Thinking global, acting local (…in Motueka)

by Jen Vella

Motueka waterfront. Motueka Visitor Information.

A local group in Motueka (located near the northern coast of the South Island) are demonstrating how we can “walk the talk” on carbon reduction in our homes and businesses. We spoke to Heather Spence, Steve Richards and Marion van Oeveren about a grassroots initiative to both educate the local community and showcase the wide variety of ways in which urban and rural residents in the Motueka region employ carbon reduction and sequestration activities in their normal, everyday lives.

“The project came about partly because we became aware of Project Drawdown and partly because of a successful project we have previously done in Ngatimoti,” says Heather. “Then one day on Nine to Noon, Kathryn Ryan said that there was a lot of talk about climate change but nobody was actually walking the talk. But because of the Ngatimoti project, we knew that people around Motueka were, so we decided that we would approach them and see what we could do with it.”

‘Walking the Talk – Local Solutions for Carbon Reduction’ is a series of events to be held in and around Motueka. The first event comprises a presentation on 16 September 2020, which explores carbon reduction solutions promoted by the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming” (2017). Tours of local properties which demonstrate some of the carbon emissions and carbon sink solutions promoted by Project Drawdown will then be offered throughout September and October, Covid permitting. 

But wait, what’s Project Drawdown and this book we’re talking about?

Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organisation that seeks to help the world reach the point of “drawdown” – which is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. It is a critical turning point for life on Earth because it is at this point that we can hope to avert potentially catastrophic warming. While some natural carbon sinks (including land, coastal and ocean sinks) draw carbon from the atmosphere, recent estimates are that 59% of emissions from electricity production, food, agriculture and land use, industry, transportation, buildings and other activities remain in the atmosphere.

Project Drawdown was co-founded in 2014 by American entrepreneur and environmental activist, Paul Hawken and Amanda Ravenhill, to uncover the most substantive solutions to stop climate change and communicate them to the world. Paul Hawken is the editor of the Drawdown book which draws on the work of many researchers and scientists from around the world.

“In the early 2000s, Paul Hawken started asking people – what do we know we have to do to arrest and reverse global warming?” says Heather. “He was looking for a shopping list. He consulted scientists and researchers who told him – there isn’t one. So he put it on the backburner. But in 2013 we became more aware of how fast we were rocketing towards irreversible climate change. So he got together a coalition of scientists and researchers from 22 countries and the team identified solutions with the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions or to sequester carbon through carbon sinks. They identified the top 100 solutions and then ranked them from greatest potential to the least potential.” 

The Drawdown framework

In 2020, the Project Drawdown team released Drawdown Review – a comprehensive document which lists climate solutions that already exist and can be implemented immediately. One of the Drawdown Review’s key conclusions is that we can reach drawdown by mid-century by implementing existing solutions. 

Steve owns a cafe near Motueka, where he practises a range of these solutions. The building has been constructed using earth from the site, is serviced by composting toilets and the cafe draws on a food forest he has created on surrounding land. He composts all kitchen waste, chickens eat the scraps and he makes biochar to sequester carbon in the ground. But he says that the biggest contribution he and his wife make to reducing climate change is that they work from home and don’t commute.

Judy and Steve Richards, in front of the Jester House cafe – a business and lifestyle built on strong sustainability ethics.

But we can only reach drawdown by mid-century if we scale up, and make the best use of all existing climate change solutions. We need accelerators to move solutions forward at the scale, speed and scope required and a means of removing barriers to climate solutions – changing policy, shifting capital, changing culture and building political power.

“There’s no doubt that Covid has proven that the Government can make things change very quickly, if there is the political will,” says Steve. “What ‘Walking the Talk’ is about is showing what people can do quite easily at home by themselves. But for really major change, it does need direction from the Government. In a year, we could have no single use plastic containers for example. We could decide that every soft drink, all beer and wine has to be in a returnable container that can be washed and used again. That could easily happen if there was the will.”

But the Drawdown Review concludes there is no silver bullet, no single big thing we can do to arrest climate change. The crisis requires systemic, structural change across our global society and many solutions that combine, co-operate and leverage off others to make the greatest impact. The report says that “the reality of intervening in a complex system is that no one can do it all, and we all have an opening to show up as problem-solvers and change-agents and contribute in significant ways—even when we feel small.” 

That is exactly what “Walk the Talk” is designed to demonstrate. In the presentation and on tours, participants will witness sustainable methods of food production, storage and preservation; treatment of biodegradable waste; energy efficiency, including energy monitoring systems and a prototype flameless combustion stove/space heater that burns organic waste materials and makes biochar; homes that are built from recycled or natural materials and without the high emissions of steel or cement; ecosystem restoration and protection, and a productive urban permaculture paradise.  

The Wiggly Wog at Jester House exemplifies a number of green building techniques: a “green living roof’ that provides soil and grass as insulation; it also reflects solar energy and reduces energy use. The Wiggly Wog was built from locally sourced clay, further reducing emissions associated with its construction. 

The group is keen to reinforce that the solutions seen throughout Walking the Talk are everyday things that normal people can do. 

“For a lot of people, they don’t think about these things,” Steve says. “But for the tour hosts, they will be demonstrating the everyday things that they do. Your everyday reality is just normal and you think – it’s just average, this is what I do. But it’s not until you show people and they are amazed at what you are doing that you think – if they can do one of these things then you have achieved something.”

Motueka township. Motueka Visitor Information

The Drawdown Review also makes the point that climate solutions are rarely just climate solutions – many also improve health, restore ecosystems and create jobs. And they can advance social and economic equity if utilised wisely and well – with attention to who decides, who benefits, and how any drawbacks are mitigated. Heather says that the co-benefits of carbon reduction solutions will be evident from the many simple features seen on the ‘Walk the Talk’ tours and described by site hosts – health and community spirit, for example.

“The things our tour hosts do are simple and practical,” says Heather. “They didn’t start doing them for climate reasons, but they have climate benefits. It’s just the ordinary things they do in their organic lifestyles. The regenerative agriculture principles that Drawdown promotes are very similar to organic principles and permaculture principles. But the people who come along on our tours probably don’t realise that. And so they will see gardens that are mulched and have companion plants and where the crops are rotated and where the watering systems are efficient, and they are looking at regenerative agriculture as defined in Drawdown Review.  All very ordinary things, but they are all things that either reduce carbon emissions or drawdown and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, so they are climate change solutions. People grow forests, they protect their forests, they have working bees that manage old man’s beard which is a huge problem in many areas here.”

Growing food is a big emphasis of Walking the Talk – this photo of a Motueka garden exemplifies some regenerative agriculture techniques applied on a small scale – mulching (water conservation), crop rotation, ecosystem-based pest management (through companion planting). 

“There are lots of hidden spinoffs too,” says Marion. “When you spend your time growing your food or planting native trees, you drive and consume less. You are reducing your carbon footprint in other ways as well. And I know from experience that it is great exercise and keeps you fit.” 

The Drawdown Review says that some of the most powerful climate solutions receive comparably little attention, reminding us to widen our lens. While large projects such as wind farms and solar panels get the spotlight, food waste reduction, plant based diets, and restoration of forests are equally important.

“Consumer choices, like eating a plant based diet, are very powerful. At all garden tours, there will be a display and information about plant-rich eating” says Marion. “Consumers have huge influence as to what the market offers. The more people that start to ask – why does my kettle break after three months? – the more things will change. As consumers, we have become used to seeing processed food and poor quality clothing and appliances in our supermarkets and retail stores. Everything we buy and discard is a climate choice.” 

‘Walking the Talk – Local Solutions for Carbon Reduction’ is being run by Local Matters, a Motueka Green Party programme of community engagement on sustainable issues which focuses on issues, not politics. The programme launches at Mapua Community Hall, 72 Aranui Rd, Tasman Bay on September 16 . Tickets available through Humanitix.co.nz  – $10 per person.

Watch Paul Hawken talk about Project Drawdown here. Read more about Paul Hawken on one hundred solutions to the climate crisis here.

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