Categories
climate change community electricity generation

Energised community action

Scott Willis believes in community action. We talk about all the ways the manager of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust has put that belief into action. Recent successes include the launch of the Blueskin Energy Network that provides a market to encourage small-scale renewable community energy sharing. The completion of the first Climate Safe House was a real milestone on a project to progress new housing models to demonstrate adaptation and innovative ownership options.

The vision is to energise our communities, to be talking about and taking action on the big issues

As I move away from myself, my influence gets less, but the potential sphere impact increases…community is a great scale to affect good change.

Demonstrating what we can do at the flaxroots, we can make change at a different scale

Energy enables us to thrive more than survive, but our profligate consumption has caused the long emergency

We need to engage with the cost of profligate use of energy

We’re democratising our electricity sector

There is always something we can do, but don’t feel burdened to get it right, be humble enough to know we are always learning how to make a difference

Working on solutions makes me happy.

Acting despite uncertainty

Categories
education RCEOtago youngleader

Youth that needs to be listened to

Matt Shepherd, Sylvia Otley and Luke Geddes from the Youth Working Group of the Otago UN Regional Centre for Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development

Categories
climate change dunedin youngleader

Real positive change

Zak Rudin was one of the co-organisers of the Dunedin School Strike for Climate. Now he has finished school, we talk about what drives him and what’s next.

Categories
community education leadership youngleader

Passion for creating change

Ashleigh Smith is Co-founder and Board Chairperson of Sticks n Stones, New Zealand’s largest youth led bullying prevention organisation.   She is a Queen’s Young Leader and a student in both the Bachelor of Nursing and Bachelor of Leadership for Change.


Talking points:

If you are unhappy about something, do something about it!

I have such a passion for creating this change you know the things that are really important to you in your life you just have to make time for.

Last year I came to this awesome conclusion:  the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had in my life was standing actually just being kind to someone else

Sometimes we get so incredibly busy within our own lives that we miss all the opportunities to be kind to the people around us, and I actually think that realising and acting on that is the best way to change the world.

Sometimes in life you have to take a step back and look at the other persons perspective, and even though you think they may be wrong you have got ask yourself what value they can add to the situation, and just do you best to try and look through that.

If I could wave a magic wand I would make everyone more aware of how our choices as consumers can have an effect on the world.

Sometimes you have to realise that you are doing your best.

Connecting to your why.

Categories
business maori

Passion behind business marae

Heidi Renata is the energy behind Dunedin’s Innov8HQ.  She is “inspiring people to follow their dream”.

 


Talking points:

Being a women and being Maori has presented itself as a form of unconscious activism.

We’ve created a western and commercial version of a marae that brings people together and enables them to cross pollinate and collaborate with skills and experiences of different levels.

Where technology has connected us, it has also divided us.

What we’ve designed has always been our heritage, we’ve just done it in a commercial sense – a business marae.

Technology is exponential but communities are still not being educated

If you have got a dream give it a go! Surround yourself with the right people.

I’m a connectorer – with passion and deliberate intent.

Categories
education

Education of positive discourse

Oonagh McGirr is Deputy Chief Executive Learning and Teaching at Otago Polytechnic.


Talking points:

Other people motive me, just working with other people is a privilege and a pleasure. I’ve worked in lots of places, Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, England and now in New Zealand. So, I feel really privileged because its basically like a great long observational piece of work where you go around a meet lots of people and conclude that was are all basically the same.

People should start being kinder to people on every level.

Be aware that when you wake up in the morning that you need to make a genuinely kind act which is selfless.

We need to get beyond a discourse of deficit

Be kind, there’s enough for everybody

 

 

 

Categories
education

play> reflect> act

We talk with Dina Buchbinder Auron and Edgardo Martinez of Education for Sharing.

Education for Sharing’s (E4S) mission is to form better citizens from childhood through innovative education programs based on the power of play and physical activity. Their vision is for EfS to become an integral part of school communities globally. We ask about how civic education can empower the next generation of community changemakers prepared to tackle the global challenges of their time.

The way that we preserve the most precious resources that allow us to live a happy, healthy and safe life.

The children are not only children, they are change-makers!

Creating a better world for everyone, making a difference everyday.

Categories
computing energy water

Big data habits

Dr Ben Anderson is Principal Research Fellow in the Energy & Climate Change Division of the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, UK . We ask what big data can tell us about habitual energy and water consumption.

Living beyond our means. We are currently living outside of our day-to-day means as a global population, because we are digging up the past and burning it. So I would define sustainability as living within our day-to-day energy means such that we can continue to continue living on the planet.

Ask yourself how can New Zealand be a shining light in terms of research, innovation and building capacity in a future way of living?

Try to burn less, try to consume less, have a think about what you are doing and when you are doing it.

Categories
communication education museum science

Telling the story of science

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
community dunedin youngleader

Empowering for change

Connor Boyle of the Malcam Trust has a diverse range of interests stretching including climate science, growing and cooking food, writing and playing music, mindfulness and mental health, social enterprise development, and building interactive digital sculptures. His current work focusses on engaging young people in making a difference – to their own lives and the community.

I’m motivated by my love of people, the natural world and music.

We have to learn how to be human in an enviroment which we have a profound ability to effect.

You shouldn’t need permission to stand up for the things that you believe in.

Categories
design education leadership

Professional Disobedience

Welby Ings is Professor of Graphic Design at AUT.  His recent book Disobedient Teaching is causing big waves in the education community.  We ask Welby what drives him, and how professional disobedience can change the world.


Talking points

We need to play in the unknown

The terror of poverty

There is nothing beautiful about being poor

She doesn’t think I’m stupid…I loved her

There are people in dire environments who actually effect change.

You don’t need to tell someone that they’re awesome, show them that you understand that.  Ask their opinion of something, or ask their advice about something.

Often when we’re trying to repair someone who has been damaged and people say “what do I do, what do I do”, I say ask for their advice.  Ask their opinion.  Ask them to show you some stuff.  The crap detectors  are very good, they’re going to spot it when you are patronising.    But ask something you don’t know the answer to – hanging a gate, you say this isn’t working, do think there’s some other way we could try – when they realise that you are genuinely asking them, it makes a big change inside you.

When you are bit wounded you’re very sensitive to what’s false, so when you get something sincere, it has immense power.

It doesn’t have much to do with hierarchy, it seems to have to do with agency.

Cynicism is the death of hope and the death of agency.   If you live in your world cynically then you are not going to do anything to change what is there.  All you will do is accommodate and be witty about how negative it is.  But you have given away the agency to change because you have divorced yourself from the thing.

If you are a teacher and you are role modelling that then you are doing a very dangerous, very toxic thing to kids.

If you’re in an organisation where you are trying to grow the health of it, you’re doing bad things for people who admire you, because you are teaching them to become inactive.  You’re putting wit over the top of it so it sounds clever, but is actually the abdication of the power to change things.

A lot of people who do effect change have a mixture of optimism and common sense.   They do function with high levels of hope and high levels of belief and they refuse to relinquish that – even when an environment turns toxic they defiantly hold onto it.

Oftentimes those people who are effecting change are not necessarily in empowered positions on hierarchies, and they threaten people in them because their talent is more, and they are genuinely the true leaders.

People endure because they have spirit and they set up relationships with other thinkers and they care for those other thinkers

Understanding how the system works – not in a bitter way – but fundamentally.  The worst thing you can do with someone who opposes you is give that oxygen.

As soon as someone sees themselves as binary to you, they can put aside the morals, the ethics of how they behave.

 

If you want to have influence, do not let people hate you, don’t give them that.

I don’t (have a definition of sustainability) because the idea is so important but the word is so polluted.  I have a sense, but I try not to use the word.

Success:  Been loved.

Superpower:  I don’t know, I don’t believe in heroes, what I do believe in is generosity and courage.   How I measure if what I’ve been doing is working is the amount of agency that gives to people, even to the point that they might disagree with me.  Heroic is a very dangerous thing, it dumbs things down and it turns people into role models and that’s not sustainable because it’s not sustainable – it’s not a true thing, we’re flawed, flawed human beings.

Activist: Yes.  Active.  Quite a long history.   The point where I wasn’t I think I’d’ve lost a sense of value in myself.

I see activism as a hugely affirming thing.   Affirming things that are not usually acknowledged.

Motivation:  I’m passionate.  A lot of my friends died of Aids, and you begin to understand what a life was, and you don’t waste it.  It’s an extraordinary thing to have you health and a society that has got relative freedom in it and your talents, those are extraordinary things.

Opportunities:  New feature film.  Painting.

Relentlessly optimistic?  Yes.

Miracle:  I don’t understand war. I don’t have a frame, but it’s wrong.  It it’s wrong to kill people for ideas.  So world peace.  But it’s not going to happen like that, it’s going to take a different kind of mind.  But it’s not a wish, it needs an alert, critical positive mind.

 

 

 

Categories
community conservation biology design education

Loving life: Taking action

Tahu Mackenzie and Harvey Penfold won Audacious this year for their development of PekaPeka – a movable, predator-proof bird-feeding platform designed to feed a range of native birds anywhere.   Tahu is the lead educator for Orokonui Ecosantuary, while Harvey is completing a Bachelor of Product Design at Otago Polytechnic.


Talking points

Teaching people what we can do, what’s been lost and what we can come back to.

10 years into a 1000 year restoration plan

(we asked both Tahu and Harvey these questions – you can decide who said what).

Sustainable:   Closed loop production cycle.  Emotional connection with nature as priority.  Emotional well-being in environment.

Success: Audacious.  Meeting Jane Goodall.

Superpower: Love. Thinking.

Activist: Yes.  Yes.

Motivation: Make dreams come true, working for yourself and provide a great home life.   I feel the most inspired, loved and powerful in nature – I would like everyone to have the opportunity to experience that.

Challenges: Growing business.

Miracle.   Remove predators.

Advice:   You can make a difference in so many different ways – however you passionately connect with the world, I’d encourage people to take action and feel good about it.   Design has made such a difference to me, but I didn’t do it for so long.  So if you feel like you would enjoy something then you should look for ways to make that happen. .

 

 

Categories
business local government management

Crowdsourcing development

Dr Jim O’Malley is a Dunedin City Councillor.  We spoke to him about his career as a scientist and entrepreneur, local government, and a crowd funding campaign to buy a chocolate factory (https://ownthefactory.co.nz/).


Talking points.

Things that make a difference

If you feel strongly about something then do something about it

If you say things often enough, it starts to get legs

Rationalisation of money is capitalism at its worst

Large multinationals…are not immoral, they have no moral sense at all, but they are staffed by good people

Sustainability: Sustainability means that the venture lasts way beyond you, there are many economic models out there which are profitable but quickly begin to eat away at the company, what I focus on is finding the balance between a long lasting company and a profitable one.

Success: Getting on the Dunedin City Council.

Superpower: The ability to think before I act and make educated decisions.

Activist: Sometimes, the definition of bravery is knowing what you are facing and still going forward and doing it again, and sometimes I’m a bit too aware so I don’t go forward.

Motivation: Interaction with people, having a varied interaction with people. Sometimes as small as coaching a girls football team, other times as large as getting a factory off the ground!

Miracle: That everybody was quite insightful and we had societies that ran harmoniously and smoothly.

Advice: Do whatever makes you feel right and do the right thing.

Categories
climate change dunedin politics

Engaged generation

 


 

I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.

 

Shane: So our guest tonight is Finn Campbell from Generation Zero. Finn is a masters student at Otago University, studying politics. Generation Zero is a youth-led organisation in New Zealand, focus on transitioning society away from its dependency on fossil fuels, and combating climate change. And you’ll know if you’re a regular listener to our show, we’ve had Generation Zero on several times over the years.

 

So, Generation Zero was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities, and independence from fossil fuels. And the group believes that young people must be the forefront of tackling climate change, and that young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response. Welcome to our show.

 

Finn: Hello, how are you?

 

Shane: Not so bad. So, before we go on to talk about Generation Zero, let’s tell a little bit about yourself. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

 

Finn: I was born in Christchurch when my dad was doing his PhD. Quickly moved over to Wagga Wagga – in Australia – for the first two years of my life. Didn’t have a great impact on me. Don’t really remember it, being a young child. And then Dad got a job at the University of Otago, and I spent the rest of my life here, living in sunny old Dunedin.

 

Shane: So what schools did you go to?

 

Finn: Opoho Primary was my first school, right around the corner from the house. Went down to Dunedin North Intermediate, and then shipped my way over to Logan Park High School before somehow ending up at University of Otago. So, I think that’s been about two kilometres of my education radius.

 

Shane: And if anybody doesn’t live here, that’s a very typical set of schools to go to for-

 

Sam: A very good high school.

 

Shane: Very good high school.

 

Finn: Thank you very much. I think-

 

Sam: I think so.

 

Shane: All our sons have gone there.   Excellent. Excellent school.

 

So, what got you involved with … What was your passion at school?

 

Finn: Passion at school … I think I had the pretence that I was going to be a dentist. And I think that was – on reflection – that was a terrible idea. But I always, at the same time, wanted to do something right. I don’t really know where to put my thumb on the mark and say, “That’s what ‘right’ is,” but I’ve always felt like, if you’re going to be doing something, you should be at least trying to make a difference. And then what’s going on around you.

 

Shane: Where did you pick that up from? Is that something you just developed, or is that something that’s part of your family?

 

Finn: I feel like it’s been a family thing. My dad is a food sociologist. Does a lot on sustainability. But at the same time, he’s never really pushed that one on me. Maybe it’s … I haven’t quite felt his breathing down my neck, telling me, “You must get into sustainability. It’s the only option for the future.” I think it’s just more of an osmosis – naturally picking up everything from just casual conversations. Seeing things going on and just realising, “Maybe that’s just the way that things should be done.”

 

Shane: Do you think you actively tried to avoid it?

 

Sam: I think he actively tried to avoid it.

 

Finn: I think he would have been horrified to think that he was forcing a son to do something in particular.

 

Shane: What did you do at school?

 

Finn: Lot of music. Lot of music. Played in the jazz band. Played chamber music. Did science. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. No English – I dropped that as soon as I could. I thought it was terrible. A waste of time. I thought science was the way to go. I regret that one.

 

Shane: Was what’s turned into, now, a bit of a direction in terms of sustainability … Did you know that was going to be there, underneath whatever the actual job you did?

 

Finn: I don’t think so. I think during my high school years, I didn’t really have a clue. Was just travelling through, thinking, “Got to do something, but … ” I’d sit down at a park bench and look out across the park, and say, “This is great, but what am I going to do? Perpetual existential crises of, “I’m going to have a job, but where? Why? How? I better go to University and find out.”

 

Shane: So, what did you do when you first got to University?

 

Finn: I signed myself up for a double major – Bachelor of Applied Science in Energy Management and Environmental Management. I thought my pathway to success was becoming an electrical engineer. Someone who’s very in tune with the physics. What was going on with renewable energy systems, with conventional energy systems, fossil fuels. Understanding, doing the geography parts of it. Thinking this was absolutely the pathway to go. “I’m going to change the industry from within.” And then I realised that, holy-moly, I do not like the maths. If I came out and followed that degree through, I would have been a fairly average engineer. And I thought, “The world doesn’t need another average engineer telling people what to do.” And then I realised it wasn’t changing people through action, it was changing people through actually being the positive change I wanted – without becoming an engineer. That politics and people were really the problem that we’re facing these days. That we’ve got great wind turbines, we got great solar panels. Not so great hydro-electric, but still not burning fossil fuels to use them.

 

Sam: Did you have a moment of epiphany that the problem’s not technical, but people?

 

Finn: I think getting into politics – studying politics at the University of Otago – thinking, “Holy moly, this is great.” First of all, I was really into it. Really passionate. I always thought … Reading the newspaper in the morning – I’d get really excited about what you’re reading about – was just a hobby. And maybe it still is. But, kind of clicking and going, “Oh. Politicians are the ones who are telling people how to do things.” Policy-makers. Planners. All these people having such a great influence on how we actually use what we’ve got. So I’m not going to try and tackle what we’ve got. I think what we’ve got is great. But how we’re using it, on the other hand, is where the problem lies. In my mind.

 

Shane: You said you started studying politics. So when did you-

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Shane: When was that? Was that like, you’re at the end of first year, went, “Ah … ”

 

Finn: I wish it was the end of first year. I was a little bit stubborn-headed. I went and studied for two years, doing my Bachelor of Applied Science. And thought, “I need a break,” and went and worked in a hospitality job for about a year. And went backpacking around Europe. One of those classic, “I’m just going to escape from all my problems, and maybe find some energy for energy management again.” Give it a second shot. Came back, gave it a second shot, and went, “Ah, man, no, something’s not going right, here.” But at the same time, I was picking up a politics paper, and I was just killing it. Loving it. Having a great time. Such a great time that I was kind of skipping out on my energy management work that I should have been doing.

 

Shane: Is it something fundamental about that energy management approach? Or is it you? Or a combination of those two?

 

Finn: I think energy management is excellent if you’re going to end up working in the field, or maybe telling people how to work from within the industry. But I think – for me, personally – I think I look at a problem and, for me, it’s never the numbers game. The message we have is, “Fantastic. It’s such an easy sell. How come we’re not selling it?” And so it’s always been in messaging. Messaging, messaging, messaging. Where’s it going wrong? How’s it getting lost out there, and what on Earth can we do to actually bring it back into the forefront?

 

Shane: So you should have been listening more to those English teachers and Drama teachers at Logan Park.

 

Finn: Yeah. Yes. I’m sure the English teacher would have had a few words to say about my blog post writing. Still work in progress.

 

Shane: So, you got yourself a politics degree.

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Sam: You sort of changed career on the basis of the first paper that you loved. Did the rest of the degree deliver on what you hoped for?

 

Finn: If you say maybe from where you’re around from the start in a nursing degree, or a law degree, sending you directly into a career of law or nursing. A politics degree, I think … I got pretty tired of people asking if I wanted to be an MP. But I think it’s certainly and interesting way to study how things are happening. It’s a study of people in a very strict environment, if you talk to a political scientist, political theorist. I’m sure that I can say politics is very broad, and I’ve had to write many an essay on all that.

 

But you say politics, and the governance, and the systems, and the understanding of power relationships and how they form – why they’re there in the first place – you have a different lens through which you approach things. You realise you can be a sort of normal citizen, but you’ve got a extra pair of glasses that suddenly see through all the nonsense that’s going on. And you go, “Why do we have to accept this?” “Why do we have to accept that?” “Why is this person even here? What are they doing? They’re monstrous.” They really don’t care. What are they in it for? Is it just a meal ticket for these politicians? I don’t know.

 

Sam: And why has it turned into such a game? Or theatre, perhaps?

 

Finn: This is one of my struggles. This could leave me leaving this interview, going home, and just staring at the ceiling for a long time. How does it end up like this? People vote for their instinct. People vote for what makes most sense to them. They voted for their interest. And you can’t fault them for that. You can’t fault someone for voting for something they believe in, because it’s just sensible to stand up and say, “I should take care of myself, because that’s in my best interest.” And so you sit there like, “Why is that your best interest? What’s been teaching you? Who’s been teaching you? What’s been involved in your life to make you think that that is your version of the optimal outcome?” That’s the problem. And then you get politician that reflect that behaviour. They’re merely a mirror of their constituents. People who just voting for self interest.

 

Sam: Is politics broken?

 

Finn: No, you can’t break politics – unless you somehow inject a whole lot of money into it, so it’s represented by corporations. But democracy … You’ve just kind of got to accept it at face value that it’s everyone gets a say.

 

Sam: There seems to be a lunatic in the White House.

 

Finn: Yes. I hold out hope that ultimately there will be a good outcome from that. He is a terrible person, but what he might do for the American political system might be good. If he goes, and goes quickly. Because they’ll say, “Let’s not let that happen again. Let’s figure out what went so horribly wrong.”

 

Sam: And in the meantime, he appears to have fallen out with Europe.

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Sam: Pulling out of Paris.

 

Shane: I was reading the articles just today, thinking, “Trump might pull out.” “Trump might pull out.” “Trump says he’s going to pull out.” “Trump has pulled out.” And I’m like, “Oh, crap.”

 

Finn: Oh, no. I guess that’s the problem with international agreements. International agreements always pretend to be some sort of higher authority upon states. “Look, we’ve got the UN now. Now we’re going to tell you what to do.” No, no. Every international agreement’s just pretend. People buy into it because they can, or they want to. And so they’ve got to think that there’s a reason why people should get involved. So if the US pulls out, and they think it’s not their interest, you can’t do much to stop them.

 

Sam: If, when they do pull out, what’s the message for New Zealand politicians, do you think? Should we pull out too?

 

Finn: No, I don’t think we should pull out. I think, when you’ve got the US pulling out, yeah, that’s definitely not good. But the fact that China and India are still committing to it – and they’re the sort of economies that you’ve really got to worry about with that sort of transition. They’re the ones who are often brought to the negotiation table and think, “Why should we commit to this? You’ve had a life of luxury, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain. Why should we not follow in your footsteps? We have every right to industrialise. We have every right to develop.” And the fact that they’re buying into this and continuing to say, “We’re going to move forward,” is very optimistic. It’s a great sense of possibility that these countries are still continuing to think that this is something worth following.

 

Shane: So, you finished your degree?

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Sam: And then went back for another one.

 

Finn: Back for a master’s.

 

Shane: Must be in the blood.

 

Finn: It’s terrible. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I made one smart call, in that the Masters of Politics has only been around for its second year, now. I thought, “I don’t really feel like being a guinea pig.” So, I worked in hospitality, again. Kind of escaped, I think. From where I started university in 2011 until last year, I’d spent quite a long time in and out. And I thought, “Time to just have a wee rest.” Stop thinking about it so much, academically. Do my volunteering. Do my activism, but also take a break. Recharge. Give the batteries a chance to get going again.

 

Shane: So, eventually, you got back?

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Shane: And you’ve decided to do what?

 

Finn: For my Master’s of Politics? Factors of water scarcity in conflict in what will be the Middle East will be my case studies as part of my dissertation. But it’s a part taught, part dissertation in master’s. So I still have my theoretical “Theory of Politics” paper, and then I have comparative regional conflicts. I still have to learn the whole suite of things expected to come out as an Pols student.

 

Sam: Did you say, “as a driver of conflict”? Water scarcity?

 

Finn: Yeah. As a factor, I think … When you read political journals talking about climate change and conflict, the narrative is not always the same. An I get a bit bemused by that. But I guess all my friends from Generation Zero – sustainability-minded people – go, “Of course climate change is related in scarcity. How could you not think that?” And because there’s water scarcity, of course there’s conflict. Water scarcity runs into crops. Disease. All these sorts of other factors. Of course there’s a relationship. And I’m sitting there going, “Okay. Okay. Okay, I’ll have a look at that.” I want to pull that apart, and really look at what the academics have been writing.

 

Some people say that is not a factor. That water scarcity is not good – there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think anyone stands up and says, “Water scarcity is fine, don’t worry about it.” Everyone seems to be saying it’s either good governance, or bad governance. You can have plenty of drought. And, “Where’s the war? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the starvation? What’s going on, here?” And the other places, which have got plenty of clean water, and far more conflict. So, with something as complex and multi-dimensional as this, you got to try and figure out some cases where you can really pull them apart, look at water scarcity, and go, “All right, this is where it’s going wrong. This is a direct factor in conflict.” And that’s what I’m looking for. Hopefully I’ll find something like that, but I guess for the sake of academic integrity, I can’t just say, “There’s going to be water scarcity. Let’s go for it.”

 

Sam: Presumably, just to jump ahead to a thesis you haven’t written yet … You’re going to be concluding something about complexity, systems thinking, wicked problems … It’s all that mushy stuff put together.

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: You already know it’s not as simple as yes or no.

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Sam: Through that politics degree, things like complexity, system thinking, wicked problems … Are they a thing that we’re actively teaching people?

 

Finn: No, I don’t think so. Not at any level, I think. You’d only really start approaching that, at least in a political sense, when they do lots of conflict analysis. That’s still very much like, “Oh, you’ve got this factor, so X is going to happen. There’s no doubt about it.” And you think, “Well … We need more information. We need a better understanding of what’s going on, here.” And then you realise as soon as you start getting more, and more, and more, and more complex, that there are so many factors going on. That you can’t look at one thing and say … You can only create building blocks, which you can contribute toward something. But you can never quite say, “This is exactly what’s going to happen.”

 

In politics, you hear a lot about political theory trying to predict conflict – predict why states act. And all of it’s just useless forecasting, at the end of it. They have some sort of pretence that they’re going to know exactly when the next conflict’s going to rise up. When it’s going to happen. How it’s going to happen. Who’s going to be involved. And you go, “That’s a bit rubbish.”

 

Sam: Does political theory cope with that kind of complexity?

 

Finn: No, it doesn’t. Not at all. It likes to think it does, but when you start applying it you realise you almost have to become a complete specialist in one country, or one conflict to really know such of the information that’s going into it. You can’t … Specialist in the Middle East, and even then, they specialise in Syria. And then they’ve got no understanding of what’s going on, necessarily, in the Pacific Islands. And you’ve got someone else going in there. And it’s just … It’s interesting stuff. There’s no doubt. But as soon as you start getting into it, you realise you can’t really make proper claims, assessments, or forecasts without understanding the information. It just gets so complicated so bloody quickly.

 

Sam: So, somewhere along the line, you decided not just to study stuff, but to do something about it?

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Sam: What led to that?

 

Finn: I think that itch was going on in the back of my head, going, “You’ve got an obligation to be the change that you want to see going on. If you want a future, why not fight for it?” I can’t just expect to sit at my computer all day, wonderfully, in bliss, playing on my computer, reading news articles, and then expect someone round the street corner to show up and show me what the world could be like. What a nice Utopia world we have amongst us. I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.

 

And so, I found out three years ago that the group Generation Zero – which I’d just heard about – was doing enrolments on campus for the students. And that main goal there was actually to be completely non-involved of the politics of it. Whether you’re a National voter, Labour voter, Green, New Zealand First, ACT … We didn’t care. We said, “If you’re a young person, you should be participating.” We held events. We had a gig down at Refuel where the door entrance fee was signing up and proving that you’re on the electoral roll. And if you weren’t on the electoral roll, we had a form right there. And I remember I got my right hand onto TV-3. It was in some back shot somewhere, writing on a form.

 

Sam: So, give us Generation Zero 101.

 

Finn: Generation Zero 101. So, nationwide organisation – wonderful – where a sort of governance going on at a national level. And then you have teams based in every city, and they’re relatively autonomous. I’m the convener for Generation Zero Dunedin at the moment, or co-convener, with another person. And we do what works for Dunedin, I think. We don’t have a lot of people coming from national level team and saying, “Dunedin needs to be doing this, because this is the most important thing for all of New Zealand.” We kind of sit there as our group, and we go, “What’s going on in Dunedin? What’s actually the problems? Why is South Dunedin a big issue? What’s going on with cycleways? What’s going on with housing? Why are these things not being addressed, and how can we, as a group, best target them?

 

I guess we felt like being a regional-based organisation and contributing to a national cause … Sometimes you spend a lot of time feeling like you’ve got a megaphone held up to nothing. You’re just shouting your message out there, and you’re thinking, “It’s just bouncing off the walls. Surely no one’s picking this up.” So when you talk at a regional, local level, you find yourself sitting in council chambers, hearing councillors talk. You go to resource consent applications. We go onto the second generation district plan. We’ve made submissions on that. And we find that we get immediate feedback and an understanding of what impact you’re having at that level, specifically. And then through a combined effort through all these teams doing this in Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Auckland …

 

You find that all these major centres in New Zealand – really slowly but surely – having sustainability and Generation Zero’s vision embedded into what’s going on. So that cycleways are getting passed because there’s been a record amount of submissions coming through one of our online forms. I think Auckland team has the pride of having one of the largest submissions ever held for a consent application for the SkyPath. They adopted it. Their SkyPath wasn’t their plan, but they found out, and thought, “Wow, this is bloody excellent. How can we best make this happen?” And so they wrote an online form, basically got a couple of text boxes for people to come in on their website and say, “Yes, we want this.” And I think they got 10,000 submissions. Which I think, for anything of its kind, it was the largest.

 

And then councillors found out about it and said, “Yes, that’s all right.” They tried to do it again, and counted it as one. So, we had hundreds of people would come in. Thousands, whatever. They would say, “That’s the Generation Zero submission.” And we’re, “Oh, crap, we’re going to have to change our form options, because otherwise they’re going to … One person vote at a council policy submission doesn’t really count for much.” So we had to change all the forms, so everyone gets their own name put on it. And we just adjusted the system slightly, and carried on. Writing a whole boatload of those.

 

Sam: Is influencing the people who are sitting around the tables making decisions … Is that the best way of making change?

 

Finn: I think it’s one of the ways. That’s how I feel. I think there is a fairly comprehensive sustainability – so climate change – or transport movement going on in New Zealand. Or, I can speak for Dunedin – say, Dunedin, I think, has got a very interesting one. And trying to figure out what piece of the pie you make up. Everyone contributing in some particular area. You’ve got students for environmental action doing environmental focuses on campus. You’ve got SPOKES, who do cycle-related things. And we think, “How can we best fit into this piece of the puzzle, so we’re not doubling up?” We’re not expending unnecessary energy doing something that’s been done before. And the councils, planners … Whenever they hear us come along, they almost say, “Please come back. Come back for more. We need to hear what you people actually want to say.” It’s like finding out you’re the youngest person in the room by half, and then it’s amazing if someone in their 30s shows up, and you’re 24.

 

Shane: Not just because you’re turning up, and you’re young, but because you’re turning up and being constructive.

 

Sam: Yes. Because you make a point of not just having a submission saying, “We don’t like this,” but actually putting forward quite detailed proposals, and things.

 

Finn: We have some people in Dunedin who have background – who have done the Masters of Planning, everything. So they’ve basically got the credentials enough to become a planner. We’ve had people who are law students, and so they have a great understanding of the law, and what’s actually helpful or not. And so, we get down, we figure out what’s going on with the Resource Management Act application. We try and figure out what’s going on with the Second Generation District Plan. We try and figure out, “What are they actually trying to do, here?” And sometimes we’ve gone, “Oh, man, we’re just scratching our heads. What on Earth are they actually trying to do, here?”

 

And so we went along to the hearing, and we … The lady before us went, and she didn’t like wind turbines. Sitting there, bashing my head, biting my teeth, trying not to say anything as she went on a big tirade. But democracy is democracy. And she attacked wind turbines, and I went, “Oh, crap. Why is this person … ” And she just basically abused the planner. “You need to do this. You must never let these things happen in our city. Never again. This is terrible. They’re windy. Noisy.” Whatever. You name it. She’s got something wrong to say with it. And the look on the planner was just like, “What have I done to deserve this?”

 

And we didn’t know what to do. And we said, “What would it mean to have wind turbines, here? Why do you want to do this?” And she went, “Ah, there’s a reason X, reason Y, reason Z.” And we said, “What would it take to change the policy? Because we don’t know how to write these things. We’re not a planner. We have no idea what to do. What do we do? What do we ask for?” And they go, “Ah, you’d want to ask for this.” And we go, “Yes, please, can we have that option there?” Our wind turbines. And we got a mention from one of the other councillors, being like, “That was one of the most productive things we’ve heard from one of these sessions.”

 

Basically, because the planners know exactly what they’re doing, but they’ve got to write a plan that is the will of the people. And the people are showing up and abusing them. They don’t write very much. And what they write isn’t very helpful. and so we sit there and go, “We want to be helpful. What can we do? How do we say it?” Because as soon as you show up to a council meeting, you show up to anything, and you say, “I would like this,” they can do something about it. But they can’t write a vision for the city as much as they would like to.

 

Sam: You’ve clearly identified a point of leverage, there, that’s actually making a difference. Which is what you said you wanted to do.

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: Do we also need to take the community along with us?

 

Finn: I’d love to see the community come along for a ride. That’d be great. But, I mean, we are busy.

 

Sam: I mean, you don’t look like a hippie, but-

 

Finn: No, no. That’s probably a …

 

Sam: Do you get accused of being one?

 

Finn: Lee Vandervis described me as a climate change fundamentalist. That was wonderful. It was great fun. I had a great chuckle. I thought it was the best thing ever. I thought, “If only he knew what I looked like.” I went along to a meeting a couple of weeks after he’d said that, and he couldn’t spot me in the crowd. He had no idea who he was talking to, obviously. I mean, he was referring to Generation Zero, the climate change fundamentalists who want nothing but to ruin his life.

 

Could you get the community along for the ride? Yes. But I think this touches on another issue for me, which is almost – not a great big, grand issue – but it’s like, “How do we re-democratize politics for young people?” I’ve thought about that. What steps does it actually take to change the political system – the way that it is – so that engagement is there? Engagement is convenient, or that people just see the virtue, or the value, in stepping up. Putting a hand up and saying, “Maybe I want this.”

 

There’s a UN Youth meeting happening in a couple of weeks, and they want to talk about how to get young people involved in politics. And to make sure they do their bit. And I was tempted to go along, but I realised I’m so busy – full of exams and essays, and I got no time for … And then I sort of found out what they wanted to do. And it’s basically trying to get them involved at a national level or politics. And I thought, that’s not … Just stamping your meal ticket every three years and saying you participated is not what politics really is. It’s showing up to the meetings. Actually being a consistent voice. Actually saying, “What can I do at this meeting to embed sustainability into everything that’s being said?” If the DCC has every policy document coming out for the next ten years, and some group of plucky young people have made sure that everything says, “sustainability” in some way or another, they can’t really avoid it. They don’t really have a choice, at that point. They’ve got to do what the document says.

 

Sam: You’re calling yourself Generation Zero. Is there a generational divide?

 

Finn: Sometimes it feels like it. And then sometimes I have bigger supporters – retirees. It’s unfair, I think, to categorise everyone as, “Oh, you’re old, and you’ve got your foot out the door, and you simply don’t care.” I think that’s not true. I think there are a lot of people who see what we do, and some of our biggest supporters are from some of the older communities who think they’ve got a good message, and we can certainly give them our resources to help them achieve what they want to do. Is there a bit of a divide? Maybe, but in our advantage. For some reason, people think that when a young person shows up, a lot of the time that you don’t have to display all these sorts of credentials. You don’t have to wear your badge on your shoulder that says, “Oh, look, you’re a planner, you should know exactly what it’s talking about.” “You’re a lawyer, you need to go all … ” We’ve got these people who basically have these same sorts of credentials. Certainly not the industry experience that some of you would desire.

 

Shane: I mean, I think it could be part of that, as you say, you’re busy.

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Shane: And so, somebody that would know you’re busy-

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Shane: Or, you could just be having a party.

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: Yet, you’re deciding to put your time into this. People give you some respect for that, I think.

 

Finn: Yeah. Seems to be the case.

 

Sam: Generation Zero makes a point of being apolitical. Politically active, but not aligning with any party.

 

Finn: We try to avoid it.

 

Shane: Despite the fact that some obvious connections to one side, if we put it on a left/right continuum.

 

Finn: Up until now, yes. Since we released out Zero Carbon Act, actually, there’s been a lot of buy-in from National, which has been humbling. Surprising. Stunning. What on Earth do these guys want to do, stepping foot near this document? And I think it’s a really promising sign that maybe this change is going to happen. Is this really going to be the[party’s initiative it’s always been? Or is the shift happening? What’s going on? Struggling. Don’t know what to do. There’s no one to attack.

 

Shane: So, tell us what the Zero Carbon Act thing is?

 

Finn: It’s a piece of climate change legislation modelled off the UK Climate Change Act, which was implemented in 2008 under David Cameron’s Tory government. It passed almost unanimously, and has been quite responsible for UK’s positive climate change impacts it has on its own carbon emissions, and transport infrastructure. And so, we took the guts of the document, kind of ripped it apart – not me personally, I don’t pretend to have any law experience – but we’ve got enough policy wonks out there to basically write a document for New Zealand. And that suits New Zealand’s climate change needs. And so we’re trying to pass that at the moment. I think we have 3,500 signatories signing on. We’ve got quite a few people who are buying in who want to say that this is something that’s important. We’ve had MPs from both – across the board – saying that this is good. We’re getting Youth Party buy-in. People all over the place are saying, “Maybe climate change is not going to be an election issue.”

 

Sam: But somehow you need to broker that it’s okay that …

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: The first party that comes out and says, “We support it,” you don’t want the other party to knee-jerk reaction and say, “That means we don’t.”

 

Finn: Yeah. We spent a lot of time talking to everyone. And everyone kind of knows it’s there. Some people like it more than others. Parties maybe like it more than others. But also individuals within parties see there’s something. So maybe we don’t need a complete party buy-in from one or the other. Some people might jump across and say, “Look, this is a conscious vote from me. I want this to happen, and I can see this happen.”

 

Shane: Has Generation Zero – locally or nationally – worked out what you’re going to do, running up to the election this year?

 

Finn: Locally – I don’t want to quite say it, because it’s always got a bad word, but – lobby. People always have negative connotations of what lobbying is, because you think, “Money, guns, tobacco, alcohol, and drug companies.” And then you go, “Wait, why can’t we have nice green sustainability lobby, too?” We don’t have much money, but at least we’re cool. So, I think Generation Zero Dunedin … This year, leading up to the election, we’re going to spend a lot of time doing our standard meat and bread policy. Work with the council. But we’re going to be targeting a lot of groups, saying, “We want you to come in and buy in with us, and say that this is something you need.” That sustainability – climate change, all these things – requires a framework to work with it.

 

If a government’s not doing it, you’re kind of swimming against the tide. If the government’s not providing you the framework to do it, how can we expect the local councils to enact it? They’ve always sort of expressed that they’re sort of hamstrung by what national governance wants. And so, if we can get them to buy in … We had the greater Wellington regional council chair saying he wants to get all the local councils together and lobby on the behalf of the Zero Carbon Act. And I thought, well, I guess I’d better ring up Dave Cull then. I haven’t done that just yet. But that’s something we want to do. We want to make it an issue as such that where … Come next election – when it’s happened, end of September – and we’ve got a new sitting government, that they can see that this is something that young people, old people, middle-aged people, from all across the board see this as a vital part of our future. And that some bandaid policy coming out from one side is not quite going to cut it.

 

Sam: You said it, probably – climate change, that is – probably won’t be an election issue. But it looks like water might be.

 

Finn: Yes. Trouble trying to segue into it, I think, when you try and bring the conversation to climate change. People sometimes just shut off. And then go, “Why this? We’ve got housing. Climate change? We can think about that one next year. We got to figure out all these highways. Climate change can happen next.” And so it’s always on the agenda, but it’s always being deferred until next time.

 

Sam: I’ve always thought it was a shame that we couldn’t say, “Climate change starts next Tuesday.”

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: 4:00pm.

 

Finn: Come on, let’s do something about it.

 

Sam: Although, somebody said that that wouldn’t work, because you would get to that time, and you’d have people saying, “See? Didn’t happen.”

 

Finn: Yeah, and you’re going, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess-”

 

Sam: “Maybe it starts next year.”

 

Finn: “Yeah. You got me. Wow. Got you.”

 

Shane: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Finn: I had to think about this one. Being sustainable is acting or providing an action which you know, without a doubt, is going to be able to carry on in its form. It might adjust with the times, but a sustainable action’s something that will just carry on, no matter what. That’s how I thought about it. I don’t want to go into some deep … I can go on forever, I think, about what sustainability is. But for me, that’s … If you’re being sustainable, you’re doing something where you know it’s going to carry on.

 

Sam: Some people are talking about sustainability not being enough, anymore. That we need to be regenerative. We’ve wrecked the place enough that just stopping and carrying on like we are … It wouldn’t be enough.

 

Finn: Yeah.

 

Sam: Do you think … Do we have to not just slow the ship, but turn it around?

 

Finn: I feel like … Yeah. There’s something extra that will need to be done if we’re not doing something now. If it’d been 1990, and we had sat down and said, “All right, guys, let’s stop it now,” no problem. Maybe that would have been the case. Now we’re sitting here thinking, “We’re going to have to give up something unless something else changes.” We can’t predict what’s going on, here.

 

Sam: We’ve been using that line – that it’s not a lesser life, it’s a better life. Do you think we can still pull that off?

 

Finn: We’d have to change what is normal. We’d absolutely have to change what is normal, and I guess that’s part of what I’m trying to do, is trying to get people to think about what’s normal. What’s acceptable. Everything that’s going on at the moment – sustainability, whatever … Your life has been dictated by politicians. Policies. Personal choices. The influence of your parents. And all these things that … These are just normal. And right now this normal should not carry on. Can you live a happy life? Yes, I think so. But what we’ve got to accept now is that … Why are plastic bags still coming out of supermarkets? Why is there a terrible bus transport system in Dunedin? Why is it every time a cycleway gets put in, people put up in their arms and say, “These are terrible things”? Something’s got to change for what “normal” is. And people are going to appreciate that “normal” is just kind of accepting a status quo of what’s going on, and being an influence in the change that you want. Accepting normality is accepting that someone else is probably going to make a decision for you.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Finn: Last couple of years? Interesting to think that far back. I almost feel like I’ve had setbacks with last election – Greens lost a proportion of the vote. Turns out if you enrol youth at the university you get a lot more conservative ones coming down from Auckland. So, maybe next year. Next time, we’re not going to enrol so many people on campus. Immediate success … Just recently, the Dunedin city council is finally putting funding back into environmental strategy. They gave options on their annual plan submission, and said, “Do you want $150,000, or $200,000?” And we went, “More.” And we got enough people to say, “More,” that they ended up giving us – not Generation Zero specifically, but the environmental strategy [inaudible 00:41:36] – $250,000, through complaining, and saying that maybe that’s not enough. We managed to get a 25% increase on the funding for environmental strategy.

 

Sam: You’ve hinted at the answer to this several times. In fact, you’ve been explicit once. We’ll ask it anyway. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Finn: Yes.

 

Shane: Why?

 

Finn: Activist? Someone’s got to be active. Would I be a traditional activist? No, not really. I haven’t done many protests. I haven’t showed up to many marches. I think one I did was in 2003 against the war in Iraq. That was about as far as marches and your traditional forms of activism go. I think my form of activism, if you can call it that, is pretending you’re a grey old man in a council chamber. And pretending you’re like them, and thinking like them. And then suddenly going, “Wham! Here’s some sustainability for you!”

 

Sam: So, we’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. How do you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight? Other than pretending you’re a grey old man and then going, “Wham!” I’m not letting you have that.

 

Finn: I wouldn’t call it shape shifting, then, would it? I guess it’s all about people and communication. What I try and bring to the table is participation. My objective is making democracy easy. And when you make democracy easy, you make input – your idea of what democracy is – easy. And for hopefully most conscious, breathing people who want to see a future that does include some form of climate change/sustainability response in your daily life … And changing what we currently have – which is no good – to something excellent, which we can keep under.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Finn: We’ve got the Zero Carbon Act. That’s certainly going to be a big challenge. One of my personal challenges will be ensuring that this sort of movement doesn’t die off – when it’s happening because you need it. I don’t want this to be a reactionary movement that says, “We’re going to be here because there’s a problem. And as soon as this giant, pressing issue goes away, and we think the solution’s gone, we’re just going to sit down on the couch and ignore it.” I want to see that people take a more proactive, continuing approach to how they live their lives, but also their participation in everything. We got this way because we didn’t act until we needed to. So let’s not get it so we act until we need to, next time. For whatever that may be.

 

Sam Okay. Very quickly, because we’ve almost run out of time.

 

Finn: Not a problem.

 

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

 

Finn: Just, change the normal. Change what is normal.

 

Sam: And advice for listeners?

 

Finn: Participate. Participate. That’s the best part.

 

Shane: Fantastic. And we’re going to leave it there.

 

Categories
architecture communication design

Synthesis through design thinking


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

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

 

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

 

Ray: Good, good.

 

Shane: Were you born in Australia?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ray: They always are.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Shane: I was just about to ask that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Shane: So what are you doing about it?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ray: You’re welcome to.

 

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

 

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

 

Sam: And?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ray: Talking with you.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sam And you’ve got international interest?

 

Ray: Yeah, we’ve actually-

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sam: Ninety four percent rejection rate!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ray: Right.

 

Sam: So we explicitly visualise it.

 

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

 

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

 

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Ray: Which listeners?

 

Sam: All of them.

 

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

 

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

 

Shane: Thank you very much.

 

Categories
education leadership

Designing learning that makes a difference

 

 

 

 

 


If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.

 

SL: Tonight we’re joined by Ray O’Brien, and he’s a learning designer at Otago Polytechnic. Welcome to the show, Ray. How are you doing?

 

Ray: Good evening.

 

SL: Obviously, that accent isn’t from around here, although this studio is full of accents that aren’t from around here. Where are you from there, Ray?

 

Ray: Originally from the West Coast of Scotland.

 

SL: What part of West Coast.

 

Ray: The original Helensburgh. Still a little bit uncanny here in Dunedin seeing the transplanted Helensburgh in the buses.

 

SL: What was it like growing up in Helensburgh on the West Coast?

 

Ray: Other than windy and wet.

 

SL: Yes.

 

Ray: It was actually a great place to live. Some was referring to pure adventurers there. That’s certainly something that moulded the early part of my life getting up into the mountains and it’s right on the boundary line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so to escape up into the hills in Helensburgh was great.

 

SL: Fantastic. You went to school there. What were your favourite subjects at school?

 

Ray: Probably physics and if I look back a dream if there was outdoor ed, but there wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a subject I did anyway I missed enough days of school to go up into the mountains that I can count it as a subject.

 

SL: Do you obviously decided to go to college at some point, so what did you do there?

 

Ray: It wasn’t physics. It wasn’t physics. It definitely wasn’t physics, no. I actually cards on the table confession time, I went to university to become an accountant and then during my recess at the end of the first term, I realised that that probably wasn’t the life for me and I switched over to human resource management.

 

SL: All right. Where did you study? Where were you studying?

 

Ray: The University of Sterling. Again, the choice of university was more about getting into the mountains than it was about any academic concerns.

 

SL: Exactly. Sterling is quite a small town and so you had … How big is that? How big is the University of Sterling?

 

Ray: Oh, I’m not sure the figures now. It’s grown a lot since I was there but when I shifted from high school, a very large school, to university, I think there’s only 500 more undergrads there than there was number of students in my high school.

 

SL: Of course, Sterling is a very famous place and it’s a beautiful little castle and it’s kind of like a miniature Edinburgh, really. You studied human resource management and you graduated with that.

 

Ray: Yeah. With that and then started working in the outdoors but trying to combine the two, looking at development training. Did a little bit of work with the oil industry doing team building for people that worked out on the rigs and working for companies like Outward Bound and taking a development angle on adventure and the outdoors.

 

SL: Fantastic. That was you’re based out of Aberdeen, was it?

 

Ray: That was where the oil industry stuff was, yeah.

 

SL: Okay, cool. You did that and decided what’s next on your adventure. What happened next? You’re out in the oil industry, decided what to do next.

 

Ray: Yeah. I was delivering development training for the oil industry guys. I was never managed to get on a rig myself. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that.

 

SL: Going out on the helicopters at the North Sea.

 

Ray: Yeah. The dunk tank test would have got me, I think. Then after university, like I said, I moved north and I started working at Adventure Training Centre run by the Sports Council. It was much more performance coaching rather than developmental, and that led on to a job working for the military for eight years developing leaders and guides for their adventure training activities.

 

SL: How do you train for leadership? How do you do that? People say you’re a natural born leader or not. How do you train people to lead? What are the key requirements?

 

SL: Take them up a mountain and lead from there. If they lead their way down, then you’re a leader.

 

SL: Yeah.

 

Ray: It’s an interesting question and I think can you teach leadership or can you develop leadership. I think it all comes down to what opportunities you can offer people and how you can help them to relate it to their everyday context. With the military, my job was to work mainly with senior NCOs and officers and find adventure situations that let them practise the skills of their organisational skills, their communication skills, real situations that didn’t have the consequences of them being in theatre, and yeah, and much, much bigger risks.

 

SL: What is leadership? What is that as a concept?

 

Ray: How long is this talk?

 

SL: If you give a brief description of what leadership looks like.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: Is it telling somebody what to do?

 

Ray: No. I think it has been viewed as that in a traditional sense of leadership. Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s the people who earn the respect and that respect is usually earned through some form of service to the people that you are leading. I think that’s morphing now and that leadership is not as commonly seen as a one person leading and more about the collective leadership and people taking leadership roles within a more equal group.

 

SL: You’re going from kind of a hierarchical system to kind of a team, more team egalitarian system. Have there been major shifts in society that have driven that or is that just yeah, this seems to be more effective role or is it both those things?

 

Ray: I think it’s situational. I think it depends what we are valuing or wanting in society. If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.

 

SL: Was this exclusively with the British Armed Force or did you work with other militaries, as well?

 

Ray: It was a Joint Service Mountain Training Centre, so yeah, it was all the British ones.

 

SL: Okay. What happened after that? That was obviously a major adventure.

 

Ray: It was a learning, it was a great adventure and it had me on expeditions all around the world for five or six months a year, but then I had a daughter and I didn’t want to be away from home for five or six months a year and it was time for a change, and that change took the form of a year’s leave of absence where we all came across to live in New Zealand for a short time to try it out, and here we are 13 years later.

 

SL: Ah. You came to New Zealand and where did you land, first of all, or where did you arrive?

 

Ray: We tested it out in the classic Brits in the camper van around the ski areas for a winter. Then went back and organised our work and packed up our house and moved to Hawea, just outside Wanaka.

 

SL: You just fell in love with the place yeah, this is where we want to be, this is where we want to bring our daughter up. Yeah. Fantastic. Are you still based in Hawea?

 

Ray: No. Moved down to Dunedin two and a half, three years ago.

 

SL: All right, wow. Fantastic. Now, you’re teaching, you’re a learning designer. Describe for me what a learning designer is.

 

Ray: I work in a team of amazing people who do a combination of facility learning design where lecture staff and teaching staff take the courses they’re already teaching or take new programmes and look at different ways to bundle up, reshape it, modernise it, change the way that it’s taught, and align it with more strategic frameworks, so it really meets the need of today’s learners. The other half of the team work on how can we build assets, such as online learning, all of the different resources are required to support that, and also how can we help the staff. Because a lot of the changes are quite significant. How can we make sure that they’re fully supported to be successful?

 

SL: How does this modern teaching environment, how is it different from the traditional lecture setting, talk to class, give them the lecture, students taking the notes, and then asking questions in tutorials? How is the modern classroom different now for people who haven’t been in there for a while?

 

Ray: Yeah. I think the main thing, the main myth to bust is that we’re going from a modern classroom to, from a traditional classroom to a modern classroom, and I don’t think that new model exists. I think it is much more varied than, perhaps, a traditional here’s a lecture hall. Typically, when you look at some of the things that polytech does across trades and different work contexts, what we really need to find is a blend in that learning environment. That blend can be a workplace, a real workplace or a simulated it. It could be classroom-taught sessions. It could be online resources and it’s finding the optimum blend of those things for that group of students and that topic to make sure that they are the people that are getting employed at the end of it are the first choice of people to be employed at the end of it.

 

SL: How do you assess that? How do you decide, okay, for this group of students, this mix for them and for this other group of students, this is the mix for those students and those two learning environments might be quite different. How would you assess which students, what models to which students?

 

Ray: Yeah. The core of our design process is human-centered design, so we spend a lot of time looking at who are the learners. That’s not necessarily who the learners sat in the classroom today are. It may be looking at what new groups of learners might be coming in, how we could change it to allow access to other groups of learners. I guess to give you an example of that, some of the new business courses that we’ve developed, there are campus-based courses, predominantly those groups are school leaders. We also have predominantly online courses, which most of the people on those courses are actually in work, perhaps even in management positions and the two different blends their needs differently and that’s taken into account right at the start, so what do these people need?

 

SL: Can you teach the same course to different groups of students? Like for instance, ones who prefer the more traditional method and another group, for instance, work or maybe have families and stuff and can’t make the same time commitments. Is it possible to create courses like that or?

 

Ray: Yeah. With those specific examples of business courses, there are different delivery modes for the same course.

 

SL: You get the same educational outcomes and because you’re delivering it in different ways…

 

Ray: Yeah. In terms of the learning outcomes that they match up to and it’s the same qualification. Yeah. The bar is set at the same height. Yeah. In terms of what they gain from themselves, I think if we have rich enough experience in there, then it’s not a cookie cutter experience and people can make their own meaning from what they experience, so yes, the bar is at the same height but how they interpret that and make meaning from it in their own life’s context, that will be different.

 

SL: How do you sit down with, thinking about students’ perspective, but how from the teachers’ perspective that the lecturer or the instructor, how do you sit down with them and maybe guide them through a process that might be quite unfamiliar to them or challenging the way they’ve done things for many years and how do you guide them through this process?

 

Ray: You’re absolutely right. It can be very challenging. Yeah. Particularly given we have some very good outcomes and data to say that we are getting it right, so here’s some learning design coming in telling me to change it all. There is a risk. Yeah. There is a risk. I think if we look at innovations anywhere, the risk I think is more with not looking at the future and changing more so than staying with the old model of knocking a blockbuster, whichever you want to compare it to. I think most people recognise there’s a need to change and it’s not just for the set of students that are in the class with you right now. It’s looking forward, and that’s important leverage to make people happy to take the steps and designing something different.

 

SL: Is there an actual cultural change in the kind of students that are coming through and our expectations compared to 10, 20 years ago? Is that an actual thing or is that something we kinda made up or is it a mixture of oh, we just got the new technology. Let’s just do it in a different way.

 

Ray: I guess my understanding of that in terms of the New Zealand context is, to some extent, secondhand, because I wasn’t here to witness that. I can certainly see people are being more demanding in terms of students have been more demanding in terms of a return on investment. They’re coming out of education with some hefty debts and I think it’s ethically right that as institutions, we should be designing to make sure that they get value for their money. Yeah. They are demanding that education makes a big difference for them and their lives and they’re quite right to do that, so that’s a slightly different culture from it’s all paid for and just going to study to access cheap beer and have a party.

 

SL: If you are designing a new course, how do you actually practically go about that? If you come to a course, say, I’ve got this course we’ve been teaching it for ages. How do you come in and go, okay, what do we need to do here? What’s your approach?

 

Ray: I think the first part is evaluating how the courses go already. It needs to be strengths-based. It’d be very easy to pick sticks out of any particular way we have designed in a course, but you have to look at the strength and what is going right and make sure that those things are not lost in the design. You also have to look at the student and you also have to triangulate those things with what does industry want. Where are these students going after their qualification? To be honest, that’s the real tricky one just now because how sure are we about the industry they’re going into?

 

As Sam referred to earlier, there’s as a huge amount of unknown in the future of the jobs market, so trying to triangulate that with what we’re getting right just now and who the learner is and what they need. That’s a challenge. From there, we’re looking at what do we want the graduate to work to look like, what do they have to be able to do, what capabilities do they need, and from there, it’s almost like a cascade down that’s getting down to finer and finer learning outcomes and what experiences can we put together to allow them to show those things in an authentic way.

 

SL: One of the, of course, the key outcomes for any Otago Polytechnic student coming out is that they’re a sustainable practitioner. What’s your role in helping to integrate those high-level goals and outcomes for the students like good citizens and good contributory members to society? How do you integrate those into, for instance, being a car mechanic. How do you integrate this very high-level things into something that’s very practical, cookery course for a chef?

 

Ray: Yes. There’s two parts to it. One is integrating into the course and then the other part is integrating it with the graduate capabilities framework. I’ll deal with the course first. It may well appear at that highest level at the what we call the graduate profile outcome, the big picture stuff, but it might actually, it can appear in two different ways. Some of it can be quite implicit in the way that the course is taught. The fact that things are role modelled, it could be the car mechanic because you see the workshop is organised and the materials are being disposed of appropriately, and that in every decision that’s made, there is a sustainability aspect to the decision about how things are done. It’s implicit in the environment in which you’re being taught.

 

The other part of it could be explicit, so it could be they have a project and it could be to tune up an engine to reduce emissions or how do you tweak this system for reduced emissions. Those are two different layers. The other side with the graduate capabilities framework is that every student will look at when they graduate, they’ll have a profile of capabilities across all sorts of areas that are not subject-specific. It’s about you and your employability and sustainability and being a sustainable practitioner is one strand of the capabilities there. The student could be looking for opportunities and it could be not necessarily a structured opportunity but a pure chance thing that comes up and it’s a learning moment that they can record and provide evidence against that capabilities framework to say, “Here’s an example of me making a sustainable choice in my working life.”

 

SL: Other than, because we talk about how you role model behaviour, then you make it explicit, so the implicit and the explicit instructions about, okay, think about how to do this. With those high-level goals being, for instance, a good team or whatever, a lot of those skills learned outside the classroom. How would you integrate or how would you encourage students to learn those skills outside the direct learning environment?

 

Ray: I think the key there is to try and break down that barrier where we have the learning environment and outside of the learning environment, that’s the first thing we need to break down. Really, it’s more of a continuum where you get slightly distant from the institution or you get closer within the walls of it, but the learning, the geography of it doesn’t really impact whether you’re learning or not. Again, it’s one of those myths to bust. If you’re not in the class being spoken to, you’re not learning. That’s not the case at all. Some of your base learning will actually happen as your voluntary job at the weekend, is it the club that you do stuff with.

 

Is it within your family? It’s drawing all that in and including that big picture that rich learning from your whole context, not just when you happen to be on a seat in front of a lecture.

 

SL: When you’re doing learning design, and when you talk about geography has prompted me to think about this, is that the way the polytechnic now is set up is stepped away from the lecture theatre as being the centre to being having a lot of very diverse learning spaces. Does part of designing a learning environment look at physicality of how you’re learning? Is that part of what you look at?

 

Ray: It certainly impinges on our design decisions. There’s no point when I was designing a great learning exercise or module. We don’t have the facilities to deliver that. As we publicised last week, we’ve got some major reinvestment going on at the polytech and I think the new learning spaces and changes to pedagogy and how people are learning and the options available to us, those two things ride hand in hand and yes, one has an implication for the other. I heard a great little tale of from the University of Technology in Sydney where they have just gone through I guess 1.2 billion of investment on their campus and the vice chancellor, who is accountable for the spend, was trying to prove the worth and going around and showing the president of the institution exactly what had been done.

 

He managed to find a group of students working in a learning pod with a screen around the table exactly as it has been done working independently on their project and she went up, introduced, and said, “I’d like to hear what you do and what do you think of the new spaces.” All the students smiled and looked around and said, “Great. We really wish our university had stuff like this.” While it justified the pedagogy and the environmental link, it didn’t necessarily justify the spending. The two things happen hand in hand. From that same example, she had one space, this is Shirley Alexander from UTS, and she had one space where it was very open plan, lots of pods, easy to move the furniture around. Got feedback from one member of teaching staff who said this is great. I’ve got so many different options as to how to teach at this course, teach the same course at another institution that don’t have those options. I can provide a richer learning experience for my students here because of the space.

 

The same room, she got a complaint from another member of staff who said she had designed the worst lecture hall he’d ever worked in and she saw that as a major measure of success.

 

SL: You’ve taught in a whole lot of environments and a whole lot of places, but mostly in outdoor work. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re passionate about education and the environment. I want to just loop around to educating about the environment. How are we going?

 

Ray: How are we going? I think we’re still patchy. Yeah. I think education about environment. It’s an interesting concept just about the environment because it’s actually, for me, it’s about building a relationship with the environment, not having a knowledge about the environment. Yeah. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand any of the science or any of the technology that and the, perhaps, some of the global issues that are happening who have a really strong bond and value of the land and of the environment. Education about the environment, I’m not sure that it is an about question and I think building that relationship and education in the environment is where we should be looking more to be able to make change.

 

SL: How do I teach for with the environment if I’m teaching accounting? I can understand that it’s an easy step if you’re floating down a river to be talking about the river. Yeah? It’s a harder ask if I’m teaching accounting.

 

Ray: I think you have more opportunity to scale. If I was to put my fledgling accounting student head on, then I would be on a river, I could share, I could make everybody see the value of keeping that clean and swimmable and looking at other sources of power so that we didn’t lose all the rivers to hydro. That is an easy sell. I agree. If I go into the accounting classroom, then I’ve got people who are potentially making decisions not just about how they behave but how whole organisations behave and the scalability of the decisions they’re making potentially, much huger, so helping them look at integrating the triple bottom layer and examples of that and you run a really powerful position and I believe that most students now are looking for something that’s more purposeful. I don’t think we have to wait until we had a divorce or a midlife crisis before we start looking for purpose in life. I think people are leaving school wanting to explore what is my purpose now.

 

SL: What do you do about those accountants whose purpose in life is to make a lot of money and drive a big car?

 

Ray: They will always be there. Yeah. There are always going to be challenges that are hard. Maybe that’s not why I’m not an accounting lecturer.

 

SL: Yes, but you’re helping people design accounting courses.

 

Ray: Yes, I am. I think people have to make their, it’s based on values and you can expose people to experiences and opportunities and they can still use their own values to make good decisions. Are you going to be able to change everybody’s mind? No, you’re not. Will they have experiences and opportunities that, perhaps, further down the line will accumulate and other life experiences beyond their qualification? Then perhaps you set the foundations for something later.

 

SL: Do you have a bottom line or a triple bottom line. Do you have a bottom line of how much people can must, perhaps, accept things?

 

Ray: I think when it comes to values, we are not here as an educational institution to assess people’s values. I think people can be asked to evaluate them themselves and reflect and think on it and that’s where I would say we have a really important role to get people looking at themselves.

 

SL: If we ask you that lots of times and, hopefully, they’ll get the hint. A couple of years ago you went to Nepal.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: How did that come about?

 

Ray: Oh. We had some friends who were also had also gone there and they were all teachers or educators of some form, and they got involved with an organisation called REED Rural Environmental Education Development. They were based in Katmandu but operating predominantly in the Lower Khumbu Valley and delivering teacher training programmes, which is an incredible experience. We had 10 days. Each training was 10 days long and teachers came from two or three hours walk, different villages, descended on the village that we were in, and we rotated round, my wife and I working in the English classroom. I wasn’t allowed to work in the English classroom because they didn’t want lots of Nepalis with dodgy Scottish accents so I was helping in the math class getting back to my physics roots of skill. Yeah.

 

It was a fantastic experience and certainly great to have our kids there, as well, and see them get involved with the locals and school there. A completely different educational outlook of first thing every day at school is brain gym. We’re all out in the field doing our physical shakes and moves and then into the classroom and as an educator, it was quite challenging in terms of we’ll look at changing pedagogy to be more active learning and more participation, but the bottom line is that you’re a teacher in a crammed classroom with a mud floor and there’d be 70 students of diverse ability and age in front of you, some of whom will not have had breakfast, some of whom have already done two or three hours of agriculture work before they come to school, and someone from New Zealand is coming across telling the teachers to form little groups and get them working together.

 

It’s a very different dynamic and I think that the important thing that I learned there was about just how important humility is when you’re in those sorts of positions because they know far more about what they’re doing than anybody visiting can. You can offer them some extra options. You can be there to answer some questions but, perhaps, probably the most important rule there was to validate what excellent jobs that we’re doing with what they had, yeah.

 

SL: How would you describe the difference you made?

 

Ray: The difference I made there. The key thing on the maths sessions that I did was actually the link between maths problems and their real life was not implicit in what they’re doing, so it was all very abstract examples of maths, so algebra. What examples do you teach? How do you integrate it. It was just numbers and letters on a board and making that step toward well actually, this is the price of chickens and this is the price of a kilo of rice. Yeah. Just making that link between real life and something useful and something that’s seen as quite academic and abstract. Within the classroom, that was a difference. In terms of making a difference in the broader scale, I still hold some really close links with the teaching staff and the mentors I was working with there and, like I say, validating what they do by the fact that you see the value in it from your New Zealand western perspective can give them some confidence to do a bloody hard job yeah, so yeah.

 

SL: You’ve got a value or a mission something but to make a difference.

 

Ray: Yeah.

 

SL: I’m not sure how long you’ve been using that particular phrase but you probably called it something else before. Where’d that come from?

 

Ray: I think it’s always been there. I think probably a big brother thing in there. Yeah. I’m the oldest of three so I think there is an eldest child element to that. It’s become easier to articulate. I lost a very good friend about three years ago in a helicopter crash and he’s certainly someone who lived his life. His mission was to make a difference. He was volunteering In Rwanda, and was kidnapped and had to be rescued by the SAS.  Came back, joined the Royal Marines because he thought that was a way that he could personally make a difference, become a Marines helicopter pilot. Ran lots of missions there and then realised that that wasn’t how he wanted to make his difference and that he didn’t feel that were, he was involved in were making a positive difference.

 

Left and moved to Wanaka and did some work in Papua New Guinea also setting up flying ambulances in Papua New Guinea, as well, so yeah. In terms of something that flipped the switch and made it clearer to articulate this is actually what I’m here to do, that’s probably the single event that clarified it.

 

SL: You haven’t used the term sustainability but it’s the name of the show, so I will. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Ray: Putting back more than you take out.

 

SL: Is that how you tell if it is a positive difference?

 

Ray: No because I think sometimes you can – I think it’s more complex than that. Yeah. Certainly, I think if it reflected my experience in Nepal, putting back too much could actually disempower, yeah, and reduces sustainability of it. Yeah. I guess it depends how big a picture you look at for putting back.

 

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

 

Ray: I think for me it’s got to be my kids and seeing them developing values about…I’m going to use the  making a difference phrase again, yeah, rolls off the tongue but I can see that in them, that the caring and the sharing and the things that they value and what they do in their life and I think we’ve all got quite a big responsibility to keep passing those values on, whether it’s through families or friends or relationships. It’s a way to multiply a difference it would make.

 

SL: We are writing book of these talks. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. How would you describe your superpower?

 

Ray: My superpower?

 

SL: Yeah. That you have, not that you wish for.

 

Ray: Okay. My superpower, I think probably, the thing I bring to the table is more about making connections and joining things together. Whether that’s people or whether that’s events, it’s the connections.

 

SL: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Ray: Activist. There’s so many different meanings of that, isn’t there?

 

SL: You can define it like however you like.

 

Ray: I don’t see myself out on the street with a placard chanting, so if that’s an activist, I don’t see myself as that, but do I see myself as actively trying to influence people to do more positive things? Then yes, I do.

 

SL: Lots of people answer that question. Oh, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. Then we talked to the head of policy from Greenpeace and he said, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Ray: Other than my really annoying alarm clock, it’s, it is about the kids. Yeah. It is about the kids and seeing them grow and making that daily impact on how big an impact they can have.

 

SL: Taking them to every sporting event known to mankind.

 

Ray: Yeah. Maybe I should look at my carbon footprint about how much sporting driving I do.

 

SL: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Ray: Right now, I think the biggest work challenge is going to be getting the BMaD or wherever you end up calling it off the ground, and seeing some students graduate from that.

 

SL: What’s going to be the hardest bit of that, do you think?

 

Ray: I think probably the next six months of it. Yeah. Next six months the amount of work to get through and I think once we get through the formalities, there’s so much foundation and solidness and underneath the principles we’re working to there, I think once we’re up and running, that will go well.

 

SL: What will success look like for that? What should we be aiming for?

 

Ray: Stories. Lots of stories. Yeah. I should be looking on the Facebook account and seeing the graduates off doing exciting things, having exciting results, and being absolutely envious of every single one of them. If I’m not envious, we haven’t succeeded.

 

SL: You could do them, those things, too.

 

Ray: Yeah. Because you’ve done lots of those things. We could. There’s only one of me and there will be lots of them.

 

SL: If you can wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?

 

Ray: A magic wand. I’m guessing that I don’t believe in magic isn’t an answer to this question.

 

SL: No.

 

Ray: Yeah. Okay. If I could wave a magic wand, I’m trying not to make a Miss World answer out of this one. I think I’d probably pass the magic wand on to my kinds for them to decide.

 

SL: That’s so cheating.

 

Ray: There you go.

 

SL: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest possible difference?

 

Ray: The smallest thing.

 

SL: Yeah.

 

Ray: Yeah. I think a smile is cheap and easy, yeah, and it goes a long, long way.

 

SL: Lastly for me, do you have any advice for our listeners. I think you might have given one but here’s another one. Free hit.

 

Ray: Advice for listeners. I think yes, the small things do count. Yeah. The smalls do make a difference but as long as you make sure that the person that you small at is sending more smalls, we need to work out ways to keep multiplying what we do because we can’t really the scale of issues we’re dealing with and the rate of change we’re dealing with, there’s no lonesome warrior and no lone-ranger that’s going to be able to do this. It’s everybody and we got to make sure we’re persuading each other and working together to make a difference. 

 

 

Categories
economics politics

Passionate rationality


Gareth Morgan on economics, inter-generational alienation, philanthropy, politics, Putaruru, and motorbikes and cats.

I think the public are pretty well starved for quality…for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator

Shane: And our guest tonight is Dr Gareth Morgan. Gareth was born and raised in Putaruru. He then attended Massey University for four years, gaining the BA honours in economics. In 1982, he graduated from Victoria University with a PhD in economics. He the father of Sam Morgan who is the founder of Trade Me and that’s the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, and was an early Trade Me investor and director. When it was sold to Fairfax Media, Gareth received 50 million dollars, which he donated to their charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which administers the Morgan philanthropic work, and Gareth and his wife Jo Morgan are also UNICEF good will ambassadors.

 

So he worked for the reserve bank in New Zealand for a few years, before founding an economics forecasting company, Infometrics Limited, back in 1983, and Gareth is well known for taking New Zealand’s financial services industry to task for questionable ethics and abuse of investors.

 

So he’s published four works, four books. 2009 was Poles Apart, a book surveying the state of the science around climate change. 2010 was Health Cheque, a book assessing the state of New Zealand’s public health system. In 2011 the Big Kahuna, which is probably his most famous book, and this book investigated the contribution that unpaid work makes to New Zealand’s society, and the consequences and measures of economic production not explicitly recognising such contributions, from community service to care of the young and the elderly.

 

In 2011, he also published another book, Hook, Line and Blinkers, a book assessing the state of the world’s fish stocks and then appraising the state of New Zealand fisheries here. And then in 2013, his most recent book was Appetite for Destruction: Food – the Good, the Bad and the Fatal, and that was with Geoff Simmons, and a book, which analyses the pitfalls of contemporary processed food and the problem with contemporary diets more generally.

 

So most recently, and this is why Gareth is here today, he started a new political party in New Zealand called the The Opportunities Party. Welcome to our show.

 

Gareth: Thanks very much. Nice to be here.

 

Shane: So you’ve had quite a busy life but let’s talk about your childhood. What was it like? What was growing up in New Zealand like for you?

 

Gareth: Well it was a very small town, Putaruru, 4,000 people back in those days, 50 and 60s, it’s still like that. I had a big shock I guess, so it’s a bit like some of these back puddle towns in the Appalachians and southern states of the U.S. and the Rust Belt and the sense of when I was there. There were seven sawmills in Putaruru. So I would work in those during my holidays right through school. In fact, I think I had my first job there when I was in standard four, but I kept doing that all the way through university, then worked in the bush a lot.

 

So I was pretty able in those days, to fund myself, through university. I didn’t need any money from anybody. Such were those sort of harrisome days. But Putaruru has undergone a whole series of shocks and now it has no sawmills. Of course what happen with euthanasia in 1990 there were [inaudible 00:03:07] budgets was that that really hurt low income people, really hurt, and Putaruru was reeling from that shock plus the fact that the sawmills were all closing. And so what’s happened in Putaruru is that the families least able to cope are still there and the families who have the means to move have moved. So Putaruru high school, my school that had 700 when I was there, is down to 300 and that includes the intermediate school these days and of course it’s very low just the whole school as opposed to my day where it wasn’t like that at all because even the capable families or well to do families that are there now all sent their children out to school, to Cambridge, private schools in Cambridge or Hamilton. And even the teachers, only three of the city teachers in Putaruru actually lived there.

 

And it’s had a lot of troubles. The education review board that has been in there because the schools had suicides and things that put stress on these kids, kids bullying and da-de-da. So I think that’s a bit of a microcosm of what’s happened, the worst of what’s happened during the economic adjustment. Let me put it to you this way, they are still waiting for trickle down.

 

Shane: Obviously you see that happening right across New Zealand in the small towns … a big shift there.

 

Gareth: Yeah, I mean, well creative destruction is part of, you know, that’s part of economics and how economies work. Industries, businesses come and go but really I would have thought the role of government in the civilised society has to cushion the impact of those inevitable changes. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the changes but cushion the impact of those inevitable changes on the most vulnerable people, who tend to be the ones with the lowest skills, the lower wealth, basically the lower capability to adjust themselves. And I think that’s probably where we let ourselves down a bit with the Rogernomics revolution that had to happen, there’s no doubt about that. And of course that was a liberalisation type move, Americans were over regulated and we were, we had a constitutional crisis back in ’84 so Rodgernomics was a response and so I was quite a fan, and still am actually, of liberalising markets. What I’m not a fan of neoliberalism and there’s a very big difference.

 

Liberalisation, as any economist will tell you, is when you move to free and competitive markets. Neoliberalism is when you have free markets but they don’t have to be competitive, in other words they can be dominated by one or two players who in economic [inaudible 00:06:01] extract economic wind because you have no choice but to buy from them. And unfortunately that’s what ergonomics moved on to. Under the Nats mainly but also under Helen Clark’s government, she didn’t pull it back sufficiently. And so as a result of that now we’ve got this rising inequality in New Zealand that’s been, that really took its fist in 1990 when the mother of all budgets in the town of Christchurch under John Key’s government. That’s come under the guise of extreme unaffordability of housing that he has allowed to manifest itself. So rising inequality, rising in probably a ridiculously low affordability of housing is where we are now.

 

Shane: So we have two parts to this question. One is obviously there is a bit, I can hear the upset in your voice when you’re talking about your home town and what happened there. So obviously it’s very personal, you felt personally the effects of those…

 

Gareth: It was just so unnecessary. We had a thriving cross section of community, we had some fantastic people come out of that school, Lorraine Muller the runner, of John Graham who was the head of Auckland grammar, Wayne Smith the All Blacks coach, you know? It was a real, I mean, schools are the centres of communities and so if you start [guessing] the community like we have under tomorrows schools and encouraging people to move to a distant school then those capable are going to do that and there was no evidence whatsoever internationally that that sort of streaming of people into the education system does the people at the top any good at all. There’s no evidence for that but there’s a hell of a lot of evidence that tells you that the people left behind in the residual schools do suffer. And the reasons were obvious. The incomes of the parents tend to be lower, the capability of the parents in the terms of being trustees tend to be lower, they’re lower school people, and so you just do not get the community support of your school and the school is nothing without the community support.

 

So I’m not a fan of tomorrow’s schools at all. I would rather we went to yesterday’s schools and then go straight from there onto the Scandinavian model.

 

Shane: Where would you describe yourself on the political spectrum? Because you’ve done pretty well out of the economy as it happened, you know?

 

Gareth: Thailand.

 

Shane: But at the same time you’re also still pretty upset about what happened and you have described a fairly interventionist approach to the economy. Where would you describe yourself or do you have, how would you describe yourself?

 

Gareth: Some would say I’m indescribable but I would say progressive liberal if you want a label. Or my political pal Jeff Simmons calls us radically centrist and I think we just are keen to do stuff that works so we are very evidence based as a party. Just about every policy we’ve done, we’re offering, has a book behind it and that book will basically be a researcher’s survey of you know the Brains Trust on that particular subject. I’m not putting us up as the geniuses but what we’re doing is saying, “well what is the state of academia on this particular issue?” We’ve actually just released another book called Pennies from Heaven which is all about how do you actually solve poverty in New Zealand so the books keep coming. But others would call it capitalism but I would put it this way, you cannot build sustainable prosperity on anything but a foundation of fairness.

 

Sam: So if you are looking, you conceived the party because obviously there’s a gap somewhere, you’ve perceived a gap in the political spectrum that’s been offered in New Zealand, so where is that gap? Where is it?

 

Gareth: Well there’s no progress so if you want to go backwards you would vote Winston Peters because Pearce essentially harps back to the past all the time he’s worked on, he’s described as an old fashioned conservative. So that’s where you would go with Winston. If you want to go nowhere then it really doesn’t matter vote National or Labour they will give you nothing. And the reason for that is that these are establishment parties with career politicians who basically their mantra is do not disturb or do as little as possible because you could put your voting base at risk. And we’ve seen that with superannuation you know? This is Muldoon’s biggest election bribe, the most successful election bribe that’s ever happened in this country and just remember Winston Pearce lays his craft on Muldoon’s knee.

 

And that’s what, you know, it was a populace policy and here we are 42 years later and we still haven’t dealt with that. That’s the do nothing governments that have fallen. But you know we have to do something about this thing, it’s like a monster, and I just think that people are ready for it and I don’t see anybody offering to go for it. I mean obviously we have the Green’s as well, who I have a lot of respect for, obviously on environmental matters, their economics worry me but we’re not far apart at all on environmental issues.

 

So the decision we made was let’s just put common sense, this is how you go forward in stuff, in front of people now, and they will either say, “yeah run it by us, let’s give these guys a bit of influence” or they’ll say, “nah we quite like no change”. What really concerns me with no change is that we are drifting, you know we are drifting to the inevitable, which is an extreme reaction, which is what you’ve just seen in the U.S. and you will soon see in France and the spectre of that I don’t like at all because that is really polarising across the population. So I’m trying to head that off at the pass but it’s like, hey. We can do these changes in an orderly fashion and we can reestablish our democracy so that these governments that we get actually serve everybody in New Zealand not just sector interests.

 

Sam: So when you think about the kind of person that’s going to vote for you, who is that? What does that person look like?

 

Gareth: Well, we’ve done a couple of gigs so far on the road in Invercargill and Dunedin, they’ve both been big crowds. They’ve both been right across the age spectrum. One thing that’s quite common is people will say to you, “I’ve never been to a political meeting before in my life”, I’ve heard it from every party that’s on offer over the years and you know I’m just woken up by the fact that we could do something. The questions at the gigs have been fantastic so if they ask you a question as, do you think it’s any New Zealander that cares? That cares beyond themselves, beyond their immediate family. That cares about what the future generations are facing in this country.

 

Which is, you know, I’m concerned that my grandkids won’t even be able to afford the blooming rent. Let alone, you know, buy a house. And who actually do care for the people at the bottom of this rising and the quality. So those people, that I’m talking about, are right across the political spectrum so I cannot give you a two dimensional profile of who we’re talking to. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen at the end of the …

 

Sam: You’re speaking with some passion there. Are economists allowed to have that passion?

 

Gareth: No. That’s why I’m a little estranged from my colleagues. I mean, you know, you look back through all our books and you know, we’ve had help on a lot of these issues from some extremely confident and leading New Zealand academics and global, actually, when it came to the climate one, academics. Quite flawless research, quite flawless. So then I get to this point and I say all right, it’s time to stand up now and do something about this. We’re going to go with the political so the first thing I want, is I want competent team mates.

 

I want a competent team around me so I turn on these people who are all in their own authorities, in their own right, come on you’re getting near the end of your career at the university or wherever, come and give us a hand. Because you are the icon on your treasure map and I want you. God no. Why would I give my, that’s too much. Why would I subject myself to ridicule? And you know, so they are all in the head share and I can’t get them out and it’s exactly the same experience I had when I raised the issue of cats, which you might recall. You know, I had a 40 year economics career and I spent two weeks on cats and what do I get known for? Cats.

 

When I did that it was because, when I launched cats to go, it was because I had been told by DoC and Forrest and Bird actually, that cats were by far the main predator in New Zealand. So I said, “well come on then. Let’s tell the people and the people will do something about it.” Forest and Bird said, “we’re telling the people.” I said, “why?  And they said, half of our subscriptions come from people with cats.” And I said, “but that’s not the point. They’re still sensible people, they’ll know that by confining the cats they can have both so that’s the price of your ethics is it? It all begins and ends at the tail.” Yes. So and SPCA was the same.

 

Okay. So now we’ve made traction on cats and now we’ve got councils doing it. Chipping, something. Whatever it is. Snip and chip in Wellington for cats. Auckland all wandering cats are feral even if they’ve got those on them and a chip so. It’s getting heavy now. Councils have picked it up and they are running with it. so it’s now, four years later, conventional wisdom. But at that time I went with it. It was like the pioneer getting all the arrows in the bag. No one would stand up with you and it’s like this now with the politics. So you wait. If this thing gets momentum they’ll come out of the woodwork, which is fine, everybody’s got to find their own comfort level but to answer your question that’s why I’m a little estranged right at the moment from the economics establishment.

 

Sam: Where do your ethics come from?

 

Gareth: Boy, that’s a hard one. I don’t know, I think it’s emotional. I think when I see somebody, I mean I have a core belief that you should treat other people exactly the same as you want to be treated yourself. So it’s very simple, you know, I’m going to say ridiculously simple and so when I see that not happening it actually emotionally upsets me. I can’t control it, it just happens. So it’s about combining that with the logic, the analytical skills, da-de-da-de-da. All that stuff we are doing at the university, whatever, and trying to get the evidence based to help you to achieve your value set. And actually believe that’s how New Zealanders feel. I think New Zealand’s just traditionally other people who, you know, champion a fair go. And that actually puts us incredibly close to what drives what they call the Scandinavian model on many fronts.

 

We don’t actually mind paying a bit more tax if we had the most civilised society in the world and I think that’s something to aspire to. And obviously so does the rest of the world, that’s why they are banging down the doors to come here.

 

Shane: So what you’re describing is a passionate view of ethics but that’s not what, you know, economists always talk about the rational actor [crosstalk 00:18:39]. So what’s your opinion on the so called rational actor in economics and society?

 

Gareth: Yeah.  Well I think people are rational, not every single one of us. I think if we’re going to use economic balance we have a very high discount rate. Which means, in English, we value what happened yesterday and what we think is going to happen tomorrow a hell of a lot harder than anything that’s a year ago or a year ahead. You understand what I mean? So we don’t look past our noses, how I put that in English, and that can be a real encumbrance in terms of doing things that have a longer pay back period. That’s why I say in the Health Check that you will see politicians prefer to be opening hospitals, cutting waiting lists and opening hospitals, than investing money in prevention. Because there’s no cheer and that’s what you’re seeing with the National Party at the moment.

 

They are announcing these wonderful policies that don’t kick in until world end, you see what I mean? So the discount is actually high, so they say, “well we know that we’ll get you emotionally or swimming holes whether they don’t even have any water in them they’re still a swimming hole by the way. You know the Greens got to get upset about this. But we won’t do that until the year’s up and we won’t do it until New Zealand’s secrets will get us 76. Well the problems sort of were …” you see what I’m saying? So we’ve got this emotional, yeah this is the right thing to do but I’m not taking any risks tomorrow so let’s put it off on the never, never.

 

So they’re trying to straddle the two aspects of our, so to answer your question, the rational being I would rephrase it this way, if crowds get full information, so I’m getting safety in numbers here, okay? I’m not talking about you the individual but you and me and all the rest of us as a crowd, if we get full information then the crowd will elect very rationally. Doesn’t mean to say each and every one of us does but the average will be rational. So yeah, that’s where I come from and that’s why I suppose I’m pretty supportive, or a champion, of free and competitive markets because all of the markets are an expression of a crowd. So you cannot allow the market to be dominated by one or two players. That is neoliberalism. That is what we mustn’t have and that’s what we must address so it’s free and competitive.

 

Shane: So on that matter of good information, one of the things that has been a real issue with the Princes of Brexit Campaign and with Trump’s election in America was being this proliferation of you know what could be called fake news, anyway, what we would call propaganda beforehand. How do we assure, and the fact that the media is often, is now captured by one or two key organisations. How would you address, for instance, that problem here in New Zealand?

 

Gareth: Well don’t let the problems get so extreme that that’s what it drives people to. I mean I can remember when Trump put himself up for nomination for the Republican party and my wife Joann said, “He’s going to win this thing.” And I said, “of course he’s not going to win, the guy’s a moron.” And she said, “Gareth, you’ve spent a lot of time in the Appalachians in the southern states, you know he’s going to win. Because those people are going to run on fear and the people in Washington and California wouldn’t have a clue about how those people feel.” You know? They’re the bullets for the guns in the middle east, you know, cause it’s their kids that go to the middle east. They’ve got no jobs now and the Democrat regime hasn’t delivered them anything in the terms of social services. I mean, you know, it used to be the dream in America to have a three bedroom home in the burbs and you know a Chevy pickup and now it’s a trailer home and a ride on mower, then it’s a John Deere if you’re really doing well.

 

And it’s that complete smashing of what they thought they stood for and the fear that they haven’t won against terrorism and it’s coming their way, to their town any day, that’s actually driven that extreme reaction. Now I’m not saying that’s imminent in New Zealand, I’m not saying that, but what is imminent in New Zealand is the thing that we’re talking about which is, you know, housing. You want to own your own house? Forget it, it’s not going to happen. They’re being bought up by guys like me and on masse, foreigners, on masse and you know land bankers who are surrounding cities now holding hand and choking a city for expansion until the prices are right.

 

So all that does, that sort of stuff, is alienate people. And the one I’m worried about in New Zealand is the intergenerational alienation. I mean I’ve saw, not too happy about towns today like Putaruru and all the rest, but the thing I see looming is this massive intergenerational resentment. I mean my generation was basically born with its head in the trough and still got it in the trough. So we need to wake up. Now the good news with the boomers is that when I talked to them they’re all prepared to invest more in their grandkids than they are in themselves at this point.

 

So I think that the politicians have got it wrong here saying that, you know, we’re not going to change super, we’re not going to do anything to injure the boomers and all the rest of it because they’re our voters, you know? And two things on that. People younger than boomers now dominate the polls, there are actually more of them, problem is that we can’t get the voters out of the bed in the morning to vote, so that’s a real issue and secondly they’re reading my generation wrong. My generation does not want to leave the environment worse than we found it, we don’t want to leave our kids with climate change and we don’t want to leave our kids not even being able to afford their rent. So I think that we’ve got [crosstalk 00:24:36].

 

Shane: But the evidence is that you’re not dealing with climate change, as you say, your generation is buying up all the houses so it’s not that they are reading the generation wrong.

 

Gareth: No. You’re two liberals here. That’s exactly the reality, what you just said, but what I’m obviously going out there and presenting to them is, this is how we deal with climate change, this is how we deal with rivers, this is how we deal with the unaffordability of housing in the inequality game. And my age is saying, “yes, we need to do this. It’s about time.” That’s where I get the optimism from. So we’ll see. September will tell us but you know. So I agree with you but I’m looking forward here. In terms of there’s a mandate here, I suppose.

 

Sam: So how do we switch from fear to optimism? Is there a lever somewhere?

 

Gareth: Well I think you’ve just got to sell the vision and you’ve got to present credible ways to deliver on that vision. And then I think you will get the support and that’s the sort of challenge that, you know, I’ve set myself really. I may be totally wrong and I might be back on my motor boat come September and that’s fine too.

 

Sam: Do you want to be Prime Minister?

 

Gareth: No. I don’t’ actually need a job like that. No. I do have the life of Reilly at the moment and that’s a wonderful life and I want to keep it but I’m very concerned to get New Zealand on the right political, do the right thing basically. I mean I’m not far off from dying now so it would be a tragedy if I walked away from all this work that we’ve done and other people have done having belief in us and all of this, you know, saying “I’ve done all those books and everything and just said I’m satisfied now. What can be done? I’ll see you later.” I think you’ve got to at least just put it out there and the people of New Zealand will say, “Nah. See you later, Gareth.” Or, “We’ll have some of that.” Or, “We’ll have it all.” And see.

 

Sam: But could you stand being a small party with no influence? I mean, those are good ideas, wouldn’t that drive you crazy?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I wouldn’t go into Parliament. So we’ll talk about that, aye? I need for me 10 to 15% for me to feel there’s a mandate for this. Okay? So if we got in that sort of range for things over there then I’d go and roll my sleeves up and try to have a difference on whoever the party, the leader, you know. Coming from the days we’d stay in the cross benches because I think as soon as you go into coalition you lose yourself. You actually lose your identity, which is the main thing so you know, and we can see under and plead the evidence for that so that’s no no for us. And also I’m not into just governing day to day, I mean who the hell would want to deal with some disaster with P in a house or something and the minister has got to come up with smart answer today, forget it. Get that to go as we want, cohesion politics, I’m interested in top seven major, major reforms.

 

Now if we don’t get there and we’re down at naught too, well depends I suppose if you get a list seat but if you’re down in one, this is the way, one level seats and you really are treading water having not a fit. But that’s a building block. That’s a building block isn’t it? Just sit there, I mean that’s for the Green’s. I mean the Green’s are down there and they’re doing blooming well and they’ve put in the yards and they’ve, you know, they’re up to wherever they are in that 8 to 15% somewhere. So that’s a long, so I need people around me who are prepared to do that but it’s not me.

 

I would rather be outside still doing the research on the stuff, still making a hell of a noise, I don’t need the empowerment to be noisy and I’d still be funding that building team. It’s just that I’d get on with my life of Reilly as well. So I’ve got a few personal scenarios there but the main thing now is to get the message in front of people for you, as a public, to make up your mind and then to try and get some decent candidates coming out of the woodwork too, cause somebody said we’re around the electorates, you understand them. And I said we’re somewhere between zero and sixty, it depends on how much talent comes out.

 

And actually Winston Peters said that when he started too, with New Zealand First and he ended up of course taking in people. He found out how shallow the talent pool was, who were prepared to go political I mean, that’s the problem. It’s a very small fraction of the talent in New Zealand who are prepared to put their families and themselves on the line. And he ended up filling his ranks with no talent. Well, I’m not going to do that.

 

Shane: So why do you think that is? Why do you think the people are reluctant to go into politics?

 

Gareth: Because it’s visceral and it’s just horrible. I mean I’ve noticed that already. I mean I, what have we been in this thing? Three and a half months now, we’re babies but I mean it’s stuff like that right.  ACT does an OAA to the electoral commission on us every second day. Just to cause trouble. That’s just the politics that some of these people get off on. That’s like the worst of Facebook, that’s like trolling, it’s no different. You have to put up with that shit. You know that’s my point. You have to be resilient enough to, and I’m not the sort of guy who normally doesn’t react so somebody is awful to me I tend to be awful back with interest and it’s just my natural instinct and people say put yourself above, put yourself above but you can’t get one without the other.

 

You can’t get the sort of compassion of go forward without the passion of reaction. Which is why it’s very difficult. I admire people who have got that capability, I don’t. So you have to be prepared. Like I’ve had a woman working with us, the researchers working with us, who are the most stunning, fantastic academic brains that you could have met. So I say to them, “come on girls, you’ve got to come and help people. You’re the expert in this.” No way are they coming near it and putting their family at risk and themselves. And that’s just the reality of politics.

 

Shane: People say that’s reality but realities can change and there’s just something that the toxic environment, do you think that’s levity created to exclude or do you think … what do you think has created that? How would you change it?

 

Gareth: Well I think it has been amplified by media, I would have to say. Corporate media has definitely amplified this. I mean look at what they’re doing to journalists. They’re losing their ethics, they’re being told to be stars and get a hit or a sound bite with everything they do. You have the celebrity media thing, like the Hosking  type phenomenon or the Paul Henry type phenomenon where the show is all about them and all you are is somebody to walk over, you know, so you come on as the expert and then you get called this, that and the other thing. So that’s what corporate media does.

 

I mean I don’t support Trump in any way, let’s just get that clear, but by golly we’re that. He read that straight away and he just excluded them. And the media in America are still struggling to understand the Trump phenomenon. They’re still having a [inaudible 00:31:52]. They’re still having to come to terms with it. And I’ll never forget that graph on election day when the New York Times was there with all the polls and it started at 8:00 in the morning, a 97% chance that Hillary is going to win this and of course at the end of the day it was a zero percent chance.

 

So that told you what the conventional wisdom, how wrong it was and I actually think we have seen that here already. Where they’re talking about more Labour and National day-to-day, do-nothing, do-nothing stuff. That is not what I’m feeling out there and I’ve only done these two towns but I can tell you now there are people who are very concerned about New Zealand that we are drifting doing nothing and they want change and they want it in a positive way which is what you’re alluding to. So we’re going to have to overcome this toxicity of you know these sort of grubby political movements like ACT and you know John Brash’s  extreme right , those sort of guys. We’ve just going to have to somehow deal with them. And we’re going to also have to go past the commercial media, all the stand there type media, because they just amplify what the corporate owners want them to amplify.

 

Shane: I mean that’s the real issue isn’t it? I mean like here we can have a conversation and we can actually get into some issues really deep, you know, actually get in a deep conversation and explain complex issues that are facing New Zealand or the world but you can’t do that in a two minute interview on national TV can you? And then you wind just butting heads who is the exact opposite [crosstalk 00:33:37].

 

Gareth: And that’s the show and that’s nothing in terms of informing the public. But I feel the public is pretty blooming intelligent when it comes down to it and they recognise that as well. And I think the public are pretty well starved for quality, …for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator so I think there’s a demand, I mean I can see it, I can just see it in the numbers of these people that are turning up. And the pillar I look forward to every night is their questions because they are just awesome. You know, that tells me, man that guys thinking. You know? So yeah, it’s cool.

 

Shane: So the other question, the last question I have, is building your party because you could have done it from the top down. You could have said here’s the party come along. A lot of other parties are going to fill up from the ground as well so how are you finding that as a …?

 

Gareth: Well it’s lonely. We’re seven people, with seven policies, with seven months until election so how’s that for an outsider? But you know I just hope as we get momentum that we get some real talent come out of the woodwork and we actually have seen it on the volunteer base. I mean we did that by election Mount Albert where we got just under five percent which wasn’t bad for a three month old party, I thought, and against two blooming good candidates. Particularly Julie Anne Genter of the Green’s, she’s high quality that woman.

 

Shane: [crosstalk 00:35:09]

 

Gareth: Oh she is. She’s very awesome. And you know Jacinda is not a slouch either so it was a good contest and I only met those three so it was quite a dig. What were we talking about?

 

Shane: Oh just [crosstalk 00:35:26].

 

Gareth: So yeah, the volunteers that we had at Mount Albert were just superb people in terms of just their intellect, you know, that’s the part that really got me just the ideas they had on the poll. And we just had it again here in Dunedin the same sort of thing. So I just feel from the volunteer base that’s coming forward and wants to be part of this, they don’t just want to give out stickers and crap you know? They actually want to engage with the public on stuff, you know, themselves and they want to head discussion groups and have them Skype in and all that sort of stuff. Which is sort of the thing you were talking about, democracy from the grass roots up so it’s coming, it’s just that you know I sat at the beginning of the year or the end of last year thinking “how am I going to do this? Oh, I’m just going to do it and see what happens”, you know? It’s a standard technique for me.

 

Sam: You’ve made a lot of money.

 

Gareth: Yeah, you’re telling me. It’s ridiculous.

 

Sam: Couldn’t you just be off on a yacht somewhere?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I do a bit of that. In 2015, I was only two months in New Zealand, in 2016 I was only four. People think I’m here because that’s the power of social media isn’t it? I can communicate, I can do phone interviews and people not have a clue where I am. So I do have that life of Reilly very much and love, we both love running circles around the world and last year we did Indonesia from the top of Sumatra to East Timor so we’re still pretty active and Joann is planning for us to go from Nigeria to Japan so you know, we’re still pretty heavy in that stuff.

 

But I can’t do that, and if you read any of the travel books I’ve done you’ll find with me it’s not really about the motorcycle it’s about the society and the politics and how do these people get by trying to scrape a living out of bloody rocks and nothing. And you look back at New Zealand and we’re only worried about property prices, it’s pathetic really. Tend to the problem we really had back in NZ. So it’s not enough for me, that life of Reilly I have to, I’ve spent my whole life in this area on economic and social policy so I probably, no matter what happens with the election, I’ll probably still keep doing that work just to keep my intellectual satisfaction going.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Gareth: I hope that never happens. But the answer to that, I just want to be me. And I’m a sort of spontaneous sort of out there guy and, you know, I’ve got wonderful people around me and I’m a very, very lucky chap.

 

Sam: Your investment company for the kiwi saver is ethical investment. To what extent is that viable or to what extent is that perhaps, you know, what do we need to do, I suppose my question is, to make that the norm?

 

Gareth: Well I think consumers are actually demanding it, just like they are demanding better quality food and a lot of things. So that’s definitely the case in finance and that’s great to see, isn’t it? Rather than saying, “well I know if I invest in a company that sells guns I’ll probably make more money than anything.” And then they say no thanks. The issue with the ethical investing for an investment company like the one I own, I’ve sold it now, that’s actually where I made most of my money, it’s about the degrees of freedom. You can actually, no gain companies no smokes, no oil companies, you know what I mean, fossil fuels [inaudible 00:39:21], but what about banks? Because banks bank them all, you know? So you can only go so far with that because you can’t see through that’s the issue. I’m not saying it’s just tokenism but it’s understanding the limits of that. I think the best thing you can do is live an ethical life in terms of your fellow human beings.

 

Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Gareth: Yeah. Our environmental policy is to, for each generation to leave the environment at least as good in condition as they found it from this point on, hopefully better. So that’s all economic growth and all economic growth is is income growth has got to be subject to that constraint so that’s why in the environmental policy we had this whole polluted place thing, so I can give you an example of that. Farming. Just talk about farming, dairy farming, talk about the sub-catchment we’ve been leaking nitrates so the authorities that be, whoever they are have to decide well here is a tolerable level of nitrogen leaching so you set that and over time you might set that down, down, down but you set it and any farm that leaks more than that gets taxed.

 

These are collective taxes, economics 101. And then the revenue of that goes to any farm that leaches less than that, gets that revenue. So we base it so that it’s completely neutral within the geographic area and within the industry. So what you’re doing is inciting good behaviour and distancing bad behaviour and so far as the environmental target is concerned. So we are very much with the Green’s on the environmental bottom line. Same with the rivers. The Nats have just come up with this unbelievable definition of swimable rivers, they don’t have to have any water in them, I mean come on.

 

Sam: You talked before about the discount rate but is the problem with the discount rate being, I was thinking about the future or people further away than us if you apply it… what is the economics, can do to overcome that? Is there an alternative model for how we should be thinking for the future?

 

Gareth: That’s just full information. Once you understand the consequences of the situation, not just for tomorrow but further down, and what the unintended consequences might be further down, you’re discount rate will fall. You’ll say okay, “well if I let this go”, say climate change, “if I let this go then the consequences are could be by year X South New Zealand is under water. Oh shit, maybe we should do something.” So you just dropped your discount rate. So I think it’s about knowledge, I think it’s about people being educated on stuff. And people are hugely hungry for information rather than Mike Hosking sound bytes.

 

Sam: But after almost every news article, particularly on national radio, and there’s an economist comes on and says oh yes, but that’s going to reduce job rates by seven percent or is able to put a number on something that is quite specific we might argue about whether or not those are just made up, but if we’re talking about some impacts into the future we’re not able to have someone come on and say in a sound bite well that’s going to increase jobs by …

 

Gareth: Yeah so what you need with every policy is here’s the benefits and here are the costs so that’s the draw and that’s what I’ve done with all these policies, is said here is the good news, we’re a very radical flagship policy which is shifting the textbooks, here’s the good news, eight percent of your income comes into your pocket with the tax cuts and I say here’s the bad news, your house is going to get taxed on the half percent of every vehicle they own, okay.

 

Every policy has got a positive, there’s no free answers here and the stats quo with establishment parties is tendered to be, “here’s a free lunch, here’s another free lunch”, you listen to Winston, how is he going to solve the housing thing? I’m just going to have the government build more houses. Well hang on Winston, where the hell is the money coming from? Specifically, which tax bar are you going to take the money from? Please tell us the downside of your policy because every policy has got a downside. That’s all economist do so I think, people aren’t stupid, we all know it’s a world of trade offs so once the general public understands the nature of the trade off they all make an informed decision.

 

Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gareth: I think just doing the books. Yeah, they’ve been. For me, the biggest joy has been working with those cool people, who are so good in their areas and just learning. Understanding, I mean I was the biggest climate change skeptic on earth basically until my wife read Flannery’s book and said, “Gareth, you have got to understand this because you don’t, it’s clear.” Three years later we had a book. That was harder than my PhD, that darn thing. So it’s just the joy of learning is by far the best part of life.

 

Sam: What’s the big unknowns?

 

Gareth: For me going forward?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Gareth: Or for all of us?

 

Sam: Well, for all of us. What’s on the next on the list of books?

 

Gareth: Next on the, well I’m almost through with my book phase, actually contrary to what you said I’ve actually done twenty books. Six of them were on travel and the last one was riding motorcycles across North Korea, you know, it’s never been done before or since. So it was a big seller, that book, in Korea anyway, South Korea. I think the big unknowns really for me is how is New Zealand going to handle the opportunity and the threats that are sitting out there. I mean I am not a great fan of what I sort of call the foreign peril when New Zealand is actually selling it’s land and allowing foreigners to have permanent residency without New Zealander tax status. I just think that’s nuts. The demand from abroad for stake in New Zealand is infinite and the value they are putting on it is going through the roof this is what Sir Paul Callahan referred to as a place where talent wants to come and live. That is probably the biggest gold mine for New Zealanders, I mean, that’s available and we need to cap that gold mine in one way or another.

 

Sam: We are writing our own book about these interviews. We are calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What we’re trying to do is capture the things people are doing that are making a difference because then if we can work out what that is we can bottle it and get other people to do that. So a couple of questions from that. How would you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?

 

Gareth: Well I do think we all learn from other people. As our son Sam said there’s no such thing as an original idea, it’s all in the execution and we do learn from what other people do. And I’ll give you a couple of examples of that.

 

You know we’ve been riding these motorcycles around the world since 2001 and the number of New Zealanders that will come up to me and say, “I’ve read this book, I’ve read that book on travel and now we’ve gone and done the same.” Or whatever has been just awesome you know and so another thing that we’ve, Joanne and I have been very busy doing, is all this charitable stuff. I mean we had to get rid of that Trade Me money, right, so we’ve been doing all this charitable stuff overseas.

 

Mainly in the country we ride bikes through with funding hospitals and all sorts of projects, Kiwi Heroes is working over there and there’s some amazing people, New Zealanders around the world, in the most desolate places doing incredible stuff. And that has rubbed off too. We’ve been on speaking tours around New Zealand talking about that and other New Zealanders will say because of that we just sold up. We just sold the house, everything and we’ve been off the last three year doing …” and you just go, blooming heck, it doesn’t take much to turn us does it? You know. So you get a lot of satisfaction out of that sort of thing and I’m the same. I get influenced very heavily by my heroes.

 

Shane: Do you make any mistakes?

 

Gareth: Heaps. You know, like I say some of my investments weren’t successes, 30% is probably too high probably 20. So you know I’ve done a lot of those. I don’t think I handled the beach discussion as well as I could have. That’s another one. The beach discussion really made me angry because the public ended up paying three million for a beach that we could have gotten for 300,000 and I just couldn’t get that across. I tried to do it in a way but it was a wee bit too complex and it got lost so I see it as a bust. So you know, not everything works. I thought cats was a big mistake for awhile but I don’t now, it’s been an outrageous success. So yeah. You take risks.

 

Sam: Do you need to find some outrageous things like that over the next seven months?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I mean I’m basically an anarchist from way back so you know I get no more satisfaction than throwing the marbles across a dance floor and seeing what happens.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gareth: Yeah, in my own funny way. My trouble is that I’m a bit of a lone wolf. I like teams as long as I can be boss, which is almost an oxymoron. But I do, as Jeff put it one day, we are very team oriented, it’s fantastic. We’ll all have a really good discussion and you know we go back and forth and Gareth makes his decision. But that’s the only way we get go forward. And that’s why I reserve the Green’s actually. I mean I love the democracy of the greens but the trouble is that it’s your worst enemy at times, you know, what did Churchill say, he said something like that about democracy didn’t he? You know or actually Churchill has another great quote about democracy which really resonates with me right at the moment, “I used to believe in democracy really strongly until I had a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.” I’ve had a bit of that but that is actually a bit disparaging. I have found that the people who have shown up for me are really wonderful. But, yeah, democracy isn’t everything but it’s what we’ve got.

 

Sam: Given that you may or may not get in to Parliament, and even if you do you’re not going to be there forever, what do you need to change? What is it that you would do that you were there that we need to be doing differently over the next 10, 20, 30 years?

 

Gareth: Well the biggest thing for us, for me personally, in our policy offering as the democracy we see it, that by far for me personally. I mean the climate thing is important but it’s a no brainer you know you’ve got to do it. Same with the river, with the environment all that so a lot of that stuff is you know, you’re just falling off a log really from a technical point of view.

 

But the democracy we see is a bit more subtle and what I’m concerned with democracy in New Zealand is that actually Parliament doesn’t have sovereignty. Sovereignty lies with the cabinet and despite the fact, you know, the law, that’s what it says Parliament does. All the National MP’s who aren’t in the cabinet are essentially just voting further and all the opposition MP’s you know are almost a waste of space. It’s not their fault it’s just the way the system works. So I would like the sovereignty of Parliament restored and the proposal to do that is first you get up a constitution so I agree totally Palmer on that and the point of a constitution is that it means that you and I understand very succinctly what it is that New Zealand values and what we stand for and we will not allow those rights to be infringed on.

 

So Muldoon would have never, ever have got that superannuation fund changed in 1975 if we’d had a constitution because a constitutional board would have said immediately this is a breach of human rights of future generations. So you have the constitution so that we all know what we stand for and we’re all in the same canoe and then you have either an upper house or a constitutional review board, whatever you call it, but it’s got to have some sort of teeth. It hasn’t got sovereignty, Parliament has got sovereignty and they can say this coming up legislation that you are proposing breaches human rights.

 

We’re all aware of it, we know our constitution and we say yeah, you’re not doing that to us. So we would have nipped that New Zealand super bribe in the bud and it never, ever would have happened. Rather than 10 years later Cullen trying to caw it back with the Cullen Fund and with Kiwi Saver because it was such a balls up. And we’re still fighting, here we are 30 years later still trying to deal with it. And to me that’s the biggest thing is to get democracy back on the rails in this country.

 

Sam: What gets you out of bed each morning?

 

Gareth: I just enjoy people. I just, you know, why wouldn’t you, you know? I know I’ve only got a limited number of days left I want to max out here so that when the grim reaper comes I can’t say “Hang on I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that.” I can say, “oh thank God! Take me away, I’m knackered.”

 

Sam: What’s the next motorbike trip?

 

Gareth: Lagos to Japan. So it goes up West Africa and then across the top of Russia, because we have done [soc row] but we haven’t done the top and gets to Japan just in time for the World Cup.

 

Sam: Well. If you could wave the magic wand and have a miracle occur what would you have happen?

 

Gareth: I’d get fairness back in the tax system. That’s our number one policy. I think that would solve so much in New Zealand. Take the tax burden right off salary wage earners and get it across us all so that people like me pay our fair share of tax, basically and I think that just solves so many issues, it solves the housing issue, it gives businesses capital for investment because that’s where the savings have to go. It reduces our reliance on foreign savings and stops the Prime Minister from going around with the bloody begging bowl overseas and bending over backwards to help, to give foreign investors tax breaks. It makes us resilient, self sufficient, makes us fear and makes us more prosperous. I mean come on, what is there not to like here?

 

Sam: And lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gareth: Well I would just say that don’t, especially don’t think you’re powerless. You’re hugely powerful. You cannot throw rocks at what’s happening and say this is terrible, this is terrible. And moan and groan about the government. If you don’t exercise your rights in the voting booth, and to do that in a responsible way you have to be informed. Not just a single issue person and not a bigot. Now the biggest issue we’ve got with the voting at the moment apart from what we just talked about, the whole democracy alienation, is the young ones. Trying to get these young ones out of bed in the morning.

 

So we took a poll on that you know. We went last season, we just did a whole lot of polling, what would actually get you off your bums in the morning to actually exercise your vote? And I couldn’t believe the answer but the number one issue was Cannabis reform. Talk about a first world problem, you know, I’m not saying it’s completely irrelevant, I’m just saying it’s pathetic in terms if that’s the top if your tree, you know, boy just stay in the educational system mate, you’ve got a way to go.

 

Shane: Okay. You’re listening to The Sustainable Lens on the Otago Access Radio on 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 10th of March 2017. Our guest was Dr. Gareth Morgan. Your hosts were Sam Mann and Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on sustainablelens.org or you can subscribe on iTunes or on [inaudible 00:55:36]. We hope you enjoyed the show.

 

Categories
climate change science

Community resilience disrupted

Dr Caroline Orchiston is Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago.   She has an interest in resilience from the perspectives of tourism and communities, particularly in the context of natural hazard events.


Talking points

Sustainable: Traditionally it’s always been about preserving what we have now in such a way that it doesn’t encroach on the futures ability to do so.

 

Success: Successfully negotiating parenthood and staying in academia as well as writing my thesis!

 

Activist: I love activism, personally I choose to do other things in my life to create action but I’m fully supportive of activists. I do think it is very important to make a difference at some point in your life.

 

Motivation: Just doing work that might have some positive environmental or societal impact.

 

Miracle: My miracle would be that people start accepting people of other religions and cultural perspectives, I think that would make the world a much happier place.

 

Advice: Engage with your community, figure out what is happening locally, if a disaster occurs those connections will be really helpful… as well as trying and find value in everything that you are doing!