Creating a Thriving Economy that Serves all of Us

First, our obsession with growth at all costs is putting huge pressures on our planet and many people. Second, thriving as a species is not the same as growth. Third, there is another way – and it looks like a doughnut!

English Economist Kate Raworth gives an inspiring summary of how our current economic system is failing us and what we can do to fix it in this YouTube.

Does Nature have a price? If so, perhaps it’s better to not know it.


A few weeks ago, I attended a public presentation by an Ecological Economist. Ecological economists are rare and priceless. They recognise that the environment is not an externality in the world of economic transitions. They endeavour to bring it into the equation.

In good faith, some ecological economists have attempted to help society measure the benefits of Nature in monetary terms with the purpose of putting a high value on it. The idea is that by identifying the economic value of what Nature gives us, more people will put a high value on Nature itself and not destroy it. Nature is renamed and repurposed as Ecosystem Services. For example, bees provide pollination services, wetlands provide water cleaning services and forests serve to offset carbon emissions. The calculations are not easy to make, but a economic value can be placed on every job that Nature does that means we don’t need to do the job ourselves (if we can).

Most people who value nature, value it for its intrinsic qualities like beauty, feeling of connection, and that general wholesome feeling we get when we are in nature.

So what happens when we reframe Nature according to its economic values? Many studies show that strengthening extrinsically rewarding values like Money and Status inhibit intrinsically rewarding values like Protection of the Environment, and Living in Harmony with Nature. In short, putting a price on Nature may instead make us care less about it. Find out more in the Common Cause Handbook

Extrinsic rewards do work fast and they are a great option in the short term for specific goals. People will replace their energy bulbs to save money, or bring back bottles to get a few cents. But is this all we need? The environmental problems we face are almost endless and in good part caused by putting our own needs before Nature’s needs.

I prefer the slower and transformative approach. Yes we all care about money, but most of us also share the values of Environmental Care. Our goal, I think, is to create more opportunities to talk deeply about what really matters to us, and the world we want our children to live in.

We know it’s priceless.

Bokashi Composting for the Curtailed

Got a Landlord who won’t let you compost? Or no garden for your food waste?

At the weekend I heard stories about renters whose landlords or Property Agents won’t allow them to have a compost bin in their backyards. The result? Good food waste getting trucked to landfill. It’s a shame because landfills compress waste so that everything organic in them eventually breaks down under anaerobic conditions to create methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and leachate – a toxic liquid run off. What a different result when we compost at home, where precious organic waste turns into nutritious compost for the garden.

So what can the curtailed renter, or the householder without a garden do?

An easy solution for food waste is Bokashi. The Bokashi system is a two stage process that uses EM, a patented mix of ‘effective microorganisms’, that ferments the food in a tightly sealed double bucket system. Once fermented, the Preserve is dug into soil where it gets processed by the living soil – to become more living soil!

The EM comes, impregnated in a sawdust-bran mix called Zing that’s dried by a Christchurch company for us to buy in bags from the Dunedin City Council’s Customer Service area who sell them along with the double bucket system.

Once you’ve parted with your dollars for a couple of the bucket systems, it’s all pretty affordable and should cost you no more than a few dollars a week to cover the cost of the Zing. If you want, you can make your own double bucket system from repurposed buckets with a good seal. Look online for instructions such as Under the Chokotree.

Not got a garden? Then it’s time to pass the buck – or bucket – to your gardening friends or relatives. It should be an easy job to persuade them because the Preserve is full of goodies for the garden. There are around 80 beneficial microorganisms in the Zing now flourishing in the nutritious Preserve that will attract compost worms and soil bacteria. Expect it to break down in the soil in four to six weeks.

The bokashi system is also a game changer for aspiring zero wasters because it can take all manner of food scraps, including meat, cheese and cooked food that smell up your rubbish bin.

So don’t take accept a NO you CAN’T Compost from your landlord. YES you probably CAN! Got any more questions? Please email me at maureen@treedom.nz.

There IS Bounty for All of Us

Welcome Swallow – Photo taken at the Botanic Gardens Bus stop by Maureen Howard ©

Is the earth’s sixth global extinction imminent, as a growing number of scientists are warning? Perhaps the news that worries me most comes from recent surveys that show insect biomass across the world has plummeted since the 1970s. And we don’t really know why.

Some are calling it the Windscreen Phenomenon because back in the 1970s, the windscreens of cars were covered with the bodies of insects following a night’s outing. I remember it well!

Nature can recover and flourish again if we allow her, but we need to work fast and smart on sweet spots that deliver maximum results.

One of those sweet spots is food production. Agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss, and is a significant contributor to climate change through the release of stored soil carbon to the air.

We can grow in ways that halt biodiversity loss and begin its restoration. It’s time to follow practices from Regenerative Agriculture, Organic Agriculture, and Permaculture.

Do you grow vegetables in the back yard? That’s always a great thing to do, but think also about the methods you are using. For example,

  • Every time the soil is turned or left bare, carbon is lost to the atmosphere. Instead of double digging consider methods that leave the soil relatively intact such as No Dig. Then cover bare earth with an organic mulch such as eel grass and plant more densely.
  • Value sharing your garden’s bounty with the many others who also live there. Using insecticides, even natural ones, upsets complex ecological webs. Instead, embrace the holes in your brassicas. Gardeners find ways to moderate the munchings of caterpillars such as growing brassicas under netting, avoiding brassica monocultures so plants avoid detection, and interplanting with attractor or repellent plants.
  • We know composting is good. Cold composting methods such as worm farms, in particular, lose very little carbon to the atmosphere and add microbial diversity to the soil.

And what a relief it is to end the fight with nature! By widening our focus to regenerate nature as well as feed ourselves, we all benefit in the long run. If you would you like to find out more and meet like-minded others, the Permaculture Hui, in Riverton starts on the 4th April.

Conker Cleaners

Seed (conker) of the European Horse Chestnut. NOT for eating!

This week I washed my clothes with European Horse Chestnuts.

I’d read recently online that the seed of horse chestnut trees is one of those plants that are high in saponin, a naturally occuring soaping agent that can be used for washing clothes.

Not familiar with horse chestnuts? They belong to a large decidious European tree of the same name with long leaves. In late summer you can find their plum sized spiky green seed pods that split open to reveal glossy brown chestnuts.

I’m talking about the conkers of our childhoods!

The plant containing the most saponin is reported to be the dried fruit of Sapindus Mukurossa, a tree that grows in the Himalyas and neighbouring countries such as India. In New Zealand, we call them Soapnuts and you can buy them in bulk (to avoid plastic), as well as bags.

I enjoy using soapnuts – but I’m not the only one. As more people everywhere rightly get excited about living more sustainably, more soapnuts are getting shipped overseas. I’m not fretting over the environmental sustainability impacts of soapnuts – this is a slow maturing tree (not a high return plant like palm oil) and freighter ship travel is in fact much lower in carbon emissions than road freight. But the blog I read reported that Europeans are inflating the price of soapnuts and making them unaffordable for locals in India to buy. I couldn’t assess the supporting evidence because it was in German – so I just don’t know.

This is what I like most about local production – that we can observe. We are not blinded by distance.

So how did I get on with my horse chestnuts that I gathered last week in Dunedin? Well I vaguely followed the advice on the blog site that my friend Jennie had found. I ground up the conkers with my very sturdy food processor. Then I poured hot water over the pulp, and let it soak for an hour to draw out the saponin. What resulted was a thick, whitish liquid that was not frothy. I fine-strained the liquid only into the tray of my front loader and turned on the machine. The clothes emerged looking fine. However there was still some armpit odour lurking on a tee-shirt.

I’ve got a bag of pulp left that I’m storing in the freezer so I’ll try again, this time soaking the pulp overnight, to see if more saponin is released. If I’m happy with the results, I’ll need a different way to process them that’s easy and doesn’t involve my precious food processor. These chestnuts are seriously hard!

If you are intrigued about conker cleaners, there are plenty of them still falling off trees. I’d love to hear how you get on if they end up in your washing machine.

You won’t need to “Fly Less” if you take an airship!

When I was small, a relative gave me a big red balloon filled with helium. With that balloon bobbing over my head and its string tied to my wrist, it seemed obvious to me that if the wind blew the right way and if I breathed in deep enough then that balloon could take me places. The right wind didn’t come along, but being lifted off the ground was still something I imagined very possible.

As an adult my head is again filled with imaginings of gaining altitude, but not in the usual way in the belly of a fossil fueled aeroplane. Instead with something lower carbon. An airship that could take me across oceans!

(I’ll wait a second now while you have your Disaster thoughts.)

OK.

According to a now decade old Monbiot article, the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research calculated that travelling in an airship, even when it’s powered by fossil fuels, will produce 80% to 90% less CO2 emissions compared with a flight in an aeroplane. Yes it’s slower, even for new design airships, they are only able to travel at an average 130km/hour. But still, this means an airship could theoretically take people from Auckland to Sydney in 15 hours.

Perhaps the feasibility of long distance passenger airships will never stack up for reasons such as safety, comfort or cost. But what about other forms of low carbon oceanic travel such as wind assisted passenger ships where the challenges seem much more manageable?

With climate change bearing down, where are these low carbon mass passenger ships of all sorts? (And I’m not talking about high carbon emitting cruise ships!). Unfortunately in a world that often relies on the Market to make change happen at any scale, we are still waiting for this particular market to appear.

My proposal is that we give it a hand. I’m not a marketer, but it seems reasonable that if we can get 20% of the population excited about low carbon forms of oceanic travel, then maybe these technologies will get the chance to become a commercial reality. There is the Fly Less movement that is growing overseas and that is in its infancy but growing here too. I’d love more people to get in behind this so that we can support low carbon options for overseas travel in the near future.

I’m dreaming of low carbon and still flying high – or at least flowing far! It’s all in the range of the very possible.

Lime Lessons

“What do you think of the Lime scooters in Dunedin?” two people asked me during my recent foray to Banks Peninsula.

“Yeah they’re fun! They get people out of cars. But I’d like people to go slower on the footpaths when pedestrians are around,” I replied.

I’m a keen commuter cyclist and these conversations got me pondering on the parallels between pedestrians and Lime scooters and between cyclists and cars. People get upset, understandably, with the lime scooterist who whizzes past pedestrians at 20km/hr, yet more than a few cars drive by cyclists at greater speed and within an arms length. When it’s done in anger, we call it bikelash.

Most of us believe that pedestrians have the right to use footpaths that were their domain before Lime Scooters came along. But cyclists also used roads before cars rose to dominance.

Studies show that a pedestrian (or cyclist for that matter), will have a good 90% chance of survival if hit by a car travelling at 30km/hour but less than 50% chance of staying alive if struck at the speed of 45km/hour.

I’m thinking of the positives of a city of slower cars! More kids walking and cycling to school, getting fresh air and developing independence. More adults leaving the car a home to reduce CO2 emissions, pollution and noise.

The parallels between cyclists and cars, and between pedestrians and Lime Scooters – are essentially the same. They’re about respecting the rights of others to use and share a space.

Change takes time. It prompts some resistance! There are false starts, small steps and imperfect initiatives. Let’s keep having the conversations and grow the impetus to slow down!

To Fly or Not to Fly: That should be the question

Copyright to Maureen Howard

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about flying. As Wellington Airport plans to put an extension to its runway, residents nearby are waiting and nervous. They’d rather have a view of the Cook Strait than a view of a noisy runway. I really sympathise.

But there is also a bigger issue.  The latest IPCC report is telling us firmly that we humans have less than 12 years now to turn things around and to get on a low carbon pathway – if we want to limit the worst of climate change. That’s not far away. So I think we need to ask – why are we even contemplating putting in more infrastructure that will lock us into a high carbon future?

Many of us take flying for granted. We live on a long thin country and far from the rest of the world. A really powerful statistic I think is that it’s estimated that  less than 20% of the people who are alive today have actually ever flown. For those of us in NZ who fly, and who are surrounded by people who fly, we understandably think that this is normal. But in fact for the majority of humanity, not flying is the norm!

Flying sits at around 3.5% of our global GHG emissions and it’s rising all the time in a rather exponential fashion. This includes other factors operating. CO2 released at high altitude has a more powerful warming effect.  And other emissions such as water vapour, sulphur and nitrogen oxides add to the greenhouse gas effect.

The empowering news (I think) is that at the personal level, if we reduce our flying it will probably be the most important thing we can do to reduce our CO2 emissions.

So what can we do?

  • Get inspiration! Join the newish Fly-Less Kiwis Facebook page for support and for news and articles relevant to New Zealand.

  • This year – why not do a baseline of your out-of-town travel. Check out Enviro Mark’s webpage. Here you can calculate your carbon emissions.

  • Then set yourself a goal to reduce! There are many options to suit your personality and circumstances. For example,

    • You can go Cold Turkey and have a No Fly year or stop flying altogether OR

    • You can set a reduction goal – 20-30% is a doable figure

You’ll find unexpected benefits. For example, you are bound to feel happier because you’ll know you are doing your bit. Carpooling to Christchurch with a colleague might lead to some new collaborations. Bus trips can be cheaper and more relaxing than flying. Video conferencing means much less time away from home. Having a holiday in NZ instead of a big overseas trip will keep the money you spend in our New Zealand economy.

Whatever it is, find something that works for you and become a Fly-less Kiwi!

Wishing you a Good Enough 2019

Allison’s fun and almost zero waste Homemade Xmas Crackers. Definitely Good Enough!

I’d like to wish you all a Good Enough 2019

Not sound very inspiring? Well actually it is. Yesterday I read this article  called Eco-Authenticity by Andrew J Hoffman, Education Director at the Graham Sustainability Institute, University of Michigan. It’s about doing what we can whilst not getting paralysed by the lofty goals of Perfection.

Aligning our values with our actions brings its own rewards – feeling we are part of the solution and not the problem, opening us to new experiences and to new people doing interesting things.

Individual actions such as cycling to work or composting our food scraps will not save the world alone, but they are an essential part of the solution. We feel happier; together in community, our actions bring pressure for societal change; and we gain eco-authenticity in the eyes of others.

The challenge is to keep on making changes WHILST not judging ourselves OR each other for not doing it perfectly. As Hoffman states (by Voltaire I think) – Don’t let Perfect be the enemy of Good.

So let’s make 2019 one where we do our own personal good enough (for now at least) and encourage others to do theirs.

Happy New Year! May it be Splendidly Good Enough for us all!

Maureen

 

 

 

 

Wishing you all a Festive Holiday Season

My friend Danielle reminded me that Summer Solstice is coming soon. Here in New Zealand, this year it happens on Saturday 22nd December at 11.23am.

This longest day of the year is approaching far too fast for me! November was the wettest November on record in Dunedin. Not so much fun, but at least the fields are a vivid green (like my memories of Ireland).

In my own garden, soon the garlic will be dying down and ready to harvest. The red currents are ripening well. And for the first time, I will harvest pears from the fruit tree I grafted.

Next year, my bookings include another Homemade Cleaner Workshops independently and with Supergrans, at least one workshop on Office Composting through the Otago Chamber of Commerce, plans for interactive workshops on tree planting and appreciation … and more! The radio show Eco Living in Action will continue – and is back to a weekly slot!

If you want a sustainable practice workshop for your office, your organisation or in your community, I am your woman! Please get in touch.

I wish you a lovely Summer Solstice, Christmas and Happy Holiday Season.

Best wishes,

Maureen at Treedom NZ