Aesthetically beautiful and sustainable homes

Alyssa Clift is an architect who is director of Project Habitation, a design firm specialising in aesthetically beautiful and sustainable homes in Queensland.

Talking points

Sustainable: There is a difference between ‘eco’ and sustainability, to be sustainable it needs to be carbon positive, everything short of that is just ‘eco’.  

Success: So far as it stands having a child and my architectural design of the Minough (sp?) treehouse.

Superpower: My ability to deliver sustainable housing solution.

Activist: I would describe myself as an ‘inactive’ activist, I’ve got certain principals with I try to live by, and I try to encourage others to adopt those principals… but I would think twice before participating in a march.

Motivation: (Crying infants…) just being content, I’m happy and excited to wake up everyday.

Challenges: Expanding the business, it’s going to be very challenging to do so especially with small children.

Miracle: For developers financial incentive to change to a sustainable outlook. 

Advice: Sustainable design isn’t not easy, although it’s really important for the future generations. You only have control over yourself and your outputs, so the way that you live is very important, if you need help with adapting your existing home or building a new one, seek that help because it contributing to the generations to come.

climate change community geography

inspirational community movements

Sean Connelly and Doug Hil


 Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.

Shane: Our guests tonight are Dr Doug Hill and Dr Sean Connelly, both of Otago University Geography.  Sean has been on the show before so I’ll skip straight to Doug Hill. He got his BA at Australian National University and his PhD at Curtin University, Perth. His research interests include South Asia, especially India, development studies, geopolitics and trans-boundary water resources – we’ll talk to you about what they are – migrant labour, ports, labour restructuring in maritime trade, world development, participatory governance in West Bengal, urban transformation and socio-spatial segregation in India’s megacities. Both of them have just given a talk entitled, “Community Power: Exploring the process for change through the Clean Energy for Eternity campaign in New South Wales, Australia,” which we’ll talk about in detail shortly. Welcome to our show. Doug, you’re from Australia originally, yes?


Doug: I am, Shane, yes.


Shane: Where were you born?


Doug: I was born in Sydney, in St Leonards, which is a part of the northern part of Sydney. I lived there for only a couple of years and then my family moved to the country. For the majority of my childhood I grew up in a place called Tathra, which is in the far south coast of New South Wales, about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, a little coastal town surrounded by forests, et cetera.


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


Doug: I think, at that point I really wanted to be a pilot, because when I was about eight I took my first plane ride and it really gripped me that there was this great thing that you could do. My dad started talking to me about being a lecturer, actually. He was quite keen on history as a profession. Quite early on in my life I got this idea that this was a nice thing to do, go and work in a university. He particularly talked up this idea of a sabbatical, which thankfully here we still have.


Shane: So, you went to school. Was it kind of the idyllic Australian childhood, wandering round the forests and on the beaches. What was it like?


Doug: Yeah, it was relatively idyllic. It’s a small coastal town. A lot of people move there for lifestyle reasons, but having said that, it’s also an area that I guess was fairly socially not particularly progressive at the time that I was growing up. It’s an area where the dairy industry was predominant in that place, and so there’s fairly entrenched attitudes, I guess, around a whole a whole sorts of things. Relatively idealistic, but that always comes with those provisos about the lived experience, of what it’s like to grow up in a small country town.


Shane: Obviously your father was encouraging you to do history. What made you change direction? Was there anything in particular, or is it just that you gradually thought, “Hey, geography’s kind of cool”?


Doug: When I was at high school I was really interested in the political aspects. I was reasonably politically active as a high school student, and so when I went to university I started studying politics and economics in the first instance. The quantitative emphasis of economics completely lost me and so I started being drawn to development-type issues. A particular motivation for that was I had what now is called a gap year, in between leaving high school and going to university. I went to Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, and really opened my eyes. Quite different from small, coastal Australia. That got me really fired up about development issues around the environment, et cetera. Gradually I shifted towards that kind of trajectory.


Shane: What did you do your PhD on at Curtin? What was that?


Doug: It was a study of some villages in West Bengal, which is an eastern State of India. At the time there had been quite a reformist-minded government in that State for the last 25 years. There was a lot of plaudits at that time for the capacity to be a model for the way that poverty alleviation might happen in rural development scenarios in eastern India. I was really interested in going and exploring that. I chose two different parts of a single district, one part of which had undergone agricultural intensification and there was a lot of increasing livelihood options for local people, and the other which continued to be fairly arid and the livelihood options in that part were quite constrained. I was looking at the differences that these things made in terms of the capacity of these institutions, which this government had brought in to try and initiate poverty alleviation.


Shane: Wow, so you obviously have a huge focus on India. What’s the fascination for you and where did that come from?


Doug: The initial moment is going to Nepal when I was 18 and being grasped by this very different kind of scenario. As I was an  undergraduate at university, I started periodically going to India and in between finishing my undergraduate since starting my honours, I spent a year there. By that time, I was completely hooked. In a more general sense I think it’s just a fascinating country. There’s so much diversity there. People often think about the poverty, but from somebody who teaches development studies, the interesting thing about India is there’s so many interesting solutions coming out that country. It can really tell us a lot about the constraints of development and the kind of avenues that we’re pursuing, but also the kind of solutions which me might be able to utilize and generalize in different places.


Shane: Yeah, so your interests … I was looking at the transboundary water resources and geopolitics. That’s probably an issue in India, is it? Round that area?


Doug: It’s a huge issue in India.


Shane: Huge issue in India. Can you talk just a little bit about that? What is that?


Doug: To frame it I guess, and to get our geographic imaginations going as we like to talk about it; if you think about the Tibetan plateau, and everybody has an idea about what Tibet is and what it means in terms of those broader ideas about China and the West, et cetera. What people often don’t think about is what geographers call the third pole, as a great proportion of the world’s water resources begin in that region and then flow down the mountains in the Himalayas and cross over the borders of around 11 countries. The process of it coming from the Tibetan Plateau and flowing down into the ocean, then of course it crosses national borders, provincial borders and the way that those rivers should be utilized becomes the subject of a whole range of contestation, politics, et cetera.


For the last couple of years – I guess about the last 10 years actually – I’ve been travelling to Bangladesh, to Nepal, to India. I’m involved in various groups in different parts of the world, to looking at the dialogue processes by which we can think about how to manage those resources. With a changing climate, those issues become all the more urgent.


Shane: I was at a talk last night with the US ambassador, came down to talk about the Fulbright Forum. We were talking about Syria. The issue of Syria came up and of course the key driver of that conflict there was, in fact, a drought in the highlands, which droves the rural people down into the cities. That sparked all the conflict. How risky is it for that region that you’re looking at, for conflict to start erupting around water issues, or is that something that’s kind of outside? It is quite a serious issue.


Doug: It’s a very serious issue. Scholars who work on this like to throw around this truism that wars have never been started over water conflict, but the reality is that the intensification of contestation over water leads to grievances which then get translated into the conditions by which conflict can occur. For example, the Indus Basin, which is basically the water between India and Pakistan. At the moment there is a dispute going on between India and Pakistan – so, the last couple of weeks – over some terrorist activity which has taken place on the border between those 2 countries, which seems to have nothing to do with water ostensibly, except now India is threatening to renege on the treaties that it’s made with Pakistan over the management of that water.


Pakistan is a country of about 200 million people that is completely dependent upon just a single basin for its water and its agricultural basis very water-intensive, so how that water is used, it’s very easy for people within Pakistan, and the military within Pakistan in particular, to start saying, “Well, this is India’s fault, why this is happening.” We see variations of this happening throughout the region. India is worried about what China is doing on the Brahmaputra, for example. Bangladesh is worried about what India is doing above it, Nepal, et cetera. Then, within each of those countries there’s also provincial level disputes. It’s a very … I really like looking at it because I think that it’s a really interesting way of thinking about the contestation over resources.


Shane: Let’s get on to your talk today, which was about this amazing project, the Energy for Eternity in Australia. This is really interesting, because last week we had the Australian Prime Minister trying to blame renewable energy for some power outages, which was just this crazy response to a storm which knocked over a few pylons and disrupted the electricity system. Is it our understanding that in Australia renewable energy is a point of politics contestation? Would that be an accurate … ?


Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I think that what you find in Australia is a very divided polity when it comes to these issues. There’s a lot of people within the society that can see that Australia is a perfect laboratory for the roll out of all sorts of renewable technologies and that it’s a place where we can really develop a whole range of industries and transform the economy in profound ways through this. On the other hand, it’s also a country which has, at current estimates, about 250 years of brown coal reserves and a mining industry which is very influential in politics, a media sector that is very concentrated amongst particular groups, in particular the Murdoch press, and because of that climate change politics and by extension renewable energy is very, very contentious. It is really something which it’s difficult for politicians of any shade to really get much purchase for moving things in a more progressive direction.


That’s not to say there’s not the initiative there, or that there’s no the political will, but there’s a lot of push back towards that as well. That’s one of the things that we were talking about in the talk today.


Sam: Is Australia on the edge?


Doug: On the edge?


Sam: I’m thinking about how close they came with the 10 year drought.


Doug: Australia is definitely a place which is already feeling the effects of climate change in a pretty profound way. It’s always been a country of climatic extremes. You’ve always had droughts and bush fires and storm events, et cetera, but it’s clear that that is being exacerbated. I guess, most profoundly, some of the areas which are being impacted are those areas where there’s a significant proportion of the population living. It’s hard to say objectively what on the edge means, but it’s certainly the case that it’s a country where climate change is a lived reality now.


Sean: Which I think is a really interesting dichotomy: the politics and climate denial on the one hand but also living and experiencing the effects of climate change on almost a daily basis at the same time, which is a really interesting dynamic, I think.


Sam: Presumably they’re aware of that tension?


Doug: Of course. The particular movement that we were talking about today really began in 2006 at a time which is typically referred to as the climate change election. This took place at a period when there was a really significant drought and it had seeped into mainstream consciousness that this was something that government should be being proactive about. There was a wave of enthusiasm, I guess, at that point, which this movement, Clean Energy for Eternity, or CEFE, was able to harness to move forward and do lots of small scale initiatives.


Shane: What got you involved in starting this project, because it’s outside your research areas and it’s kind of outside where you normally work? How did you get involved with it?


Doug: So there’s 2 different things driving this. The first of them is that, in the last couple of years I’ve been working on energy issues with a think-tank based in Jakarta called Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia. We’ve been looking specifically at low-carbon transitions, so it was on my radar to start to think about these things and ask the questions. The most significant thing is that CEFE began and really prospered in Tathra, the town that I grew up in. During my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to go and spend a bit of time there. The last 10 years while I’ve been living here in Dunedin, every time I go home I hear about what CEFE is doing and look at these great initiatives and et cetera. It just seemed like a fantastic opportunity to try and understand this movement in a more significant way. Bringing Sean in is a way of really understanding that broader application of knowledge around community movements and sustainability and how we might go about understanding those.


Sam: Is it a young people’s movement?


Doug: No, absolutely not. It was started off by somebody called Dr. Matthew Nott, who’s a local orthopaedic surgeon, essentially in 2006 realized that this was a significant issue which perhaps he should be looking to try and take action on, and so organized a movement on the beach. 3,000 people turned up and spelled out, “Clean energy for eternity,” on the sand, Tathra having a population of about 1,500 at that point, and then thereafter got together a core group of people who formed the nucleus of the movement, most of whom, as far as I can see from my interviews, et cetera, are middle-aged with kids, some of them artists, some of them are professionals, some of them are environmental activists. But, it has been very good at including young people and other members of society, but at its focus, I think it’s certainly not a young person’s movement per se.


Sam: That’s one of the things that people are of about critical about Generation Zero, is that it is just coming from young people. Now, they argue that’s that’s their strength, “We are the future,” sort of stuff, but it’s kind of easy for other people to ignore them. “That’s just the kids, they’ll stop complaining eventually.” It sounds like this is quite different.


Doug: Yeah, this is quite different, and I think the way that they’re trying to initiate social change is also quite different from those sort of movements that you’re describing. They’re self-styled pragmatic, non-political organization which is interested in trying to craft local solutions and bringing in the broad tent of community members into initiating local action around climate change, so it’s not the usual suspects. I think that that also has some strengths, as well as its weaknesses as well.


Sam: You said, “Initiate social change.” Do they have a clear message or in fact idea of what that social change … What they want?


Doug: They absolutely do. After this first moment on the beach that I just described, they then formed a community group and did an environmental audit of the district and worked out where energy was being used, both in terms of electricity but also in terms of transport et cetera, and came up with a blueprint for the council called, “50 50 by 2020.” The idea here was to transition towards 50% usage of renewable energy and to have 50% efficiency gains in terms of the way that that was being utilized. 50 50 by 2020 became the calling card of this movement, as it spread from its initial moments in Tathra to become at various points a state-wide – or at least having representation within different parts of the state – and actually thereafter attracting national attention.


Shane: How big is this movement now?


Doug: It’s a bit hard to put your finger on really, because one of the strengths of it really is that it’s able to cooperate with local movements and mobilize them for specific events and then to move on and to do other things. One of the things that they’ve been interested in doing is to try and work with community groups to get renewable energy put on public buildings: surf clubs, rural fire sheds, public halls, et cetera. It brings people in, helps them to achieve these aims, and then those people may or may not be involved again. I think that nucleus of the movement, the group which is actually active around these things, is probably somewhere between 10 and 15 people, but they’re able to mobilize at various points hundreds and sometimes thousands of people for particular actions.


Sam: We went to Oamaru last year on the basis of your geography field trip who went and looked at the Transition Town. We thought we’d go and follow up on that, and it turns out it’s only 5, 10 people. This does seem like a similar thing, that it’s quite a small group of people making a big impact. One of the things that the people in Oamaru said is, they don’t need to convince all of Oamaru, they just need to put the systems in place for them to lead the better life that they want them to. Is it a similar thing here? Are they trying to change hearts and minds, or are they just trying to get it to be better somehow?


Sean: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. There’s certainly that … Doug’s told the story of the aha moment of this Dr. Nott of sitting on the beach when it’s abnormally hot, reading the weather makers and having this internal crisis of, “Oh my goodness, what kind of future are going to live? I need to do something.” Sort of that. So, it very much is rooted in, “We need to do drastic change,” but I think it’s interesting that there’s been through the interviews various people that have had that similar kind of moment and that served as motivation for them to actually get together and do something. But then, when they actually go about mobilizing hundreds or thousands of people for events, it is much more focused on the easy access: we’re making this accessible, come out, the whole community’s involved, everyone has a part to play, you can bring whatever politics you want with you when you come, as long as you’re there.


You know you’re there for a reason. You’re going to talk to your fellow community members and have a conversation around energy and climate issues. Hopefully, that will build more awareness and lead to further change, but it’s not directly involved in, “This is the kind of change we need to make.” It’s not directly confrontational in that regard.


Sam: This, “Hopefully leading to further change,” there’s the crux of the question. Do we need everybody to have this aha moment, this transformation, or can we get away with just a few people having it and somehow infecting everybody else to just make the change without having that aha moment?


Sean: I think so. I think so many of us go through our lives unthinkingly, and we use the infrastructure that’s put in front of us. If there’s a cycle path, I’ll use it. If there isn’t, I’ll get in my car, kind of thing. So many of us do that unthinkingly. Yes, I think it would be great if everyone had the aha moment and that led to a massive transformation, but I think that that point of, as long as you have key people in key roles that can make that change … There’s very few people that, I think, are fundamentally against renewable energy, are against taking action on climate change. They just struggle with, “What can I do? How can I do it? I’m already super busy. It might be inconvenient. I don’t have time.” That kind of thing, but if it’s put in front of them, they’ll embrace it. I think that changing hearts and minds, while it is important, I don’t think it is critical.


Sam: So you said that they’ve been doing things like working to put solar panels or wind on the surf club. Is that primarily to generate the energy or is it more of an awareness and education tool?


Doug: It’s both. It’s trying to make those local clubs have renewable energy, but it’s obviously also a very visible symbol of what the future might be. I think a really nice illustration of this is that last year, the culmination of a lot of campaigning and a lot of work, et cetera, CEFE in collaboration with the local council opened the first community solar panel sewerage works in the shape of the word, “Imagine.” If you’re coming along the flight path you can see these solar panels that have written, “Imagine,” there. If we’re purely talking about the efficiency of the way that those panels should be put together, where they should be facing et cetera, it’s a poor use of that technology, but nevertheless it’s taking up about 25% of the power that’s necessary to run that sewerage plant, and it’s that fantastic symbolic moment where people can think about it. Imagine. Imagine if the world was like this.


Sam: To what extent is energy the easy problem we’ve gotten distracted by? We started talking about water and even in New Zealand where it’s not so intense, we don’t seem to have a solution. We don’t seem to be able to come up with a simple way of managing the stuff that doesn’t result in the water getting polluted. I can only imagine that it’s so much worse in India and Cambodia and so on. Ramp it up, put those issues on steroids. I think what I’m asking is, is that the hard stuff? Is energy, that we’ve gotten stuck on, the easy stuff, but we’ve identified energy as the poster child for sustainability, and that’s distracting us from the really hard questions?


Sean: I think part of the issue is that energy is so attractive because it lends itself well to technological change and substitution of different energy sources, so it doesn’t actually result in making us uncomfortable thinking about how we use resources. It’s that simple solution, “Oh, okay we’ll put in an energy efficient light bulb and I’ll still leave it on all day when I go to work or when I’m not around because I’m using less energy. It’s that efficiency gains. That’s all that matters.” I think that does distract us from the much more important issues around, how do we actually live differently? How do we have to change our behaviour? How do we have those really uncomfortable conversations about, “You know what? We’re consuming too much. It’s an issue of consumption, not about energy efficiency.” I think that’s why energy is so easy to latch onto because it fits that technological change, not a social change kind of model.


Shane: Is there a consciousness of that within the movement? Did you explore that, or was that something that ever came up?


Doug: I think that the emphasis of the movement is around everyday changes that people can make in terms of their own life and the simple things that they can do in order to do this, but there’s also … It’s not at the forefront of what the movement is talking about, but certainly the people who are involved in it are very frustrated by the nature of the Australian political system and the fact that you have large mineral companies and others which are very influential in terms of the agenda. I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s born of a realization that there’s some really complex political realities there to try and deal with, but these are the kind of things that we can do.


Shane: Did you have a favourite moment or event that these guys did? Apart from obviously that big … Getting 3,000 people onto a beach is pretty impressive, but was there a favourite moment you thought, “Wow, that was something else. That was something special.” Or was there something special about that you found?


Doug: A moment that I really liked, if you go from Tathra where we’re talking about and then you go towards Canberra, you go up onto a plateau, which looks not dissimilar to Central Otago, I guess. In a similar kind of a way, there’s a great potential for wind energy there. There’s a little town up there called Nimmitabel which has about, I don’t know, I would say optimistically there’s 500 people live there. They’re very water-constrained. In the summer time they often have to truck water in.


But, a few years ago there was a proposal try and put in a wind farm up there called Boco Rock. You got Nimmitabel School, which, I don’t know exactly but I imagine has fewer than 20 kids in that school, together to form a sign which made a wind turbine. They started campaigning on the fact that this was going to be a positive thing for their area, for their school, and to go back there now, and of course, it’s not because of those kids that the Boco Rock Wind Farm is there, but it certainly demonstrated the community potential or that fact that the community was very interesting in embracing that technology. That’s a nice moment in terms of these kinds of things.


Sean: I think the thing that sticks out to me in reading through the interview transcripts is, they took all these pictures of these human signs that they made on the beach and made calendars out of them. Someone talks about, they were in the local stores and the calendar was in the local store and the calendar was on the wall and they said, “Oh yeah, I was in the E, which part of the word were you under?” So, this was a point of connection and building identity around, “This is where we’re from. This is who we are, and we all have this shared experience around this wonderful event of making this human sign on the beach.”


Doug: My parents are in that boat actually. The rest of my family who lives there can point out to you where they are in that sign and it’s a nice moment.


Sam: Okay, so I’ve got a different question. Can those everyday changes, can they add up? Do they add up to a socio-ecological transformation?


Doug: I think the history of social change is about those shifts, isn’t it? Some of them are triggered by significant events that bring to the forth people to rethink things, but often it’s just a steady accretion of a particular way of approaching something which eventually wins the day. I think that absolutely, the history of transformation is about those small moments building up into large transformations.


Sam: Do we know which ones work?


Doug: I think in the case of CEFE – so there’s a very specific case there – we would say that what works is building alliances with people who you wouldn’t necessarily think were you allies, but who nevertheless are interested in being part of the community, who are interested in some kind of sense of collective identity, and are interested in changing things for the better for their community. Shifting those kinds of people towards this kind of action is likely to be more successful, if we look at the CEFE case, than an adversarial politics, which seeks to confront and speak to power head on. Having said that, I would say that we can all identify instances where it’s very much that speaking-truth-to-power moment that is absolutely necessary in order to try and force social change.


Sam: Are the people in the area and the town that they’re in, or wider, that actively think, “That’s crazy,” and are actively working against it?


Doug: In the broader region, there’s a lot of sea changes and tree changes, people that have moved there in the last say, 20 or 30 years for the lifestyle which is offered there, so I think you’ve got a fairly sympathetic constituency there. But, the general historical nature of the region is a very conservative one, so of course, when you have that situation who think that this is just trouble makers and that this is … In Australia there’s a lot of people who think that climate change is a myth anyway, but I think in this particular case, because you’ve got somebody leading the movement who is an orthopaedic surgeon rather than some kind of rat-bag intellectual or some kind environmental activist et cetera-


Sam: Geographers!


Doug: Yeah, there’s this veneer of respectability that goes that goes with that, which I think has helped the legitimacy of the movement. It’s interesting dynamics going on, but anywhere in Australia you’ve got people who are passionately opposed to climate change and people who are rabidly trying to mitigate the worst of it. That’s not necessarily the case that either of them are particularly well-informed in taking those positions.


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


Doug: This your moment.


Sean: I wouldn’t call it a definition but an approach building on what we’ve been talking about. It is fundamentally about doing something differently. Things have to change. Of course we can do things differently in a regressive way, but we can also do things differently in a way that puts us more in tune about our relationship to the environment and our relationship to each other, in ways that promote well-being. I think that’s how I would approach it.


Sam: The sample of students that you get to see is a biased subset, because they’ve chosen geography, but are they coming through getting that?


Doug: Yeah.


Sean: Yeah, I think they are. I was really taken by how you started off with the person from western Sydney around how do you embed these things into education and ensure that once they leave, that they’re actually embracing those kind values and those attributes and carrying it forward into their lives. I think for the most part, geography students do. It is a fundamental aspect of it.


Doug: I think that at the very least, they intellectually acknowledge that there’s some really serious problems with the current trajectory of the world. Now, there’s obviously going to be differences in the extent to which they then embrace that and modify their own behaviour and become actively involved in that, but I think most of them aspire to do something in their lives which is going to further sustainability. We’ve got a good cohort in that sense.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes.” How would you describe your superpower? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?


Doug: My superpower?


Sam: Yeah.


Doug: My superpower is that I’m good at grasping lots of complex ideas and explaining them in a way which is accessible to people, if that’s not too big a claim. I think that that’s really important because we need to be able to speak and have conversations about these things in lots of different ways to lots of different people in order to communicate these kind of issues. I think you need to be able to do that.


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


Doug: I think that the work on transboundary water. I’ve been involved in a series of dialogues, different stakeholders in different parts of the region. Some of them have been sponsored by the Australian aid donors with universities in Australia, and some of them have been in European-based think tanks. I think that that’s part capacity building, part dialogue, but I think that it’s really important to try and get people from around South Asia together to talk about the commonalities and differences they have around those water issues. Being involved in that, I can’t claim any particular credit for progress, but in terms of what’s been most satisfying for seeing social change, that’s definitely right up there.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Doug: I consider myself to be an engaged teacher. I don’t think that I have the time or the energy to be an activist in a way that I would want, but I think that I’m really lucky in my job allows me talk about a whole range of different things and go and find out about them and talk to people involved in those things, and then communicate them to people here. That’s a form of activism, but it’s disingenuous perhaps, to says that’s activism, per se.


Sean: I guess, do you think that’s putting activism upon a pedestal that makes it out of reach?


Doug: Yeah, maybe. Sure.


Sean: Maybe we should rethink. Activism doesn’t have to be this big, massive marching in the streets or doing these really, really radical things. Maybe there’s all kinds of other ways, as you’re talking about, teaching …


Doug: Absolutely. Look, there’s lots of things that have changed the way that I think about the world, but one of them was about going to university. I think that we’re in a really … It’s a fantastic position to be in, that you can change the way that people think about the world. That’s a big thing.


Sam: Should we be following Bob Huish’s lead? Should we have Dissent 101?


Doug: I think that students are active to learn about how they can be involved in social change. I think that when you look around the world with campuses that run courses and degrees on activism, they’ve been incredibly popular and the students that have come out of that have gained a lot from them. I think that, if we’re interested in sustainability, we need to be helping our students to gain those kind of tools, so why not?


Sam: Do you think you could get it passed the senate or council or whoever it is? Why don’t we ask them? Shane?


Shane: There might be something in the plan. There might be something afoot already. That’s all I can say.


Sam: What motivates you?


Doug: I’m interested in stuff. It’s nice to get people to think about things in a different way.


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


Doug: Personally or professionally or … ?


Sam: You can have both.


Doug: I think that, as somebody who works on a region which is going to be one of the largest economies in the world in the next couple of years, and is already the third largest emitter of carbon – that is India – I’m concerned and optimistic and extremely pessimistic and all sorts of contradictory sentiments about the rise of that country and what it’s going to mean for the globe. Not for the global economy or for the lifestyles of the people in the West, but there’s 1.3 billion people there and the trajectory that it’s moving on is obviously going to put further pressure on the finite resources of our globe. That’s a big challenge.


Sam: Does sustainability mean the same thing there?


Doug: I think it depends a lot on who you’re talking to. I think that there’s a lot of people … If you have population where, somewhere between 300 and 700 million people, depending on whose figures you believe, are really below or only just above the poverty line, then sustainability for those people is being able to live a life with dignity, which means they won’t die early and see their family die early, and won’t irrevocably erode the resources around them. What sustainability means for a middle class person in India that’s now experiencing lifestyles that was unavailable to their parents, is perhaps a whole other thing. The challenge, I guess, is to try and cater for of those groups of people, have inclusive growth, but do so in a way which going to shift India towards a low-carbon economy. It’s a very, very big challenge.


Sam: For those vast numbers living in abject poverty, it would be churlish of us to begrudge them a fridge.


Doug: Of course.


Sam: But, can we do it?


Doug: Yeah, I think that it’s going to be a long time till all of those people have fridges, but I think that this is the challenge, isn’t it? To try and … I’m not saying that all of the solutions are technological, but clearly we can’t have the same fridges for 700 million people in India that we do elsewhere, otherwise … The white goods industry will be happy, but it’s going to be a problem. I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I think the rise of India as an economic force is not entirely assured, either. I think that the jury’s still out on that. We always think about it as, “Well, in the future, we’re going to suddenly have 800 million people who are middle class.” I’m not sure whether that’s true.


Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Doug: That you should be active participants in your own life, that you should try and gain different perspectives on familiar phenomena as much as you can, and if you feel strongly about something then you should try and take action on it. You should try and work out what kind of action that might mean for you, but you should nevertheless try and do that.




community geography

spaces of empowerment

Sophie Bond

It starts with talking and it starts with doing things ever so slightly differently. Those sort of little incremental changes allow people to start just even just shifting the way they’re thinking and making space for doing things differently.

Shane:                  Our guest tonight is Dr Sophie Bond. She’s a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography at Otago University. Her areas of research include the formation of collectives in response to environmental and social change. Social sustainability, autonomous geographies, and alternative economies, urban sustainability, qualitative and feminist methodologies, political ecology and discourse theory. Welcome to our show, Sophie.

Sophie:                 Thank you.

Shane:                  Now, just before the show I can embarrass myself as always because you guys said that you went to school with Sam. I thought because I heard that southwest English accent the same accent Sam has. I thought you went to school in England, but you didn’t. You came from very close to where Sam grew up.

Sophie:                 I spent the first four years of my life in Bristol.

Shane:                  Funny, I can still hear it, just a little bit. I’m a linguist so I pick these things up a bit more quickly than other people. Do you remember much about Bristol?

Sophie:                 I’ve been back a few times, spent quite a bit of time there. My partner is from Dorset so we try to get back there quite regularly.

Shane:                  Oh cool. You grew up in Dunedin, is that right?

Sophie:                 That’s right, I grew up here.

Sam:                      They have a great school I might add.

Shane:                  What school is that?

Sophie:                 Logan Park.

Shane:                  Logan Park where my son goes as well and Sam’s son.

Sophie:                 My daughter studies there too.

Shane:                  Oh yeah, it’s a crazy place. You went to Logan Park. Was there something at the school that got you interesting in geography or … What got you interested in going to university?

Sophie:                 Actually I came at geography in a very, very roundabout way.  I did  a law degree as my undergrad. I did women’s studies. I wasn’t remotely interested in geography at that time. Then, had a bit of a break went to, lived in Monaco for awhile, did some stuff there. Including getting involved in the environmental society writing, submissions and helping them out on a few things. Then, we were abroad for a couple of years, came back and deciding that we do something a bit more productive than what we were heading. Went to back to university, and did a planning masters in the geography department and then kind of stayed. Got a PhD. following on from that. Yeah.

Shane:                  What got you particularly interested in the sustainability stuff? What was the urban sustainability? What got you interested in that? I noticed your PhD. and thesis, we’ll talk about that a little bit later. What piqued your interest about that?

Sophie:                 I think it was … It’s really hard to pinpoint. I think I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. I think also, my focus on sustainability has always been in relations to social sustainability and I guess urban sustainability was a way to focus on the social in the context of a very sort of physical environment planning system here. Planning stuff kind of drew me into that urban sustainability stuff I think.

Shane:                  What’s your legal qualifications, do they help with those concepts about legality and governance and …

Sophie:                 Yeah, I think they did. When I did my law degree I focused on peripheral subjects not mainstream law subjects, like environmental law, international law. Some of the public health stuff and ethics and things like that. Yeah, definitely.

Shane:                  Would you characterize New Zealand as being quite advanced with the resource management act at that point. At that stage, was it a bit kind of ahead of the game and thought it was exciting?

Sophie:                 I think the reform process, the resource management reform process and the way that it brought lots of different groups together to discuss the issues was well ahead of its time. I think the way it’s been rolled out and practiced has closed down a lot of those opportunities that initially started with the focus on sustainable management. It was a first, I think, for many countries in terms of focusing on their sustainable management in terms of it being the main planning legislation. Yeah.

Shane:                  That provided a lot of areas for research. Did you find anything interesting about that? Was there any particular  reason why it happened here in New Zealand first? Or did you have any understanding of that? Was it just that …

Sophie:                 I think the 1990s reforms here were so aggressive in terms of sort of embracing the umbrella-ism that we were in a state of flux and a state of change anyway. That might have provided some of the conditions for that. Yeah, so they were reforming local government at the same time. I think that probably had a huge impetus. Yeah, it’s not an area that I’m hugely familiar with. I’m just yeah.

Shane:                  What’s an autonomous geography? That’s another phrase, I went, What is that?

Sophie:                 Autonomous geography, it’s a group of researchers in the UK who were … They describe themselves as activist scholars. They’re really actively involved in creating change through their own scholarship and through their own activism. They bring those things together as much as possible. Autonomous geography has kind of embraced part of that idea, so a lot of their research has been about creating social spaces or community spaces. They’re trying to create alternatives to business as usual, the status quo and be sort of autonomous from mainstream consumption and that sort of thing.

Autonomous geography is about looking at those spaces and how they operate and how they create change for the people who are  living and working within those spaces and that sort of thing. I guess you could include things like time banks, community spaces. They have a number of different operations going on within them. Alternative economies, things like some transition towns would sort of embrace those ideas as well. They often operate on a non-hierarchical consensus building type of consensus based decision making model as well.

Shane:                  Sounds very near anarchist.

Sophie:                 Very much informed by anarchist thinking, yeah.

Sam:                      Just to be clear, though, do you consider yourself to be an autonomous geographer?

Sophie:                 No.

Sam:                      Why not?

Sophie:                 Probably because at the that stage I’m at I don’t think I’m quite fully embracing the way that they embrace those concepts, living it and doing it. I’m working on it, but I’m definitely not there yet.

Shane:                  Moving on to the next interesting topic there was  qualitative and feminist methodology, in order to put those together, why did you put politics and feminist methodologies … A lot of people may be asking what does feminism got to do with geography. I kind of get what it does, but why are those two things together and how does feminism inform geography, understanding geography.

Sophie:                 There’s a huge area of feminist geography within human geography, within the geography of people and place. The sort of more social geographies. Actually, feminist geography is a discipline or sub-discipline has been really instrumental in creating opportunities in making qualitative methods acceptable and rigorous and an important part of social science. They did that by questioning a more scientific method, which has its place but also misses out a whole lot of the human experience. The emotional aspects of being and living in the places that we exist in. I think feminist geographies are  not just about looking at gender as a form of inequality, which they do a lot of. How gender inequality is distributed in different places, and how they exist in the power relationships associated with those things.  It’s also about thinking about how knowledge is produced. How research is responsible for the knowledge they produce. Actual research as a co-production of knowledge, it’s not just about experts coming in and extracting knowledge from groups or from people. It’s about working with communities to produce knowledge in a shared way. Treating people as the experts,  the communities that we work with are the experts. We’re sharing knowledge building processes and doing work that those communities and those groups are wanting to have done. That it’s going to feed into things that are useful for them.

Shane:                  A lot of sustainability thinking criticizes quantitative research and the scientific method because it misses out the human experience. It misses out … You can only use proxies for instance the health of streams. You can say, it’s got the [neoduction 00:09:40] levels of this, the [duction 00:09:42] levels of that. You can talk about bio-diversity, but even that’s kind of controversial. Subject now, that definition there, is that criticism the same as feminist criticisms, that science can only give you approximation or a proxy indicators of what’s actually there. That it misses out on this massive thing, it disconnects us from nature. Is that …

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s a really big part of it, it’s partly it’s that objective knowledge that you can … It’s like with the scientific method, the scientist is invisible. The knowledge is produced. The scientific method is so far normalized as the means of the main dominant means of producing knowledge that we don’t question the decisions that are made in the process of producing that knowledge enough. What feminist geographers were trying to do, and has happened in other social science disciplines as well, as well as other feminist sociologists for example and others. They were trying to say that we need to recognize that any knowledge production process involves making a whole series of decisions that may include or exclude certain factors and certain assets of the nature of the proxy that’s used to measure whatever. Has an effect on the outcomes. It’s about being really critical about who is making those decisions and why they’re being made and how they’re being made. What the effect of those decisions is. It’s just about questioning the process and not treating science as some absolute, you know, sort of single truth, you know.

Shane:                  It’s not a universal truth. The thing is, what people forget when they tend to be like … When scientists pretend to be invisible is that they choose the questions. Those questions are framed by their world view. This was the feminist critique …

Sophie:                 Absolutely.

Shane:                  Saying hey you come to this space with a world view. You might go into a native tribe in the middle of the Amazon and say, “These people are really primitive, they don’t know anything.” They have a huge wealth of knowledge, but it’s not knowledge that’s recognized by Western science. The knowledge of the environment so that’s really, really interesting. Let’s go on to political ecology. What is political ecology?

Sophie:                 Political ecology is kind of the molding together of ideas about political economy. Almost processes of production, reproduction, roles catylism, within, marrying with the idea of ecologies. Ecologies being networks of systems that involve people, places, environments and so on. It’s a really diverse area. It involves social anthropology, development studies, geography, sociology, loads and loads of different disciplines. The level of sort of scientific ecology that comes into those political ecologies is really variable. Actually, probably more recently it has moved more and more and more towards the social sciences. It’s about looking at the relationships between the actions that people have in particular places and their effects on sort of broad ecologies.

Shane:                  You said social economy there. The current paradigm, the dominant paradigm is that politics and economics, they have to be kept separate. You said social economy here, so will you talk about that?

Sophie:                 I’m not a political economist. Yeah, I guess using political economy probably coming from it from its Marxist roots rather than thinking about it as the political system is, at the moment, which is embedded within neo-liberalism. I guess the broader idea behind political ecology is to demonstrate that those broader economic drivers have a fundamental shaping effect on the decisions that are made and how we interact with environments.

Shane:                  The last thing was discourse theory, so could you explain what discourse theory is?

Sophie:                 Discourse theory is,  a specific analytical tool that actually comes from a group of scholars from the University of Essex in the school of government. It was initially developed by, primarily by two people, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, who were pretty famous for a book they wrote in 1985. They’ve been described as sort of post-Marxist thinkers. They’re really talking about ideas about democracy, very broadly conceived and how power shapes what people can say in particular situations. Discourse theory draws on this idea, sort of a [DeCodian 00:15:12] idea of discourse, discourse as a set of ideas that shape how things are understood in the world and how meanings are made. How this then becomes hegemonic or dominant and normalized, so that we don’t actually see outside it. This is the case, many would argue, in terms of neo-liberalism. Unless you’re really critical of it, you probably don’t call it neo-liberalism. You also don’t see beyond the role of the market or creating jobs as a good thing. Those sorts of things that are embedded within the sort of contemporary,  business as usual, model of capitalism. What discourse theory allows is a kind of way of thinking about and picking how particular sets of ideas coalesce around a key idea or key concept and then they  are perpetuated and continued through a whole series of power relations in society.

Those power relations go from things that have happened in the media in a way that media perpetuates it as a way of understanding the world all the way down to our individual actions. How we’re shaped by the meanings that are made and represented to us so we continually perform them and re-perform them and reproduce them through those performances as well.

Shane:                  One of the interesting things that I’ve been thinking about is that in the Great Depression during the 1920s, there was a huge amount of discussion about capitalism and the nature of capitalism. Then, we had the 2008 global financial crisis and there was some discussion. There were many movements, like the Occupy movement, [inaudible 00:16:56]. The Arab Spring was a direct result of the repercussions of the GFC. Do we have any handle or any understanding of why those movements haven’t flourished or why they’re … That they haven’t quite succeed in the way that … You can look at 1930s Europe and America, there was a huge foment of different ideas and new concepts and debate. Which had some very aspects as well, nervous if that happens. We seem to just have fallen back into the pre-2008 time, mind frame. Is there anything like … You talk about alternative responses and social responses, that was a big alternative of social response so what happened to it?[crosstalk 00:18:02].

Sophie:                 It’s such a hard question. It’s big, it’s huge. I’ve got some ideas, a lot of it’s embedded within the way that … I’m going to come down hard on neo-liberalism again. The way that neo-liberalism is so dominant and hegemonic. I think I’ve done a little bit of digging  around some of those earlier ideas or those early thinkers in relation to neo-liberalism ,a guy called Mirowski, who is a leftist economist, has written a book and done quite a lot of work. He talks about the neo-liberal thought collective. You know those early thinkers, Hayek and Friedman and so on. They have created this collective, who were very tightly knit. They were trying to create this ideology and get it going. They were really forceful, really strategic, and really clever in the way that they did that. It took them until the 1980s before it started being rolled out in different places around the world, the States and in Britain under Thatcher and here.

One of the things that they did, this is something that Mirowski writes about, they had this idea that actually in order to have neo-liberalism work, you’ve got to have a really strong state. Which is counter to the neo-liberal mantra of a de-evolved state and de-evolution and de-centralization. They knew that to have a really strong state, particularly in the context of the time that they were talking about this and  building this momentum, which was 1940s, 1950s was really unpalatable. They also saw that in order to have this strong state, you couldn’t have … democracy was the antithesis of being able to roll out neo-liberalism in the way they wanted to. There was this disconnect between the power of the people and rolling out this project of neo-liberalism. They knew that was really unpalatable so they hid it. They turned the ideas of democracy into freedom of choice and freedom of consumption. It was a kind of a really clever kind of move, now our political practitioners and political scientists could perhaps have done some work on this. He has said, he’s done some work where he’s talked to governance practitioners, people who are working in the governance and the ministries and in government and local government.

There’s this idea that actually real democracy doesn’t give democratic outcomes, doesn’t give good policy. Our practitioners in government don’t believe that full participatory democracy or debating issues or discussing issues is actually going to produce good policies. This has become this kind of  entrenched idea I think within our governance practitioners. How do we create change when the people who are supposed to be the people who are leading us in democratic forms in democracies, don’t believe in it.

Sam:                  What would a full participatory democracy look like, then?

Sophie:                 I don’t know. No, I don’t know. I guess an ideal that would certainly be better than what we have at the moment is spaces for robust debate about issues. Whereas, at the moment, we get closed down by any thing that kind of is dissenting against the sort of business as usual. There’s debate about stuff round about the middle, straight down the middle, that doesn’t really go against the main system. Anything that goes against it or outside it is “you’re just a leftie,” or a hippie or a greenie, so we don’t need to worry about you. There’s a kind of like this de-legitimization, a systematic de-legitimization of anyone who’s outside that mainstream, straight down the middle.

Shane:                  This is incredibly topical because right now there’s a protest in town about the TPPA, which is the TransPacific Partnership Agreement, which is being sold as a free trade agreement, but it isn’t. Because the stuff that’s been leaked we can see it’s all about corporate control and investor state disputes. There’s been a power grab by the corporations so this obviously  involves a lot of double think. To borrow George Orwell’s brilliant term. TPPA is like another step in that process of de-democratization and grabbing power.

Sophie:                 Absolutely. It’s a classic example of it. Yes, it’s quite scary.

Shane:                  I didn’t realize … I knew there was a TPPA or a TPIP or PPI in Europe so there’s a previous one between the US and Europe. There’s also the TSA one as well, which is the trade and services agreement. TSA is also being negotiated. There’s three negotiations at the same time, kind of roughly overlapping, kind of doing the same kind of stuff. Where we’re giving up our power as democracies to set our laws to corporations. People are dismissing the protesters in exactly the same way as you’ve described. Some people are angry protesting and re-route the protest, but what about the mainstream people. Do you have insight why people just aren’t kind of … Is it complex? Is it too complicated?

Sophie:                 It’s complicated. There’s not very much information about it. The information out there is leaked before it can be dismissed because it’s just leaked, it’s not official. I think that’s another big thing. There’s no open debate or discussion about it, you know. I think that there’s a lot of anger about it. I think there’s a sense of they’re going to do it anyway. We can’t necessarily do anything about it. I think what is positive is the number of people who were out the other weekend, all across the country

I had to have a wee chuckle at John Key’s responses to that where he started labeling. A third of them were Green … He didn’t actually say Green Peace fringe crowd. He did say fringe crowd. Another third were … He has these ways of basically de-legitimizing any protest. He did the same sort of thing with oil-free protests that were going on a few years back where there were 5,000 people on North Island beaches doing a banners on the beach type protest. He described them as a Green Peace fringe crowd. He has these one-liners and other ministers do too. The media picks up on those rather than going with reporting on the number of people who were there and the range of different people from all sectors of the community who were there as well. I think there’s a whole …

Sam:                  Sustainable future is going to need a system change. Is it going to need the system to change to deliver it?

Sophie:                 It is too hard. I agree a sustainable future does need a system change. I don’t know how we get there. I think, you know, we just got to keep trying to create change and create spaces where people feel empowered to speak out.

Shane:                  You discuss communities of change and how people come together, it is quite difficult to do that when you feel officialdom,  the official society, is opposed to you or doesn’t agree with you. How communities get the courage to step up and …

Sophie:                 That’s a really hard question too because all of those systematic methods of closure and this is part of some research that I’m doing at the moment is talking to people who are actively engaged in trying to create spaces of debate, dissent, and  of action. Trying to work out how they deal with those constant negotiations that they have to deal with every day of being sneered at in the tea room when they have to get a cup of tea. Because they happen to be on the front page of a paper in a protest and they were seen there. They are like, “You were over there at the weekend you know.” Or “Are you happy?” Something like that. Which is seeing it in a really negative way, rather than something …

Shane:                  A celebration, yes you’re great to participate in democracy, You’re a great citizen.

Sophie:                 Yes. Why doesn’t that happen more? I don’t know what the answer to that is. I think there’s a whole lot of pressures on us every day, as well as just being super busy and struggling to just  keep going. It requires energy and motivation and the ability to counter that constant de-legitimization of what you believe in.

Sam:                  We went to Oamaru and did six interviews with  various people from the transition town movement. In fact this trip of ours was prompted by you going the month before with the third year geographers – including my daughter.

Sophie:                 Yes.

Sam:                  One of the things that was apparent to us was that there’s a really small group of people actually making a change on behalf of and taking the rest of the town with them. W interviewed six, there’s probably another 20 or so out of a town, I don’t know what it is, 10,000.

Shane:                      10,000 yeah, 12,000.

Sam:                  Some of them had very much this attitude of yeah we’re taking the whole town with us, everyone thinks we’re great. Other people came in and said Hold on, most of the town thinks we’re loonies, but they’re recycling their rubbish. They’re visiting the community garden. Despite the fact that a whole lot of the town doesn’t think they’re a good job, they are actually reaching that tipping point. Is there a model that we can learn from in places like Oamaru, a Transition Town, for how we can make change without needing to convince absolutely everybody.

Sophie:                 Absolutely. I think those small scale, local community responses that are creating opportunities and different kinds of relating to each other and relating to place and doing things differently are just absolutely vital. I think they do really, really important social stuff as well as really important environmental stuff in terms of building resilience for want of a better word. Creating connections between people that wouldn’t otherwise exist because people are too busy jumping in their car and going to work rather than walking down the road and chatting to people, or buying locally or whatever.

I think those things are really important. Actually, I think that’s one of the things that a group of scholars are doing in Australia. They’re called alternative economies network. They’ve done a huge amount of work on trying to understand both the social and environmental sort of ethics of these kinds of groups that create change from the ground up.

Sam:                  Marion Shaw, who runs the resource recovery park in Oamaru had a very clever line, which I can’t remember exactly what is was, but it was something like, “We’re in the business of recovering people, we just happen to be sorting the rubbish.” For me, it really brought home that community as the centre of the sustainability message. What’s your take on the relationship between community and sustainability?

Sophie:                 I think it’s fundamental. I don’t think you can have environmental sustainability without having communities who are  embracing social sustainability or embracing and relating and working together to achieve it. It’s never going to be a top down thing. People aren’t going to respond to  [inaudible 00:30:30], though they would be helpful in some contexts. I think, you know, encouraging people to work together to create change is one of the best ways to achieve the kinds of things we need to start achieving.

Shane:                  Why do we value some work over other work? This probably comes back to feminism and in fact I’m absolutely positive that it comes back to feminism because most of the highly paying jobs are done by men and not by women. I don’t think that was a coincidence, or that there’s any reason for it. How do we establish these value systems and why …

Sophie:                 There’s messes. I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess one thing to hold onto is that these value systems get created, but they’re not absolute. They can be changed. I think it’s the sort of thing to keep holding onto. It’s just like, there’s definitely something to be said …

Shane:                  As far as when you look at alternative economies, are there other systems or other systems of economies that we can look to. For instance, as an example, the Iroquois Nation had a completely different economy to Western Europe. When people arrived there, they shared resources and a women’s council basically divvied out all the resources according to whatever system they had. That was a completely different system to what was happening in Western Europe at the time when Westerners arrived in North America. Are there other alternative economies out there that maybe we can look to as maybe positive examples. Have you come across any?

Sophie:                 I haven’t really. It’s an area I would like to look into more. I mean there’s all sorts of models all over the show that wold be really useful to tap into. I guess it’s again about creating the spaces to experiment and try out different forms of economic exchange that don’t involve the [inaudible 00:32:49] economy. To value those kinds of labors as you suggested before in different ways.

Shane:                  We’re almost doing that. We’re doing that in transition towns. Oamaru is doing it. There’s this alternative economy going on. Which is not about money exchange, it’s about exchange of skills, food.

Sophie:                 Time banks.

Shane:                  Time banks as well. That stuff all. It’s happening …

Sam:                      Time banks. I was talking to students about it today. Time banks is just about how much time it takes you, isn’t it? If you’re a brain surgeon or baking a cake, it’s an hour’s worth of time.

Sophie:                 Yeah, the media is time. Yeah, the market is based on time.

Sam:                      Do those hold up over the long-term?

Sophie:                 It depends, to some extent,  on the nature of the group who are involved in the time bank, I think. People who are willing to engage in that exchange on that basis will do so. People who aren’t won’t. I guess, in a way, it’s a kind of flattening out, a kind of radical form of equality in terms of valuing time in a completely sort of flat way. There’s no hierarchy involved anymore. Perhaps there is a hierarchy but it’s reversed because those task that people don’t want to do are the tasks that people want done, so they’re actually valued more highly than are the highly skilled jobs. Actually, maybe it changes those hierarchies quite nicely. Time banks operate on different bases, I think as well, it depends on how they’re set up and that sort of thing.

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

Sophie:                 I don’t really have a go-to definition of sustainability. I think it encompasses ideas of that sort of nexus between social and environmental sustainability. I don’t think you can have one without the other. It’s about creating some kind of, I was going to say, equilibrium,  but it’s probably not quite what I mean. Something that’s just more, something that’s just more caring in long term.

Sam:                      You keep saying social and environmental sustainability, as if they’re two different things. Are they?

Sophie:                 No, no, no they’re not. It’s probably because when I was reading sustainability literature, that’s exactly what they were treated as. I think the other thing is the whole … Sustainability is not actually a term I use very often. The reason is because often it just ends up meaning economic sustainability, which is not where we’re coming from at all.

Shane:                  What do you use instead? I’m here with my pencil ready to write it down.

Sophie:                 I talk about alternative futures, probably.

Shane:                  That’s funny because no one knows what that definition is. Thank you for asking.

Sophie:                 Nobody has one, that’s a relief.

Shane:                  What about resilience, we’ve got that in the title as well.

Sophie:                 Yeah, resilience is another one that’s going the same way as sustainability. It gets co-opted in all sorts of ways where it loses it’s sort of critical egalitarian purchase.

Shane:                  Is it radical enough?

Sophie:                 Exactly, I think the way it’s often used, it’s not. It doesn’t, I don’t think it does enough.

Sam:                  I think it is used because it is more appealing. We don’t actually have to change anything, it’s just about a few community gatherings. We’ll be all right.

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s right.  It’s about adapting to change, not creating change, yeah.

Shane:                  What successes have you had in the last couple of years?

Sophie:                 Actually kind of bring together the stuff that I’m researching with the stuff that I’m teaching. Trying to create change through those things I think is kind of the main thing. For example, Doug Hill and I created a course in geography and taught it for the first time this semester last year. It was about creating spaces of contestation within the context of neo-liberal New Zealand. It was about drawing together some of the things we were talking about before. How democracy is shifted so radically and try to bring it back. That’s sort of where a lot of my research is at the moment as well. That’s probably … It feels very modest. I’ve been here for two years, I haven’t been away for quite a long time and I’m just still finding my feet. Working on creating other opportunities.

Sam:                  You say that you’re not an autonomous geographer despite the fact they have activist scholarship. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Sophie:                 Not really. I would probably say that I’m probably a want to be.   I do research with groups who are activists, but I wouldn’t call myself one. I haven’t quite managed to work out how to commit the time to it and balance it with all the other time commitments at the moment.

Sam:                  It’s a time issue, not a philosophical position?

Sophie:               It’s a time issue, not a philosophical position.

Sam:                  What would have to change?

Sophie:                Academia being slightly less demanding on my time. That’s probably the main thing that would have to change.

Sam:                  They do pay you.

Sophie:                 They do pay me. Yes, they do. They pay me well. I like to know that.

Sam:                  Following up from that then, I’m going to dismiss that as a motivation, what motivates you?

Sophie:                 Issues of injustice.

Shane:                  That was quick.

Sophie:                 It’s the biggest motivator.

Sam:                  Has that always been a driver?

Sophie:                 Yes, it has. That’s probably what I should have said when you asked me right at the beginning about sustainability, issues of injustice. That probably actually started from when I had a trip to South Africa in 1983, or 4. Pre-the end of apartheid, and  it was quite an eye opener for an early teen.

Sam:                  What challenges do you have in the next couple of years?

Sophie:                 The biggest challenge is probably actually  being able to do what I want to achieve in the time constraints that I have. Time’s quite a big factor at the moment. I think trying to create a balance between being able to create opportunities for change and actually keep sort of doing the work that I’m doing in my day job in balance. Because I’m really not good at balancing at the moment. I struggle.

Sam:                  Okay to do less things, create opportunities for change. Lets start with  what changes? What kind of changes do you want to see?

Sophie:                 The biggest change actually I want to see is coming back to those ideas about democracy. People feeling empowered to speak out and not de-legitimized for doing so. Not struggling with negotiating, constantly being harassed for doing so. Those are the kinds of things that I would really like to see shift. Because I think that would make a big difference.

Sam:                  In any particular community or just in general?

Sophie:                 In general, I think.

Sam:                  Starting with the whole world.

Sophie:                 No, no, no obviously. Starting with local communities in terms of working with local communities to try and  achieve those sorts of goals. Or just actually working with local communities to identify the barriers that stop people from achieving those goals, as a first step. Then, trying to work out strategies for dealing with it.

Shane:                  If you start with any old community, as one of the ones living down on the harbour, you can have Carey’s Bay, if you like.

Sophie:                 Thank you

Sam:                  What would you see actively happen differently?

Sophie:                 I’m sure that there are really strong connections between many of those communities. I don’t want to sort of label anyone in particular. I think what you were talking about in terms of Oamaru and Transition Town stuff, creating connections and getting people talking about stuff actually is a huge motivator for people actually taking action. It starts with talking and it starts with doing things ever so slightly differently. Those sort of little incremental changes allow people to start just even just shifting the way they’re thinking and making space for doing things differently.

Shane:                  You say incremental changes. One of the things I’m questioning is whether incremental changes are going to get us there. If enough of us change the light bulbs, actually that’s not going to help.

Sophie:                 I agree with you. They still got to change. People can’t, I don’t think people can change fast in the current situation, which is kind of depressing.  I think people are so sort of… within the way we live our lives. The way we’re structured to continue to live our lives. There are so few people who have choices to be able to do things radically differently. A lot of people who do, do, which is great. You know people still have to go to work and do all that stuff and that’s just,  you know. I think that there’s …

Sam:                  Is radical change some sort of luxury then?

Sophie:                 I think it is a privileged position, at the moment, absolutely.

Sam:                  It’s a privileged position that lots of people are happy being n that privileged position.

Sophie:                 Yeah, that’s right. It ‘s a bit of a problem there.

Shane:                  What do we do about that?

Sophie:                 I don’t know, re-distribute wealth.

Shane:                  That’s not going to happen.

Sophie:                 I know.

Shane:                  That’s why I was saying a particular community. You’re not suggesting going and breaking down the doors of the manor house.

Sophie:                 No, no because, yeah, I don’t know what the answer to that is.

Sam:                  Okay, if you could wave a magic wand and  have a miracle occur by the time you wake up tomorrow morning, what would that miracle be?

Sophie:                 Can I have two?

Sam:                 Yeah.

Sophie:                 The first one would be that governments would divorce themselves from the corporate … That would be one that I think would make a very big difference and start looking beyond those three years …

Shane:                  They might pretend, but they’re not.

Sophie:                 Yeah, but they are. Actually start looking beyond three year terms and exponential economic growth. That would be my first one. The other one, as we were just talking about …

Shane:                  That was already three, not two.

Sam:                      that’s actually …

Shane:                  No, that’s just one, okay.

Sophie:                 That’s just one big one, one big miracle. Then the other one is those community responses where people have the time and the energy to do all that fantastic stuff that people in transition towns are making happen.

Sam:                  Okay for the first one and the second one then, what’s the smallest thing that you could possibly do that would make the biggest difference in making that happen?

Sophie:                 Say that again.

Sam:                  What’s the tiniest thing that you could that would have the biggest impact in terms of actually getting governments to divorce themselves from corporates looking beyond year three exponential growth? Sounds like three to me. What could we actually do to make that happen? … No, okay, it might be easier for the other one. What can we do to encourage community responses?

Sophie:                 Talk to your neighbor.

Shane:                  How can we scale up what they’re doing in Oamaru and places like it? Can it scale?

Sophie:                 I think it can replicate. I think as soon as those communities get too big, it starts to get really difficult to manage the sort of local dynamics that go on within any of those kinds of groups. Lots of groups scattered around that are working together. Lots of little communities, transition towns, or whatever they are. Yeah, I think it’s about understanding how they do things and working with that to create visions for possible alternatives.

Shane:                  Lastly, I have a list here you see. Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

Sophie:                 Be the change you want to see in the world.

Shane:                      That’s great, be the change.


communication conservation biology

Rekindling the inner frog

Robin Moore

There’s an inner frog within all of us, we just need to rekindle that

The Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Dr Robin Moore aims to get people concerned with conserving less charismatic creatures. Robin explores how we can scale up conservation efforts for the most threatened vertebrate group, the amphibians. In particular he questions how we might engage a public that is disempowered by prophecies of inevitable doom. We talk about several unconventional projects in amphibian conservation, including: the Search for Lost Frogs campaign; the Metamorphosis project; and the Frame of Mind campaign. What is clear is that storytelling takes engagement to a whole different level as humankind explores our connection with amphibians and the wider environment.

Talking points

Kermit makes it easier – he is an amiable character, he helps people relate to frogs

You do need the poster frogs – we’re picking the sexiest of the relatively unsexy.  To just focus on the ecologically valuable – the small brown frogs – wouldn’t engage the public.

The future of frogs is in our hands, we’re bound by the same fate of environment

Scientists are trained to be so objective, to remove human bias or emotional attachment toward study subject. But truth is, there is always a human bias, the fact that there are 500 times more studies on mammals than amphibians is a human bias towards mammals. Scientists always approach something with unique experience and perspectives

My eyes were opened to the power of story-telling and using art first of all through the Search for Lost Frogs.  I realised that that resonated with people not because we were trying to tell them that a third of amphibians were threatened, but because we were telling stories and I think people respond in a different way when you’re telling stories and not just delivering the dry facts.

You can fit facts around your existing attitudes. Climate Change is a perfect example, the more facts you tell them they can dig in their heels.

Walking a fine line with maintaining scientific integrity, when you engage with the media you lose to a certain extent the control of the message. The story that gets picked up may not be the story that you want to tell.

When you are trying to save the frogs, you are really trying to save the environment – you are not trying to save the frogs in isolation. And when you’re trying to save the environment, you’re essentially trying to change people’s behaviour and attitudes. So conservation, more often than not, boils down to working with people.

One of the challenges is the perception of the environment as something separate from us, something to be exploited and abused

Improving the state of the environment and the lives of the people is the same deal. You can’t improve the lives of the humans if you are destroying the environment. (In Haiti) a lot of the problems are linked to the state if the environment.

It is a false dichotomy to look at human welfare and think it is conservation versus development.

(Am I an activist?). I guess so, yeah, I don’t often use that word. (You used it to describe the model you worked with . She does consider herself to be activist?) I think so. I can from a background of reporting conservation and working with local groups, I didn’t feel that was activism so much. Whereas Gabby really does focus on the messaging and getting the message out there, whereas my work with amphibian survival alliance, is also supporting habitat protection projects – which I don’t think of as activism. Perhaps an element of what I do is activism, but not the whole suite.

You can’t not answer a 12 year old who is asking a question about her future.

Dr Moore was in Dunedin for the Science Teller Festival organised by the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago. We are grateful for the organisers of the Festival in their help in arranging this episode of Sustainable Lens.

climate change science

Historian of climate science

Naomi Oreskes

Ever wondered why science and politics don’t play nice? Naomi Oreskes tells us why in this history of climate science.

The naive vision of ‘we do the facts then hand it over to the policy makers and they act on it’. That would be great in a perfect world, and it worked for ozone so scientists could be forgiven for thinking that was realistic, but it hasn’t worked this time around.

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard. Professor Oreskes’s research focuses on the earth and environmental sciences, with a particular interest in understanding scientific consensus and dissent. Her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global warming , co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Time Book Prize, and received the 2011 Watson-David Prize from the History of Science Society.

In this conversation, Naomi tells us of the bad luck of the coincidental rises of neo-liberal economics and the emergence of the global environmental issues

Talking points

We see a tendency to err on side of least drama

What we call science has changed dramatically over time

Narrowing of focus of science…the rise of specialisations, a powerful tool but comes at cost of broader perspectives.

After 1940s, increasing recognition of role of science and technology in modern warfare…not entirely new but…becomes much stronger.

Disassociation begins to take place where scientists don’t talk about the larger geo-political context of their work

We might like to believe that there is a litmus test for the truth…the reality is that it doesn’t really work that way.

The insight of Kuhn…consensus.

Continental drift…as a model for how scientists judge evidence independent of political interference (was originally uncontroversial before people realised had age of earth implications).

Climate change not a paradigm shift because didn’t replace an alternative

Climate change is applied physics and chemistry.

By 1965 signals that carbon in the atmosphere was increasing…(but)… most scientists thought we wouldn’t be able to detect climate change from increased greenhouse gases until the 21st Century.

The surprise in the story was when it occurred sooner. when already the the late 1980s and early 1990s the effects were beginning to be seen.

When was it first described as problem:

In 1957 he (Roger Revelle) gave an interview with Time Magazine where said one reason why we should care about this is that a warmer world will lead to sea-level rise

There is no question that Revelle thought it could be a problem, he wasn’t 100% sure that it would be a problem and how soon it would be a problem.

The idea that it (anthropogenic climate change) could be a problem was on the table going back to the late 1950s.

Gordon MacDonald was one of the first in the US to say that climate change could be a problem. He wrote about it in the 1960s and called it inadvertent weather modification.

At that time he’s a relatively quiet voice, its not a big issue in the environmental movement as a political issue but it turns out to be really really important politically…today in the US the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, this has been affirmed by the Supreme Court and we are waiting for the EPA to do this.

The Clean Air Act 1973 includes weather and climate in the issues the Act has authority over… that is because people already understood at that time that pollution had the potential to cause changes in weather and climate. And that work was largely done by Gordon MacDonald.

By the 1980s climate modellers are building climate models that they now think are good enough to be able to predict what the climate signals should look like if there were no additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere versus what it actually does look like. In 1988 James Hansen and his colleagues published a paper in which they said that they believed climate change had become detectable. (That was controversial but it reached public awareness).

In the next few years there’s this tremendous political momentum begins to build and its that momentum that also triggers the backlash…a right-wing turn against science.

This is the bad luck story – what historians call a history contingency…the growth of neo-liberal economics happened just around the same time as scientists begin to find evidence of some really major global environmental problems. So as environmental concerns moved from local to global issues…gigantic issues with huge economic consequence…just at the same time as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan are promoting deregulation in the economic environment, scientists are pointing out these very major potentially grave environmental threats, and how do you prevent acid rain…climate change…protect the ozone…? Well the answer is regulation, and sometimes really big scale regulation like international conventions with significant political implications. So we were beginning to see the advocates of free market policies turning against science.

People who up until then had generally supported science as supporting industry…the business community valued science because it helped create technology, now you see large sectors of the business community beginning turn against science. And that is the historic Greek tragedy part of the story, things go downhill from there very seriously and very quickly.

Critical analysis is one thing, dishonest attack is another.

Scientists have been conservative in their estimates of the rate and degree of climate change over the last 30 years.

The whole issue of climate change is now so political and so difficult that I think a lot of people in the scientific community are kind of spooked. And they’re nervous and they don’t really know how to respond. And I think a lot of scientists think that if they’re just very cautious and very careful and very conservative that that will preserve and protect their credibility.

Absolutely scientists should be conservative and should not make claims they can not support with evidence and high quality data…the question is once you have that data, what do you say about it? And if you don’t think the world is responding, if you don’t think the world gets it, then that tells me that you aren’t communicating it clearly enough.

How do we communicate clearly in ways that are effective and truthful and correct? It’s not an argument in favour of exaggerating the science or saying things that aren’t true. It’s about taking what we believe to be true and communicating it clearly.

But now you’re up against the largest, most successful, most profitable business in the history of mankind, you’re up against an economic system that depends on burning fossil fuels, you’re up against a lifestyle – every rich person in the world because we live off the energy stored in fossil fuels, and I don’t mean rich-rich, I mean all of us, every person who lives in the West.

Can science compete against the business system with vested interests in us over-consuming? That’s the $64,000 question…that is the question that will determine the what happens in the next 100 years. If we can’t figure out a way to act upon what we know then we’re going to see a lot of pain and suffering.

The naive vision of ‘we do the facts then hand it over to the policy makers and they act on it’. That would be great in a perfect world, and it worked for ozone so scientists could be forgiven for thinking that was realistic, but it hasn’t worked this time around.

(Am I an activist?). Not really, I teach classes and do my research. Students often ask me…”what should they do?” and I always say you have to figure that out for yourself – based on who you are, what your temperament is, what your personality is, what your talents are, what resources you have at your disposal…so I’m a scholar, and I love doing the work I do. …. I feel like I’ve ended up in a place that has worked out being meaningful, and valuable, and I think the best thing I can do is keep on doing what I’m doing.

We went from ‘most of the observed warming is likely to be…’, to ‘most of the observed warming is very likely to be…’ and now ‘it’s extremely likely…’…likely, very likely, extremely likely I think these are shades of difference that the scientific community thinks are terribly important but that most people outside the scientific community don’t really see that that’s so significant…

Naomi was in Dunedin for the Science Teller Festival organised by the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago. We are grateful for the organisers of the Festival in their help in arranging this episode of Sustainable Lens.

communication documentary ocean science

Whalers turned citizen scientists

Tess Brosnan

The story of how whalers have become passionate protectors is the story of the change we all need to make

Tess Brosnan describes herself as a humble reporter on a quest to package science stories better. Tess has almost completed her Masters in Science Communication. Her film Whale Chasers, tracks the story of Cook Strait whalers who are now passionate about the future of whales and every year undertake the Cook Strait Whale Count. This is, Tess tells us, an iconic example of Citizen Science. We talk about science communication, documentary film-making, citizen science and hopeful tourism.

In her thesis, Tess describes how citizen science is helping to bridge the gaps between two communities who need to better understand each other. Hopeful tourism is a new discipline which aspires to do the same, rejecting prevailing tourism ideology. There is much evidence of a desire for more meaningful experiences which contribute to fulfillment of life purpose, rather than exploitation of people, animals and environment, materialism etc. There is also an immediate need to reduce human impact on our ecosystem, and for fine-scale monitoring to protect this ecosystem. It is here that citizen science may prove to be the perfect new form of tourism, mitigating human destruction, helping science, and instilling joy, knowledge and stewardship into those who participate.­­­

Film-making 101: don’t squeal when you see a whale

I’m not an activist, I’m a packager, I can be more useful by remaining neutral

Whale Chasers premiers at the Regent Theatre on the 25th October as part of the Science Teller Festival.

Shane’s number of the week: 95. Ninety five percent certainty that climate change is a result of human activity according to IPCC.

Sam’s joined up thinking: A European Commission report this week puts a price on the underpresentation of women in the ICT industry. The European Commission estimates that bringing more women into the ICT industry would boost European GDP by €9 billion. That ICT suffers underrepresention is not new, the challenge is what to do about it. This week I’ve been considering the new landscape of qualifications for computing and wondering if the new structure will help. I’m reminded of the computing for social good discussions we had with Mikey Goldweber and ask if we’re still missing the boat.

heritage museum

Heritage: place, past and future

Neil Cossons (University of Liverpool - with permission)

Many of the best things have happened because of lunatics with fire in their bellies – I like to think I’ve been an animator of lunatics

Sir Neil Cossons is a leading authority on heritage and industrial archaeology. During his career he has led major museums – from 1983 to 1986 Neil Cossons was the Director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and for fourteen years Director of the Science Museum, London. He has served as a non-executive director of British Waterways Board. From 2000 until 2007 he was Chairman of English Heritage, the United Kingdom Government’s principal adviser on the historic environment of England.

Sir Neil was Director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum from 1971 to 1983. Sir Neil has published several books. He was knighted in 1994 for his work in museums and heritage.

Sir Neil was in Dunedin to help celebrate the 150th Celebration of the Dunedin Gasworks Museum.

Talking points:

All history is a form of myth, but accepting the inadequacies of the process you can get something back from the process

The real job is stimulating people to use their imagination

I regret not having been enough of a lunatic

I think the best thing I could do was support activists.

The role (of government heritage organisations) is in recognising the energy, intellect, knowledge and activist capacity of communities to do good things

One of the aspects that appeals to me, rather perversely, is where you see groups (as is here in Dunedin with the Gasworks) taking on what for most people would be either a lost cause or something where people say ‘why on earth would you bother – Gasworks – horrible places’ and really bringing them to life

Science Museum, London
Elgin marbles
Trent Lock
SS Great Britain
British Waterways
Bletchley Park
Preston Bus Station
Skansen Museum (Stockholm)
Plimouth Plantation
Queen St Mill, Burnley

communication science

The story and the science

Jean Fleming

The good story will always win – even over facts, so we need to make sure science has both the story and the facts right

Jean Fleming is a Professor of Science Communication in the University of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication, where she convenes the Popularising Science MSciComm. She is also a reproductive biologist in the Department of Anatomy, with research interests in the molecular and cellular origins of ovarian cancer.

Talking points:

information is easy, but there are no easy answers for attitudes and wisdom. Emotional connections through stories.

not everyone can look at the bigger picture, science communication can help with that

Science communication is jolly good fun

You can’t stop people believing the wrong information, we’ve got masses of information out there – information not wisdom, and people will believe what they feel comfortable with

With that masses of scientific information emerging, perhaps too much for people to digest – we need to help tell the stories

rise and rise of market and corporate idea that science must make a buck

Somehow we have to step down from growth

Despite all evidence, great denial about Climate Change, (mostly engineered by vested interests).

People do need to know what is happening to contribute to societal debate

(Am I an activist ?). Not quite yet, I’ve got to retire first next year. (Alan Mark said he was an activist, a requirement of an academic), actually yes, I’ve been an activist all my life. When I went to the royal commission on GM I had to suddenly wear a bra, and be like a judge, and so that really put the kibosh on me being a real activist for quite a while – I’m just beginning to come out the other end now. I was a great feminist in the 70s and 80s. And that got knocked out of me but the dark is rising.

Shane’s number of the week: 10. Ten years of Pacific cooling. In the last 10 years there has been a slowing in the increase in temperature across the globe from that predicted by the increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So since about 1970 the increase in global temperature has tracked the increase in CO2 levels very closely until about 10 years ago when the correlation started to diverge. Climate change deniers have made much of this and it has been a bit of a mystery – until now. There is a cooling effect on the atmosphere – one of the many long term climate altering cycles… so Waters in the eastern tropical regions of the Pacific have been notably cooler in recent years, owing to the effects of one of the world’s biggest ocean circulatory systems, the Pacific decadal oscillation. Here in the pacific we are used to El Nino and El Nina affecting our weather and climate patterns but this is a longer cycle which brings cooler weather and can last decades. The last time this oscillation was in its cooling phase was back from the 1940s to the 1970s (Scripps Institution of Oceanography and supported by the US government’s National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration NOAA, and was published in the journal Nature).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: The Audacious Student Business Challenge has expanded this year to encourage business for good with a social enterprise category. It has also moved to encourage wider participation with a new crowd-sourcing platform Skulksource. You can encourage the development of sustainable start-ups by voting for the fledgling businesses such as:

    • Spread the Help: Spread your donation across multiple charities, and Spread your Help to your community, by giving.
    • Resource Locus: Resource Locus proposes to foster farmers’ market culture by providing an online meeting place.
    • Flowbot: An innovative, reusable drink bottle to help fight obesity in kids through interactive design.
    • Ecoplug: EcoPlug is a simple way of bringing homes and offices into the 21st century
    • Dunedin Street Bikes: Using on-street fleets of bikes to improve social mobility, the environmental image of Dunedin & its economic development
    • Fur Retreival: Ethical Possum eradication to ensure the sustainability of the eco-system through natural methods
    • Humblebee: Taking the toxic out of protective textiles and staying dry in a deluge using nature’s ancient tech
    • Farmscape: An educational game that teaches people about sustainable agriculture. #farmerfromwayback
    • Eureka Energy: Eureka energy provides small energy solution to create a more sustainible future
    • Fixing Faults: Fixing Faults gives you the space, skills and resources to turn your boring junk into funk!
    • HandiConnect: HandiConnect – Connect handicaps to the world and help them live a life with no difference.
business food permaculture

Growing change

Jon Foote

Private property, trespassers will be given apples

Jon Foote has ten year’s banking and business development experience in Sydney. He has permaculture qualifications and busy permaculture design business ReScape. Jon is well underway with development of the Resilience Education Centre.

we are not separate from nature, whether we get it or not

Jon’s moment of realisation: you know this is what the world needs

nothing will change without action

Permaculture is not an invention, it’s a repackaging of everything done before

(Am I an activist?). I guess so, I wouldn’t paint myself with a full activist brush. I’m passionate about the belief that we have a way out of the current situation and that we need to act on it. Nothing will change without action, and action in a positive direction is great. I’m not a big protester or create…what most activists do, and chain themselves to trees…I did a bit of that in Sydney and realised, you know I’m not achieving a lot – I’d rather go out and teach everyone how to grow food. The activist part of me says ‘you know if we grew our own food, and we had organic farmers, and lots of local systems going on, that in itself will bring down the industrial food system’. So in a way I may be an activist, but I want to do it in a way that is positive so that people can work towards something that is actually beneficial – its not just grumping about things that are wrong. So let’s do the things that are right.

communication science

Story. Story. Story.

Lloyd Davis

If you’ve got bad news, don’t hit them over the head with a hammer – give them hope

Lloyd Spencer Davis is the Stuart Professor of Science Communication and Director of the The Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago. He is a leading authority on penguins and sociobiology – behavioural ecology from an evolutionary perspective. He is also an award winning author and filmmaker. In his Looking for Darwin he manages to squeeze the science of evolution into a rollicking yarn of travel and personal discovery. We explore the relationship between science and communication. Putting him on the spot, we ask for the top three things a budding science communicator must do. “Story” he says. Three times.

Focus on the story, and use whatever device you can to get that story told. Jeopardy, tension, star presenters. The package must be exciting.

People are turned off by stories of doom – they want hope. The story must empower them, even if the news is bad you can do something about it.

communication documentary television

Activist storyteller

Peter Hayden

I am a storyteller.  I am an activist, I have to be – there’s a hell of a lot to be activist about.

Peter Hayden describes himself as a storyteller, an actor, a film-maker and a naturalist. A generation of Kiwi kids describe him as an inspiration – they are now our scientists, decision makers and environmental activists. Peter has presented and voiced hundreds of nature documentaries on television including Wild South, Journeys Across Latitude 45, and directing series such as Moa’s Ark. And now he has a new book “An Extraordinary Land: Discoveries and Mysteries From Wild New Zealand” (publisher, review).

bringing the drama element to natural history

Trainspotting: This guy on a bike wasn’t Sam, but it might have been:

This guy on a bike nearly ran me over crossing university campus and shouted out “I am here because of you”.

dunedin energy local government waste

DCC sustainability


Sustainability at the Dunedin City Council is increasingly being seen as part of everyone’s role. The role of sustainability at the council itself is twofold, they have to reduce their own footprint, and help lead the city to a sustainable future. We explore what one of the world’s greatest small cities is doing to act locally.

Cath Irvine is the Waste Strategy Officer. She discusses the TV takeback scheme and the Waste management and minimisation strategy.

Neville Auton (who we’ve had on the show before) discusses Warm Dunedin, developments in street lighting and the development of an Energy Plan for the city.

Maria Ioannou (who we’ve also had on the show before when she worked for CSAFE) is the Council’s Sustainability Advisor. We talk about how sustainable thinking is becoming mainstreamed across all Council activities. Particular work areas for Maria include climate change adaptation, and the work towards development of an environmental strategy.

Shane’s number of the week: 1 million. Hectares of bamboo forest in Ethiopia which hopes to become the main supplier for Europe’s softwood supply. But is it sustainable?

Sam’s joined up thinking: Sam explores the implications of the convergence of four developments in the technology space: crowdsourcing, citizen science, gamification and ubiquitous computing.

Middle East Syria

Prof Bill Harris


Syria is in the news. But not enough says Professor Bill Harris.

After his introduction to the Middle East, Bill comes back to provide us with Syria 101.

  • What is going on? (long story but Bill walks us through it, short story: at least 100,000 dead)
  • Can we just wait for this to play out? (no)
  • What will it take for the West to notice and what could they do about it? (don’t know for the first, provide air-cover in the North)
  • Who are the main players? (long list with complicated relationships)
  • What is the role of external parties? (Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, US, France, Saudi Arabia all implicated)
  • What will happen next? (don’t know how strong the regime forces are nor how deluded the regime is)
  • Is there any possibility for an elegant peaceful solution? (Sadly, but emphatically, no).

(Note: this podcast is an extended version of the show that went to air).

Shane’s number of the week:  980 heat related death in 2009 in Melbourne (Australian Climate Commission).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Sam is thinking about participatory cultures. Upcoming guests on that front include Dr Andy Williamson and Beth Karlin.

democracy politics

Hordur Torfason

Hordur Torfason

Hordur Torfason describes himself as a reluctant activist. He would rather be writing lyrics than organising a revolution. But while the former make him famous in Iceland in the 70s, the latter has made him globally famous in the new millennium. Trained as an actor, he sees the role of the artist is to criticise, that criticism is a form of love. After the crash of the Icelandic financial system Hordur began what became the “cutlery revolution” that eventually saw the downfall of the government. We ask what the world can learn from the Icelandic experience, both in the revolution itself and the in establishment of a citizen-led government. While there have been some successes – a new citizen developed constitution and laws protecting freedom of expression, Hordur answers with a firm No when asked if Iceland is still citizen-led. There is still much to do.

Hordur is joined in the studio by his husband, Italian architect Massimo Santanicchia who is able to give his perspective on the extravagance that led to the financial crash.

Anger used violently to destroy is the easy way, but we talked together and used our anger as a positive force, peacefully.

Africa government poverty

Prof Etienne Nel


Associate Professor Etienne Nel is a geographer at the University of Otago who specialises in economic geography. He chairs the International Geographic Union’s Commission on Marginalization, Globalization and Local and Regional Response. As he grew up in southern Africa, we take the oppportunity for a lesson in the geography of development.

Shane’s number of the week: 2.67 is the increase in ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere this year. This takes us to 395ppm (and well past the 2 degree goal of 350ppm).

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: The Wise Response Appeal was launched in Dunedin this week. Sam reports on the launch.


Saving lakes and rivers

Limnologist Marc Schallenberg knows lakes. And rivers. He also knows the terrible state they are in. And why. And what we have to do about it. He tells us all these things on a fascinating session with Sustainable Lens.

Shane’s number of the week: 1,000,000,000,000. That is over $1 trillion in subsidies for areas ranging from fisheries to fertilisers and fossil fuels, wrote Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP in the OECD’s Development Cooperation Report: Lessons in linking sustainability and development

Much of this money is actually fuelling environmental decay, such as climate change; engendering collapse of fish stocks and damage to coastal systems and aggravating social and economic challenges.

The report goes on to say that

Removing these distorting, environmentally harmful and socially under-performing subsidies would completely change the incentive structure, promoting sustainable consumption and production and freeing up to 1-2% of global GDP every year.”

The report published this week by the OECD says that green growth is the only way forward for rich and poor countries alike to achieve sustainable development because of tremendous economic and livelihood losses from severe climate change and the depletion of natural resources and that climate change is hitting the world’s poorest people the hardest.

What is striking though is the report is using language like “collosal” and “collision ‘and ‘alarming’. Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary General uses surprisingly strong words:

We are on a collision course with nature

(OCED 2012)

“It is time for a radical change. If we fail to transform our policies and behaviour now, the picture is more than grim, Our current demographic and economic trends, if left unchecked, will have alarming effects in four key areas of global concern – climate change, biodiversity, water and health. The costs and consequences of inaction would be colossal, both in economic and human terms.”

What is so frustrating – and when I say that I mean tear your hair out this is totally insane frustration – is that more and more organisations and groups are saying that we are on a path to utter disaster and yet our leaders do nothing…

So that is my number $1 trillion pa in subsidies to things that are actively destroying our world.

Development Co-operation Report 2012 | OECD Free preview | Powered by Keepeek Digital Asset Management Solution

design policy

Science meet policy. Policy meet science.

Life at the intersection of science and policy.

During her career in management and governance, Dr Maggie Lawton has help lead New Zealand’s organisations down the road of a sustainable future. She describes her work as “Strategic Sustainable Design”. Not considering herself an activist but as a change agent, Maggie sees her role as “staying inside the room” – helping guide policy and decisions. Amongst other roles, Maggie now leads Otago Polytechnics Centre for Research Expertise in Sustainable Practice.

Shane’s number of the week: 9. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have been since 2001. 2012 is on track to being the ninth hottest year on record.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: This week a new report into consumer attitudes was released. The Regeneration Consumer Study is an in-depth online survey of consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviours relating to sustainable consumption among 6,224 respondents across six major international markets.

communication media

Storyteller challenging ideas

Allan Baddock describes himself as a storyteller. He tells us the story of identifying audiences and tailoring messages in film and print since the 1970s. Sometimes this means bring unpalatable ideas into mainstream thinking. Our discussion ranges from Lenin to milk, from iconic landscapes to marketing, and from stolen revolutions to reality TV.

Shane’s number of the week: 21 is the number of opportunities for Green Growth identified in the recent Pure Advantage report.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Today the Otago Energy Research Centre held its annual symposium. Sam went along and cam back excited by some of the research. We’ll be hearing more from these people over the next few weeks.