing yet tell a simple story.

    We need to figure out to convey change, yet have visitors come away with a good understanding.

    Where appropriate, interactive exhibits beside artefacts can help you make sense of those artefacts.

    It’s a reflection of our society that people like to see things as black or white, or right or wrong but as we all know, in climate science in particular, it’s a very nuanced story.

    I wouldn’t want funding that came with conditions about the science.

    You can’t present a complicated subject in a simplistic way – and that’s the challenge.

    It (climate science) is not a simple subject so perhaps shouldn’t be reduced to simple interactives.

    It’s very difficult in the amount of time (visitors) spend in the museum gallery to convey all the information you need to make a knowledge based decision. And, we add to this that, some visitors are 5 years old, and some are 80, and some will be able to read at particular levels. The challenge is explaining that in a way that all those folks can go away (understanding)….it’s difficult.

    We’re not leading the science, we’re communicators of what others are doing.

    The fundamental challenge is to make sure the museum is relevant to our community….so we can be here in another 150 years.

    Anything that inspires an interest, that fires up your imagination is good…and has a place in the museum.