A Second World Perspective on the Sustainability Movement

I find it fascinating to watch the blossoming of the sustainability movement in New Zealand, as hundreds of thousands of Kiwis make conscious lifestyle choices to reduce their energy and carbon footprint. New Zealand was a relative latecomer to globalization and a lifestyle based on the cheap Asian imports that have come to dominate our retail shelves. Many women of my own generation talk of growing their own fruit, veggies and chooks (chickens) in their backyard when their children were young, as well as canning surplus fruit and veggies for winter, sewing their children’s clothes, knitting their jumpers (sweaters) and saving and recycling string, rags, scrap metal and any other household waste that could be used for some other purpose. It is intriguing to watch many of them fall back on these deeply engrained habits, as they make a conscious choice to adopt a less energy intensive lifestyle.

Most of New Zealand’s sustainability groups are formal or informal members of Transition Towns New Zealand, a member of the global Transition Towns movement that started in Ireland and the UK. In perusing the TT New Zealand website, it is interesting to see how many local groups have taken up concepts that originated with the Y2K movement of the late nineties – which was advising people on preparing for the possible “End of Civilization as We Know It.” The following are key examples:

Initiatives to improve local food (and water) security:

  • De-paving – digging up private and public driveways and parking lots and replacing them with backyard veggie gardens and community orchards and gardens
  • Lawn liberation – replacing lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs with fruit and nut trees and food crops.
  • Development of “bioregional” transportation security (that doesn’t rely on imported oil) for delivery of food and other essentials (99.9 percent of human existence has relied on a bioregional economic model – which entails sourcing the majority of food and other goods within a 100 mile radius)
  • Development of strong community networks to provide neighborhood patrols in the absence of police services.
  • Neighborhood systems of rainwater collection and purification
  • Strong local credit unions and locally owned businesses and cooperatives
  • A local currency or trading system
  • Building a solid tradition of neighbors sharing with one another and helping each other one other out.
  • Increasing local expertise in permaculture and biointensive agriculture techniques, should industrial fertilizers and insecticides (which are manufactured from fossil fuels) become unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

Initiatives to improve energy security:

  • Neighborhood and community solar and wind power energy systems
  • A shift in urban planning to put essential services closer to residential areas (the urban village concept), facilitating increased use of public transportation and an increase in active transport (walking, cycling, skateboarding, etc.).
  • Neighborhood, as opposed to household, disaster planning. Ensuring that everyone in your neighborhood has access to dry firewood, candles and oil lamps and ensuring that schools, churches and other neighborhood gathering sites are similarly prepared.

Like the Y2K movement that proceeded it, the Transition Town movement emphasizes the over-riding importance of building strong social networks to cushion the impact of a sudden economic shock or infrastructure breakdown. This approach is supported by extensive medical and psychological studies showing that people with strong social networks recover more quickly from any major illness, personal crisis or catastrophe.

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