community social work

Engaging community


John Stansfield teaches Community Practice at Unitec in Auckland where they teach both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in community development as well as social work and counselling.  He’s worked extensively in community development in his own community – notably Waiheke Island – as well as Palmerston North, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands.  He is chairing the upcoming Aotearoa Community Development conference.


 Shane Welcome to the show John.


John: Thank you very much, gentlemen.


Shane: What we normally do is start off with a little bit about your past. Where were you born John?


John: I was born at a tragically early age in Auckland and I grew up initially in Te Atatu which is a glorious suburb on the harbour, in the upper harbour. I went to school there and lived there until I was about a teen or so when my parents had some kind of crazy idea and moved just to the Bible belt of Mount Roskill which amongst the many facilities it didn’t have, it didn’t even have a pub. I became bored with it quite quickly and at 18 I decamped and went and lived in the bush in Papua New Guinea for eighteen or twenty months or so.


As far as growing up I’m still doing it. It’s been a long and difficult childhood.


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


John: Goodness. Retired.


Shane: You went to Papua New Guinea and then you came back to New Zealand obviously at some point. What brought you back and what did you learn in Papua New Guinea?


John: Papua New Guinea was a transformative experience. I went there in 1976. It was a newly independent country. In fact tried to go in 1975 just as it became independent but they didn’t have embassies, you couldn’t get visas and it was terribly difficult. I got there and I worked as a motor mechanic in training, people in small engines in the bush in what’s now called Sandaun Province which was then the West Sepik as a volunteer and lived very simply in villages. Met all kinds of fabulous, fabulous characters. The ‘land of the unexpected’ as they call Papua New Guinea has a way of seeping into you and calling you back. I think I’ve been back more than twenty times since I left. I was fortunate enough, in fact, to go back and do some teaching up there, then later to go back and do some work for Oxfam. It’s a fabulous, fabulous country.


Shane: What first got you interested in going to Papua New Guinea? That’s not a standard path. Most people when they’re 18 head off to Europe or America. Why PNG and-


John: Well, in common with most 18 year old males it was not a rational decision. I think it was something which came about as an argument in a pub about whether I should join this movement to not have beer and pies on a Friday and put the money into aid and development, and being fond of beer and pies as my girth will tell you, I had to argue against it all. Actually I argue against just about anything, and said I’d far rather do something more practical with my skills and somebody called my bluff and said, “Actually there’s this unpaid job in the bush in the mosquito infested hell hole.” The West Sepik has the best mosquitoes in the world. They need clearance from civil aviation to land. They frequently make off with calves and small children.


My bluff was called and I couldn’t back out and I went.


Shane: That must have been an amazing experience. Obviously you’re extremely fond of the country and the people. You came back to New Zealand what was your plan when you came back? Did you have a plan?


John: Sitting around in the bush with not too much to do but chew beetle nut and occasionally get a bit of wireless you get a bit of time to think and I decided that I really wanted to come back and study social work, but particularly what I thought was community social work which turned out to be community development. Just to add familiar with the term, I think of it as community development is the crucible of democracy. It’s the place where citizens come together to share their dreams and plan their common futures. It’s a way of collectively organising to make life better and that became my discipline and I’ve kept it for the rest of my life, and something I’m enormously fond of and very proud of and which defines me. These days I’m a senior lecturer community development, having become too old for useful work, I’ve returned to academia where it’s not object to advancement. I’m on the Board of the International Association of Community Development, and I’m chairing the Aotearoa Association and chairing the National Conference, and I’ve been fortunate enough to go on tour in March last year through India with twenty other community development practitioners. It’s fabulous. It’s better than religion.


Shane: Community development obviously is different depending what communities you’re in. The community in Papua New Guinea might be different to what community here or in Ireland or in India. What are the common themes and what are the differences and what do you have to be careful of going in…?


John: The great trap in community development is you really can’t have much of an agenda of your own. You have to help people find the agenda that they want. To give you an example, I chair a fabulous little organisation called the Waiheke Resources Trust. It does all kinds of fabulous projects in community development. We got a little grant here at council to see whether we could do something about food waste. Almost all the work that’s done on food waste is done after you’ve wasted the food. It’s a deeply stupid place to intervene in a problem. Myself and a young colleague intern wrote a paper doing a Lit review from around the world on food waste and said, “You got to start somewhere else”.  We put this thing through to the Ministry for the Environment and they were pretty excited about it. Then they had a change of leadership and no one was really excited again.  We pitched away and did a little trial at home. Ultimately we got the local council to say, “We’ll put some money behind you. Go and see what you can do.” They sent us off to a fabulous community we chose on Waiheke called Blackpool. Blackpool has a resident’s association which exists under the name BRA. The Blackpool Residents Association that came together when the community was flooded some years earlier. It had been little bit in abeyance.


We got that community together and we said, “Let’s spend an afternoon dreaming about what we’d really like in this community.” I kept in the background that we had a couple of young women, one of whom was working for us and one of whom was working for council in facilitating this process. “That’s good, we’ve got all your ideas, we’re going to write them up, we’re going to bring you back and John will cook you a lovely three course dinner with wine and candles and everything, then we’ll narrow it down and we’ll come up with what we’re going to do.” What we were wanting to do was inject some enthusiasm around sustainability and food waste. What the residents came up with is that they really wanted a pub. I thought fantastic, I can go back to the council and say, “Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for your money. Got nowhere on the sustainability, but the residents would like a pub, preferably on your land.”


This could be the severely career limiting approach but actually we worked with that community and they got a pub, it’s a fantastic thing. It’s called the Dog and Pony and it pops up. It’s a pop-up pub, it pops up in a public building every few weeks and people bring their biscuits and their nibbles and their bottle of wine or their homemade beer and their violin and they have a fabulous time in their own community and they walk to it, walk home. No one gets killed in the process. The purpose of that story is to illustrate how it’s actually got to be the community’s decision what they want. Having got there and had the pub delivered, we were able to see who leaders were in that community and get alongside them and say, “Can we do something around food waste?” We did a fantastic trial there and really significantly reduced the waste of food and learned a whole lot that we’re now rolling out in other communities.


Sam: Is that easier or harder on an island?


John: It’s much easier on an island. Everything’s easier on an island. Not everything, you would run out of water here, that’s not easier. Your relationships are far more intimate. Everybody’s recycled. You have to be a little bit more both self-reliant and collectively reliant on each other to make things work. There’s an opening. I think on this island it’s a very proud history of concern about the environment and of being unafraid to stand up and be counted on things. We were the first place in New Zealand to be nuclear free. I think we were the first council to declare ourselves GE free. When the boats left for Moruroa, they largely came from Waiheke. We’re a great bunch. It’s very easy to find other people of like mind in this community to do something that’s better for everyone.


Sam: Then you have a council that is representing all of Auckland and does things like destroy your waste management system.


John: You’ve got to have the time sense of a geologist to appreciate these things you see. We originally had a couple of roads boards here, that then got made into the Waiheke County Council. I remember the Waiheke County Council very fondly. A place where politics became a blood sport and source of local entertainment where people jostled to get a seat at the local council meeting, try deftly to be upwind of Fred Burrock who hadn’t washed. We were one fantastic county. We did things like say, “It’s our island and we’re going to green it.” They built their own nursery, employed four or five islanders and every ratepayer could front up and get three trees any time he liked. They get your fruit trees and fruit trees were planted on the road verges, in public parks and all over the place.


That was fabulous. Then it was compulsory amalgamated with Auckland City Council which is no longer. Waiheke revolted of course because the first thing that the good burghers of Rocky Bay knew about the amalgamation is they came down their muddy track with the carefully sorted recycling was a big flash new council truck going past and threw the whole lot into a compactor and took it off to a hole in the ground. We were pretty vexed and aggrieved about that.


When the Royal Commission on the Governance of Auckland asked the then 1.4 million people of the region to comment on their plan, 28.8% of all submissions came from the 0.8% of the people who lived on Waiheke who demanded that the commission come here and explain themselves about how we were going to do without local governance. Ourselves and the Great Barrier community won their own local governments back. Yes, it’s true that we did lose the fabulous social enterprise in rubbish but we’ll win it back. We [inaudible 00:12:46], we can write.


Shane: It sounds like there was already a community there to work with. How do you development a community where the one doesn’t already exist or it’s very fragile?


John: There’s been some great work done around that in New Zealand and overseas. In fact, I had a cup of tea this morning with my very good friend, Gavin Rooney who at 76 has just retired from being a senior lecturer in Community Development. He was the first local authority community worker employed in New Zealand. They put him in the new Nappy Alley suburbs of Massey out in West Auckland. When he finished his term, they didn’t appoint a new one, the council, because they had so much trouble with the last one. He just very patiently went around, getting to know people, linking people up. Getting conversations going about things. Similarly a great New Zealand community worker was Wendy Craig who worked in the Takaro community of Palmerston North. Was very famous there when the hospital board were considering closing a maternity unit. Wendy got a whole bunch of mothers with crying babies to go to the hospital board meeting. I think it was a bit of judicious bottom pinching during the meeting because the meeting had to be abandoned there was so many crying babies. The board got the message, they shouldn’t mess with the women of Takaro.


It’s a gentle process of getting to know people, finding their interests, linking them up with each other. Making it possible for people to believe that they can control their own futures and have a say. Once you get to that point it’s pretty unstoppable.


Sam: We visited Oamaru last year, or the year before, they have got a really strong transition town movement. They’ve got a really good summer school and they’ve got their, what do they call it…The waste recycling system, they’re planting trees on every street frontage. Whole pile of things. We thought, “This is amazing. We have to go and find out they’re managing this. How is the whole town in behind transitional Oamaru?” It turns out it’s not. There’s about six people doing everything but what they’re doing is doing things that other people would get engaged in. Even if they think the transitional town people are a bit weird, they still recognise that having fruit trees in front of their house is a good thing.


John: Transition towns, it’s somewhat kind of like a brand really. They came to Waiheke and the next thing we noticed was all kinds of things we’d already been doing with transition town things. That’s good. They’re able to reach a different constituency. Every little tribe that marches in a similar direction that reaches a new constituency makes us all collectively stronger. It’s great.


Kaikoura is another place that’s fabulous. Kaikoura, when I was down there last week helping sort the rubbish on the line in the recycling plant because her brother, Robbie Roach, is the manager of Innovative Waste Kaikoura. He is facing a mountain of construction and demolition waste and working out has a community they can make the best of that. Wonderful. There is actually a lot of be said for rubbish. I started to think that we’ve got to grab hold of all the rubbish and keep it for the poor before the rich find out how bloody valuable it is.


Sam: One time I visited Waiheke and the rubbish was sitting in some sort of carton or big crate thing on the wharf. I thought, “All the people that go over the wharf can see this is the result of our through-put.” It’s nice and visible. You don’t need to have a website or anything. Unfortunately that’s gone. My question though, was is there a tipping point of how much community engagement you need to actually make a difference?


John: If I refer back to my good friend Wendy Craig, who’s a very wise woman. She said once, “If you’re fun to be with, they’ll always be people with you.” Two essential ingredients for good community development are fun, coupled with a deep seed irreverence, and food. If you put those two things together you can find ways to build bridges and get people engaged. Once people become engaged in their own neighbourhood and there’s oodles of research out that says people want to be more engaged and they want to do that locally. Somewhere where they live. We just seem to have built a social structure that’s going entirely in the wrong direction for that. Some clever marketing guru gets hold it, they’ll be community development on sale.


I suppose there is a kind of tipping point but it’s a tipping point. It just takes a little bit of enthusiasm in pulling people together and it has its successes and its failures. It requires some judicious thinking about what would be good early successes because nothing succeeds like success. People’s experience of a win is very empowering.


Sam: You’ve written about foreign issues. You write about gambling and the relationship between gambling and public health. What’s the cross over between that and the collective organising and community development we’ve been talking about?


John: Sure. This second stint in academia. I was here in the mid-90s and I founded a graduate programme in not-for-profit management. I started to wonder, I actually wondered this on a beach with a great American guy called Tim McMain. We sat on a beach and wondered this together whether the biggest threat to biodiversity was not the loss of Hochstetter’s Frog, or the Maui dolphin, but the most important biodiversity was the biodiversity of thought. What I observed happening around the world in terms of governance and management was that there was starting to be a one true solution, one size fits all. Funnily enough it happened to be the one that culturally suited white men in suits from Boston. You saw other ways of doing and knowing and thinking being pushed out to the margins. When I looked at the impact of that on the community sector I became deeply concerned at the kind of corporatization that was happening all over the place that was actually driving out the most important thing we do in the community organisation which is giving people the opportunity to belong. Belonging is just really important for people and for healthy societies. If you don’t think it’s important, go to court on a Monday morning. You’re not going to find many playcentre mums.


We started to think about this thing about actually the way we manage community organisations has to palpably different, it has to have its own kaupapa, it has to have its own culture. It has to have a consistency, because you don’t have the same tools. You don’t have the same money that you can incentivize and you don’t have the legislative power of the state. All you have is trying to get people to line up around some values.


I did that for nine years and then I did a dangerous thing – I had a holiday. I woke up from that I thought, “I wonder if I’ll still be here, preaching on like this in thirty years time. I should go and find out if it works.” I looked for a broken community organisation which was the Problem Gambling Foundation. I was fortunate enough to be appointed their CEO, and I had a really fantastic five years. Learning about gambling and its impact. My thinking is very influenced by the late, great Bill Mollison who developed Permaculture. I’m sure some of your listeners will know about Bill and he and David Holmgrem’s work.


When I got to the Problem Gambling Foundation, things were quite broken so I couldn’t hop into the track and blast off into the sunset. None of the gears worked, the wiring was buggered, and the finance system didn’t work. It was just a bloody mess. It was a lot of grunt work to be done for about three months. While I was doing that I decided I’d have a Masters level education in gambling. Every night I would read two or three hours worth of papers from around the world about gambling. What I quickly found out is that more than half of them had all the validity of 1950s tobacco research, and for exactly the same reason. Just as the tobacco companies corrupted the research sector by buying it, so had the gambling industry. That really made it hard. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what the answer was. I had to keep looking, keep looking, keep looking. One night about 10:00 I came across one statistic and it showed me that ten years earlier, no New Zealand women had come to treatment for gambling problems. Yet, now in 2003 this was, more than half the people coming were women.


If you approach that bit of statistic with the traditional addictions lens, and addictions looks at the person who is harmed after the harm has happened and says, “What is the matter with the person?” Then the question you ask is what happened to New Zealand women that they all got so weak over ten years? Mine has not been a life which has been surrounded by weak New Zealand women. I tend to end up with the very mouthy, stroppy ones. There’s still time. It’s a species I’m interested I’m explore. I thought, “This just doesn’t make bloody sense.” I fell back on my trade union background, I thought, “If I’d gone to a mill and there were three blokes sitting around with their arms cut off, my first thing wouldn’t be to get them into a support group and say, “now come on you fellas, what happened in your earlier lives that caused you to cut your arms off?” Essentially that’s what we were doing with gamblers. We were getting people who would come in who were deeply harmed and saying, “This is your fault in some way.” It isn’t.


The normal outcome of regular use of a pokie machine is that you’ll be harmed by it. It’s a deeply, deeply pernicious industry and it extracts money out of the communities that can least afford it. You follow the capital flows? It’s a transfer of wealth from the women to the men, from the brown to the white and from the poor to the rich. Once I understood that, I knew that it was deeply offensive and I could have a great deal of fun fighting it. It’s just like any other kind of plunder, environmental plunder or community plunder.


Shane: Why has New Zealand’s society allowed that or constructed a system? This kind of gambling, for instance, isn’t simply legal back in Ireland and I was really shocked when I came over here to see the pokie machines and the casinos. What allowed that? What was the construct there?


John: I’ve always wondered if in Ireland the reason it didn’t go ahead was because the church couldn’t find a way to control it. Just as an aside.  The way gambling gets in everywhere is a bit of a standard method and it’s lies, deception and corruption. They have fantastic relationships with senior people in government. I can think of a fellow in a one man party, and I don’t mean David Seymour, who in his entire career in politics has never voted against the gambling industry, the liquor industry or the tobacco industry. He stands for Family First party. Think about that.


They use all kinds of chicanery in communities and they have got oodles and oodles of money. I often used to say, “Any idiot could run a pokie trust and usually does.”


Sam: What do you do about trying to change that behaviour if you’re taking that collective responsibility role that you’re talking about. The point is that it’s already normalised.


John: People aren’t stupid. In fact what you see happening with the pokie industry up until the last two quarters is a poisoning of the well. There’s very few people in this country now who don’t know somebody or some family that’s been blighted by those machines. It’s really, really hard to walk into anywhere they are and imagine that there’s something glamorous going on. All you really have to do to fight against this is number one, tell the truth, and we tell the truth about it on a daily basis through a news feed called Today’s Stories that a wonderful woman named Donna in Auckland puts together every morning. Gets on my desk about 7 a.m. and it’s a summary of all the gambling stories in New Zealand and around the world.


You find things like the second biggest motivator for organised fraud, white collar crime, and this is a top accounting firm study, is gambling. Unless you look at the charitable sector alone in which case it’s always the highest motivator. Gambling is only allowed in our society really for charitable purposes but the people most likely get harmed by the charities. When you start to tell that story repeatedly it starts to become true. The latest surveys by the Department of Internal Affairs now show that the majority of New Zealanders don’t think it’s a good idea to fund communities out of the gambling industry. While the minister, Minister Dunne, is desperately trying to liberalise the regime and ensure that pokie machines are a sustainable industry. You can’t put glitter on a turd. It just isn’t going to work. Ultimately, people will throw them out and I think we will look back on this period of our history with a sense of deep shame and say, “How did we allow that level of exploitation of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.” Make no mistake it’s the poor who pay the price of pokie gambling.


I put a picket on a pub in Manurewa years ago and they have 5.1 million dollars from that poor, poor, poor South Auckland suburb leave town. Some of the money went to charity, it went to the Otago Rugby Union, and the Canterbury Jockey Club. The horse owners which apparently is a sport. Not one red cent went back into that community yet there were moms dropping the kids off at school in their dressing gowns coming into that pub playing those machines. Desperate to try and win some of it back.


Sam: Talking about stories and telling the truth, I’m thinking about now as we move very quickly into what’s being referred to as post-truth, or whatever. We’ve been having the same thing on a lesser level for quite a long time here about the story, it’s all right Jack, everything’s wonderful on Planet Key. Is that making it harder to engage communities because they’re being told so strongly that everything’s all right?


John: Yeah. There’s certainly something very comforting about the news according to Mike Hoskins. It doesn’t really bear looking at. Put it in context to the States, I was in the States during the period of the conventions. I just couldn’t believe it. Come on, you people, you’re not stupid are you? What’s going on? You wonder how long it would be before particularly working class middle America wakes up and realises they’re seriously being duped. There is I think a real risk in our society in the decline in journalism. I don’t mean that journalists are any less than there ever were, great journalists in this country but there’s a hell of a lot less of them. They’ve got a hell of a lot less time to do their job. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just sliding by. I just about fell off the chair when I read that we were the least corrupt country in the world.


Sam: You’ve written about gagging, I think in relation to Christchurch. Do you think we’ve got a problem with people in government, local government, national government, being told what they can and can’t say?


John: Yes we have. It gets passed down so that one of the real roles of the community sector, and community development organisations is to get people together and speak on their behalf. What we’ve seen with the rise of contractaulism and the relationship between government and the community sector is that those contracts are used to exercise gagging and changes in governance and all manner of restrictions. I remember at the Problem Gambling Foundation getting told that we provide free counselling services in prison. That we would not be able to have a contract if we continued to provide free counselling services in prison. Their organisation was actually born in prison. A couple of guys realised they were in prison because they gambled, they decided they were going to do something about it. We had very deep roots to that. I said to the officials at the time, “Hell will freeze over guys. Let’s see who’s going to blink first.”


We were a long time, many, many, many months with no income. Staring down the barrel of that thing. You can’t withhold medical treatment, which is what counselling services, from people in prison. That’s in breach of international human rights codes. We won’t participate with it. Boy, did that organisation get punished by the Ministry of Health for having an ethical position. They certainly did. They still got that ethical position I’m proud to say.


Shane: Do other organisations look at that example and then think we’d better not cross government?


John: Yeah. Absolutely. A terribly expensive case for an organisation to have to take. All brilliant work that was done by a fantastic team of lawyers but by golly it doesn’t come cheap. Just to preserve what you already had.


Shane: What we’re saying is what we’re seeing happening in America in a radical and very clear way, has been happening slowly here for a long time?


John: Yes, I do think some of that but I also think that we owe it to our communities not to be timid and not to self-censor. I can put up with being censored by the state, I can rebel against it, I can speak out against it, but I’m far more worried about people doing the Nervous Nellie and self-censoring to please.


Sam: You’re Head of Department of Social Practise-


John: I was Head of Department, I’m happily now … Poor Robert Ford has that honour. I’m now Senior Lecturer in Community Development.


Sam: Okay. You’re teaching people how to be community development practitioners.


John: Yes.


Sam: Are you training them to be trouble makers?


John: Absolutely. Definitely. We’re training them to be true, to look at injustice and impoverishment and know where they’re going to stand. Really they are the most delightful students. It must of been 2015 I think, I had a student come into my office breathlessly and say, “I did something!” I said, “That’s good, we’ve all done something. What is it you’ve done?” “I can’t even tell you.” She passed me a phone and she set up a Facebook page to plan a protest on TV 3 about the proposed closure of Campbell Live. I said, “That’s fantastic. Terrific! We’ll talk with the class about it.” She said, “I’ve never been to a protest before!” “Oh well, that’s fine. We’ll have a look on the computer, we’ll find you one to go to.”


Her group of them went off down and helped the McDonald’s workers fight the good fight against zero hours contracts. Then they lead a protest march to TV 3 and they got inside and occupied the building and had a wonderful time. Sat on the floor and slapped their thighs and said, “This is what democracy looks like,” and I was terribly, terribly proud of them because that’s how you build a people who will not be bowed. The risk that we have all around the world at the moment is that government’s lose the understanding that they government by consent and that that consent can be withdrawn.


Sam: Those young graduates of yours, the ones you’ve trained to be trouble makers, they have to go into organisations that rely on government funding.


John: They do.


Sam: How are they going to manage that tension?


John: Life’s full of difficulties. I talked to one just the other day who did a TV show by posing as school children buying single cigarettes. She’s happily found work in a tobacco control agency. I think young people are actually pretty smart. What I observe happening around the place is some very good advocacy training is going on. I went out on Saturday night and I met Sandy, the producer of the documentary Beautiful Democracy which is about the young people who lead the TPPA protests. Gosh, my heart was so warmed by the fact that these young people were really deeply thinking about their tactics, what would work and trying things out. Doing fantastic research. Really deeply engaging in this society because engaged citizens aren’t the ones you’ve got to fear. It’s the ones who aren’t engaged you’ve got to be worried about.


Sam: You are chairing, I think, the Community Development Association conference coming up-


John: I am. yes, it’s a fantastic honour. I’m thrilled to bits.


Sam: What sort of things can we expect? I should say I’m going to it.


John: It’s going to be fantastic, really is. We’ve got, as of this afternoon, 170-odd people from around the world coming. What we’re doing is we’re using a community development lens for by and large people are community activists, community development practitioners and academics and leaders. We’re using that to look at the United Nations have deemed Agenda 2030. Which is the goal of sustainable development. Ordinarily if you wanted to talk about the United Nations, you put me into a deep sleep instantly. The seventeen goals for sustainable development are a fifteen year plan for the whole world, and they are just about the most important things we could be dealing with. It’s ending poverty, it’s ending hunger. It’s about having gender equality, it’s about having good health care. It’s about having good education, and other things that you wouldn’t expect. Like access to clean and affordable energy.


One of the guests who’s coming in is Kalyan Paul who’s from Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation and is from Ranikhet in the Almora District, Uttarakhand in the foothills of the Himalayas. I went up and visited him and he works with the forest dwellers and the people who live in the deep, deep valleys. We were talking about Agenda 2030 which brings together a lot of social goals with a lot of environmental goals. He said to me, “Look, it was inevitable. This is completely inevitable. We’ve known this would happen.” Where did he bloody know that sitting up here? He said, “You can’t protect the forest if the people have no fuel for their cooking. You simply can’t do it.” The only way we’ve managed to protect all this beautiful forest is by addressing the problem, and that is they built small biogas plants. They take the cow dung and human dung and produce gas which does the cooking and lighting. The houses don’t need to walk miles into the forest and cut the trees down. Then you can protect the forest.


Very practical solutions but based on some really good deep thinking. This wonderful confluence of the social and the economic and the environmental. It’s a really exciting time because many people in community development actually have got a huge contribution to make to the way we take this stuff forward. Companies are looking at this stuff. One of the big multi-nationals, I can’t remember exactly the name. They probably made your toothpaste and soap this morning. They have so many tens of thousands that they give out in grants and they have so many thousand days a year of corporate volunteering. They just announced Agenda 2030, as of June all about volunteering, all about donations and everything, are going to be targeted on the seventeen sustainable development goals. All of our industries are going to be measured against their contributions to those goals. This is really big, big stuff.


Sam: All right. We’re running out of time and I’ve got seven questions to ask.


John: I’ll try to be brief.


Sam: We’re going to have to rattle through them. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?


John: Pass. I haven’t got a short one for that. The Brundtland Commission which is to consume today only so much as to ensure tomorrow can. Is still pretty good.


Sam: That’ll do. How would you describe your sustainable super power? What is it you’re bringing to the good fight?


John: A really good sense of fun, a deep reverence for food and a great love of people.


Sam: I think I know how you’re going to answer this next question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


John: Absolutely. Activism is the rent price that you pay for living on the planet.


Sam: Have you always thought that?


John: Pretty much I think. My mom would say so. She said I was this troublesome in primary school.


Sam: Have you ever been a position where you couldn’t be?


John: I’ve often been in a position where I couldn’t be as activist as I might like to be. I know some fabulous people and I was reflecting with Gavin this morning on an experience I had in a government committee meeting where I felt that the principle that was being applied was deeply, ethically wrong. The others stood with me, he lost it as a vote but when I put it out, impassioned it out, others stood with me. You go, okay, I just didn’t win it today. I’ve got to come back and be better next time.


Sam: You said something that was deeply ethically wrong.


John: Yeah.


Sam: Where did those ethics come from?


John: Gosh. I think you get a lot of them from your mom. I know I get my sense of fairness from my mom. She’s still alive, she’s pretty smart. She knows that if she cut an apple, I’d want to have the biggest bit and my little brother get the smallest bit. She’d do the Solomon trick, she’d say, “You cut and he chooses.” Never seen the precision going into cutting an apple like that.


Sam: Do you think that people like coming through school getting that stuff?


John: You have your moments of despair about it. I have an absolutely 18 year daughter of whom I’m incredibly proud. She’s on every kind of activism there is. She is on so much more activism at 18 than I was that I feel very hopeful for the planet. Again, meeting Sandy on the weekend and looking at the film and the other film around indigenous housing and some of the young people coming through the programmes that were involved, I think there’s some pretty fabulous young people out there.


Sam: What’s your daughter going to do with that? There’s not many programmes like the one you teach where we’re actively teaching people or even allowing people to be activists.


John: She’s going off to Victoria University next year and I said, “Are you going to do politics?” She just looked at me, she said, “You don’t think I get enough politics at home?” She’s got a love of languages, she’s travelled, she’s Maori so she’s going to do some Maori studies and some law and some languages. Whatever she does and learn she’ll make a big difference with her life, I can just see it.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? A pretty stunning view I must say.


John: It is a stunning view. I leave it in the dark, can you believe it? I belt out of bed before 5, and I’m out of here by half past to go all the way to Henderson to do the job there. Lovely team of people that I work with. I think that most people want a job worth doing, they want a team worth belonging to and they want leadership worth following. Two out of three ain’t bad.


Sam: That’s quite a commute.


John: It is.


Sam: Ferry and then train?


John: It’s currently either car or bicycle to the ferry. Then ferry and then most of the time it’s taking the little campaign car that we have because it’s got to live in a concrete bunker. At that time of the morning I can be in my office by 7 which gives me clear, early part of the day. When the new trains come and we’ve got a route that doesn’t go by Kazakhstan that might be an option.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


John: I’m really looking forward to the conference and that’s challenging on day by day basis. Got one of the young graduates managing that process. It’s just fantastic. A young woman that can take any pile of drivel that I put on the page and turn it into something that looks like a masterpiece, so that’s fabulous.


After the conference I’m planning to do a major piece of research in New Zealand on the behaviour of funding organisations and the processes and how this does or does not contribute to innovative and sustainable funding relationships. I’m planning on doing that piece of work for a few years. I’m just finishing a piece of work on the living wage movement, and also helping on a project looking at South Kaipara community economic development scheme which is featuring in the conference. That is all pretty good.


Sam: You’re a busy chap, especially with the dancing in the garden stuff?


John: Dancing in the garden is a great deal of fun, yeah. They’re going to get a film maker there.  He just as to look at me in a certain way and I can’t help myself. I become a total show-off really. The garden is very important to me. I have a great garden here, it’s still looking fabulous but we’re entering drought now so it’ll all be dead in a fortnight. Organic food, really, really important to me. Food’s really important. Sharing it with people.


Sam: Two more questions unless I get distracted.


John: Sure.


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


John: My standard reply to that is that every wish that would ever have would come true but I don’t think that’s going to wear in this occasion. Gosh. Would we have to fix the climate. That would have to be the top. The two problems we’re going to deal with are inequality and the climate. If we get those things stopped the rest of it’s a piece of cake.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact on either or both of those?


John: I think if we all really looked at inequality in our society and started having a real discussion about it, and saying, “No, I don’t believe these Kiwis really want to have a third of children living in poverty.” That’s been able to perpetuate because we have not been having the conversation and we have to have that conversation really, really robustly.


Sam: Last question before we get in trouble with the Buddhists, do you have any advice for our listeners?


John: Live long, it’ll damn your enemies.


Sam: Great. You’re listening to Sustainable Lens on Talk Access Radio 105.4 FM. This show was recorded on the 26th of January, 2017. Our guest was John Stansfield


climate change

energy and the environment

Pat Wall

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


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


Pat: Thank you very much for having me.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sust Lens: You were almost escaping that.


Pat: Oh, absolutely.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Pat: Oh, you should.


Sust Lens: We’ve been meaning to.


Pat: Absolutely should.


Sust Lens: Bill Murray …


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


Sust Lens: Of what?


Pat: His wind turbine.


Sust Lens: Wind turbine, yeah.


Sam: One arm.


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


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


Pat: A single blade.


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


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


Sust Lens: Wow.


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


Sust Lens: Is it a game changer?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Pat: Yeah.


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


Pat: Yeah.


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


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


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


Pat: Yeah.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sust Lens: Yeah.


Pat: Cowboy or jet fighter pilot.


Sust Lens: You’re neither of those.


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


Sust Lens: Why para gliding?


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


Sust Lens: Relax because of that intensity?


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


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


Pat: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.


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


Pat: I’ve seen that happen.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Pat: Oh hell yes.


Sust Lens: Why?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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





adventure education

place of outdoor education

Jo Martindale


It was an idealistic assumption, that if you cared, you would just naturally act, but that’s not the case at all and  you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.

Jo Martindale is an outdoor educator.  Her current research concerns place responsive outdoor education.  She tells us how she is developing approaches to reconnect: how to transform caring into intrinsic motivation to look after your place.


Shane: Let’s turn to our guest tonight who’s Jo Martindale. She’s an outdoor educator, welcome to the show.


Jo: Thank you.


Shane: Jo, where were you born, were you born here in New Zealand or …?


Jo: No, I’m from the North of England, lovely county called Cumbria. Generally, I’ll refer to it as the Lake District because it has that within it but I actually come from the industrial part of the bottom. But you can forget that because luckily I had the lakes to go and play in, as a child.


Shane: All right, so what brought you to New Zealand?


Jo: Oh, the typical old story. Met a kiwi guy back in the UK, he wanted to come home. Sounded like a great adventure and here I am.


Shane: What was it like growing up in Cumbria? I mean, you had the lakes to go and play with and though that’s quite an amazing and beautiful area of England but it’s quite changed from what it used to be. There’s lot of sheep farming there, and it’s quite a modified landscape. It’s an old ancient landscape isn’t it?


Jo: It is and there’s certainly heaps of history there. I know just going and exploring the local villages, you’d find ruins of old castles and I used to go and climb around the walls and imagine what it must have been like when it was actually a full building. I think it was a great place to grow up. I was in an actual town but it took nothing to get into the countryside.

I suppose now living in New Zealand and seeing a lot more of the natural environment, I can now understand that how modified it was but as a child you just knew no different.


Sam: It’s interesting how far people in the UK travel to get to those supposedly natural environments. I remember being taken sailing from somewhere and travelling for 2 hours to get to their boat which was on Ullswater . Then sailing for couple of hours and then driving 2 hours back again, through the industrial north. It very much does enhance that kind of sense that nature is out there somewhere.


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: We can go and visit it sometimes. It’s nice to have it there and most of the time we don’t go and visit, which living here we just don’t have that same disconnect. You and I both come down past the harbour every day.


Jo: Yeah. That’s definitely very true actually. I remember when I got my first job in an outdoor center and it was mainly working within a city, students coming out and I was amazed that they’d never seen sheep in real life before. You’d walk around the lanes and you’ll be picking blackberries and things and they just couldn’t believe you could pick food to eat it. They thought it came from cans and other such things. They just had no understanding.


Shane: Well I taught in a central London school as well. Some of the kids didn’t actually realize that milk came from cows. They thought it was just like something else you drank like soda or whatever. Were quite horrified when they realized. They didn’t make the connection between the cows on the bottles to actually the animals and that’s where the source of the milk was coming from. That was something that wasn’t their experience and it was really shocking for me. It was obviously very traumatizing for some of them but it was quite shocking for me to realize that these kids just had never actually been outside the city. A lot of them hadn’t.
It’s probably hard for people in New Zealand to understand just how big London or this big metropolitan area is, just how vast they are, how far into the countryside they travel and how hard it is to get actually into this thing in 2 hours, well that’s nothing if you live in London and you’re trying to visit a beach.


Sam: Sorry, we can’t spend the whole hour reminiscing about living in central London. What did you want to be when you grew up?


Jo: Well apparently at the age of about 3 when I got my first climbing experience, I did tell my parents I wanted to be a climbing instructor when I grew up.


Shane: That’s pretty good.


Sam: What did you do at school to achieve that?


Jo: Yes, school was something I went to because you had to go to, and I spent most of my time daydreaming looking out of the window wishing I was in the fields and things over there and just made sure I got good grades at the end of it. Schooling itself had nothing, no bearing on it. I did manage to during PE, get my PE teacher to allow me to go climbing at the local leisure center instead of attend PE classes.


Shane: Sounds good, that was pretty awesome.


Sam: What did you do when you left school? What got you into working in outdoors?


Jo: I’d met a local fireman down at our local leisure center who just loved introducing people to climbing. That’s how I got into it before I left school. As I left, I just decided I had enough. I was going to go off and work. I was going to travel and do all these other things.


The same guy that I came to New Zealand with, ended up with a job in a center in North Wales. I just decided to follow down there, and just went down as a campus system, no real experience just enormous spare time, run off to help with the sessions and they put me through my single pitch training while I was there that summer. The end of the summer finished and it was like I just knew that was what I wanted to do.


I think a lot of it was working with the inner city students. I had this idealistic notion that by taking them from their environment and putting them into what I considered to be my environment that I could make them somehow realize that if they just looked after their environment a little bit better, it would be nicer place to be in and therefore in general life would be better and nicer for them, as I said very idealistic.


Sam: The thought was that they would be in this nicer place enjoying themselves outside, having a good time?


Jo: Yeah, and get that connection and go back and be able to reapply it in their own, in more suburban environment.


Sam: We’ll certainly come back to that. You got yourself in New Zealand.


Jo: I did.


Sam: Then what?


Jo: I tried to get a job in the outdoors but I was very land based and didn’t know anyone here, really struggled. I went and volunteered for 6 months, at what is now Hilary outdoors and Tongariro. During that time taught myself to Kayak and realized that most of those staff there had come through the Aoraki Polytech program. I decided it was time to road trip. Came to the South Island and on my way around popped into Timaru and decided that I would have a chat to them and just started studying there the following year in their 3rd year.


Sam: Eventually to a degree?


Jo: Yeas, so I did the 2 years at Aoraki and then went off. I had no real, where I was going. I was just feeling my way through and headed up to Nelson, to just climb for the summer as you do and hung out of Paynes Ford and someone told me about this climbing wall that was open up in Nelson and that they were after people to work there and guide at Paynes Ford. I thought, “Ah! Sounds pretty good.”


Went down for an interview, found myself in that job and decided that, it didn’t really have enough meaning and purpose and so ended up going down to what we came forlorn to do and got an interview with them working with American teenagers and they do this one day personal development day, is the best way push it, where they sow the seed and expand these teenager’s lives.


Sam: You do that in a day?


Jo: No, not at all. Yeah, good concept and it was great work. It was actually not until 2008, I went back to doing my degree at CPIT.


Sam: You did some study there, you were looking at secondary school teacher’s perspectives.


Jo: Yeah, that’s what I did for my research while I was there, because I’d worked with so many schools and so many teachers and I had this grand concept of what education outside of the classroom was and I wanted to find out whether teachers actually also believed in this idea that it was cross curricular and that it should be for every subject area and how they can come together.


It’s like on an intellectual level, they all understood that. Yet when you got them down to the practical level of asking them about applying it, it always ended up falling back with a conversation to PE and health and doing school camps.


Sam: How is it actually structured in terms of school curriculum. Is there a thing that says outdoor education or is it scattered across everything else or …


Jo: Well outdoor education does come under PE within it but education outside of the classroom is just a guideline that can be picked up for anything. Any field trip, whether it is for geography or history, art, anything is classed as education outside of the classroom.


Sam: They don’t need to be kayaking or climbing mountains in order to get that benefit?


Jo: Not at all.
Sam: But it will make it more fun?
Jo: Potentially.
Sam: Can you get that same benefit across the curriculum, if that’s what you’re doing. If you’re camping or kayaking and things, does it still have the benefits?
Jo: It can though. I depends on how you actually teach it and how you apply it. As one of my … It was actually for one of my post grad papers, I designed a year 8 camp for the local high school where I was living at the time, which is a water based camp, it was in Warren Place and managed to get links into English, Art and all the technologies as well as the PE and health side of things.


Shane: How would you get English in there because a lot of people would struggle to figure out how you get English Literature into camping?


Jo: Well with English Literature, I mean it’s about them writing so you can get them to either write poems or stories or even just about what they’re actually doing. With many places around New Zealand, you can find books that have been written about it whether they’re fictional ones or factual ones that you can then do for reading, so you can then tie, say a fictional book which is just based in a real place, into the real place when they go there.


Shane: All right, and then you could follow the book around and that kind of thing around.


Jo: Yeah, definitely with some of them.


Shane: What kind of other activities would you be able integrate, what other subjects? Obviously, History might be one.


Jo: Yes, History, with a lot of places in New Zealand you’ve got both Māori History and then the European History that follows on later. New Zealand might be a young country but it’s really rich in History.


Shane: Do teachers understand that? I mean obviously you might have some teachers who were taught in the old method and aren’t used to these concepts. How did they receive them?


Jo: All of them received it really well. I mean when you talk to them, it’s like they say, on an intellectual level they definitely understand it. I think for a lot of teachers, their workload is really high. One of the biggest barriers was actually time to be able to actually develop things and then of course they’ve got that whole trying to organize time tabling and it’s really hard for teachers to get any students out of the class, other classes.


Shane: How do the kids like it?


Jo: Personally I think that students benefit greatly from getting out of the classroom and most of the research I’ve read would agree with that. I think there’s only so many people can learn in these abstract subjects and most of us need to be shown real applications for things for it to really sink in and understand.


Sam: You did your finishing degree at CPIT?


Jo: I did, yes.


Sam: Then what?


Jo: From there, I was running my own business, I was still working so I did work pretty much full time throughout doing my degree as well.


Sam: That’s taking students from a whole pile of different institutions and school and things on these camps and so on.


Jo: Yeah, definitely and working with different Polytechs at that level as well. I realize that I’d enjoyed using my brain as part of the degree and initially thought I’d go into teaching and do my post grad in teaching. Only, I discovered that a lot of the teacher’s colleges, well one, don’t let you do it by distance and two, the ones that did talk to me, as if I was just a school leaver and I didn’t really enjoy being talked to like I was about 19 when I was actually in my late 20’s at the time.


I used to work on the PE camps throughout the PE school here at Otago University. On one of them, I came into the room and I had Mike Brown was in there and Allan Hill was in there as well and I was just chatting to both of them sussing out their varying post grads thinking good to keep my brain going and talking about the pluses and minuses of both of those. Essentially, I went with Mike Brown due to the fact that I could do my post grad by distance and it didn’t have to be in the location it was happening.


Sam: You were running for a while, you were running or helping run the outdoor education program at Aoraki in Timaru.


Jo: Yes I started …


Sam: It was mostly an Alpine course?


Jo: No Aoraki is definitely multi skilled.


Sam: Okay.


Jo: They are definitely known for being strong for their mountaineering. They’re also really strong in the white water kayaking and the rock climbing as well.


Sam: That’s teaching people to do what?


Jo: I worked on the level 5 Diploma. That was teaching people basically to become outdoor instructors.


Sam: To teach other people to do …


Jo: Teach other people so that basically when they left at the end of the level 5. They’d be I suppose entry level instructors in the outdoors.


Sam: Were they teaching people how to kayak, or were they teaching people math and science through kayaking?


Jo: No, there it was definitely much more about teaching the basics of the kayaking and the climbing. I suppose bush and tramping is probably become my most passionate area of outdoor education due to the fact that it’s got so much potential for being able to integrate things easily.


I did spend a lot of time with the students getting them to think about how to get people to really integrate with bush and a recent assessment I actually ran with … One of the activities they ran was actually about drawing while they were out there in the bush. You can pick the back of tree and things. You can get actually get them drawing on that while they’re out there. You can actually even use the natural materials or leaves if you’re around Dunedin.


Sam: I suppose that’s really about that grand concept that you talked about, about the education outside the classroom. One way to achieve that is by getting the teachers to be aware of the outdoors. The other end of it is getting the people who know about outdoors, to know about education.


Jo: Definitely, very slowly yeah. To some degree, there’s the research out there to show why all this should be happening. I think there’s a real disconnect between the research and people reading it and applying it. I would say that probably a large number of outdoor educators, one, have gone into it because they like doing practical things, not reading academic papers. A lot of it, I think is getting a lot of this research put into normal terminology and accessible for people to actually get to understand.


Sam: You have been today with Otago Polytech Outdoor Adventure Diploma out at the aquarium?


Jo: That’s right, yeah.


Sam: That is because they do get some education about the science?  Is that so that they can be interesting, guides, they can talk about the fish and stuff, what’s the reasoning behind that?


Jo: I mean that’s definitely part of the reason. We definitely talk about value adding when you take your students, clients, whoever they’re, out. Part of that is being able to talk about the environment that you’re in. Today, we were out of the marine centre and that was looking at activities they could use. Also making sure that they understood a little bit about what was actually going on in the marine world. It was definitely very much linked back to the whole, how everything is interconnected and in an intricate web.


We often see that given to us on above or on land version. But it’s very rare, we actually put into the ocean and look at how that is all intricately linked. I think one of the biggest messages the students got today, was how, we talk about all these multiple oceans and seas around the world but ultimately it’s just one ocean and how it actually affects everything.


You had this beautiful NASA images up there showing how the varying sea currents transport things around the world and it really is linked. Just trying to get them to see that. Just because we live on land, how everything we do on land still affects the sea vastly as well.


Sam: The Otago Polytech tagline is that every graduate might think and act as a sustainable practitioner. What does it mean to be a successful practitioner as a outdoor practitioner?


Jo: I suppose with that, often for outdoor people they will go immediately to the environmental side of things and think about protecting the national parks, the trees, the plants, if they’re more kayakers stopping damming of the rivers and pollution. I think that often failed to see the sustainable side of when you’re back at home. It’s one of those things that definitely is a little bit of a push pull inside of me because I know that to some degree outdoor education really pushes consumerism with all of the beautiful gear that we have.


A lot of our clothing and equipment is made from petrochemicals, it’s all plastic based. There’s definitely a lot of thinking to go on there. I know there’s some courses that do some amazing stuff around getting students to really start thinking about, where everything they use comes from and what actually is going on and even down to how far they’re travelling to get into the outdoors because we say we’ve got the harbour right here yet so often when we talk about doing the outdoors. We pack our students into buses and we’ll bus them out to a national parks somewhere and that’s then deemed to be wilderness and the outdoors, when it actually is literally on our door steps.


Sam: But compared to some other activities, the impact per well-being benefit, I just invented a measure, must be okay.


Jo: Definitely, yeah.


Sam: It’s not like they … You’re not teaching them jet boating.


Jo: No.


Sam: Although you have been a quad bike guide, I see.


Jo: Yeah, it was quite good fun for a little while.


Sam: They are aware of that kind of balance?


Jo: Yeah definitely, yeah. I think the younger ones probably struggle with it. We do get a lot of school leavers come in and there’re still teenagers. It is definitely more about them, it is more about having fun. It’s definitely about drip feeding that awareness into them. I think a lot of that probably does come to that, even New Zealand students are getting less and less exposure to I suppose essentially, the natural world.


Sam: I suppose we in the West are the ones that can teach outdoor education – it’s a luxury, these outdoor experiences, kayaking, climbing whatever, that’s a pretty selfish hedonistic act. On the flipside of that, you’re teaching people how to be guides and to look after people. There’s an interesting balance on where they sit on that.


Jo: There is and you definitely, I mean you’re right. Rock climbing, mountaineering, it is very selfish at end of the day and it’s very much a middle class white European thing to be doing. Sometimes you go, “Well why are you climbing that random bit of rock?” I think a lot of it does come down to, even just that being outside and that whole well-being and feeling of well-being that you get from being outside in nature and those wonderful hormones that are released to make you feel good.


You’re right, when you transition from the level 4 to the level 5, you spend a lot of time actually really explaining to them that they’re now moving into the more professional realm of taking other people out and that, I’m actually quite brutally honest with them and tell them that it’s no longer about them, It’s now about other people and that they need to actually get that mind shift, it’s like when they gotten their own time, that’s when it’s about them. When they’re interesting or guiding, it’s now about others instead.
Sam: You’re now working on a Masters in Sport and Leisure Studies?
Jo: I am.
Sam: Tell us what the topic is?
Jo: My topic is looking at the place response of outdoor education. I suppose in a synopsis that’s more about, for me not going necessarily often to the wilderness. It’s much more about using the local natural environment, and getting people connected to their place, so that they actually get to know what is here and that you can do all these amazing things close and locally, learning about the history.


That, the ethic of care you can get by having that connection with your people in your place, how it might manage to lead to you actually, talking care of and looking after and improving your place. It was another of those idealistic assumptions I had that if you cared, you would just naturally act and through my research I’ve basically discovered that’s not the case at all and that you need this intrinsic motivation which is far greater than just caring.


Sam: How did you find that out? What did you do?


Jo: I actually worked with a local school for my research. We started off at this school and we biked from there into the centre and we actually went to Otago Polytech. We went to their edible gardens and got a tour around there. We had Ron Bull actually join the group. He did a kōrero  to start the journey off and he unpacked that while we were at the Polytech for the students and really linked beautifully through his story telling, how we really are part off the whole world and nature rather than a part from which is how we often see ourselves as humans.


From there we continued biking into North East Valley, and we actually got to camp at Bethune’s Gully for the night. The big focus was to go slow and make sure we really took things in along the way. We then had a local herbalist join us as we walked over Mount Cargill to explain a lot of plants and things and their uses and what they could eat along as we went. We got down to the other side of the Cargill Road and we had an educator come in from Orokonui, who explained the forest and some of the legends of the whole place.


Then basically carried on round to Quarantine Island over the side to the Albatross Colony and then final leg was to bike back to school. The whole way around was meeting with local community groups and local people so that it was local people that were telling the stories of the varying places. For those students, most of them hadn’t even been to some of these places even though they’re literally right here.


Sam: Encouraging them to experience and to celebrate the place, their place.


Jo: Yeah, definitely


Sam: Did they?


Jo: Yeah my interviews at the end definitely showed that suddenly their picture of Dunedin had improved incredibly. They had gone from saying that the shopping malls were the best thing about Dunedin to starting to talk about some of the beaches and the inlets and the places we’d visited, which was amazing to see.


From there we then ran some environmental advocacy sessions which was basically more taking them through their journey again and looking over some of the issues they’d actually seen as they’d gone around and helping them actually formulate how to plan out an action that they could take.


Sam: Just nice and slowly through that: connection to place.


Jo: Yes, connection to place, got a big tick.


Sam: What was the next bit in the …


Jo: The next bit was a few sessions to actually look at the issues they’d seen while on the journey. Because obviously there’s plenty of issues around Dunedin. They talked about them. It was ones they remembered. They worked out which ones they were really interested in and felt like they’d liked to look at further and they were taken step by step through how to make a plan of action.


Sam: Connection to place and they got from that, concern for the environment in particular around that place.


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: Then you got them to think about advocacy on the basis of that.


Jo: Yes.


Sam: That worked?


Jo: That part of it did beautifully. The bit that I left very airy fairy with them, because this was the crux of my research if you like was whether or not they were to actually do the action. All they knew as I was going to coming back to see what had happened within those sessions post that time.


Sam: Did they?


Jo: They did do a small action. There was a whole heap of things that really shrunk what they did. But within that interview part of my questioning was around whether or not they would continue, would they get into anything else and that was where I think I felt a little bit crushed because essentially, there were two that said they might mainly through things like the Enviroschool’s schools groups that they have running or other environmental groups. I think there was one mention that if they have time and I got a couple of outright no from them.


Sam: Nice and slowly through his, connection to place tick. Environment advocacy plan, tick.


Jo: Yes.


Sam: Environmental advocacy, half tick?


Jo: Yeah.


Sam: Transfer from that to a general ethic of care, no?


Jo: An absolute no, yeah.


Sam: Okay, so why not.


Jo: The reasons that I came down to were primarily priorities, was what it really came down to, is that they just didn’t see it as a priority that everything else in life was far more important. When I reflect on that, I think that’s how we often end up putting it as well. For a lot of us, we prioritize things and so the more the lovely environmental side of things gets shoved down because all this other stuff we deem to be more higher priority, yet in the grand scheme of things it’s quite I suppose short sighted.


I think that the other problem is, is that often because of the way the message has always been put out around sustainability, I think the students naturally went to the looking at almost making more work on what they may have to give up. Through this whole thing I read a fascinating book by, was it Per Espen Stoknes called “What we think about when we try not to think about Climate Change“.


It was a fascinating book which took me into the environmental psychology realm which I hadn’t actually delved into before. A lot of his message is that, when we’re talking about trying to do environmental things, it’s nearly always about giving things up and what we should no longer do. His big message is that we need to start thinking as educators about re-storying that and about the benefits and the gains we get from changing rather than always looking at what we’ve got to give up.


Sam: In this case, you would have thought that they would see the benefit of looking after the place because they’ve enjoyed it.


Jo: It’s that disconnect still between how they live up at home and place. Their biggest thing that really struck them was the plastics from the Albatross Colony, they were horrified, the birds having eaten the plastics and how it can kill the chicks. They decided, because we along the way did some little bits of beach clean ups.


They decided that their big thing was they needed to somehow help stop the plastics. Their way of thinking about it rather than trying to reduce, I suppose plastic use in some way and how you could go around that, was more about we need to get better at recycling.


Sam: How do we take this initial interest in the place, even the caring in the place, how do we turn that into some deep seated wanting to make a difference and making a difference?


Jo: From all of my extra reading, I think the biggest thing is there’s no one magic pill as the big thing. From having now delved onto that psychological side of things, a lot of it comes down to the fact that you need to start being able to look beyond yourself and that being able to look beyond yourself means that as a person, I suppose essentially you’ve got to have pretty good well-being which took me down the track of positive psychology and looking at what they’ve been doing around well-being and getting people basically to look beyond themselves and to start thinking a lot more about others.


Sam: Is there a message in there for education outside the classroom that it’s not so much about just going outside and them enjoying it, but going outside and somehow being beyond themselves so that they can enjoy helping other people when they’re outside the classroom learning about science?


Jo: Yeah. I think definitely actually, there’s certainly research around how by helping others it makes you feel better as well and that you can see things actually changing and happening. Definitely just taking people out to enjoy and thinking that change will happen. It might do for a very minute percentage but for the majority of us it will be no deeper than enjoyment.


Sam: I’m presuming that you would still see a balance on the side of going out and doing outdoor education.


Jo: Definitely, yeah. For the overall well-being of people. There’ve been so many studies done on taking people into nature. By nature it just needs to be green space, whether its forest, bush or just green open fields and the beach and how it really does improve people’s well-being. There have been a few studies done even on how it can enhance your academic performance.


Sam: How green does the green space have to be?


Jo: Well I know they’ve done studies in hospitals where they’ve actually just been able to look out of a window and see something green. I know there was a university study done for students sitting tests and they actually just showed them pictures of green space and it still had some effect.


One that I was reading was about getting people to walk outside and one of them had route that was very much trees, grass, the more rural and the other was very much urban on pavement, concrete around them, and when they did the retesting, those that were in the natural setting, definitely had greater sense of well-being.


Sam: Somehow we need to be able to do that without making worse that problem what we started with, with the “nature out there somewhere”.


Jo: Definitely.


Sam: The city is our environment too. Is it worthwhile getting people to do urban orienteering, urban treasure hunt, sort of stuff? Does that have enough benefit to make it worth doing for outdoor education?


Jo: I don’t see why not. I mean it’s still using the same skills, it’s still going outside and I suppose it ultimately depends on your definition of what outdoor education is. If it’s more about education just being outside, then definitely. I know in Dunedin they’ve started putting, looking for those little sections of nature within the city. There is that campaign about putting little billboards up around the spot to help you see that there is nature everywhere.


Sam: Okay, some questions to finish with. What’s your go to definition of sustainability?


Jo: I always struggle with this one because it’s such a hard to define word. For me it’s definitely about making sure that you do not exceed the resources of the, I suppose the planet, of the place. You’ve got to live within your means, so that you’re not degrading it, in any way and that it’s here for future generations.


Sam: Hard to scale that though. It’s hard for me to know whether or not this thing that I bought is exceeding that limits somewhere else.


Jo: Yeah.


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


Jo: The biggest success?


Sam: Yeah.


Jo: Oh. I’m stuck on that one, I‘m sure there’s lots. I think probably when I got to actually get … I really wrote the environmental paper at Aoraki before I left and got that running. That was definitely on the back of having just done my environmentally sustainable education paper, through my post grad. I’d got such a far better understating of what environmental action was and that whole idea that it needs to be about, actually trying to find solutions to the problems rather than just band aids.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Because you appear on Facebook, on beaches and stuff before dawn and up top of mountains before dawn. I know what literally gets you out of bed in the morning but what motivates you?


Jo: Well, apart from the sunrises, I actually think that getting outside and fresh air first thing in the morning is just the best way to start any day. It’s people. I absolutely love working with people, at the end of the day and knowing that, ultimately trying to get people to make their place better, it makes the place better because it is so intricately interlinked.


Sam: Do you consider to yourself to be an activist?


Jo: Probably not. I tend to like to do things on a low key way.


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


Jo: The biggest challenge is actually trying to, I suppose get my ideas more into fruition around place and getting people intrinsically motivated to actually take action and to improve their place and to form that connection with it.


Because I still think that as New Zealanders we’re quite disconnected from our place. We may know where we live and where we’re from but we don’t necessarily have that deep rooted sense of connection, as well as hopefully find a more permanent job.


Sam: You live in a nice place.


Jo: I live in a beautiful place.


Sam: Is there something about New Zealand, feeling of being a young country do you think? I mean places like Cumbria, it’s not a natural landscape, it’s a very modified landscape. You very much know that people have been there for a really long time.


Jo: Yeah, definitely. I think some of its perhaps, New Zealanders like to think about always travelling off to distant places and it takes them to go away to realize what they genuinely had. I think it’s also just starting to creep in more as people spend less time outside and more time indoors, more with electronics stuff, instead of actually being outside and just playing and getting to know.


Sam: There’s a premise that New Zealanders’ relationship with environment is a raw one. It’s more like we’re still breaking the country in.


Jo: There’s definitely still a lot of that more pioneering I suppose attitude.


Sam: Is that a different relationship with place?


Jo: I would say so because that’s more about on the whole, I suppose controlling the place rather than actually necessarily living harmoniously with place. If you look at the calendar that were used here, we’ve just taken the calendar that was over in the UK, and plonked it here.


As a real simple thing, we celebrate Easter in Autumn  and we celebrate Halloween in Spring and it’s like we’re celebrating death when we’ve got new life and new life when we’ve actually got death. We’re just very topsy-turvy with even those things, just disconnect you further from the land.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, by tomorrow morning, probably about 4:30 or something knowing you and Mr. Thompson, what would that miracle be?


Jo: That miracle would be for people to stop, I suppose essentially … Perhaps see the benefits of actually changing, actually see how ultimately, we’d all live better if we perhaps started to look more locally for things rather than having to have everything imported in, and that we actually lived in communities because by living in communities it’s not just communities of people, it’s also communities with the land and what is around us. That way we would actually know our place with so much more depth and have so much better support systems around us as well.


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


Jo: I think my advice would definitely be to go out, explore and learn about your own backyard and where you actually live and actually really get to know and get to know the people. I mean how often do we not even know our next neighbours or the people that live across the street. Actually start to form some of that community bond and be able to help each other a little bit more.






development education geography health Inequality

teaching social activism

Bob Huish

There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements…Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience?


Our guest tonight is Associate Professor Bob Huish from Dalhousie University. He’s part of the International Development Studies Department at Dalhousie, and a recipient of the 2015 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada.

His research explores ways in which social activism can lead to comprehensive development outcomes. He focuses on global health inequity and the role of activism in bringing about improved provision of healthcare and resource poor settings. Beyond community based health advocacy, he examines how medical education acts as a determinant of global health and equity, particularly with regards to Cuban Medical Internationalism.

It is well known that while many diseases favour the poor, the ability to treat and prevent illness tends to favour the affluent, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later. He pursues research about the pedagogies of activism and the organization of social resistance. He also explores the role of sport for development with special attention to Cuba and how this facilitates comprehensive development as well as organized forms of resistance.

At the moment, he’s currently working on following four areas, might be some more when he talks about it a little bit later on: Cuba sports internationalism solidarity, the pace of activism in the future of the university, global health assets, and human rights activism in North Korea.

He’s presenting a lecture entitled, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Bounds.” Dark connections between offshore capital sanctions and human rights abuses in North Korea, which sounds very exciting there. It’s on the 14th of September at 1:00 PM, it’s in St David St lecture theatre. You also have one on Tuesday, which we just found out about before the lecture at 5:00 PM on Tuesday. I’m going to talk to you about that in a second.

You’re also currently the Ron Lister fellow in the Department of Geography, the University of Otago, which is why you’re here. Welcome to our show. Welcome to New Zealand.

Bob: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here and loving being in Dunedin.

Shane: This all sounds really fascinating, but tell us what the lecture you’re giving on Tuesday.

Bob: Tuesday is the Ron Lister Visiting Fellow lecture. That’ll be at 5:15 on the campus. I believe it will be in room … I’ll find it for you.

Shane: You find it and get back to us. (Burns 2)

Bob: Yes, I’ll get back to you on that. It’s going to be talking about some of the research I’m doing involving North Korean human rights. As geographers, as the department of geography, we are all about going to places, experiencing that place, learning about the land, the life, the interactions. What I’m talking about on Tuesday is as a geographer, how do you research a place that you cannot go to, that is totally forbidden.

To go to North Korea, if you were there as a tourist, you would spend about €4000 for a week there, and you’d be given this veneer tourism. If you were to go in there illegally, you would risk your life. It’s very hard to get to see the realities of a place like that. Yet we know that this is an area that requires both scholarly and moral attention. How do we address it? That’s what I’ll be talking about on Tuesday night.

Shane: That sounds really exciting. Before we get into that, this is just absolutely fascinating stuff for me here. These are really, really interesting topics. We’ll go back and we’ll talk about, you grew up in Canada, I take it?

Bob: I did, yes. Six generations, Canadian, both sides, mother side and the father side.

Shane: Where in Canada were you brought up?

Bob: I was brought up in a place called Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Wasaga Beach’s claim to fame is that it is the longest freshwater beach in the world.

Shane: Wow. Was that mean that you spend lots of summer evenings down on the beach?

Bob: Absolutely. It’s a place where you have 18 kilometers of pristine beach. It’s inimitable. Then a couple of areas of the beach, we would let the tourists come over and take over and destroy the place, but we would maintain at least a good 16 kilometers for local activities. Now it’s a provincial park that’s protected for environmental sustainability as well. Lovely spot.

Shane: Is this what got your interested in geography? What made you become a geographer? Was that something that happened in school, or is it just something?

Bob: It was. I grew up wanting to travel and explore and take photos along the way. I remember telling the guidance counselors at the high school that I was going to either be a pilot or a National Geographic photographer. To be a National Geographic photographer, good luck. All the best to those to do it, but it’s a very competitive field. I figured a pilot would be a good way to see the world. When I went in for my medical test at the age of 16, the physician who did the test, you go through a few things, gets onto the eyes and he takes out the colour blindness book, and I’m seeing numbers that he doesn’t.

I remember him laughing out loud about how hilarious this was. I just saw, at the moment, my entire career and future just fading away. I went and talked to a high school teacher, Dave Knox, who had a radio show himself, avid rock and roll fantastic, but also very dedicated geographer. He pointed me in the direction in geography. It’s a field that will, pardon the pun, but it’ll take you places. I’ve stuck with it ever since.

Shane: Brilliant.

Sam: Shane’s always incredulous that people want to be geographers. We of course understand why you’d want to be a geographer.

Shane: It’s just that in school, it’s taught in the most boring way. Once you get to university, it resembles nothing compared to what you did in school. I’m always fascinated by this, physics is natural continuation but … Did you get frustrated with how high school teaches geography?

Bob: At the time, I was fortunate to have some really good high school teachers. Dave Knox was one, this other guy, Wayne Hunwicks, he was a fantastic teacher. I was really fortunate to have that growing up. Now looking back, to look at what a lot of geography is presented, in Canadian high school, I can speak to specifically, there is a disconnect. I think that when students come into university and they have an idea of what geography is in terms of making maps and capitals and mountains and ice and whatever else, to see the rich context that geographers, researchers and university professors bring to the table, it can be a very uphill battle for students in the first year or so.

Then once you realize how appreciated geographic research is in other disciplines, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Shane: Yeah, you always just think it’s like what you learned in school….boring, but it’s not, it’s just absolutely fascinating and really … You examine so many different areas of life. Let’s rush on. You obviously got interested in health.

Bob: Yes.

Shane: How did you get interested in health?

Bob: It was when I started doing work in Cuba. My Master’s project involve trips to Cuba to do work there. It was more in a historical, cultural geography framework. When I was in Cuba on the first day of arriving, this would’ve been April 30th. Still a bit chilly in Canada. You have a group of Canadian students who are coming down to the Caribbean for the first time, and we are exposed to this beautiful Caribbean sea. The first thing you want to do is jump into it.

No matter what culture you’re in, what language you speak, a red flag on the beach means what?

Sam: Danger.

Bob: Stay out of the water. Next thing you know, I’m the first guy in. It was this wave that came up, crashed over me, over my head, took me down and did one of those things where you’re corkscrewing. Smash, right into the rocks. I had my shoulder hanging open. I remember crawling out with one hand out of the beach and these two guys come in and they say, “we’ve got to take you to the hospital, man.” I thought, “I don’t want to go to a Cuban hospital, this isn’t what I want. It’s okay, I’ll walk it off.” You look over and the shoulder’s gaping.

They put me in the back of a ’53 Oldsmobile, picked up another guy who’d cut his foot open on a beer bottle, and we went straight to the hospital. We were both stitched up, cleaned up and out the door in 20 minutes. The next day, a nurse actually came by the hotel and said, “Hey, how’s that guy with the shoulder?” This was a time when some of the most wealthy and affluent countries were exercising extreme austerity on their healthcare systems. To me, being in a resource poor country that has many democratic and social problems, to extend that healthcare to a foreigner for no cost really resonated. I wanted to know why that was.

From there, it opens up a whole new area about what is healthcare, why does place matter to it, what can we bring to learn more about how this experience can be repeated.

Shane: Do you ever reflect on that one moment possibly changed your whole direction of your career?

Bob: It definitely did. What I did was I went back and started to do research in Cuba for a few years. After that moment, I started to look more about the health indicators. You see that in almost every category, Cuba, whose economy is not that great, especially then, it was in line with Mozambique and Vanuatu in terms of economic growth, but its health indicators were outperforming most European countries, certainly outperforming the US and Canada in many regards.

When you start looking at the data about what their health indicators are, their capacity to train physicians and nurses, their approach to health, not as a product of a physician’s craft, but as being produced from issues of community sustainability, that opened up the whole gates. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Shane: That’s quite a different fundamental point of view approach to healthcare and approach to community and approach to resource allocation. What have you learned from that? You’ve probably learned huge amounts, but what main teachings have you got from that?

Bob: When I offer my course on global health in Canada, the first question I ask my students is to define what is health, just to define. You’ll get a few answers that’ll come back. It could range from the absence of illness or to have good functionality as an organism. Some people will identify that it’s the broader conditions that maintain health and well being.

If any of your listeners have an iPhone or a dictionary on their tablet or computer right now, just punch in what’s the definition of health. It will probably come up in just a regular dictionary, the absence of illness. I find that very interesting because no other definition in the dictionary defines something for which it is not. You do not identify an apple as not being an orange.

We have structured so much of our attention on understanding what health is, as being the absence of illness. We really don’t understand what maintains and produces health in the first place. It goes far beyond bio medicine and it has a lot to do with social equity and justice, social movements and the ability for people to take care of each other. That’s a really important and under explored area for health and health studies.

Shane: Did the revolution in Cuba and the focus on community and … Do you think that produces that different philosophical framework?

Bob: Absolutely. When you look at what the Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, those guys, when they got into that, it was about agrarian reform, it was about land redistribution. That was their movement. There were other movements in Cuba. There was an urban movement, there was a student movement, there was a communist movement. They all had different goals.

With the Cuban revolution, the first thing was land reform, and then education, and then health. It wasn’t until 1962 that Cuba officially nationalized its healthcare system. Now, it’s one of the greatest drivers of its economy. It’s opened up doors around the world, even to warm up relationships with the United States. Initially, it wasn’t the focus. The focus was to try to get access to resources and education for the poor, and then from there, build health capacity.

Shane: On reflection, is that the right order to do it in? I think a lot of people keep saying, how do you best promote healthcare? I think your dad said this, Sam, was about having educate first, and then the health improvements go in. Remember that conversation we had? Is that something that you would agree with? Is that order right?

Bob: Yeah. The fact that if you look at how our health systems operate around the world, they’re usually there to make sure that there is good employment for health workers and that patients don’t go bankrupt in the process. Most well functioning healthcare systems follow that guideline to a degree. Very few of them really look at health promotion and disease prevention in the same close net, well organized sense.

When you look at a lot of health promotion material, it’ll often deal with individual behaviour change. Don’t smoke, try to drink less, exercise, et cetera. Just look at the smoking factor, for example. You walk into a doctor’s office, they’re going to ask you if you smoke, no matter what it is. If you have a cut on your toe, are you a smoker? That’ll come up. We know that in most societies, it’s the poor, the people who are the lowest income brackets, are also the most frequent and heavy smokers. Why do we look at something like that in terms of individual behaviour change and instead of seeing this as an issue of equity, of demographics, of income inequity, of social equity?

If you re-approach the question that way, you may be able to find strategies that are more effective than simply putting up bus ads to encourage people not to smoke.

Shane: It really is very much community based, equity. What can the west learn from this?

Bob: Let’s go back to Cuba for a minute. Some people call it the Cuban paradox, where you’ve got such a low income on a national level compared to wealthier nations, yet their health determinates right across the board are fantastic. One theory is that the levels of income aren’t that great in Cuba. The person who earns the top and the person who earns the least, there isn’t that great of a differential between the two. There’s some research on that that came out of the Whitehall Studies in the ’60s in the UK that tried to look at how income differences matter.

Then evolving from that, there’s another theory that says that really, it’s about social equity, it’s about class and hierarchy, and your position to have sense of responsibility, autonomy and control over your livelihood, that that matters a lot more to health than differences in dollars and sense.

Shane: This is the work the Spirit Level Address looked at. Of course, they’ve done more research since.

Bob: Exactly. In the Cuban case, there’s a lot of evidence to show that because it has that relative level of social equity, they’ve been able to produce these health outcomes in a way where people have a better sense of health, and hence their health services are not invested as much as other systems are in repairing people, as opposed to maintaining that health. Now, with increasing inequities arising in the country, this could be something that will be a challenge that they’re going to face.

Shane: I was looking at the … You’re talking about sports for development and how it’s being used as a way of, in Cuba, to promote social equity and development. I reflected on, that sounded really like the GAA (Gaelic football).  In the sport and revolutionary movement skills, it reminds me of the GAA in Ireland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when it was really a front for the … A way of getting people involved in the Gaelic revival movement, and then obviously involved in revolution, their war of independence.

That’s really interesting. What did you learn from that? How does Cuba use sport, and what sports do they play?

Bob: What’s really interesting about Cuban sport is that you look at the Olympic medal county, Cuba and New Zealand are right next to each other, where they ended for medal counts. They usually punch above their weight quite a bit when it comes to elite sport performance. The other factor is that about 95% of the Cuban population at some point in their lives, participate in organized sporting activities. This could be off to a gymnastics school or a baseball camp, something in that way, or if you’re ever in Havana and you’re up between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, you’ll see these, they call them grandmother circles, where you’ll have the seniors coming out and doing tai chi and yoga in the park on a daily basis.

The encouragement that people are active in sport is a very strong national value in Cuba. It’s done in a way where you want to encourage as much participation as possible. Community level stuff where it’s participatory. Then from there, begin to offer streams for advanced elite performance. That’s very different, how a lot of countries, Australia and Canada in particular, groom their elite athletes. It’s usually, you take a lot of money and you invest in a few athletes who are likely to perform at certain sports well, rather than actually trying to draw out elite performance from national participation.

The other thing is that when you retire, if you’re an elite athlete, you still have an occupation with the Cuban ministry of sport. You become a coach, you become a teacher, you’re not unemployed looking to do something different when it’s done. You are still part of the system. It’s a lifelong career to be I sport in Cuba.

Shane: Do you think those systems will fall apart as it opens up?

Bob: What I find very interesting is that there will be some changes, of course, to Cuba. Where they’ve put their attention and emphasis in their development stream is by investing heavily in education and healthcare. That includes sport, sport’s a part of that. In the 1990s when they lost 35% of their GDP, 87% of their exports in 1992, 35,000 people went blind due to the lack of vitamins, the average Cuban male lost 40 pounds, that’d be 20 kilos or so, in a year. They thought the whole show was going to end.

Where most countries that were faces economic crises at the time, where they created this austerity that went into health and education in particular, Cuba expanded schools, expanded hospitals and expanded seats for medical students, and they offered scholarships for foreigners to come in as well. Fast forward 15, 20 years, and now you have at the forefront of their economic growth is a provision of healthcare services to other countries. Now you’ve got 36,000 Cuban health workers working in 66 countries around the world. In some cases, when they do partnerships with the Gulf states, with South Africa, they get quite a good amount of remuneration for that. When they partner with Haiti, nothing. They do it for charity.

The country of the Gambia, I love this one, where the Gambia had a malaria crisis in the early 2000s, late 1990s. They said, “We need to get on this. Cuba, can you help?” “Sure, what would you like?” “We’d like doctors.” “We think you need a medical school, so we don’t have to keep sending you our doctors all the time.” 250 Cubans come in, they build a medical school, they provide community care, they address malaria in this way where you had 600,000 cases in 2001 down to 200,000 cases by 2006, and now it’s under 100,000 cases a year, which is an amazing decline.

When they start talking about what can you give us back for this work that we’re doing here, Gambia, who was quite broke at the time, said, “Do you like peanuts? We have a lot of peanuts. We export peanuts. We can give you preferential trade deal on peanuts.” Sold. Then later, third country partners like Taiwan and Norway came in to offer financial assistance with those projects.

Shane: Wow. That’s incredible.

Bob: It’s a shockingly different way of thinking about foreign aid, about what global health is, and about the importance of actually creating capacity within communities, as opposed to just always doling our or giving out extra resources in that way. Those doctors who worked in west Africa and Cuba carried on, other delegations have come in. If you go back to 2013, 2014 when Ebola was kicking off in west Africa, it was the Cuban doctors who were already there on the ground, and then another 600 showed up to go into the red zone to be the only medical work force to provide that number of physicians on the ground.

Sam: You’re talking next week about researching a place you can’t go to.

Bob: That’s right.

Sam: What gave you that idea?

Bob: Here’s the connection between health and what we’ll talk about in a minute about North Korea, is that on one sense, on doing work on Cuba, people would colloquially just compare Cuba to North Korea, and then I would grumble and get frustrated. That was always on my back radar. When you look at how these advances in health promotion or anything, really, foreign, it’s usually by people demanding it. Well organized, committed individuals who make these demands for program design and for such developments.

I wanted to offer a class on social movements, activism and social justice, and I did. It’s one where we have students actually going out, hitting the streets, and protesting for concerns that they have. The university in Canada, they were a little concerned about what topics would be fitting. I was trying to guide people on topics where there would be no moral opposition. I read a book about the story of a defector from North Korea. His story, I devoured it and I thought, students are going to love it. We turn it over to them, they did love it, and they wanted to start protesting about human rights in North Korea, figuring who in the world would object to that.

Once you start seeing how grim that reality is, away we go. We were out protesting, aiming at world leaders who were coming to our city of Halifax for a security meeting, and we just said, “By all means, have your meeting, but if you’re going to talk about security, don’t forget human security. Let’s talk about people who are in need now.” We’ve done that for four years, and in that time, North Korean defectors have reached out to us for support, for opportunities to tell their stories, to do research projects together, and it’s carried on since then.

That switch over to this world of social justice brings me to working with North Korean defectors. The very difficult part about that is that North Korea is a no go zone for research, as I’ll be talking about next Tuesday. The amount of published articles on North Korea are shockingly few. There’s no topic that is this understudied. It’s a topic where it’s just shrouded in mist and rumors and deceit and intentional mistakes, where defector testimony that comes out from North Korea is usually incorrect. The satellite imagery is not as accurate as we would like it to be. The politics of this place, we don’t fully understand. Everything is a black box.

For myself, someone who’s publicly helped and supported North Korean defectors and spoken out against the regime, if I was to go there, that would be the end of me. It’s a place where you cannot go, but you know there’s something important to be studied and explored there. The question is, how do you do it?

Shane: that’s really interesting. You talked about how health is normally … Better health outcomes is demanded by the people, and North Korea is a communist country, and so is Cuba. You’ve already said … communist countries. First part of the question, did Cuba, was that focus on developing healthcare, was that done by the leadership or by the people, and the second question is, what is the primary difference between Cuba, which has done this amazing thing with its people, and North Korea, which seems to be doing terrible things to its people.

Bob: Absolutely. The first question is about where did Cuba’s medical system come up. The real foundations to it were in 1962 when they passed a bill to say that physicians could no longer bill patients directly for medical services. Mirroring exactly what happens in the UK and Canada and elsewhere, and even proposed by the Kennedy administration at the time in the states. It wasn’t too radical by any means. The physicians in Cuba took off. Of a workforce of 6000, they were suddenly down to just under 3000. You had 256 teaching faculty at the University of Havana in 1962, by 1965 you had 14.

That exodus of that medical expertise, because Havana was well known for medical expertise in the ’50s and ’40s, left this void, this vacuum, of a new generation of doctors and medical students that built the system up based on the values that you have today. It wasn’t ever put in the hands of the top leadership to say we have this miracle vision that we’re going to drive it. It was always about impact and feedback from both physicians and patients in communities to meet their needs. It’s been a very elaborate process.

This is where you see that to label something as just communist, may be accurate in terms of how their government’s organized, but there’s a lot of flavors of communism, from the mild version to the absolute toxic. With Cuba, you see that they’ve always had this ability to have feedback from communities to the representatives in government. Sometimes it’s slow, there’s a lot of inefficiencies within there, but there is that value of human security that comes out.

When you look at North Korea, a country that leadership in Cuba did not visit until 1995, “We don’t want anything to do with these guys, this is a different flavor.” It came up almost by accident, where you had a leader rise to power, Kim Il Sung, who read the Stalin Playbook, same thing that happened in the eastern states in Europe, where that form of governance was about trying to create a cult of personality, kill your enemies, kill your political opponents, and get orders top down.

You see it almost operate more as a feudal system, where you have this elite in Pyongyang that want for not. Below them, the loyal class who are pretty well taken care of. Then, they have a wavering class and a hostile class. That’s literally what it’s called. It’s called the Songbun system, it’s a feudal form of control where you have those three major classes derived in about 50 or so subgroups. The government there realizes that most of the people that are under its control resent it terribly, and there are these systems of control in place wherein if you speak out against the leader, it’d be considered a political crime, you will be going to a political prison camp. Your family will be going to a political prison camp. Any children you have will be going and any children they have will be going as well. Three generations of punishment.

Nothing that nuts has ever existed in Cuba, even in what they call the four gray years, the 1970s, where if you spoke out against communism, you maybe had long hair and listened to rock and roll, you’d have the moral authority police come over and give you a stern talking to. There is some determinant that also took place in Cuba in the ’60s and ’70s for people who deviated. Now, no. That’s about as far away as it can get. A lot of scholars in cube recognize how twisted the North Korea system is.

It’s a different world.

Sam: I’m going to change topics slightly. You talk about deviation. You teach a course, which is called Development and Audacity.

Bob: Yeah. Audacity development, development activism, yes.

Sam: How did you manage to convince the university to let you teach something with that title?

Bob: Yes. Just to be clear, we’re talking about my university back in Canada, Dalhousie. When you offer a course as a one off, nobody really pays attention to you. Special topics. Then if it gets popular, as this one did, and we took it not just from a one off topic, but to a calendar course and then a degree requirement. Then that sat before a committee called the Academic Development Committee where they had visions of students running riot in the streets and just losing it.

I got called in and the dean is there, and other members of this committee are they. They start asking questions about, “What happens if there’s a radical takeover of your class by a fundamentalist student?” I said, “I guess we call the police.” “What happens if a student wants to burn a police car?” I said, “Look, I don’t know how to do that, contact the chemistry department. They’re the experts.”

This banter went on back and forth and I said, “Look, you guys are missing the point. If you look at history and you look at the history of social movements, universities have always had a fundamental role in that.” When you had students in Tennessee and Mississippi taking over lunch counters, they were organized, they were taking seminars on nonviolent resistance. It was faculty who were leading that. You see this from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements. The women’s suffragettes in the US in the early 1900s, all university students. The guys who kicked off Tahrir Square in Egypt, university students. The guys who overthrew Milosevic, university students.

Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience? Again, people dithered on it and they weren’t too sure, but ultimately, when you have a class of 35, then you have to expand the enrolment to 60, and then 75, and then 80, it becomes very financially attractive for the university to make sure that course stays on the books.

Shane: Did it end up being a degree requirement?

Bob: Yes, it is.

Shane: Can you require all students to be an activist?

Bob: Absolutely not. By no means is that course the minting process to be an activist. What it is is it gives students the opportunity to engage with it in real time, to look at what goes into the organization of a social movement, to create a scenario that we’re going to go out and make our demands known to people in government and try to get the attention of others in society. That doesn’t just happen by swinging a picket sign around on a crowded street. We have to plan about this, we have to think about it, then we have to reflect on how this is impacting our politics today.

Why are some social movements so quick to be recognized and embraced and others quickly dismissed? It gives students what we call experiential learning. The ability to witness, experience and engage in this process, and then form their own structured thoughts that connect the literature to that experience. That’s really it.

There’s been cases where we’ve had students from the military who are under Canadian military code cannot protest. They can’t do it. How do they get through? We set up roles for them as researchers if they want. Others who have objected to it. Students who come from South Korea who are on a working Visa and they say, “I don’t want anything to do with messing around with North Korea, man. This is too hard.”

There’s always accommodating at every turn. That myth that activism and social movements are somehow naturally organic, that they don’t require leadership, that they don’t require dealing with interpersonal skills at a community level, that’s a dangerous knowledge. If we realize, we really realize that if you have a small group of well organized people put together, and be they’re committed to it, you can intimidate a regime like North Korea, in places where other governments have failed. You can demand things like better equity, better social justice, better healthcare.

It’s a very, very powerful force, and most world leaders, governments, businesses, are quite intimidated by activism. In one sense, it can be a very powerful tool for change, it can also be something that can go right off the rails and lead to far worse consequences.

Sam: If you could have a whole degree in it, would you do it?

Bob: I think that idea would be fantastic, but we would need a big team of teachers and experts to get through that. We would need philosophers, ethicists, city planners, historians, the geographers would be in there somewhere, of course, to really understand how this process impacts our world.

The other thing that’s really challenging about activism is that in that moment, when something is conflicted, there’s a tendency to label activists as being the outlaws, the troublemakers. Then you look back at history, the heroes of the day now were the outlaws of the time then. That’s a very difficult thing for society to accept.

Sam: Given that most of the students I would suggest aren’t going into societal roles where they are carrying on being placard waving activists, and lots of them are going into various businesses or government. Do you talk to them about how they can carry on that role?

Bob: Absolutely. We’ve had students come out of that class and have run as members of parliament, they didn’t win but they did it. That was good. The practical skills that come from this course are quite strong. They get into issues of advertising, marketing, campaigning, all of that. There’s a lot nongovernmental organizations and political parties who find value in that practical skillset. We all know that university education is beyond just practical skills, it’s about opening your mind to alternative ideas.

The feedback I receive from students down the road, who graduated the course, maybe they’ve gone onto a higher education degree, maybe they’ve gone into corporate sectors, some people work for law firms. They’ll write me little anecdotes to say that there are moments in their professional careers where they disagree with something, they disagree with authority, they disagree with how something’s being run. Instead of just ranting or grumbling by the water cooler or voting with your feet and leaving, they’ve actually been able to strategize, to create small change, even within their own workplace.

Others have, I hope, learned some of the value in organizing at a community level with issues that might be impacting their world.

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

Bob: Sustainability, a go-to definition? I think in terms of social justice and activism, something that endures. In many ways, social justice movements can fall victim to having a lack of sustainability. At the same time, they can be very important in creating that sustainability. Endurance is really important. It’s often an uphill battle.

Sam: We are writing a book of these conversations, which we’re calling Tomorrows Heroes. We’re actually writing it, we’re not just talking about that, it’s actually happening.

Bob: Well done.

Sam What we’re trying to do is to look at the people’s superpowers and describing what is it that they’re doing, what are they bringing to this good fight. How would you describe your superpower? What is it you’re bringing to the team?

Bob: Oh my God. I don’t know if it’s a superpower, hope it’s not because it should be a contagious thing. I think that approaching these areas of study, what’s really important is to try to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. For example, next Tuesday we’re talking about creating change in North Korea, a place that you can’t even get to. That’s impossible, so let’s hold that thought of impossibility in the mind, and at the same time, be determined to make it otherwise.

That’s a big personal conflict, to see that things can be absolutely hopeless and yet still be determined to make change. It’s tough, you’ll lose sleep, but you’ll also have fun.

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

Bob: The biggest success. I think that making personal connections with the defectors in North Korea when they’ve needed help and helping them along in their way has been personally really, really important goal. There’s a lot of controversy that can shroud North Korean defectors if their testimony doesn’t match up or there’s errors in their details. There are still people fighting and have gone through a lot. To make that connection and form real friendships, I think has been one of the most rewarding factors that I’ve had.

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

Bob: There’s just so much to do. The thing is that I love my job. I realize how precious of a statement that is. I’ll grumble over things like that committee that took me in that meeting, but at the end of the day, having the capability to get interested in a topic and pursue it and have fun doing it, is the most rewarding thing. I wouldn’t trade that in at all. You get paid along the way, fantastic, but if you love what you do, you’ve got it.

Sam: There’s so much to do. What’s next?

Bob: The next thing to do is to give those lectures next week. That’ll be great. After that, my plan is to turn to writing a couple books about the geopolitics in North Korea, and also about testimonies that have come from North Korean defectors. They’re fascinating testimonies and what I’m finding very fascinating is how sometimes if there’s a … Which ones are accepted by society and which ones are not. There’s a bigger political reflection in there.

What comes next is continuing to offer students the opportunity for education in social movements and activism. I also run a course in Cuba for two weeks a year that the students have the ability to come down, see the Cuban development model firsthand. We have a fantastic administrator back in Canada who puts it together, I’m just merely the academic component. We turn it over to Cuban faculty to do the rest of the teaching. It’s a grand experience.

Sam: What are you doing in New Zealand?

Bob: The Ron Lister Fellow in the  Department of Geography, I’m having the time of my life. It’s been great. It’s been fantastic to have the space to work on some of these issues. I’ve been focusing a lot on the North Korea research, looking at an expiration of the literature on North Korea, tracking the movements of marine traffic coming in and out of the regime and identifying shady suspects, to spend time connecting with defectors. All from the comfort of Dunedin, which has been fabulous. It’s been a great space to get some research done but also just to connect with such a great group of people in the department at the university more broadly.

I also have become quite a fan of the curling club down at the ice stadium. If anyone’s looking to go for a curling game, it’ll be next Monday at 7:00, happy to teach you the ropes.

Sam: How are you finding the students that you are having contact with? are they similar to the Canadian ones?

Bob: There’s fewer of them. I tend to teach very big classes back in Canada. Sometimes, 200+. The ability to be in a class of 12, eight people is fabulous, because you get to know them. You get to know their interests and you can help feed them along, what their pursuits are about. It’s great, yeah. International, globally minded students that you get to know on a one on one basis. Love it.

Shane: Are they activists?

Bob: They’ll have to decide. Maybe not yet, maybe they don’t think they are, maybe they will be, but we’ll see.

Sam: We ask this question of everybody, and I suspect we can predict your answer. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Bob: I do. I certainly didn’t grow up in Wasaga Beach thinking that. That was pretty far flung. I don’t remember anything political in Wasaga Beach. It was a pretty calm place. Then moving into the university world, undergraduate mentorship with some good professors, students and friends along the way, yes, then it certainly grew. I think that’s an important aspect to identify, to carry those messages both into research and into teaching.

Sam: There’s lots of arguments for not being an activist.

Bob: But is it possible to not be an activist, is another way. By not having an opinion of something, doesn’t necessarily mean neutrality. It could mean actually supporting injustices in a quiet way, as an advocate.

Sam: Do you not lose objectivity?

Bob: In which way?

Sam: By being an activist.

Bob: That’s a tricky game. Activism involves emotion. Objectivity is supposed to be free of emotion. Again, to balance perspective with what you feel is your own personal conviction is a skill building exercise. That’s what I mean, that we should take time to reflect on what goes into it. If you’re going to engage in politics of the street, you can acknowledge that they’re incredibly powerful, but at the same time, there are rules to that game. There are certain things that work, others that don’t, and how you create that engagement matters a lot on how you balance your own personal conviction to objectivity of the subject.

Sam:  Is it perhaps easier being an activist about North Korea, because it is a place you can’t go to, there’s this thing over here and you’re objecting to it, but then you can go back to your normal work. Would it be harder to be activist against, I don’t know whatever your local major industry is, you have to deal with those people in the supermarket, it’s close to home?

Bob: Yeah, that really is. That’s the case. When you’re dealing with something that’s far away, even though you make real connections to those places, there’s that certain amount of anonymity that go to it. When you are dealing with something not in my backyard or you’re engaging something in real time, be it a labour dispute, be it a pollution issue, whatever it is, there will be people who are in your face a lot more that’ll try to wear you down.

It comes back to that issue of endurance. When you want to engage with North Korea as a researcher here in Otago, I can do that according to my schedule. If you’re an activist here in Otago and you’re taking on issues in Otago, you may not have that luxury. That’s absolutely a part of it.

Sam: Although if you’re doing something locally, you have the opportunity to bump into those people at the sports field and various other places, you can actually talk to them.

Bob: Very much.

Sam: Do you think that the university should be activist?

Bob: There’s always going to be activism on university campuses. That’s always going to be the case. In quiet ways and in loud ways. The real question is, how does the university deal with it? It is something that happens on the fringe? Is it something that can be brought into the classroom? Is it something that can be studied and analyzed? Is it something that even administrations can support and market?

It really depends about what that institution wants to do with that phenomena, because it does exist.

Sam: Should a university have a statement on North Korea, climate change?

Bob: It wouldn’t hurt. It really wouldn’t hurt because the pressure’s there. With climate change, there’s a lot of campaigns in Canada right now for universities to divest, get out of fossil fuels all together. That’s being pressed upon a lot of university administrations. There are universities around the world that do have memorandums of understanding with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a place that’s been famous for producing internet hackers.

There are these academic exchanges and there needs to be some questions asked about how ethical those are. My university in Canada, two years after running the course, we actually put a proposal in to nominate Shin Dong Hyuk, who is the only person we know of who was born into a labor camp to have escaped for an honorary degree. To our knowledge, he’s the only North Korean defector who has an honorary doctorate from the university, which is a big political statement, considering that other institutions actually have cooperation agreements with the regime.

Sam: Shane’s about to close us down. Very quickly, two last questions.

Bob: Sure.

Sam: If you could have a miracle occur, what would it be?

Bob: One miracle? Health equity for all.

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

Bob: Whatever it is that you are charged up about, politically ticked off about, you’ve got the ability to engage it and to organize to make that change. Activism doesn’t come by accident.

Shane: Brilliant. Fantastic. You are listening to Sustainable Lens on Otaga Access Radio, 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 8th of September, 2016. Our guest was professor Bob Huish. Your hosts were professor Samuel Mann and me, Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on, or you can subscribe on iTunes.

We hope you enjoyed the show.


Altogether community

Marie Laufiso

The key is relationships. Everyone has a story about everyone else – you have to get past those stories and talk real.

Marie Laufiso is a Dunedin-born Samoan who has contributed a lifetime of community support and activism. She tells us how her family upbringing in Brockville brought a sense of obligation and a “from the margins” thinking that brings both challenges and innovation to the wider city.

Talking points

Poverty and lack of access to resources is inter-generational – it builds up.

My mother said, Brockville is our village – we take care of the needs of the village – its people and its place.

We watched Cowboy and Indian movies – rooting for the Indians of course.

We felt a strong sense of place but also a dislocation, of being born in someone else’s country.

The key is relationships. Everyone has a story about everyone else – you have to get past those stories and talk real.

We have to figure out ways to invest in our own children

Dunedin as a community means being serious about supporting whanau. It means not imposing what we think are the best solutions without having first had meaningful conversations

Key volunteers are tired, worried about the future – they need our support.

When I think of a compassionate economy, I think about people who actually care. A society that is just and peaceful.

(Sustainability) A society that takes care of all of our people, then the people would take care of the planet.

(Superpower) Listening

(Success) My family together supporting my brother through his illness.

(Activist) Yes. A community worker.

(Motivation) Obligation. I said I would, so I’d better.

Challenges) Being really clear about legacy we’re leaving children.

(Advice) Keep it real.

The show was first broadcast on the 11th August 2016.

art climate change design energy

designers of the Anthropocene

Beth Ferguson Sara Dean

We’re mapping different types of unknown territory.

Our guests tonight are Sara Dean and Beth Ferguson.

Sara is an assistant professor of graduate design at the California College of the Arts. She is an architect and designer. Her work considers the implications of digital and social media as urban infrastructure, especially in relation to issues of sustainability

Beth Ferguson is an assistant professor in industrial design at the University of California Davis. She runs Solar Design Lab, a solar design and build company. Her work positions solar energy design as a civic and public resource.

They are here in Dunedin as collaborators in a project called Climate Kit. Climate Kit is a project commissioned by Zero1, American Arts Incubator in partnership with the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs and the US Embassy here in Wellington. Climate Kit brings together Beth, an expert on design and solar energy and Sara, an expert in digital design to create a cross disciplinarian workshop of with academics, artists, business and government leaders to discuss and share best practices on raising awareness of resiliency in climate change and how to communicate and share our best practices publicly in compelling ways.

Talking points

A question I’ve always had is what is the device that makes a problem or a challenge visible, engageable, start people moving together towards solutions.

We’re really looking at the environment through the lens of the challenges that the environment sees and as we tool up to kind of solve some of these problems on a grassroots level, they become images that can be brought into a community setting like a university or a museum to have discussions.

I think often when we deal with complex systems, we end up addressing both in the community and in interventions, addressing the effects of the systems… upstream in the system as possible so that they can make better decisions.

One of the challenges I think we have right now as a global population, and as designers, is how to connect those in a productive way to be able to not isolate people who are feeling the effects of climate change faster because we’re all going to be feeling them eventually.

Tangible glimpses at large shifts

If a community is prepared for climate change, it is significantly more affordable than responding to disaster.

That’s the language as designers that we’ve learned to use of coming up with creative ways to talk about challenges.

Sustainability is really about thinking about future generations. If we’re not designing our economies and systems, infrastructure systems to just be for our generation, the next 30 years. If we’re really thinking the next 7 generations, that is sustainability

We’re not really wired to think long, big scale or long distances. It’s a challenge. It’s probably a challenge we’ve always had, but I think the challenge of scale right now is the one that kind of obsesses me. We’re not great at thinking beyond neighbourhood and city. A lot of the challenges that we’re facing in neighbourhoods and cities are coming at us from really large scales. To me, that’s a design challenge. Time and scale right now, are a design challenge.



Shane: First of all I want to talk about you guys. Beth can I start off with you? You got into solar energy. You’re an engineer. When did you decide to become an engineer and what got you interested in solar energy?


Beth: Yeah. It’s actually a personal transportation story. I was a graduate design student at the University of Texas in Austin and really interested in small electric vehicles and just by chance saw a small electric scooter on Craigslist. It’s like a used item website in the states. For $200 I bought an electric bike and it was an awesome way to move around the city without having to deal with expensive parking or gas. I’ve quickly found challenges bringing it to my college campus. I had no place to charge it or plug it in. I’d bring it in to my study and be bothered thinking everyone thought it was a gas motorcycle. I realized, being in Texas, that there’s not infrastructure for small electric vehicles yet, but of course other more progressive states probably have that infrastructure.


This was in 2007. I had trouble finding other alternatives and worked with a small solar company and found out one solar panel could charge my electric scooter. Then I started getting into design and prototyping and thinking a solar charging station would actually be quite feasible for electric bikes and scooters and even electric cars. In 2007, electric vehicles were just catching on and the prices of solar panels, so my timing with this challenge was really good. Seeing both the solar industry get stronger as well as more electric bikes and scooters and cars available. The last seven years I’ve seen these industries really grow and I started my own studio call Solar Design Lab, where I work with other engineers, architects, designers and do public projects that are commissioned by universities, city utilities, music festivals for phone charging. We’ve brought the project to many different places.


We’re on, I think, prototype 12 right now for the city of Austin, they’re utility for a new street called electric drive. Electric drive will have demonstration areas for electric car charging, bikes and scooters as well as USB ports for outdoor phones. That’s like a quick version of many years of working in public places and bringing solar energy down to the street. The projects are the size of bus stops. They’re pretty easy for people to interact with and see how they work.


Sam: That’s incredible. Go back to your childhood. Where did you grow up?


Beth: I grew up on the coast of Maine, which is a good question because it’s not unlike Dunedin and I felt quite at home here in the hills and on the coast.


Sam: All right. As a young girl, did you imagine yourself being an engineer from a very young age or is that something you … How did you get into engineering? What’s your journey there?


Beth: I was always really interested in the environment. Living on the coast, being able to ride my bike and hike and find the environment as a big inspiration. My master’s degree is in design, but after I received that degree, I did take solar engineering courses at a local community college to get solar engineering skills. That’s kind of been my toolkit so that I’ve been able to put a lot of curriculum together. I’ve always loved teaching from a young age, working in environmental summer camps and getting to explore the outdoors. Maine is on the East Coast of the United States, very close to Canada. It’s a place that people really appreciate the environment. Coming up with alternatives that are going to be using less dependence on fossil fuels has been an interest of mine for a long time. My interest in sustainability kind of has merged with transportation solutions, transportation and electricity are huge numbers to the green house gases in the US. Coming up with solutions for the way we move through our city and the way we use electricity is very important for how we’re going to really reduce our carbon in the US.


Sam: Was that your driving passion, that pushed you through college and guided your career?


Beth: In undergraduate work, I studied ecological design. My interest art and all different types of art, public art and performance art really combined with my interest in the environment to be environmental design. I think I saw a documentary on Buckminster Fuller as a young student and that really inspired me to see the types of design that’s possible for re-envisioning the world that we want versus accepting these unsustainable models we have for the way cities are laid out. We have suburbs. I’ve always like a city you can bike and walk in. I’ve lived in New York City. I love community gardens. I love having a healthy lifestyle and I think that that is possible if we re-shift the way urban planners have made big sprawl in cities and really condense cities again to be livable and affordable with public transportation as well as small electric vehicles.


Shane: I think one of the focuses of the interview, we’re going to talk about this interest between arts and science and design and the environment. We’ll circle back to that eventually, but I want to turn to Sara and ask you the same questions. Where did you grow up and what’s your background? What got you into your career?


Sara: One of the commonalities that Beth and I have is a varied number of disciplines that we’ve kind of accumulated into a space where we want to work. I grew up in Virginia, which is in the Southeast of the United States. I originally studied communication arts, interested in how we communicate through graphic design and illustration. After that I moved to New Orleans, and worked a lot in building and renovating houses alongside the work I was doing as a graphic designer, which was geared toward community organization.


I worked as the lead graphic designer for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now for a number of years in New Orleans and that work really brought home to me how design can activate communities, can be tools to make policy and the distinctions, or the opportunity for on the ground community work design and government policy to be in a conversation together. A question I’ve always had is what is the device that makes a problem or a challenge visible, engageable, start people moving together towards solutions. That’s my kind of where I worked from. While I was in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina happened and that was a really devastating climate change moment and policy failure moment for the city and the region. I worked for a number of years after Katrina in energy policy and building practices to try to make more sustainable methods of building.


After that I went back to school for architecture, realizing that I was more interested in the built environment and wanted to tool up in that way. Since then my practice has really been to combine those two worlds. Understanding urban infrastructure and an architectural mindset and then coming from community organizing and communication structures, has put me in a position where I work with really multi disciplinary groups to tackle big infrastructural issues through many forms. Digital media, built form, manufacturing practices, and using everything from say social media and technology to house those in and other types of build work.


Shane: How did you two guys meet up? How did you meet up? What was that story?


Beth: We were really lucky that a mutual friend who is actually on the board of Solar Design Lab, my studio was giving me advice on how to scale the project and said, “You really need to meet Sara Dean.” We had a mutual dinner and then Sara and I immediately have like 15 ideas of new projects. We’ve been coming up or baking new ideas ever since and have a huge list we’ve yet to crack. Doing Climate Kit has been really fun as a real immersion in the support from the Otago Museum, the science communication department here at the University of Otago, the Zero1 American Arts Incubator, and the US State Department in Wellington, the embassy in Wellington have really helped connect so many thoughts especially in the community for us to really hear many different voices on the challenges related to climate change. Otago and Dunedin, just really big spirited people. We feel really lucky to have this month to work together as well as do community work.


Shane: Neither of you have had a typical career. It’s not like you decided to go in one direction. You’ve taken this kind of serpentine path and it’s fascinating to me that you’ve taken all these different areas and kind of blended them like hard science and soft sciences and kind of community. You’ve blended together, and you’ve brought together this amazing ideas and concepts. When you try to explain this to people, do people get it or is kind of like, “You what? What do you do?”


Sara: Probably half and half. I think for me one of the things that disciplines give us in general is a language. When I use architectural language to talk about infrastructure system problems and how social media, for example could be used as an architecture in a city. If I’m using architectural language, the architects get it. If I’m using community organizing language, the community organizations will get it, but it doesn’t quite work the other way around. Really understanding how to engage different types of disciplines is an incredible benefit as long as you can be a flexible person that’s okay with some questionable stares now and then.


Shane: One of the things that we constantly hear about, one of the major things, is the theme of narrative. How you turn your story and again you’re repeating that. Like you said, you have to tell your story in a particular way. Is this your experience as well, Beth?


Beth: Yeah, absolutely. People are so curious, especially with doing prototyping and innovation and experimenting, combining unordinary things. A lot of my solar charging stations have used 1950s gas pumps. I’ve recycled a symbol of the road trip, the American Legacy of this vintage automobilia. That humor and narrative has helped me really launch into a place as a public artist to combine cutting edge technology which are batteries, battery storage for solar energy, electric vehicles. We’re doing a project that’s charging Tesla cars. Sometimes there’s a space in the world, like a crack that hasn’t been investigated to bring new projects out into the world. When you wear as many hats that Sara and I have worn of working with Universities as researchers, us working with arts institutions, museums, architecture firms Sara has done, and starting my own studio, you really learn different ways to use multiple narratives to get visions across and that’s when the work becomes powerful.


Shane: You guys met over dinner, you have the projects and it sounds really exciting, like you guys sparked off each other. What brought the idea of the Climate Kit and I’ve seen some really interesting pictures of like a gas mask, well some sort of air filter, and a strange rod with a spiral rounded. A few bits and pieces which I think quite works and they’re quite able to identify, but fascinating museum. What is the climate Kit and just start off with that?


Sara: The question that we started with with Climate Kit is how is expedition and exploration changing in the world. When you think about California and then also thinking about New Zealand as these new frontiers that have been explored in various ways and we can picture the types of tools that go into that exploration of new territory, unknown territory, but we have different types of unknown territory now, that aren’t about mapping unknown terrain, but mapping unknown metrics or unknown data. Moving into say a big data space or a post natural space of exploration, what are the new tools that people are using. Asking that, say very broad question has gotten us a starting point to different conversations that we’ve been having here between each other and in getting the exhibit together at the Otago museum.


Old tools have different purposes now and there’s a lot of new tools being developed. That was the starting point for us. As far as what is a month long conversation basically that we could have with the science community in Dunedin around field working tools for climate.


Shane: When you come here to, I can see the appeal for Dunedin to have two amazing academics come from overseas and create a space for conversation. Can you do that in the same way in America or at home? How do you start creating that space. I can see the appeal here but how do you do that back?


Beth: One important part of Sara and I meeting that we didn’t mention is we were new to San Francisco, new to the Bay area, new to Silicon Valley. Sara had moved from Andover Michigan. I had moved from Austin Texas and we had a lot of excitement as many new pioneers in Silicon Valley to come up with some new ideas and push boundaries. Our work related to emergency is actually inspired by the threat of earthquakes in the Bay area. We’ve had constant little tremors. We’re really thinking about infrastructure and thinking about human impact on the environment. Thinking about like a field guide to the anthropocene is a part of the toolkit project we’re working on.


The lens we’ve gotten to use here in New Zealand has actually been to map and photograph and explore dams and different parts around Dunedin where there’s failure of controlling flooding. Where there are challenges related to pollution or related to a side of the hill that the houses are too moist and people are getting mould and environmental illnesses. We’re really looking at the environment through the lens of the challenges that the environment sees and as we tool up to kind of solve some of these problems on a grassroots level, they become images that can be brought into a community setting like a university or a museum to have discussions.


Our exhibition’s opening tomorrow, but Saturday we’re having a community panel and inviting people in to talk about their work in Dunedin related to climate change but also open up that conversation. That’s kind of the spring board idea of toolkit and kind of the benefit of having the whole month to really talk to people.


Sara: I’ll add there’s a huge advantage to having time. There’s nothing more luxurious than time. As much as Beth and I have been working together for two years, there’s a lot of other things happening as well and we both have our own individual practices that were also propelling forward. To get a month together to work on these questions in a new place is a huge luxury. As much as this could happen in daily life, it’s a lot easier in some ways to do it in isolation and get new inputs and kind of feed off of the new community event and all of the energy here.


Shane: How did you decide on Dunedin. It’s not the most obvious choice. Obviously we have an amazing university and Polytech. Why Dunedin?


Beth: Dunedin was chosen or recommended by the US Embassy in Wellington. I think it had a lot to do with the science festival that happened a few weeks ago. Our timing with the really exciting science festival in Dunedin was perfect in the timeline for our commission and residency was about the same time. I think it was a natural fit, the beauty of the Otago Peninsula, we just feel so lucky to have been able to come here. The other artists that have been a part of the American Art Incubator have been to the Philippines, to Vietnam, to China. This is the first group that’s come to New Zealand. We’re the lucky ones.


Shane: How do you describe yourselves? Are you scientists? Are you engineers? Are you artists? Are you all of the above? How do you describe yourselves?


Beth: We’re really in an exciting time in the world as academics and designers. I describe myself as an industrial designer. That having a multi toolkit and being able to bridge disciplines that becomes a strong problem solver. When you’re able to kind of go between a city utility and consider how electric vehicles are going to be charged on a city grid, versus an arts organization that would really amplify a story in a new way, that’s kind of the beauty of having multidisciplinary skills. Sara’s worked in architecture and myself in industrial design, as a contractor you have to be able to bring in a lot of skills to the table and execute large scale projects. This was a very fast project in one month and we have a couple years worth of research ideas that maybe we’ll still be back to do in the future.


Shane: Brilliant. Sara, how do you describe yourself?


Sara: I think of myself as an architect. I’m trained as an architect, and to me when I approach a problem, I think I approach it as an architect even though I’ve been trained as many other things as well. To me it’s about those methods of approaching a problem, methods of coming up with ways of solving it. To me, I do that architecturally. I think of it systematically. I look for a point of agency in a city or in a community or in an organization and try to find what the physical landing point of that is. I get the most mileage, personally out of thinking of that as an architect. Some architects don’t think what I do is very architectural because I use Twitter, or I use interaction design or I use visualization techniques, but to me the methodology is very architectural. That’s what I go with.


Shane: Fantastic. Neither of you have really used any kind of language like numbers or facts and stuff. You talk about narrative and art and creating spaces. That’s really interesting to me, because a lot of our society’s folks ran numbers and facts and new projections. This is a very much a new way of conceiving science within society. Do you think about it that way?


Sara: I would say, I think at least for me, what I offer are methods of approaching problems and that’s what I’m developing personally. When I go into a new project, all of the facts matter a lot, but the topic or the subject matter, say whether it’s a flooding problem or it’s a drought problem or it’s a spatial problem, the facts are incredibly important, but the methodology is what moves between projects. That’s maybe why it’s more of a narrative and how it’s described. When we came in to Dunedin we really dug in to a lot of the details of the history of Dunedin, the economy of it. We learned as many facts as we could as we went. Really the community workshops provided a lot of that knowledge for us and that’s incredibly important to us. We don’t want to come in and just make assumptions and start working and think we’re participating in the community. When we go to the next, the next thing could be very different and it would be another fact finding starting point.


Sam: When we start talking about that Anthropocene or the climate change, we’re starting to talk about complex systems. There are heavy science concepts in there. Things like, well there’s lots of data, but there’s also the science concepts of a certainty and so on. At the other end there’s people concerned about their houses and where they’re going to live and so on. How do you bridge between those two.


Sara: I think often when we deal with complex systems, we end up addressing both in the community and in interventions, addressing the effects of the systems and the systems themselves aren’t changed by the intervention. It’s incredibly important that people can feed their families and feel secure and not worry about the impact of weather and large scale environmental issues on their daily life. It’s also important that as we address that, we’re addressing it as upstream in the system as possible so that they can make better decisions.


As an example, it’s important to raise houses in flood plains and we see that in New Orleans that happened, but it’s also important to change the policies around lead use. We don’t want to just keep raising houses another couple feet every year. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s kind of how I go about it. What are points of agency within these systems that create more ability to have resilient responsive communities?


Beth: Here in New Zealand, we’ve gotten to meet with City Council members and look at some of the projections of climate change in Dunedin. There’s some amazing maps that show the different, actually kind of retraces where the marshland used to be, and where a lot of the infill is now. Looking at the future sea level rise, it’s projected that the sea level will go back to where the coast originally was. There’s a lot of interesting history that we’ve been digging up with different academics and researchers and community members that have worked with us. We’ve worked with a public school teacher. We’ve worked with a professor from the Polytechnic.


We have a project that we’re going to be launching tomorrow that’s actually using a topography mat of the Otago Peninsula that will project different layers of maps. Thinking about past, present, and future. That’s going to be revealed so we invite people to come see it. That’s been a way to think about … It’s a table and it has bumps on it so you can see the hills and the lower valley areas. When we conceptually try to think about sea level rising, it’s kind of hard to do without something that’s 3D or dimensional. That’s what we’re hoping with that project and it’s something similar, we’ve seen at a museum in the San Francisco Bay area and it’s very popular. Seeing people really consider how water moves through an area with so many coasts, I think is really important.


Sam: I think a big part of the problem is that it’s not actually that technically complicated, but it’s still a messy, wicked problem. If we take the sea level, and the houses in South Dunedin, It’s reasonably easy to understand what’s going on in terms of the water levels, the water table and so on, but solving it-


Sara: Yeah, absolutely.


Sam: -is enormously complicated.


Sara: Absolutely and it shouldn’t be simplified just because as you say, the part about the water seems simple, right? Because it’s not a simple problem when you factor in people’s properties, and safety and community and all those factors. The fact that we have historically as people, built by water means that the problem that South Dunedin is facing is the same problem that a huge number of cities in the world are facing. We’re facing it faster and we’re urbanizing faster, which is creating more dramatic run off because of all the impervious surfaces are increasing in water shed. We’re getting it from both sides. There’s both the water table rising and there’s run off and water sheds changing their behaviours. This is happening at a local scale here, and it’s happening at a local scale in many cities. One of the challenges I think we have right now as a global population, and as designers, is how to connect those in a productive way to be able to not isolate people who are feeling the effects of climate change faster because we’re all going to be feeling them eventually. How we kind of deal with these, the more immediate impacts is going to really manifest down the line.


Sam: I think for the longest time, Dunedin’s had the niggling feeling that actually a couple of degrees warmer wouldn’t do us any harm and not really thinking through the actual implications. People have been talking about for a long time that it’s not just about being a little bit warmer, it’s actually speeding up of the system and the increased floods and increased droughts and all those sorts of things and the complexities of that on where people live. There is this kind of twofold danger that people think that there’s a technological solution just out there, so we can carry on having a party, what Susan Krumdieck calls the green myth, that everyone having a party, there’s a miracle going on somewhere.


Beth: I have a comment for you on that. I think that’s exactly right. Hearing two degrees warmer doesn’t sound very big but hearing that we don’t have snow pack in California or here on the western side of the south island and thinking about without snow what does that mean? That means our rivers are not filling up. That means our dams are not producing the amount of electricity they once produced. If pastures are getting larger and larger, that means the heavy rains are going to have more nutrient rich soil run off in to the rivers. We’ve heard that kind of historically, or more recently that water quality in the south Dunedin rivers, it has to be safe enough to stand in with your gum boots. If you can stand in the river with rubber boots, it’s clean enough, but thinking about what if we could have our kids swim in that river again, or what if we can have healthy fish in that river again or what if the eels could come back and have a way to swim up river. It seems like a lot of conversations we’ve had are people wanting to raise the bar on water standards.


I got to go out last week with the Healthy Harbour Watchers, an amazing team of scientists and public school teachers and high school students that go to about 7 different points around the Otago Peninsula a few times a month and collect water samples, bring it back to the lab at the University of Otago and test for nitrates, phosphates, water salinity. They take a note of the colour of the water and I got to help take notes with them and I had such a blast. Seeing the spirit of citizen science is really amazing in Dunedin. Being part of the science festival really taught us how many great projects are happening. It’s been inspiring.


Sara: One of the projects we’ve been doing here is talking to scientists about exactly these kind of tangible glimpses at large shifts and it’s been fascinating because this is such an incredibly unique ecosystem and kind of meeting point of many environments and the impact of the ocean and the small shifts in current. I’ve learned enough to be dangerous as they say about this while I’ve been in Dunedin. A small change in temperature can change the ocean currents dramatically which will change the make up of the ocean life.


One of the issues that I’ve heard that I thought was very telling as far as this two degrees is just a little warmer kind of question is that there’s a sea urchin in Tasmania that will drift, the larva will drift on the current down to the north shore of the north island and that’s happened periodically but the temperature of the water has meant that they haven’t survived. Now with the increase in the temperature of the ocean water and the current is getting stronger, but also the water is warming up just a little bit on the north shore of the north island which means that now these sea urchin are growing up there and not dying in their larval stage. Which means that now the ecosystem of the ocean shelf on that shore is changing dramatically. The kelp is disappearing because the sea urchin are eating it. Then you can see that as it chain.


Now that they’ve taken hold on that shore, when the water gets a little warmer farther down and some larva drift down, they will survive and these kinds of impacts that are very minute changed thresholds that are very controlled and important and very minor. On top of that, and this is one of the things that’s been fascinating in talking to scientists here that work on these incredibly long timelines, is talking to them about climate change, because of course they’re like, “Well which one do you want to talk about? We’ve had them through all of history.” Thinking about human impact not as a … Thinking about human impact as an added stress to already stressed environments that animals are constantly struggling and that’s fine. That’s always been the case, but we’re making them struggle so much harder to continue. These little shifts in temperature and the little shifts in fishing and fishing for example, the lobsters on the north island meant that nothing was eating the young sea urchins when they were coming. That increased their foothold there. These kind of cascading issues can start with really minor climate differences.


Sam: One of the issues that we have is that people would rather not talk about it. Hands over our eyes, fingers in our ears. Let’s pretend it’s not happening and being quite critical of people that do. You’re very much taking the approach of engaging the community is a thing we need to be doing. I’m wondering what you’re hoping to achieve from that?


Beth: When you start preparing a community …. Actually the numbers, you guys asked about numbers. If a community is prepared for climate change, it is significantly more affordable than responding to disaster. If South Dunedin and the community at large come up with solutions now, it’ll be a much cheaper price tag than dealing with a polluted water table and homes that are not livable and all of the challenges that come with not planning. That’s the world all over. The Bay area we’ve seen numbers if we start planning in the San Francisco Bay area for climate change now, it will be much more affordable even though the price tags are big. What the climate deniers, where they kind of are comical, is they deny climate change but if you tell them, “Oh. We came up with a solution for climate change,” they say, “Great. Let’s get it.” They want a solution but at the same time they don’t want to acknowledge the problem.


That’s the language as designers that we’ve learned to use of coming up with creative ways to talk about challenges. We’ve heard from climate activists here in Dunedin that instead of calling it climate change, there’s sea inundation, backyards with saltwater at high tide. There’s ways to be less threatening but still come up with solutions for communities and families that are going to need drier homes so that their kids are healthy. Asthma rates, if your basement is damp, go up. We heard about someone digging a fence in his back yard and he had to wait until it was low tide, because the holes were filled with water at high tide.


Sea level inundation is something you can’t ignore when you’re living in it. We want to actually learn some of these tactical skills that Dunedinites are going to have to put into practice sooner than later, and share them with our home communities.


Sam: Do you think that we can get there through incremental approaches or is it going to take a revolution?


Sara: I don’t think we’ve been here long enough to say locally.


Sam: Just in California then.


Sara: …California. I think it has to be both. Some of the tipping points that we’re seeing are coming from kind of the most standard places you could think of. When insurance pulls out of a community, and the government and the community are now on the hook for the liability of home ownership, which is one of the major safety nets of families all over the world. When insurance pulls out and this happened in New Orleans, things get a lot more of an emergency a lot quicker. There was just news last week in San Francisco, the millennium tower, one of these new big development projects in San Francisco is  sinking already and it’s sinking because, well for many reasons. Okay. Now that’s a different focus. It’s important that these are not the rich and the insured that can manage to push us forward, but when we’re seeing it from both sides, where the world bank is trying to do infrastructure problems to hold off flooding, because they have an investment that needs to be secured. Meanwhile, poor communities are really suffering from that insecurity the most. The question is, how do we get everybody moving towards the same solutions rather than pit it against each other.


Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Beth: Sustainability is really about thinking about future generations. If we’re not designing our economies and systems, infrastructure systems to just be for our generation, the next 30 years. If we’re really thinking the next 7 generations, that is sustainability. The carrying capacity of one generation using up natural resources that are not going to be sustained for future generations, is unsustainable. There’s a lot of great over the sustainability movement the last 30 years. I’m teaching a course next semester on the history of sustainable design. I’m excited to bring out some old precedents even. European town and country inspirations that were done in England of bringing farmers markets, or bringing urban gardens into a city so you can grow your own food. There’s a lot of old precedents that can be brought in. Thinking about electricity and power, I was really inspired by indigenous architecture that faces in the US, the south would be the north here. The home is actually facing the direction of the sun and that the home is a solar collector, versus just having solar panels on their roof. Really thinking about designing in a way that’s going to use electricity, be comfortable and be healthy. Not be in a threat of a flood is really important.


Sam: Talking about engaging people in future generations or thinking about future generations. We’re not very good at it.


Sara: It’s true. I think people in general, we’re not really wired to think long, big scale or long distances. It’s a challenge. It’s probably a challenge we’ve always had, but I think the challenge of scale right now is the one that kind of obsesses me. We’re not great at thinking beyond neighbourhood and city. A lot of the challenges that we’re facing in neighbourhoods and cities are coming at us from really large scales. To me, that’s a design challenge. Time and scale right now, are a design challenge.


Sam: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics extended in space and time. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Beth: I’m about to install my dream project. In Texas I’ve worked with these gas pumps with solar panels, I’ve told you about. We’ve just gone through a year process of getting permits for a new solar charging station for the city of Austin that will be in this beautiful park in downtown Austin that was formerly a power station. It’s called the Sea Home Power Plant that was built in the 50s and decommissioned in the 90s and now the city is taking it over to be their ecodistrict. It has numerous features of sustainable design. Working with the city of Austin’s utility, Austin Energy, to do electric vehicle charging is where all of my more whimsical prototypes have wanted to go. I’m about to install my dream project that will be Austin Energy’s Electric Drive Solar Charging Station and it will have space for electric scooters and bikes to charge, as well as outdoor seating and plants and a beautiful solar canopy.


Keep an eye on Solar Design Lab’s website to see that project soon. That’s kind of an interesting moment for me, where as a public artist doing realistic infrastructure. The city finally took notice. It took 7 years, but persistence is really the secret to community changing. Buckminster Fuller has a great quote of, “Don’t spend time pointing out things that are not useful. Really build the things that you want to see for the future.” I think that’s important for all of us of thinking about climate change and sustainability in Dunedin, let’s build that vision as opposed to blaming and pointing fingers, let’s start building a way to make these hard transitions possible.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. We’re writing a book. Aren’t we Shane?


Shane: We are indeed. Slowly.


Sam: What we’re looking at is trying to describe people’s superpower. What’s their sustainable superpower? It’s really, what are you bringing to the sustainable team? How would you like your superpower to be described?


Sara: I think what I end up bringing to teams, I think, is finding that way to engage the platform to engage. The moment of agency in a system.


Sam: That’s cool.


Beth: Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, I think, thinking about design, not just design for the dump, but design for positive innovation. With doing solar energy projects, it’s been a really fun superpower. Someone said it’s like open source solar energy giving free solar power to the public to really experience it for the first time. It’s great to have solar panels up on rooftops, but to bring it down to the public level for them to touch and experience it. We’ve done musical festivals where we’ve charged 4,000 cellphones over 4 days. Getting to be that close to that many people wanting to try solar energy out has been really thrilling and that’s kind of helped feed this kind of work and my commitment to teaching and design is going to keep that going at the University of California Davis with continuing that research.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist.


Beth: Definitely. You asked me about my childhood, and I didn’t mention I guess in my early 20s I was part of a bike circus. It was a bicycle circus that we did month long bike trips around issues of biotechnology and environmental pollution and anti-globalization and a lot of issues that we were worried about 10, 15 years ago, we’re actually seeing play out in really terrifying ways. We’ve lost so many jobs in the US for building things. We’ve lost a lot and the cycle right now is everything being made in China and then shipped to the US, is not a sustainable path. I’m really interested in being part of some design research as well as shifting design education to come up with some ways to do local manufacturing.


Sam: Same thing?


Sara: I think I’m definitely an activist. It’s important to me that work is political. If a design, if it’s not a political project, than … I guess another way to say that is I usually make projects a political project. I think all designs should be political.


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


Sara: That’s a tough one. I guess there’s just a lot to do. Ways of being in collaborations, different types of groups to collaborate with, I’ll say and I’ll piggy back this on my recent success of the last three years. I’ve been working for the last couple years with a really multidisciplinary group in Jakarta, Indonesia. There’s computer scientists and geographers and engineers and urban theorists. I’m the designer on the project. It’s using social media data to get real time flood maps of the city that’s a community resource and then also a resource for the Emergency Management Agency. Ways of leveraging both community tools, open source tools, big data and real on the ground problems that’s the sweet spot, I think, for where to design. That’s been a fantastic project to be a part of and it’s been a very successful project that’s now picked up by the city of Jakarta as an official resource for community reporting. That type of … Which, you know, it’s not like those projects come along everyday, but being able to be part of projects like that where factors are being thought of through engineering and community and I can add the design eye of how to engage the public through what methods on their terms, that’s the perfect spot.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Beth: For me, kind of transitioning, the more you do work in public space the bigger the projects or the more exciting the collaboration gets. Climate Kit, has been a really fun way for Sara and I to prototype and learn from another country some of the challenges, sort of bring some of these skills and prototype ideas home is going to be really inspiring to share what we’ve learned her and really think about new infrastructure design and innovation that could come up with some bigger challenges for climate change. I just joined the University of California Davis Department of Design, with a few new faculty and we’re starting an industrial design programme for the design department. I want a lot of the curriculum to really be about solutions for climate change. That’s a big tag, but what that means is design innovation to come up with how can we have our city work on drought issues, work on aging infrastructure that needs to change, bringing more public transportation to our cities, bringing more sustainable building options. Living in smaller spaces. There’s a lot of great projects happening but how to have that be a pedagogy, a real curriculum and how to grow a program like that. I’m excited about. As well as continuing my own practice with Infrastructure for small electric vehicles.


Sam: Two more questions, we’ll have to be very quick. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?


Sara: I think I’ve eliminated all of those options from my brain. I don’t know if I can put it back in.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact?


Sara: Really engage the issue and believe that that would work. I think the thing is that, as you said, turning away from it is easier but also it’s a challenge. It’s so out scaled from an individual that getting that feeling any agency within these problems, I think is a real difficulty right now. I think that’s what it would be. Just kind of feeling like we could charge ahead in it.


Beth: We absolutely have all the solutions to these challenges and then we have precedence in the world of the amount of people that were organized for dealing world wars is possible and necessary for coming up with solutions for climate change.


Sam: Lastly, quickly. Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Beth: Enjoy the beautiful parts of Dunedin and come to our exhibition. It’s going to be at 4 o’clock at the Otago Museum. Work with each other to come up with some solutions to the challenges in this beautiful place.


Shane: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming in.




climate change communication science

Science communicator, a bit subversive.

Tim Flannery

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.

Professor Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007 and until mid-2013, was a Professor at Macquarie University and held the Panasonic Chair in Environmental Sustainability. He is the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group. He was the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, an Australian Federal Government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public, which was disbanded by the new right-wing government in 2013. Almost immediately afterwards he announced that he would join other sacked commissioners to form the independent Climate Council, that would be funded by the community. Prof Flannery is currently a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. He started his career as a mammalogist and his work has earned high praise, prompting Sir David Attenborough to describe him as being “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone”. He has published extensively but his two most famous books are “The Future Eaters” published in 1994 and “The Weather Makers” published in 2005. We literally could go on and on talking about Tim’s achievements but we have to stop somewhere so we can actually let the man do some talking…

Talking points

As much a science communicator as a scientist

Somehow I was fascinated with science from an early age

I remember finding my first fossils on the local beach, aged about eight, and taking them into the local museum and having them identified, that was a formative moment – one of those things you’ll always remember

All the time I was doing my arts degree I was volunteering at the museum – working on fossils, learning everything I could about science.

The curator would ask who wanted to go on field trips – my hand was always up.

They clearly got that I was interested in this sort of stuff.

The guy in the lab coat could have been the curator of fossils or the cleaner – it doesn’t matter to me, he changed my life.

What I love about museums is the reach into the community.

Even when I was running the museum, if the opportunity arose to talk to kid about what are interested in, I would always grab it.

If you see some kids looking at the exhibits, take the time to talk with them, it could be hugely important.

My favourite places – swamps where I looked for frogs – were being filled in with rubbish, the beach with oil and junk floating in the ocean and thinking this is not right. I asked my mother about it and she said “that’s progress”, and I decided then that this “progress” was a pretty bad thing.

I put my hat in the ring for a job – the only job in the country I really wanted, a scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney – curator of mammals.

I did twenty marvellous years doing survey work in the Pacific Islands.

We called it Rattus detentus because its ancestors had been detained on Manus island, also we were well aware of the plight of the detainees there.

(A slight subversive name?) Yeah, just to let people know they haven’t been forgotten. What can a scientist do with that sort of stuff, not much really, but this was an opportunity, and that name will be there forever, so they will be remembered.

Boaty McBoatface – if the people want it then I’m firmly of the view that they should get it.

I don’t like power structures…there is true wisdom in the people, if you can tap into that wisdom you will achieve great things as society.

As the new director of the South Australian Museum…engaging with the SA government that I became aware of what a huge challenge this climate change issue was.

Future Eaters: The people of Australia were really the first to start eating their future, eating into their capital that was meant to sustain them into the longer term.

A spectacular manifestation of the nature of what it means to be human.

The book came about from 15 years of questions I just couldn’t answer.

There’s something about my personality. I do think about difficult questions, and I tend to do it from first principles basis. I can’t just live in Australia without understanding the place.

Some of those questions are big and complicated, and do take a while to work through, but I’m very happy doing that, picking away at the puzzle, a giant jigsaw no-one’s ever done before.

Weather Makers: I tried to distil the science into a form that was understandable by the public but still faithful to the original research – all held together with a story of human impacts on this very complex climate system.

There was a nasty backlash…once climate change became a political issue in Australia there was no holds barred…it was really scary for a while, I had to have federal police protection at home for about four months – that was tough.

There’s a lot of economic interests in Australia, tied into the fossil fuel industry.

We had a bigger share of the export market for coal than Saudi Arabia does for oil.

Those industries were very embedded in government and society.

But I knew the reason this was happening is because I’m winning, I’m having an impact. If I wasn’t having an impact then none of this would be happening, they wouldn’t be bothering.

(Geological time-scales it doesn’t really matter what we do) That’s true, but what sort of argument is that? Where does that leave us as human agents? Where does that leave us in terms of care for our children and future generations?

This has to relevant to us as people in some sort of moral framework we live in.

(Are we at the point of people understand climate change but don’t want to?) If I believed that I’d be doing a different job. I think that carrying on explaining it is making a very big difference.

People come up to me all the time saying I embarked on this career, chose this PhD, because I read your book and wanted to do something…some of those people are now running significant companies – renewable energy companies and so forth.

So it makes a difference but it takes time.

I’m a really big believer in the wisdom of common people – if you can tap into that , into people as individuals and their sense of what is right and wrong, then you’ve done somthing very profound, and that’s what my life has been about. It hasn’t been about going into politics and trying to lead people, I’ve been much more interested in releasing the latent good and capacity in people.

When you reach out to people as individuals, even those antagonistic people, you get beyond the façade – the frightened person or the smart arse, and you can reach a real person in there, and that is where the reason and where the goodness lies.

empowering people with knowledge, reaching them as individuals, that’s the important stuff, it’s not about political leadership, nor parties or ideologies, it’s about somehow unlocking that individual goodness and letting that flow upwards into some sort of societal structure or shape that gives meaning to all our lives and makes things better for all of us.

You have to treat people with dignity and engage in a dialogue.

We are now committed by virtue of the greenhouse gas we’ve put into the atmosphere for the temperature to rise by about 1.5 degrees by the middle of the Century. We’re getting into the danger zone (has been at +1.2 degrees for a couple of months).

This El Nino has done us a favour in a way, it’s spiked temperatures by about a third of a degree – it’s giving us a little window into the future.

In some places, this view seems OK, the great Autumn we’re having, but look north to the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve just learnt that it is 93% bleached, a bleaching event six times larger than anything we’ve ever seen before. And there’s massive and long lasting consequences from that on the reef ecosystem.

Arctic ice is at its all time winter low.

The thing to remember is that climate change is a process, not a destination. It’s a process of change. 1.2 degrees will transform to 1.5 degrees then 2 and 4 if we don’t do something about the driver.

Scientists are now increasingly prepared to say “this weather event would not have occurred were it not for human greenhouse gas pollution”. That’s a big breakthrough – linking individual weather events to the cause.

This is a collective action problem – it’s something the whole world needs to act on together.

The capacity of any society to do anything about this is driven by passionate individuals.

We need that drive to come from society…to drive down emissions.

But my personal view is that’s not all we need to do, we also need to get some of the gas out of the air. That’s going to require the development of a whole series of new technologies over time.

Technology is a tool…you’ve got to have a spanner to fix the car. But having a spanner is not enough. You’ve got to have the knowledge to know how to use the spanner, and you have to have the will to actually employ it

You need all of those things, you need the technology and you need the will-power to use it. We need the right regulatory structures and the right enabling circumstances in society for this to happen.

(is third wave technology a green myth? Carry on having a party, technology to save us is just around the corner?) Excellent question, one we need to answer.

From 2016, two things are very clear, first, that we have to reduce emissions as quickly and as hard and fast as possible whether we develop new tools or not. The second is that we don’t really know at the moment whether those tools will have the capacity to draw enough CO2 out of the atmosphere at the scale needed.

At the moment humanity is putting 50 Gigatonnes of CO2equivalent into the air every year. Now, if you want to plant trees to take 5 Gigatonnes out of the atmosphere per year, you would need to plant an area larger than the size of Australia. This is a very large scale problem.

Can we manufacture carbon fibre out of the atmosphere at a scale that will make a difference? Carbon plastics, CO2 negative concretes? Silicate rocks to draw C02 out of the atmosphere? Seaweed farming? Can we do it at scale? We know all these things are possible at very tiny, laboratory scales. But do they work at the gigatonne scale? That’s the question we need to answer by 2050 if we’re to have the hope of any of these technologies making a real difference.

(Scale of problem is going to need solution at that scale, which is more industrial development, which will make extinctions worse…will a focus on climate change make everything else worse?) eg seaweed farming which are a great place to grow proteins.There’s a lot of biological desert in the world’s oceans that could feed the world…if we could cover 9% of the world’s oceans with seaweed farms we could draw down all 50 Gigatonnes.

If we can take the problem – atmospheric CO2 – and turn it into a solution (eg sky mined carbon fibre) that competes with other polluting industries you’ve done something major.

This is where technological advancements can take us, not just into a more industrialised dirty future, but as a replacement for already dirty processes, and thinking differently about the world in ways that might make a difference.

My working definition of sustainability is a world that isn’t creating more problems than it solves.

There are always uncertainties, but you have to move forward, you can’t be paralysed by uncertainty.

We can have sustainable growth, it depends on what is growing and for how long, but there’s a billion people out there living in abject poverty who need betterment and a better quality of life, so we have to have at least enough grow to give them a decent standard of living.

Limits to Growth – general sentiment was right, but was wrong in that people thought we would run out of resources, but it turns out that there are lots of resources – particularly mineral resources – the volume you have is proportionate the amount of energy you’re willing to put into getting them out.

The big limits to growth turn out to be the rubbish bin – earth’s rubbish bin, the oceans and atmosphere. That’s the real limit, once the rubbish bin got full…that’s something people didn’t foresee.

We need a big political change…it entrenches privilege, it disenfranchises people…

A vision of where I think we might be going that solves these problems. Imagine a situation where politics is not a career. an you imagine if each one of us had the experience of sitting on a jury to decide the size of the defence budget, or how the health budget should be used, or an aspect of foreign policy.

Division of labour works in every area of human life and enterprise, except politics. It’s the one area where we all have to pull our own weight as citizens if we want to have a decent and just and prospering society.

(Superpower?) Empathy

(Success) Probably too early to tell, but the establishment of the Climate Council, adopted by the people of Australia. It’s taught me a lot, that process, a lot about structures that work, and how you engage people.

(Activist) No, I don’t see the world in those terms. Activist entails that there is a power out there, an authority that we’re fighting back against, and my world paradigm is not like that, I think that the big decisions need to be made outside the political system, and there’s a role for leaders outside the political system to engage in dialogue and influence the public dialogue about things…so no, not an activist, maybe a public intellectual.

(Motivation) I think it’s curiosity first and foremost about the nature of the world. And somehow I’ve always had this view that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it – and the only way to do that is to really understand the world.

I find this a paradox in me, because I’ve lived through a period where the world has self-evidently got worse, in so many ways over my lifetime – we’ve seen so many extinctions and all sorts of things happening in the environment, and yet I still have this belief that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it. So I don’t know how to explain that, except that it is a profound conviction that I have.

And real faith in human nature and people, that is the most important resource that we have- our fellow human beings and unlocking the full potential of ordinary humans to engage in the world and determine their own fate in a wise consultative way is just so central to what we are as a species.

(Challenges) Staying fit and healthy. Re-engaging in the Pacific Islands.

Community projects in the Solomon Islands trying to foster community conservation – which is really the most important type of conservation in those societies.

I reckon it’s like for a woman putting on that lipstick in the morning, you do that and you look great…well climate change is one of those things where you just can’t go and put on the lipstick in the morning, it’s too long a process, there’re very few moments where you can say we’ve won, we’ve done something, but this Pacific Islands work (community conservation), is great, “wow, I’ve already got some success”. The rest of it – climate change – will be a slow grind, I’ll be an old man before we can say we’ve overcome the problem, if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

(Miracle) To have us on a downward trajectory of about three parts per million of atmospheric CO2 per annum – a slow readjustment of the system back to where it needs to be

(Smallest thing) Get engaged with a group of like-minded citizens, because anything we achieve is achieved together.

( Advice) You’re a long time staring at the lid – get out there and do something, don’t waste any time.

Professor Flannery was in Dunedin as guest of the Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago.

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Nature’s tales

Neville Peat

Wake up each day and salute the sun if it’s out, appreciate the natural processes around you, We’re here for a short time on this beautiful planet and we’re here in a caretaker role.

Neville Peat is a writer and photographer, and a Dunedin City Councillor.

Talking points

I’ve always enjoyed conveying stories about our landscape, and issues of the day.

Growing up we weren’t really conscious of the wildlife on our doorstep.

You’re telling a story, trying to convey ideas.

It’s about finding an angle, describing what you see in as few words as possible, my most recent effort (in the ODT) described the Milford Track as “mountains of water”.

The environmental movement was continually banging its head up against applications for resource consent for this that and the next thing…so we set up an organisation that could carry the message of sustainability or doing things good for the environment through the Green Business Challenge, that became the Dunedin Environmental Business Network. The idea was to get alongside people in business.

This was a new way of working, we weren’t just banging on doors and writing submissions, we were working proactively to get our message across.

This led to the Otago Regional Council – I knew I could make a difference. We set up a Biodiversity Committee, the first in NZ, I was chair of that.

But in my nine years in the Regional Council, I can only think of two good examples of sustainable management of natural resources based on a scientific tool. (Tussock burning based on 3 tests: coverage density, dry weight matter and height). Here at last, I thought, we can actually measure whether this classic snow tussock grassland would actually be sustained. (Secondly, irrigation allocation in the Kakanui catchment).

The Regional Councils are primarily responsible for the sustainable management of natural resources, you would think a whole range of tools to help them, but really they haven’t. They continue to monitor decline in a whole lot of areas, without giving us a way forward, a tool, something we can grasp.

Shrinking baseline is such an important concept. It’s so easy for each generation to come along and say “that’s the normal” (not even new normal), “that’s how much quality we can expect out of this river, wetland or whatever” and not realise that it has shrunk in their parents’ time. With each generation you get a steady decline in quality, which can only be countered by action of some sort – and this is starting to require a behaviour change in people. And as we know…changing people’s behaviour…whether its giving up on driving to work or doing something to enhance the environment they live in, plant more food in the backyard, or whatever, that’s hard, the easiest way is just to do nothing, a laissez-faire attitude, just hope we can ride it out, “why should it be my responsibility?”

(Is there a formal way of considering future generations in decision making?) Only if you keep waking up in the morning thinking “what’s the definition of sustainability? – it does include “without compromising the needs of future generations”. If you wake up with that you get a clear sense of your role. You are here not as a user, but a caretaker. It’s up to you to do your best.

We are just here temporarily on a planet that is supremely beautiful.

Often you get a moment of inspiration, a moment where it all seems right, its almost a mystical effect.

It’s more effective to convey an idea than to say it…that’s what my work is all about conveying an appreciation of nature.

The Dunedin draft Environmental Strategy is setting the scene for future generations.

How do we relate to this planet – because we’ve only got one.

The Dunedin natural environment is unbelievably special.

(Success in last couple of years?) New edition of Wild Dunedin. Environment Strategy.

(Activist?) Not as much as I was. I’m still active. I’m working pretty hard really, but I’m not a foot soldier any more – I’m trying to be a bit more of a leader.

(Motivation?) Nature has to be given full expression, the moment we have conquered nature in any form we lose the plot. The mysteries and mystique of nature have to be retained. When my ancestors came here in the 1850s they saw nature as something to be conquered. Now five generations later, I’m saying let’s embrace nature for what it is and not as something to be beaten down.

(Challenges?) More writing.

(Miracle? or smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) The stoat in the Orakanui ecosanctuary

(Advice for listeners?) Wake up each day and salute the sun if it’s out, appreciate the natural processes around you, We’re here for a short time on the planet and we’re here in a caretaker role.

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Strengthening community

Anisha Lee

My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things.

Anisha Lee is involved in community development in Oamaru. We talk about her experiences in farming, geology, botany, tourism, environmental farm plans and community gardens. we talk about all of these things, along with plans to bring Ooooby to Oamaru.

Talking points

From a personal responsibility level there seems to be a change in the dairy industry – this is beneficial for everybody if we take responsibility for the decisions you take.

The environment will win in the end if you destroy the thing that is feeding your business – the soil – but it will take casualties on the way through.

No one wants to do bad. But they only know how to do good in the context of what they know is good. People do listen to their managers, but it’s an apprenticeship system without regulation – they think they’re doing good, but they’ve been taught by people who didn’t know either. All genuine people who believe they are doing the right thing.

The best way to bring about change is to get farmers who are doing a great job to run groups – to build a sense of community people who know and are doing a good job of environmental management.

International visitors hear “clean and green” don’t realise that it is provided by an irrigator – it’s not naturally green around here. They realise we have a genuine problem, that we’re not as environmentally friendly as we look on a postcard. It is definitely going to damage tourism is we don’t stop saying something we’re not.

They see environmental mayhem with a small reserve on the edge and are appalled at we call a clean green country.

If we take care with what we do to meet our animalistic desires and requirements, then the other stuff might come a bit easier

Making sure we’re not polluting and are supporting an environment that will keep producing food and preventing poverty and assisting in communities being healthy, more rounded people as well as looking after the facilities around us that provide us with food.

Seeing beginning of the tipping point.

But we’ve been removed as society from understanding what is really important to us.

People are starting to realise that what we eat – where it comes from is really important. It is easier to drive to the supermarket, but in the long run that is not better for everyone.

Helping people have more connections within the community.

(Success?) Graduating. Being involved in the fantastic and enriching Summer School

(Activist?) If it means someone who screams and yells outside and doesn’t do much else, then not really. If it means someone who takes action, then yes.

(Motivation?) I like helping people, being around people, seeing people happy. I see a lot of non-happiness in the world, and I try my best to change that.

(Challenges?) OOOOBY, Education material for the cape re-vegetation project.

(Miracle?) My miracle would be a very big thing, but would require a lot of small things. Happy people, that don’t have to deal with poverty and an unhappy environment around them. Coming up with a solution that means we’re not reliant on petroleum for everything. And getting back to our roots without having to lose too much of that comfort that we’ve managed to acquire.

The smallest thing that anyone could do that would make the biggest impact is to go and talk to your neighbours. Get to know the person who lives next door and be pleasant to them. We’ve all got to live together, whether we like it or not.

(Advice?) Be nice to everybody. Have some compassion, everybody has their struggles. They might tell you what they need and you might be able to help if you’re just prepared to listen.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

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Stories of community transition

Nathalie Brown

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world.

Nathalie Brown is a journalist living in Oamaru. She tells us how she first found Oamaru a “wondrous place”, and on returning decades later, an influx of artists and artisans had breathed new life into the town. She is involved in the Natural Heritage Society and is busily unearthing stories of people doing their bit to create a positive future.

Talking points

Oamaru became home 11 or 12 years ago, it really is the most extraordinary and remarkable place, I just love it.

I came back to Oamaru and found people in fabulous tartan kilts, with feathers in their hair…extraordinary people with wonderful life and I thought this is for me.

There’s something about the energy of the place that you don’t find in other places.

I don’t know if the people created the spirit, or the spirit created the people. I think the first thing was the built heritage. The establishment of the Whitestone Civic Trust in 1989 brought new blood into the town.

It was resisted strongly by some of the local people – you’re used to living in a certain way…”all these people dressed up in fancy costumes, who do they think they are?”

I was always socially aware, leftie, greenie, but I didn’t really have anything to pin it to.

The implications of climate change and peak oil…something’s not right, what can we do about it? what can anyone do about it other than throw your hands in the air and being in despair?

We have a lot of fun in what we do in trying to save the world…

There’s more than a lifetime’s exploring to do here.

I love encountering people in their workplaces and their homes, and talking to them about what gets them out of bed in the morning.

You have to be curious. You find unusual people doing extraordinary things.

What have we got, how can we make the most of it for everyone?

(Success in last couple of years?) Being here for my aged parents, and being at my mother’s bedside while she was dying – the most extraordinary, magnificent, wonderful , phenomenal experience I’ve every had.

(Activist?) Yes. In terms of getting involved in groups and committees. If something really gets me going then I’m going to pursue it – seeing where I can take this social justice issue of the workers in the residential care social places – I will be pursuing that.

(Motivation?) Compassion.

(Challenges?) Learning how to earn a living.

(Miracle? or smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) Some kind of universal will to do something about the effects of climate change.

The nuns taught us, if you have a sense of moral outrage, then you can do something.

Who would have thought that apartheid would collapse? it was just one of those things that is. If we could get a political will at the next climate change meeting – we’ve stuffed it up, what can we do to keep it under two degrees? What can we do? Let’s do it. It would be a miracle, but it could happen.

What’s Oamaru going to be like in 20 years time? What’s the world going to be like in 20 years time – it could be fabulous. But on the other hand it could be absolutely dreadful.

(Advice for listeners?) Learn to meditate.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

community community garden food

Community gardens community hub

Sophia Leon de la Barra

The single most powerful thing we can share with kids – they’re the custodians of the land – they have to take care of it, and here are some ways how.

Sophia Leon de la Barra is the coordinator for the Waitaki Community Gardens in Oamaru. Trained as a statistician in public health, she now runs the community gardens as a community, education and social hub.

Talking points

A glossy magazine for a sustainability strategy didn’t really feel like sustainability in action or practice.

I feel like a contemporary custodian of the land.

I found Oamaru and was fascinated that these eccentric people could be celebrated, and work together.

Our philosophy is around sharing life skills.

Gardening has skipped a generation, an effect of the commercialisation of supermarkets and urbanisation.

The knowledge is there, we just need to tap into that wisdom.

My job is really about people.

Community gardening is about food production, but also valuable learning opportunity and social experience.

Plant a seed, pull a weed, harvest a vege.

(On community gardens and time banking in Lyttleton) Sometimes you need a bit of a crisis to drive you to into an alternative economy. Adversity reveals character and reliance on neighbours.

Food is one of those integral things.

It is all too easy in a globalised economy to eat food from all over the world, but the environmental cost is not really factored in…how can a Korean ice-cream be cheaper than a local one? When people start looking at the logistics of global systems – this is crazy.

Growing food connects people to their environment.

Growing your own food is an empowering experience – it just tastes better.

If people want to engage it can scale up.

I measure our success by how well we are doing in sharing knowledge with the next generation. We’re reconnecting kids wit the process of food, with cycles of nature.

(Success?) Oamaru food forest.

Everybody’s got this about collaboration and making things happen.

A can do attitude – everybody’s got their own projects – so they totally get it, they get you want to do something new and want to help you.

The community garden, community hands in soil – truly intergenerational.

The single most powerful thing we can share with kids – they’re the custodians of the land – they have to take care of it, and here’s some ways how.

(Activist?) Yes. Activists are people who just do things really. If you get something done and it creates a positive change for someone else, then you’re acting on your principles, implementing – activism.

(Motivation?) Well-being of people, health is our greatest wealth, and the more we can do to share that the stronger we’ll be as a whole.

(Challenges?) Get more involved in Council – I’m standing for election next year.

(Miracle?) Make everybody more time rich, so they can engage in community projects.

(Advice?) If you’ve got something you’re passionate about, dig it, do it.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

community transition towns

Transition Oamaru

Gail May-Sherman

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

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

Talking points

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

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

We are preparing out community for changes

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

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

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

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

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

Music brings people together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

education transition towns

Resilience, education and community building

Phil K

Doing things differently is an effective narrative.

Phil K runs the Sustainable Skills Summer School as part of Oamaru’s Transition Town movement.

Talking points

Meet people where they are and give them one step forward.

One thing that they could do immediately. Not a hundred things about possibilities – one thing

Live minimally in a way that doesn’t molest the earth – in a way that I think is sustainable and responsible – I think that comes from who I am.

I live minimally because I really like it, there’s things that I love and find satisfying, I’m not about to lecture other people to live like this because it’s going to save the planet, or something they should do, I would say find similar things that mean something to you that you can do and feel are worthwhile and satisfying – then yes, find a way to do it.

Even a small way, I’m not saying that people have to radically change their lifestyle – there’s things that people can do fufil those feeling good criteria, that you can put into your lifestyle.

There’s a really good chance that things are going to turn to custard, and we’ll want people to grow vegetables and share food, and use less, less fuel – don’t know whether that would happen by necessity. I’m not sure if that will be forced upon people.

Logically, we are over consuming, and we can’t keep over consuming for ever.

I thought I was crazy, why isn’t wearing a suit working. I think society has got to change, but that is personal. Do I think society has got to change? Yes, because I think that is the way that is is going, but it’s not like I’m wagging a finger saying “you’ve got to change because you’ve got the wrong way and I’ve got the right way”.

Narrative is incredibly important – you end up living the story you tell yourself.

Doing things differently is an effective narrative.

Commodification of attention

The ethos of the summer school is that individuals and communities will have to be more self reliant. And we get there though community sharing.

Just teach one small thing you know really well.

Summer School offers people seriously going through the door a step in the right direction.

Looking for people to see a wider view from that small thing. A transformative journey.

The way that people change is incremental, so the best we can do is incremental. Whether that is enough, I don’t know.

A resilient community has lots of networks.

The best thing we can do is make non-trivial connections.

People in Oamaru make things happen – they put on events and then they go to them.

We talk about self reliance, resilience, community building – those are all things people can latch onto withou thinking it’s a foreign language or against my politics.

Resilience and community building is a language that connects.

Green, not Green Party – more like earth.

Not ruining things is not the prerogative of any one political party.

(Success?) The way that I live becoming increasingly sustainable.

(Activist?) No. I do this personally as something that satisfies me. I don’t want to push people. I’m happy to live this way.

(Motivation?) Without hippy speak: Love. This is an astonishingly beautiful world. Caring provides the motivation. The cure will come from loving something.

(Challenges?) Physically getting older. Creating reducing systems.

(Miracle?) Cassandra’s dilemma – could tell the truth but no one believes you. My magic wand would have people believe climate change and sustainability message.

(Advice?) Act on things you care about. Stuart Kauffman – work with adjacent possible, what is beside you, possible and feels right. Do one of them, then look for another.

This series of conversations in Oamaru was prompted by discussions with Phoebe Eden-Mann following her OU Geography field trip to explore Oamaru as a transition town.

We are very grateful to the helpful folks from 45 South Television for the use of their studio.

architecture education

Making a difference at architectural scales

Tobias Danielmeier

I rank architecture by going to look at the bathrooms…it is the utilitarian areas that reveal weaknesses…but sustainability weaknesses in architecture are much more disguised.

Tobias Danielmeier teaches and researches sustainable architecture in the School of Design at Otago Polytechnic. He was instrumental in the First Light House – the first Southern Hemisphere entry into the Solar Decathlon. He is also interested in performative architecture – a combination of how a building works functionally and in telling stories.

Talking points

I rank architecture by going to look at the bathroom…it is the utilitarian areas that reveal weaknesses…but sustainability weaknesses in architecture are much more disguised.

There is ideally a marriage of people and place – how the building sits in within its environment.

We’ve seen a shift in how students treat sustainability. For a long time now they have been driven to change the world, then this changed as they saw the problems as too big, we can’t tackle them; the changed again, but now this is changing back again to more inspirational values – we can make a difference.

Connecting with regional experiences, authentic experiences..craft beers, regional cuisines…this is what I mean by post consumerism architecture.

(Activist?) Passive activist. Opening minds of young people.

(Motivation?) Good architecture – striving for better tomorrows.

(Smallest thing that would make the biggest impact?) Better public transport – different ways of achieving the 1/4 acre dream. Not compromising on luxuries, but achieving them in different ways.

(Advice for listeners?) Investigate localised energy production. Try to become energy independent.

green party politics

Activist at heart

Kevin Hague

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

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

Talking points

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

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

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

It turned our national identity on its head.

It was of justice and deep ethics…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deregulation kills people.

People’s health status is a function of their environments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Professor with impact

Richard Morgan

There will be conflict, so we need people to recognise those different values.

Prof Richard Morgan teaches and researches environmental management and impact assessment in University of Otago’s Geography Department. A biogeographer who initially worked on the New Forest, his interests broadened to include the investigation of the impacts human activities on soil systems, and from there to the total environment, including humans. He now applies impact assessment to a diverse range of areas such as Health Impact Assessment.

Talking points

(Water is a resource management problem) – we have to measure what is available, how do we understand the demand for that, how we understand what are the competing demands and how they affect each other, what sort of decision making process is appropriate? Do we simply put a price on water and let people with money buy as much as they need? or do we have some sort of collaborative allocation process?

Water is one of the most contentious issues globally – between communities, between nations. Building dams and denying flows across boundaries, who has access to drinking water and who doesn’t. So understanding how much there is, understanding the seasonal cycles, the natural disruptions to supply, how many droughts we’re going to get in the next 50 years, this is all about having a good understanding that we can then feed into decisions about allocation and sensible usage.

Environmental management is coming in from a different perspective compared to management of an organisation, but we’re still trying to instill professional thinking about how we deal with that.

(Management doesn’t tend work at very long time scales, or to work in areas of finite resources or irreversible decisions) No, and they do have a habit of imposing a discount on their cost/benefit analysis that is ludicrous if you try and do that in natural resources – it just doesn’t work, but that’s not insurmountable.

Different time scales, different spatial scales, being aware of that, and recognising the issues that can arise in those different temporal, spatial scales is important.

The big switch in the last 10-20 years has been recognising values – not just monetary value or narrow utilitarian values – it’s cultural, it’s spiritual, it’s ecological, it’s social – how we take that into account is quite an important area of discussion.

Decision makers are now much more aware that they can’t just take a number, and say “we’ll go with the number and not these expressions of opinion”, now they might be more swayed by good, well founded passionate opinion from a local community than an accountant saying “this is worth so many dollars”.

(Book reference: Stone – do trees have standing? )
How do we play that in our value systems? Deep ecologist: of course. Utilitarian ecologist: well a healthy ecosystem needs those species, we can’t do without them, if we take them out the system is degraded… so it depends on how people what to consider it on a personal philosophical level – then my job as an academic is to point people to those values and say “so what do you think?”.

There will be conflict, so we need people to recognise those different values.

It’s values, every time.

That expression of value is becoming much more important…with increasing recognition of Maori values sets over water, for example, there has had to be a recognition of a holistic sometimes spiritual and ecological and utilitarian set of values.

Sustainability is a moral stance

The sustainability word is problematic because it does take on different meanings for different people, and it doesn’t matter how many academic publications there are saying there are these 5-10 different types of sustainability, that term is owned by the wider population and they will use it as they see fit.

I think what is more important is the ethos, the basic ethos that we need to think carefully about how we live, and how that affects the environment that includes people.

We are making choices every day in what we do, and we need to be thinking about how some of those choices might be having rather unfortunate effects, especially in the longer term.

Fashions change in terms of issues, but the basic ethos that has emerged is human as a species need to think very carefully about how we live, how we use resources – we’ve got to be much more efficient about how we reuse, we’ve got to be much more careful with things that can’t be be reused, choose resources that are not going to pollute to the same extent – I think that message is widely understood. Sustainability is a label that sort of goes over that but perhaps is a bit fuzzy. Maybe we should just talk about the ethos and not worry about the label.

(Motivation?) I’m still keen on being a university academic, every year there’s new minds coming in, new challenging questions, it makes us stop, rethink, perhaps change positions. It’s energising and rejuvinating every year, constantly being challenged.

(Are the new minds changing?) they do want jobs, but still they question and challenge.

(Activist?) No, prodder, questioner. I tend to be in the background. I want to stimulate people’s thinking. I think we have to be quite careful about that – we can’t stand up and say “I’m a professor of geography and therefore my value set should influence you”. But I can stand up and say “me personally, I think this, what do you guys think?”.

(Challenges?) Hand over area of work in impact assessment nationally and internationally – but not fade away too much.

(Miracle?) Solution to sequestering carbon

We shouldn’t be relying on a technical fix, but we should be trying our hardest to cover our options.

(Advice?) Get a good night sleep.

agriculture food permaculture

Irrepressible optimist and orchardist

Stefan Sobkowiak

If you want to get your soil living again, get your life back in your soil.

Stefan Sobkowiak describes himself as a synergist, permaculturalist and an irrepressible optimist. A landscape architect he specialises in attracting bird, insect and animal allies into his designs. Over the last 6 years he has focused on Miracle Farms, the largest permaculture fruit orchard in Eastern North America.

Stefan was featured in the film The Permaculture Orchard, and was in Dunedin as part of the BeyondOrganics tour.

Talking points

We need to say, we really want wildlife in our backyard.

If you build it they will come, you might have to help a little bit.

Most orchards are biological deserts.

Organics is a transition, but it is not stopping problems at the source, we need to ask “what is the problem we are trying to solve?”

If you want to get your soil living again, get your life back in your soil.

It is the life that will change the soil.

We need to reconnect with food.

Sustainability is just keeping on keeping on, it means over the years we’ll continue and we’ll hopefully still keep harvesting and doing the way we’re doing. And that’s better than a mining system – taking what previous generations have built up, and you are squandering it in your practices…sustainable at least you are keeping on keeping on, and you’ll be able to keep on that way. But to me that’s kind of short-sighted – why would you want to settle for sustainable, when you can actually grow or farm in a way that you will leave that property – because everybody is a steward of the land they are responsible for – why would you want to leave it the way is is, why wouldn’t you want to leave it better than the way you got it. If everybody started with that approach,we wouldn’t need to clear more land for farming, because every farm would gradually produce more, and get better and better, you wouldn’t have the problems of flooding because the soil would hold more water…it would solve so many of our problems.

Why not want to actually improve the situation?

(Activist?) No. Just a practical guy. I just want to save the world, that’s all, not much to aim for. If everyone would take on that approach with one thing that they can actually change – and for me it’s orchards for now.

(Motivation) Seeing change in a positive direction. I’ve gotten a lot more pragmatic, I’m not looking to change people, but I do realise that when people are open for change, and they’re hungry for change…seeing people really connect, going “now it makes sense..”.

People really realise that we need to work with nature.

Too often in agriculture it has been an antagonistic relationship – “me against nature” – but we don’t have to do that.

I invite every element of nature – I have to adjust. If there’s something not working the way I’d like, then there’s something I don’t understand. I just need to realise what I need to add to add to that system so that they will either fall into balance where they are not causing me economic hardship, or I need to realise “hey they’re there, I need to adjust my attitude”. Often all it is, is that I need to produce more. If we have one fruit tree and we expect to get all our fruit we’re kind of dreaming, because the birds will get most of it, but if we’re growing 10 of them, chances are we’ll have some, if your neighbour grows ten more, then you’ll have a lot more, and so on.

The problem is not that we can’t do it, it is that we’re doing it on far too little a scale.

(Challenges?) Scaling up. Scaling ideas of implanting the orchard.

Once you do one, people will look over the fence and see ideas that make sense.

(Miracle?) A change in people’s heart. You can talk about anything until you are blue in the face. But until people have a change of heart, a lot of things won’t change. You really have to want to change.

(Advice?) Just start, get going.

botany ecology

Ecology: Connected science

Kath Dickinson

The essence of ecology is that it is all around us.

Prof Kath Dickinson is a plant ecologist at the University of Otago. She has broad interests particularly in plant-animal interactions. We talk with her about the science of ecology, and the role of people in ecological systems.

Talking points

It’s always a good idea to be very grounded in getting your feet wet.

I’m very glad I started with geography – the breadth can lead you in multiple directions.

Ecology is the study of interactions.

Ecology is a complex science, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to understand it. For me, ecology is inclusive of people.

It is easy to think in the linear way, but complexity means thinking in a non-linear.

We can think of a community as a spider web, hugely complex and very strong in some directions, but easily disrupted in others – by fast and slow disruptions.

If we look at ecosystems, there aren’t boundaries, but considering scale helps, we can say whether we are talking at scale of tree, or forest, or country level, or ocean level.

Ecologists as a field tends to attract people who are attracted to complex thinking, who are able to multitask – thinking about things across scales and in a non-linear fashion.

The term ecology is being taken widely…as a sense of understanding interactions, with respect to can we discern some patterns, some sense out of it. And if we can’t…what is the role of chaos?

That in New Zealand and Australia people are considered separate to the system, even in Australasian ecological science, probably represents the colonisation history…despite the integrated worldview of the indigenous peoples. But now we are increasing working with a message of integration – from mountains to the sea.

Social ecology is a recognition of the role of people in the system.

I talk with students about a play on words: a part from the system – two words – and apart from the system, one word. The writings stemming from the colonial, Christian ethic uses one word: apart from the system. The writings of sustainability, resilience, adaption, the ecosystem services approach all show a move to a part of the system.

(Can we describe the essence of a functioning ecosystem in terms that can be reduced to money?) In some situations, its a tightrope we walk, what economic value does one put on beauty? what economic value does one put on spiritual enrichment? what economic value does one put on a Cromwell chafer beetle?

We are starting to recognise the value of ecosystems…wetlands for example.

(But does this reinforce idea that nature is there for us to exploit?) If we look at the whole planet as a system, Gaia and the moon landings…ecologists might want to talk about integrating ecology with economics

Scale…whether timescale or spatial scale, getting understanding…means understanding scale. Be very aware of what question I’m asking, match the question to the scale. Not one scale fits every problem?

(Does ecology have an inherent ethics?) As a science yes. But it doesn’t necessarily require a care ethic.

Ecology is a continuum to sustainability. A broad philosophical debate.

As humanity becomes increasingly urbanised, the connection to nature becomes more distant. So we need an appreciation of natural history, a positive relationship with nature, rather than a fear or a distance.

Climate change is the biggy, but there are very rapid changes in land cover and oceans.

The rapidity of change is of immediate concern, this is not to dismiss the important and complexity of climate change, but the very rapid phase shift with systems around the world, much like the spider’s web analogy – it easy to destroy a spiders web, but try building it back up again – it takes time, even if it is possible.

There are several elephants in the room: history (decades, centuries, evolutionary) and often we don’t know that, what we see is what we can measure – usually 20 years if we are lucky…the other elephants: market forces; how particular decisions are affected by literal downstream effects – we need integrated land policy.

(Activist?) Out there waving a board saying no to nuclear power? No, but there people who are proactive in the sense of caring about whether it is a hydroelectric dam, or dirty rivers, or the quality of our soils. But as a scientist its a tightrope over maintaining credibility as a scientist and being out there wanting to make a difference. So endeavoring to make a difference.

(Motivation?) Endeavouring to make a difference. If you gather a group of people together to solve a complex problem, and you want to make a difference, it’s not the collective IQ you have in the room, it is the diversity that you have in the room. So there’s a motivation in listening to different perspectives, and valuing perspectives, which isn’t to walk away from fact that decisions can be difficult to make, and not everybody might agree, but the chances are that the diversity will lead to a more robust outcome.

(Challenges?) New courses starting. Interesting challenges of funding.

(Advice?) As individuals we can pull together to make a difference.