Can New Zealand’s grassroots lead a world transition to low-energy life-styles?

Making Jacinda Ardern’s nuclear free moment a reality?

How New Zealand could take a lead in showing the world how to cut fossil fuel use by 10 percent a year over the next ten years, and transition to a decarbonised society in a decarbonised world.

Thanks to Arthur Wells for selecting the following excerpts from Hazel Ashton’s Think Piece, Getting to a Flourishing Future Beyond Fossil Fuels.

In a series of talks in 2019, environmental scientist Dr Mike Joy made a compelling case for why we need to understand and accept biophysical limits to growth in order to move beyond them. He says we have to find ways to drastically reduce fossil fuel use by at least 10 percent annually for the next ten years and construct new life-styles that enable all to live well in a post-fossil fuel world.

Why is it so difficult to understand and accept this when scientists have been putting out clear indications of these limits since 1972? In spite of much grand talk, more than half of the carbon burning fossil fuels emissions currently in the atmosphere have been emitted in just the past 30 years. Many of the present problems and difficulties in recognizing and dealing with them have arisen from large industrial scale, especially global, top-down, business and governmental organizations that are stuck in their business as usual approaches…. I wish to therefore propose an interweaving of ground up with top down approaches to create a new synthesis that can, in fact, enable a transition to a world beyond dependence on fossil fuels.

Building on New Zealand’s nuclear free moment

New Zealand is small, and many people feel anything New Zealand does won’t make any difference on the global scale, so why bother? However, historically, New Zealand has led the world in making changes that were needed, for instance, giving women the vote, pioneering social welfare and labour disputes legislation in the 1890s, and then in 1987, passing nuclear free legislation. Since then, previous and current New Zealand prime ministers have drawn attention to this nuclear free moment to focus public attention on the climate change issues. As the then Prime Minister Helen Clark said in the “Speech from the Throne” (2007):

I believe New Zealand can aim to be the first nation to be truly sustainable – across the four pillars of the economy, society, the environment, and nationhood. I believe we can aspire to be carbon neutral in our economy and way of life. I believe that in the years to come, the pride we take in our quest for sustainability and carbon neutrality will define our nation, just as our quest for a nuclear-free world has over the past twenty three years.

Soon after being elected in 2017, current Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said of Climate Change:

This is my generation’s nuclear-free moment and I am determined that we will tackle it head on… I don’t accept New Zealand is a country at the bottom of the world that can’t play its part, particularly when we have the Pacific on our doorstep and they are so affected

In both instances, leaders propose mainly top-down solutions, to be administered from a bureaucratic level, which is very different from the nuclear-free quest, which was driven from the grass-roots. Most importantly, it was driven by an on-going, active engagement of ordinary people throughout the country. It was collective learning that involved active learning together; learning embedded in the process of seeking to achieve a collective purpose and learning that brought about a major institutional change that people wanted. The local nuclear-free zone campaign led to local governments and organisations debating the fate of the earth and what they could do about it….  

Let’s create some limits to the use of fossil fuels in a way that is safe, effective, and possibly even enjoyable so all can understand the practicalities involved in transitioning to a post-fossil fuel world. Let’s focus on implementation – how to transition to a life without fossil fuels, creating cycles of learning between local, practical and theoretical knowledge….

A proposal for grass roots change

Let’s petition the government to make Monday a car-free day, & a 4-day week, and offer a carbon-free dividend, some kind of monetary remuneration to support people and businesses and organisations to reduce their use of fossil fuels and participate in such a Transition Day.

Let’s set aside Monday, every week, to focus, together, on the need to transition to a life without fossil fuels, and what we can do, together, to help to bring this about, from our own households, streets, localities, towns or cities, country and ultimately, the world.

Let’s call this day, “Transition Monday”…. Slow everything down. This could be something like what many in the older generation called Sunday, a day of rest. One day where we give the planet a rest. This could also incorporate the idea of the four-day week which people in more nations and large organisations are now discussing as a way to cut carbon emissions and boost productivity.

  • Connect with life – our own and those of our family, friends, and community – and all that’s really important to us.

  • Connect with where we live – we all live somewhere with our fellow human and non-human inhabitants.

  • Experience limits and create lifestyles that work without using fossil fuels. Some New Zealander’s will remember the carless days of the 1970s where they couldn’t drive their car on certain days of the week.

  • Share learning, how people can meet their needs locally, and adapt to the post-fossil fuel future. Our indigenous Maori people could play an important role here by sharing their invaluable knowledge living successfully in Aotearoa New Zealand in a pre-fossil fuel culture.

  • Create regeneration zones and corridors to support life that still lives to flourish with supportive networks and teaching around this.

  • Commit to one day, once a week, to focus together, on what we need to do to make a successful transition to a post-fossil fuel world.

Will our government invest in a Transition Monday? Will they offer a carbon-free dividend, some kind of monetary remuneration to enable people and businesses and organisations to participate in such a Transition Day? Will our government support local communities and learning institutions to develop practices for this needed transition, so that they in turn can implement helpful well-supported policies that work? Just as when the New Zealand government came to declare New Zealand nuclear free in 1987, with wide-spread public support, it would find it similarly helpful to be widely supported to declare and implement a Transition Monday.

Thank you for reading. We look forward to your responses.

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