In a previous post I outlined the need for a major shift in how human societies organise as an urgent response to Climate Change. The Powerdown is a process whereby humans, in the face of climate change and resource depletion, choose to transition to a post-carbon world, sustainably. That’s not reverting back to living in caves, it’s taking the best of our cumulative knowledge and finding ways of living well within our limits and means.
So what can we do? Preventing the worsening of climate change and adapting to what is already locked in go hand in hand. Adaptation without prevention is morally reprehensible because of the damage that would be done to people living in less stable climates and countries, and to the ecosystems we all depend on, if we allow runaway climate change.
Instead we can think of resiliency and sustainability as being two sides of the same coin. One of the silver linings of our current situation is that the best solutions for prevention are also the ones that support our adaptation as things get harder, as well as restoring and protecting the environment. That’s win, win, win.
Making personal change isn’t a replacement for broader political change. Both need to happen. But there is a catch 22 here. If the people aren’t willing to change, how can any government do what is truly required? My view is that governments follow the edge, which is why activism works. Radicals get things on the agenda, and then mainstream activists do the mahi of getting the culture adapted to those new ideas, and politicians follow either because it’s right or because the voters want it.
The problem here is that we literally don’t have time for that normal long process, we need to accelerate it. So as well as working on more conventional political moves we need to be changing the culture fast. Here are some things that the people of means can get on with that will help them and their families personally but will also reshape society so we are all more ready to change.
1. Pay someone to grow your food.
Food miles, especially domestic miles, are a huge part of NZ’s ecological footprint . Paying someone to grow your food brings multiple benefits. It provides a living for that person, and that income is then spent in the local economy. It relocalises food and thus lowers carbon and ecological footprints significantly. Done right it can regenerate land making it more resilient to adverse weather and climate. This resiliency creates food security in a world where industrial cropping is already under threat from climate change.
Contrary to the agribusiness debate about meat vs plant-based diets, stopping eating meat isn’t quite as effective as growing local food in terms of lowering impact. Better yet, reduce meat and dairy in your diet if you eat a lot and grow local and organic. When you have excess produce, you can then sell, trade or gift it to your neighbours and community thus reducing poverty and increasing community resilience.
 The ecological footprint (PDF) is a “measure of how much productive land and water an individual, a city, a country, or humanity requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates”. If everyone lived like NZers currently we would need 2.1 planets.
2. Learn how to stop flying.
Leaders at the forefront of Climate Action say flying isn’t just about the carbon emissions from that one flight but instead it’s to do with the GHG emissions from the whole trip (flying, ground transport, accommodation, meals etc), and all the associated infrastructure and energy needed for that. Flying also increases the demand for new airports, which to be financially viable need more flights, then more runways, support infrastructure and so on it goes.
Unlike other forms of energy use, there is no emerging technology to replace aviation fuel. At some point flying will need to be reserved for critical services or rare occasions, so this is something we can prepare for and do now to shift away from fossil-fuel dependency. This is especially challenging for NZers who live so far from land transport options internationally, but we still have choices, especially domestically.
Australian sustainability designer and teacher David Holmgren discusses the need for systems thinking approaches, and reflects on integrity,
I found this essay Hypocrites in the air: should climate change academics lead by example? by Kevin Anderson very refreshing because it clarified some of the systemic issues that climate scientists and activists should well understand. In particular he shows how speed and convenience of air travel massively increase the distance, and shorten the duration, of travel resulting in a massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would simply not happen if people had to travel by train. It is this convenience and bargain basement prices, more than any measure of greenhouse gas emissions per person kilometre, that exemplifies the need for systems thinking rather than reductionist metrics.
Drawing on sustainability design principles he applies them to travel,
The principle of Small and Slow Solutions suggests that when we do go far and/or fast we should get and contribute maximum value. The principles of diversity and integration suggest we should be focused on multiple values and functions in everything we do but especially in high powered, high impact activity.
So why not continue to fly overseas using this model? After all isn’t my work around the world the most important contribution I can make to a better world? While I can see the beneficial outcomes of my overseas travel, I also believe that much of the power of my presentations, teaching and influence comes from the modest home based self reliant way of living that informs my work. There is little doubt I could have more influence over more people by travelling more but I believe the less I travel the greater the integrity and quality of my influence when I do.
Perhaps most importantly, Holmgren makes this point in a Peak Oil context as well,
Beyond GGEs I see the depletion of precious high quality transport fuel as a additional debt that needs to be justified by the value of what is achieved by the travel.
We only have so much cheap oil left, what are the ethics of using it up profligately?
Holmgren describes how he travelled within those frameworks and ethics. The cases against flying are also made by climate change scientist and advisor Kevin Anderson and environmental and political activist/writer George Monbiot.
3. Share land
At some point we assume the housing crisis will be partially solved (either by the government or by a GFC), but it’s likely that conventional owning of land will remain out of the reach of many NZers. One solution is we can help each other by learning how to share land. This has multiple benefits of affordability, and community and resiliency building. Sharing land allows more productive use of land too e.g. two families living on a section can produce their own food and surplus for their neigbourhood.
Important here is to break down class barriers. Don’t expect to share only with people that have the same assets and income as you. Many of the people with skills in gardening, land restoration, community building or resiliency don’t have assets that enable buying land, but are vitally needed to create the models of both prevention and adaptation we need.
Create new structures that enable fair sharing of land for all people. Conventional sharing structures like co-housing are often out of the reach of many lower income people, so we need additional ways, because it’s more fair and because diversity is important for healthy community.
The middle classes have the resources and access lawyers to create those new structures. They need to be fair and support community and society rather than protecting financial assets alone. The invention of new structures or adaptation of existing ones needs to happen across diverse class, and people from all classes need to be creatively involved in that process. Place high value on the other kinds of assets and skills that people bring.
There are models like Community Land Trusts,
CLTs balance the needs of individuals to access land and maintain security of tenure with a community’s need to maintain affordability, economic diversity and local access to essential services.
Land sharing can be urban as well as semi-rural or rural. Retro-fit the suburbs. Lobby local councils to change bylaws to allow multiple occupancy on land that is owned communally. Pākehā, learn from Māori and Pacifica peoples about how to share land and housing, we don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel.
we need to copy the Marae System in my books, the land belongs to the people, the people live on the land, the people get buried on the land.
Rinse repeat rinse repeat.
We need to talk about the benefits, not the effort. The effort will keep people away, the benefits however will/could get those excited that don’t want to end up alone, mistreaded, drugged to the hilt in a profit driven system that will keep them ‘alive’ cause profit.
I’ve quoted Sabine here particularly for the point about talking about the benefits rather than the effort. Don’t worry about trying to convince the naysayers and denialists. Instead find the people who already recognise that something needs to be done and start talking about how these changes will work for them and their children as well as in the bigger picture. This is a conversation we first need to have with ourselves and then start demonstrating the pathways to sustainability and how we can live well in a world of climate change.
Moderator note – zero tolerance for climate change denial or ‘it’s too late/we’re all going to die’ comments.