climate change green party youngleader

Jack Brazil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

agriculture organics

Activist storyteller

Bob Scowcroft

A farmer came to me and said there’s 7000 ag-chemicals out there, you’ve got to believe in reincarnation if you’re going to work to ban all those, but maybe if you had a positive alternative to them, then we’ll win in the long haul.

Bob Scowcroft, the co-founder and former executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation talks about what lead him to a life and career of activism. What does lying down in stop signs have to do with crop regulations, and what are the challenges facing today’s passionate young activists? A master storyteller, Bob held us transfixed as we recorded this interview in the Alan Chapman Garden at the University California Santa Cruz.

Talking Points

It was the times…someone I barely knew dropped out of school, went to war and came back in a body bag – that caught my attention, high school kids were dying for something I had no understanding of.

I was going to be drafted if I didn’t go to college.

As my education took root, almost none of it was on campus

It blew my mind, something that I’d never thought about or heard about – the fact that colour of your skin framed whether you could go to college or not.

All I wanted to do was be an adventurer

There was no doubt I was going (to Vietnam), but there was also no doubt I was not going to go.

The illogical assumption in a four-way stop sign in Decatur Georgia would have a ripple effect was really absurd…however as more recent philosophers have pointed out about the butterfly’s wings…this was called the new mobilisation, and there were probably tens of thousands of people that laid down in four-way stip signs throughout the US trying to shut it down – to stop the war.

In ’68, forty eight years ago was 1920…that’s how long ago Vietnam is for today’s kids

What I wanted to do was organise small businesses into an environmental chamber of commerce

I was asked, would you write a letter on FoE letterhead supporting the first organic law in California?

A farmer came to me and said there’s 7000 ag-chemicals out there, you’ve got to believe in reincarnation if you’re going to work to ban all those, but maybe if you had a positive alternative to them, then we’ll win in the long haul.

We can change the world in farming and agriculture

People were writing the word organic on a piece of cardboard…but the law was utterly irrelevant to the growth of the marketplace

Family farms whose grandmothers said if you take this farm don’t you ever use poisons on it…we don’t kill here, we create life here.

Farmers are incredibly open…true open source – working together to improve the environment, not one person can do it, but working together many can

Core principles: feed the soil that feeds the plant, and in the last decade, feed the soul, feed the workers, grow your community and fight for change

what motivates organic movement? passion and money – you have to be profitable, and passion…bringing in a harvest

We want rules, we want fine print, because we’re the only label that differentiates us from an agro-industrial system that we believe is ultimately destroying our soil and our planet

One of last great holdouts are academic institutions…the billion dollar investment is product oriented, not information oriented.

(The research to support organics…) that work is not done. If you were to do research on how planting this cover crop under this pear tree will release this beneficial insect, the Dean would most often say “where’s the product here?”

A pox on all of them…we’re going to organise an alternative…

It took 30 plus years to get from 0.001% to 4.5%, there’s lot of work ahead of us.

We need a cadre of young policy activists…and a young generation so passionate to put their shoulder to the plough.

(Superpower) Gift of gab, joy of storytelling. Resilience of learning from one’s mistakes…and never ever ever letting the bastards get you down

(Success) Watching philanthropic families get it, doing due diligence and fund it.

I’ve never been an I, it’s always we.

(Activist) To this day, absolutely.

I’m a connector, I’ve got the history

The coolest thing…farmers coming to understand that they have to tell their stories

(Motivation) my partner Judy

The absurdity of some of the mountains we have to climb

(Challenges) Synthetic biology

(Miracle) There isn’t a magic wand

(Advice) Try to buy one item, certified organic every day.

politics union

Actively changing the world

Andrew Tait

Activism is really important. It is entirely possible to change the world.

Andrew Tait is a Dunedin journalist, he is an active member of the EPMU, and the Mana Party, and was involved in Oil Free Otago, and the Otago Occupy Movement.

Talking Points

Possibilities for positive change.

“One law for all” is dog whistle, it’s code word for racism. Our justice system is inherently, systematically racist from start to finish. Maori are more likely to be apprehended, once apprehended they are more likely to be charged, once charged they’re more likely to go to court, once they go to court they’re more likely to be convicted, once they are convicted they are more likely to receive harsher sentences, custodial sentences.

Law and order, one law for all is absolutely the new rhetoric of racism.

(On meritocracy being an abstract that doesn’t work in context) Anyone that’s interested in real change has to recognise where people are really coming from – you can’t approach things from an abstract point of view, you have to work with from actual communities where they really exist, the concrete realities of their lives.

One of the big problems in western society is the rift between ourselves and the environment. It’s to do with urbanisation, its to do with externalisation of costs and the privatisation of profits, and the exploitation – the idea that the environment is there to be used, and the idea that things are there to be used and then thrown away.

The challenge for us is not to fall backwards, but to maintain the level of civilisation, the level of science, in a conscious way, but to restrengthen the natural collectivism of what it means to be a human.

Fundamentally what it means to be human is to be part of humanity, to be part of a group.

We have to work with those we can work with….don’t waste your time with people who aren’t going to listen.

Working class people have got the power to change the world, we create all the wealth and we’ve got an interest in changing the world. That’s a very different point of view than lobbying the powerful – or at least the people who apparently hold the power in the system.

We need to radically change the system.

Everybody has contradicting conscientiousness.

Somebody might have internalised capitalism too much, they might be living alongside us, but they believe the way to get ahead is to knife somebody in the back.

This is not some Utopian future, we’re talking about standards of human decency that we impose on society in general – the idea of the 40 hour week, the idea of free health care, the idea of education…these things were just ideas, until people worked together to make them a reality.

We do need radical change, but we have already won major victories.

My orientation is always towards what increases the power of working people, because what increases the power of the community, increases the safety of the environment. I don’t think you can separate them.

The best guardians of the environment are the people that are living and working there.

We need a movement of confidence,

Activism: Absolutely. Activism is really important. It is entirely possible to change the world. The world is changing all the time and what we do can make a real difference – so much of what we have has been won by people working in the past.

Challenges: Building an organisation of activists, of people committed to responding. Strengthen the ability, the self confidence of working class people…to fight for rights for the oppressed.

Advice: Study. Our culture is quite instant, it doesn’t encourage thoughtfulness, if you can join a union join it , look after one another but look for big changes as well.

climate change oil politics

The rise of the hyphenated activist

Anadarko's drill ship the Noble Bob Douglas drilling off the Otago Coast.  Credit: Damian Newell aboard the Oil Free Otago flotilla.

Dr Patricia Widener hails from the Sociology Department of Florida Atlantic University. She studies the effect of the oil industry on communities.

Talking points

I study the conflict and contamination as communities respond to the oil industry.

Even the threat of an oil industry can damage a sense of place

For many places the oil industry is not something people have considered

New communities are being forced to assess what oil means to them. In a way oil has been invisible to us, its always been available to us, it’s such a part of our lives we don’t critically think of all of the meanings petroleum until these new projects are announced.

Oil splits communities.

If people are afraid to take a strong position, that’s a problem, that’s an environment that is not conducive to everyone discussing it, debating it forming their own opinions about it.

If they are not shy about holding a position, but afraid that they’ll be rejected, a stigma for that position. In a democracy shouldn’t be happening, in a democracy, everyone should be comfortable talking about their position, how they got to that position and why they feel strongly about it.

People can be criticised for taking a position against a project – but that’s democracy.

Small businesses in business associations

Communities are not able to assess projects on a equal playing field, they only have tidbits of information.

We say we are aware of climate change and we are addressing it, and yet we are increasing fossil fuel production. To a community that makes no sense. It is confusing for community members who need to make decisions on specific projects that potentially will produce greenhouse gases.

National responses are very mixed, but a community itself has to make a decision on an actual project. It’s not an abstract conversation, it’s a specific project – or potential project that’s coming in.

Both signals are happening. Yes we’re dealing with climate change, yes we’re increasing fossil fuels production and use. Both of these are happening at the same time. People, agencies, governments are saying both without connecting what that actually means.

I’m concerned about the focus on individual energy use, while at the same time giving industry a pass.

Until there are locally alternatives to driving the car – we’re mobile people – we do need to transition, and it’s not happening.

It is a diversion and it is easy to focus on and target the individual, and blame the individual for the problem. And this serves industry to target the individual.

It serves as a diversion to get the eyes, the gaze, the critical thinking away from industry and onto households and individuals.

We still need to drive less, the developed wealthy world, we live beyond our means, beyond the world’s means.

Oil is pleasing, it is so close to our lifestyles, the pleasurable parts of our lifestyles, but we need to be thinking about what it means when other areas or other communities are negatively impacted.

It is really difficult for us to think about how what is pleasing to us may cause someone else’s suffering. We don’t want to dwell on that so we give industry a pass.

We see oil wealth and hope that it is going to solve problems, but it can lead to inequality – it doesn’t mean it is going to reduce poverty and inequality.

Rather than individuals’ choices, the focus has to be on the political economy of oil – to make changes there.

Democracies need spaces.

(On potential for oil jobs in countries of abject poverty) It’s really hard for someone who has a job and isn’t experiencing dire poverty to criticise someone for wanting a (oil) job someone needing a job for themselves and their family, but could there not be developments for other jobs? Ones that are do contribute to the community, that do build livelihood, economic security and sustainability. A concern is when it (an oil job) becomes the only option, and there are no other options for the community – and they are risky jobs.

We need to make connections. The extraction, production, consumption and disposal – that’s the flow of the product, and along the entirety of a product’s life are inequalities, injustices and risks. If we think of ourselves as part of a global society – and we’d like to think we do, then we’re obligated to think of the harms associated with our products.

We can also see a flow of activism or resistance along the flow of petroleum.

We need to disengage from the industry that is causing harm. But we’re in a protracted age of oil, we have a fossil fuel addition. So despite climate change awareness, despite increasing knowledge of harms…we haven’t stopped or slowed down.

The political economy of oil is so entrenched, communities would struggle to resist it.

Industry is working on extraction to depletion.

Ask decision makers: what are you doing about climate change, how is increasing fossil fuel production an answer? I’m not hearing anyone answering this. It is staggering that projects are getting the green light without that question being answered.

What does it mean when we are producing something with global (negative) impacts, are you comfortable with that? And increasingly people are not comfortable with that.

(Am I an activist?). Yes, I’m a sociologist-activist.

We’re seeing the rise of the hyphenated activist…the professor-activist, the lawyer-activist, the farmer-activist, the grandparent-activist, the student-activist. A lot of people are doing both, and they’re doing both because these problems are coming closer to where they live, work, study and play. At that point, when you take a position on something, you have a multiple presence – you are what you are and you’re an activist, or advocate. Not against, but advocating for. For communities, for environment, advocates for – not against.

Be informed, to increase awareness about environment and community, take a position on that, and be heard with regards that position. Democracies rely on that.

Photo: Anadarko’s drill ship the Noble Bob Douglas drilling off the Otago Coast. Credit: Oil Free Otago flotilla.