Getting close to coastlines

The last organisation I met with before my return to the UK was on my final morning in Auckland – I went to visit Sustainable Coastlines who are doing a fantastic job of leading the way in looking after New Zealand’s coastlines: http://www.seekthechange.org/profiles/sustainable-coastlines/

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Getting Auckland moving, making sustainability easy

This trip has taught me the importance of a person’s surroundings for determining how easy it is to live sustainably. The infrastructure of a place – the likes of access to public transport, or presence of recycling bins, or the half flush button on a toilet – can dramatically affect the size of a person’s environmental footprint. When features to aid sustainable lifestyles are part of the fabric of daily living, everyone can be more environmentally friendly, whether they think about it actively or not.

This still all starts with individual action – the Generation Zero crew (see profile at www.seekthechange.org/profiles/generation-zero) are a passionate, committed and professional bunch of young people who are helping to change the debate around transport issues for making New Zealand sustainable. They realise the need to engage with politics and decision-making to make changes to infrastructure happen.
Generation Zero have become an authority in this area. The recent debate in Auckland about the city’s future transport plan demonstrates this – Sudhvir Singh, the direction of the Auckland branch of Gen Zero was on the panel (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11410472 – if you’re keen to learn about the city’s transport deliberations).
They have come up with an alternative to the two proposals from Auckland Council, and by the reception it has had so far, I could see it becoming THE chosen option.
I’ve learnt a few things from them about how to engage in creating infrastructural changes:
- They know their stuff – they go through relevant documents with a fine tooth comb to ensure they understand everything about the issue they are addressing
- They keep up to speed with political processes and engage with them at every stage
- They make it easy for their networks to engage too by producing online quick submit forms so that people can respond to government/council proposals to make their voices heard
-They provide thoughtful, pragmatic and realistic alternatives, focused on the solution not just the problem
- They are professional – in their publications and in the way they look (check this out to see what I mean: www.fixourcity.co.nz)
- They work as a team, and they know who is good at what – the design guru, the articulate spokesperson, the political processes expert
Generation Zero makes grappling with the gigantic building block of infrastructural development for creating a sustainable society seem not only possible but also achievable.

The potential for positive change in New Zealand

I have been in New Zealand for a month and a half now and spoken to many people here, those involved in sustainability efforts and not. From talking to everyone and seeing some of the country, I have made a few observations. They might be a bit oversimplified and perhaps overly idealistic/optimistic but I really feel that here the potential for truly sustainable living is stronger than anywhere else I have been:

There are…

So many initiatives and passionate people
Strong connection to and care for the natural environment amongst Kiwis, based on Maori traditions and outdoorsy past-times
Just over 4 million people in the whole country – half the size of London – which means…
Only two degrees of separation between everybody living here i.e. if I dont know that person, someone I know will
= huge potential for cultural change towards sustainable living

Furthermore…

New Zealand has a reputation of being clean and green, but according to most people here involved in environmental work, this is a bit of a joke. However, the reference to this status continues, so as the cracks widen and become more apparent, something will have to be done to keep the clean green status in place.

The ‘number 8 wire’ ethos of Kiwis i.e. ingenuity, innovation and problem-solving abilities, is in full swing in the realm of sustainability as much as elsewhere – harnessing this to a greater extent could make New Zealand a leader in this field.

The Maori culture, promoted widely, has a tradition of reciprocity with and respect for nature – another aspect of New Zealanders’ cultural and social identity already here, alive and well.

There is talk of the increasing need to diversify into other industries besides agriculture and tourism, the main two money earners at the moment. Embracing a ‘green economy’ could be a great way to create more jobs.

As such a popular tourist destination, particularly amongst developed countries, the experiences and examples of sustainable living in New Zealand can spread to other countries to accelerate positive change elsewhere too.

It might not happen in the next couple of years with the current political party in power but I think that the strength of the efforts now and the forging of a pathway towards that vision will tip the balance towards that realm before the decade is out.

Reckoning on a positive picture for New Zealand’s future? I sure am!

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Nelson Environment Centre

I learnt all about the activities going on at Nelson Environment Centre the other day when I was staying in Nelson – it is the oldest environment centre in New Zealand, set up over 30 years ago. It is one of several environment or eco-centres that exist around the country.

More info here: www.seekthechange.org/profiles/nelson-environment-centre

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A SEED Japan and Wellington living

A SEED Japan was one of the youth organisations I met in Tokyo, who brought along lots of other people from other youth orgs too for me to meet. Their profile is here: www.seekthechange.org/profiles/a-seed-japan

I am settled in Wellington for the next few days, currently staying with the cream of the crop of young people taking action on environmental issues. Paul Young, spokesperson for Generation Zero, a youth action group on climate change, is so knowledgeable about what’s going on here in NZ and gives great political commentary. Lots of interesting conversations already (in amongst board game playing and nacho eating)…

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