Friday, 28 June 2019

The Planet is Worth it- isn't it?

As I arrived to participate in a local climate change related event in Christchurch, recently, I go chatting to a friend as we locked our respective bikes outside before going in.

How are you?  He asked
Oh, y'know, pretty good, although a bit it is when you are trying to save the planet!  I said, partly joking and partly serious..

Yes I know, but I guess the planet is worth it isn't it?  he said as he picked up his bag to head in.
Yes. I paused to think.  Oh yes it definitely is, I said with great certainty.

I've related that short conversation to people a few times recently because I really enjoyed the reminder of what underlies much of the environmental and community work that I do.

I really love this gorgeous blue planet. I find myself so sad to hear of the mass extinction that is happening and the changes that we are inflicting on it.  
This is the planet that gave me life which when you look around, is pretty miraculous. It produced the vast array of life forms that we used to see around us and that we still can in places.  I'm really grateful to be alive on this tiny rock in a huge universe and what better work could I be doing?  It really is worth saving!

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Community, Environment and Change

I've been concerned about climate change, biodiversity loss, issues with water quality and quantity and waste issues for a few decades now and I find myself an avid follower and reader of the science about what is going on around the globe as temperatures rise

Back in 2008 I asked myself if I really thought the evidence pointed to the need to take action around climate change and the breakdown of our ecological systems. The answer was yes.

I then asked Is what I am doing the best thing that I could be doing? and the answer was yes in some ways and very definitely no in others.
Yes because my work was about working with communities to make changes in their practices to be more sustainable and kinder to the planet.
And no because I didn't feel like doing that inside a science institution, where funding was so precarious and where our work wasn't well understood, was actually making a difference. On top of that I was talking with groups about the need to change business as usual and yet I felt I was living my life as if everything was fine.  So I left my job for the great unknown at the end of that year.

After a few months of looking around and trying a few things, I had confirmed that we don't make change without community and without taking people with us.   So I've built community for the last 10 years in different ways and in doing that feel that I've been more effective in bringing about the change I want to see (at least in part) even if what I've done doesn't look terribly environmentally focused.  Of course, I've also had to accept that there is only so much one woman with finite energy levels can do!

There is so much more that we need to do to change and a lot of change is going to be forced on us by the look of the scale and speed of the ecological, climatic and social disruption being suffered around the world. We will meet that more successfully (whatever that means) if we meet it as a community.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

What Rosa Parks' Story Tells us Today

This post is for all of us who have been beavering away working to talk about climate change and other major environmental issues and who wonder if it is all worth it.   
Remember Rosa Parks?  She’s the woman who many think was the person who triggered the American Civil Rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on the bus.  
Actually, she wasn’t the trigger. 
The fortunes of that movement DID change then but only because many many people had been, and were, working really hard to make things change at the time.  Without them, it is unlikely that Rosa Parks would ever have done what she did.  And if by chance, she had, it would have gone unremarked. We we don’t hear about another woman who did the same thing earlier than Rosa.  This woman was arrested but the lawyers decided that the fact that she had a record meant that the risk to the outcome was too great, so they didn’t make their move then.

No-one knew when or how or even if the change would happen, but those involved kept on trying to change things because they simply believed that it was the right thing to do and that it needed doing.
Many people I talk to feel that what we do as individuals makes no difference – but no matter how small the change, there IS change.  Many of us feel that we are walking into an environmental crisis of rather alarming proportions but we aren’t working for change because we have this idea that if we can’t see that change and it doesn’t make an immediate difference then it is not working. 
That idea is both wrong and dangerous since nothing will change if people don't just keep working to make them change.  

The critical lesson from Rosa Parks and others like her is that we must keep working with hope. 

Greta Thunberg might be our Rosa Parks but she couldn’t have had the impact she has had without the prior and ongoing work of thousands around the globe – thousands of people who have had conversations, changed their lives, sat and marched in protests, got arrested, gone to meetings, written submissions, written letters, written articles, completed research, developed plans,  posted on Facebook or other social media, or whatever.  

So it is time to do something – do anything.  Start at home and work outwards.  Cut down your car running, talk to your friends about issues you see, ring the Council to point out an issue, learn about issues that matter to you, learn where the leverage for change is, experiment with action, write a song or a play to highlight the issues, learn to write submissions, join a clean up, a planting day, or a protest. 

And whatever you do, find others with that same interest so that you don’t feel like you are doing it all on your own. 

Friday, 10 May 2019

Some thoughts about the Overseas Investment Act

These are some notes and thoughts from attending a public meeting on the reform of the Overseas Investment Act.

The reforms of the Act are focused on
1)What assets overseas person need consent to own or control in  NZ
2) Who needs to get consent to acquire sensitive NZ assets
3) How people and corporations should be assessed in order to be given consent to buy NZ assets

In Christchurch, by far the most time was spent talking about Water bottling consents and this was a direct result of what has happened with Cloud Ocean.  It was interesting to note that the Treasury folks felt that there was not much that the OIA could do about managing water bottling and export and that that was more a focus for the RMA (which made a lot of people sigh)
However, a few points were covered that could be of interest and worthy of putting into a submission
We all own the water because it is a common (the opposite of what John Key asserted i.e. "nobody owns water').  It seems that consents effectively privatise it as evidenced by the fact that now if the CCC wants to take more water from the deep aquifer that Cloud Ocean have been granted a 30 year consent to take from, they have to negotiate with Cloud Ocean.
We felt that foreign interests should not be able to "own" "our" water and should be paying for it.  
Part of the issue is in Free Trade Agreements such as the Agreement with China and the TPPA (another sigh)  According to one of the Treasury people, the Govt cannot discriminate between local consent holders and overseas consent holders who come under the jurisdiction of these trade agreements.  (That does mean that there is some possibility that a charge could be made if that charge is also made to NZers taking water)

1) Overseas investors have to get permission to buy a residential property but under the OIA they don't have to get permission to buy property that has a water consent attached which seemed a bit odd to all of us.  They have to get permission to buy sensitive land (eg land on a foreshore or that has public access over it) or to buy land next to sensitive land or land with a house on it, but it is not sensitive if it involves natural resources such as water. 

A couple of issues here from what I can see - smaller investors don't need permission.   The threshold seemed to me to be quite high and it could be worth advocating to have that raised.

HOW are people assessed
Individual people are assessed but corporations are not.  It seemed to me that we should actually vet corporation based on the way in which they conduct business overseas.  I'd like to see things like Do they pay their fair share of taxes?  Do they provide good pay and conditions for workers?  and Do they have good environmental codes of conduct that surpass what is required is developing countries and at least meet compliance in developed countries with good environmental legislation.

There are of course more things for people to think about - you can look at the discussion document here 
The Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa have some comments on their Facebook Page here.

Submissions close on 24th May.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Climate change in the National Business Review

I was in a cafe today and thought I'd peruse the NBR - The National Business Review -  dated 3rd May 2019.
I read on the front page an article saying that King Salmon are keen to see the Government do something about climate change because rising sea temperatures are affecting the survival of salmon in the Marlborough sounds.  I that article King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne points out  the Government's lack of political will and how the company losing up to 800 tonnes of farmed salmon due to warming seas.
Bravo I thought - it is good to see businesses discussing how climate change is affecting them.

I turned a few more pages and read some quite interesting articles mostly about business as usual in many different spheres and then I came across this patronising article from Rodney Hide who clearly hasn't talked with any ecologists, biologists, physicists or climate scientists about our changing planet and if he has he just prefers to deny the science.

At a time when so may news outlets are not printing articles that so completely demonstrate a denial of climate change, perhaps we should be working on media outlets such as the NBR which purport to provide well reasoned and supported advice.
What are they doing and can we really trust ANYTHING that they publish if they are prepared to publish this kind of tripe? 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Mindfulness and what it has meant to me

A couple of decades ago I was invited to go on a 5 day meditation retreat which set me on an interesting and useful path. I learned that this kind of meditation (Vipassana or Insight meditation) was a way of studying the workings of my own wayward brain, which, I've learned, is like most other people's brains.

Our minds are amazing tools with a life of their own. They come up with the most inopportune thoughts seemingly for no reason.  But they also make useful connections and can be incredibly creative.  They can also focus and help us learn.  But this is not all they do. 

Anyone who has watched their own mind and its workings will know that it tends towards the negative:  It jumps to false conclusions, generates negative emotions and often leads us to actions that make situations worse.  We can, however, train ourselves to see things differently and to understand what is happening inside other human beings when they do things that trigger us (and often they intended no harm at all).

Mindfulness is a form of brain training in which we try to reinforce and use pathways that lead us to be kinder and happier rather than being controlled by brains that tend to focus on the negative and being driven by our deepest, unexplored fears.   Like all training, it takes time and when it comes to performance, we can have good days and bad days - sometimes being kind is easy while on others it is hard to remember to even try.  Despite that, training helps us to do things better more often and to notice it when we don't and see it for what it is.

I found it incredibly useful and have found that by understanding my own mind, I can understand much more about others.  It helps me recognise pain that is often disguised as aggression. And THAT means that when people are horrid and mean I don't have to take it personally.  That on its own has been and invaluable result of participating in practices that foster mindfulness. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Bystander Effect and Climate Change

As I listen to this video of Greta Thunberg doing a TED talk in Stokholm,  I"m reminded of a number of studies of human beings - some psychological and some anthropological that help explain why humans are doing very little to save themselves from the rather horrible consequences of climate change.  

It reminded me of a number of incidents in which people (usually women) were attacked and killed in front of bystanders without those bystanders doing anything to assist them.  Melissa Berkley outlines one of the incidents as follows and there are more documented here:

On October 24th, 2009, as many as 20 witnesses watched as a 15 year old girl was brutally assaulted and raped outside a homecoming dance in Richmond, CA. The viciousness of the attack was shocking, but what was even more shocking was the fact that so many people witnessed the attack and yet failed to intervene or call police. As one of the police officers involved in the case states, "what makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it." Some of the bystanders reportedly even laughed and took photos of the assault with their cell phones.

 Psychologists have studied this and have learned that there are two factors which come into play that can mean people don't take any action in emergency situations.  These are termed "pluralistic ignorance" and "diffusion of responsibility" and they are part of the reason for a general lack of action on climate change.

Pluralistic ignorance is basically the idea that people understand situations by the way others are behaving around them and that tends to mean that if nobody registers concerned then the situation is generally read as a situation not to be concerned about.  In other words, if nobody acts, nobody acts.  In situations where nobody knows each other, if one person starts to act there is a high likelihood that others will join in and help.   
This is also complicated by our perceptions of the person who acts, if someone does.  If the person acting is part of an out group then they are also less likely to align themselves with that person.   At the moment, for example, a large part of the population figures it is just treehuggers that are making noise about climate change and they don't identify with treehuggers and so they are likely to interpret the situation differently and in a way that gives less credence to treehuggers. We all do this.  A scientist is unlikely to give as much credence to a UFO chaser than they are to another scientist for example in terms of working with them.  Likewise when people see climate scientists who say they are worried constantly flying round the world and taking few personal steps to change their own ways, people watching can read the situation as "not that important" too. 

This can be exacerbated by the diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility means that we all think that someone else will do something about it.  As Greta points out here (and as I have heard many others pointing out), she figured that surely if our survival was threatened, we would be talking about nothing else.  Others have put it to me that surely if it were real the Government would be taking much greater steps to do something about it and since they are not doing much, then it can't be the issue that some are saying.   Diffusion of responsibility is the reason why leaks and potholes take a long time to get fixed.  Everyone sees them and everyone figures that someone will have rung the Council (but often nobody does)!  

Of course if nobody is acting because nobody is acting then unless someone steps up and takes on the responsbility of getting on with doing something about the situation, nobody else will.  Governments often need pushing.  Councillors and MPs can't argue a point strongly unless they can point to people with those opinions.  That's the way democracy works.  Governments seldom lead (although they can) because if they are too far ahead of people, they get voted out.  So often the reality is that Governments follow public opinion rather than lead.  
Since nobody acts people read the situation as "not that much of a worry" and the delusion continues.   Of course there area bunch of other social, cultural and political factors that come into this but the Bystander effect can help us understand why it might be important to be talking to people about climate change and talking about why you think it is a worry.  Every conversation, however hopeless it seems might actually be sowing a seed of change in someone's mind and if you are actually seen to be doing something to make changes, that can be even more powerful.