By Gord Stewart
We learned a lot during lockdown.
We learned we can do without our celebrities, sports heroes, and marketing sharks. But not without our health care professionals, reliable delivery people, and that friendly person at the grocery checkout. Parents helping children with their studies gained a whole new appreciation for their teachers.
We slowed down. We took up a new hobby. We learned to knit, did jigsaw puzzles, read a book. And we tackled the ‘to do’ list. We cleaned out cupboards and washed windows.
Shay Lawrence, for her part, wrote a letter. Started as some thoughts to her customers, it soon morphed into an open letter to the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, all Members of Parliament, and all local governments.
The letter addressed the ‘economic reset’ we now face and the funds being devoted to it. It urged that sustainability and long-term thinking be at the core of all decisions and actions. Five topic specialists gave her a hand with it. (See the full text here.)
Within two weeks, the letter had the support of nearly 3,000 individuals and the endorsement of more than 300 businesses and organisations. It was delivered the day we moved to Alert Level 2.
The initiative was a volunteer effort of Lawrence, founder of CaliWoods, a social enterprise with a mission to stop plastic pollution and help make a sustainable life easier. During an extended OE, with lots of surfing and sailing, Lawrence witnessed the mountain of plastic loose in the world and the harm it was doing.
CaliWoods now makes available – online and through retail outlets around the country – a wide range of quality, sustainably-produced reusable products. They range from drinking straws, bees wax wraps and carry bags to stainless containers, laundry pegs and toiletry items. Education and advocacy are key elements of the enterprise and the letter was a natural extension of that.
Each of the topics covered in the letter deserves a full column. For now, the best I can do is give you a taste for it.
Melanie Mark-Shadbolt, Chief Maori Advisor at Minister for the Environment among other roles, covers methods and solutions from indigenous knowledge. She calls for a shared vision of what we want New Zealand and our environment to look like a 100-500 years from now. No short-term,election-cycle thinking here.
David Tong, senior campaigner for Oil Change International, addresses renewable energy saying we are well placed to carve a path that other countries will follow. He highlights six principles for recovery and stimulus, which the Chair of the Climate Change Commission has presented to Government ministers. Hope they’re listening.
Dr Mike Joy, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington and a Better Futures Forum core group member, pushes for agriculture that is both regenerative and conversion focused. High time we worked with nature not against it, he says.
Dr Paul Callister, an economic and social researcher, tackles transport and, unsurprisingly, focuses on ‘low carbon mobility’. Among other things, he sees us as the Holland of the South, where biking is the norm not the exception.
Hannah Blumhardt, a zero waste specialist and one-half of the famed Rubbish Trip duo, notes that existing legislation (the Waste Minimisation Act 2008) gives us all the powers needed to create a zero waste, circular economy reset for New Zealand. We must start using this legislation, she urges, and do it correctly.
The open letter is a true citizens’ movement effort and not the only call for thoughtful action. The Green Covid Response proposal from Greenpeace, for example, outlines priority investments to build a cleaner, resilient and equitable Aotearoa New Zealand. Budget 2020 kicks off the Green Reset that the Green Party has been pushing for, with a focus on creating meaningful jobs, improving people’s lives, and protecting the environment.
Still to come is $20 billion in spending and Lawyers for Climate Action NZ say the Government has moral and legal obligations to use it to transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy. The recently established Better Futures Forum would second the motion on that one. So would Generation Zero, whose passionate and sustained campaigning was instrumental in the formulation and passing of the Zero Carbon Bill.
The massive spending we are embarking on cannot just be about the here and now. David Tong says it should not be borrowing from young Kiwis and future generations, but rather investing in and for them. I’ll second that one.
- Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics