Making our way to a regenerative future

Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
We all have someone we know - a brother, sister, parent, child - who practises fatalism in the place of decision-making, writes Scott Willis.

Scott Willis
Scott Willis
It can be infuriating to be on the other side. I know people who adamantly refuse to vote, because "it doesn’t change anything". But not doing anything, refusing to act, is itself a choice that leads to change. We’re like fish in the river of life — if we don’t acknowledge the river and we let ourselves be taken along by the flow we’ll end up where the river takes us, possibly caught in a social media net, tangled in conspiracy.


On the other hand, some of us like our place in the pool and try to stay in the same place but, regardless, the river will keep flowing, and the work it takes to remain still in the flow becomes exhausting after a while. The section of our community who attended the "Howl of a Protest" a week ago are fighting hard to stay still in one place when the world is moving towards zero carbon.

There’s a third path. It involves looking ahead and negotiating the river braids, aiming for the most life-affirming route. Luckily, we’re more intelligent than fish and can use our imagination and creativity to look beyond the here and now. Engaging in scenario planning can help us make sense of plausible futures and identify ways to get there. The work I’m involved in at present requires a great deal of scenario mapping to help guide investment of time and resources for decarbonisation.

Scenarios are models of future development, and we now have clarity around the general direction of travel in our earth systems. Data from May 2021 shows that Earth’s CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in more than four million years, at 419 parts per million. Back then sea levels were about 25 metres higher than today and our pre-human primate ancestors wandered the land. It was only 10,000 years ago that human civilisation began, with agriculture and the emergence of writing. It’s only within the last few hundred years that human activity has begun seriously altering the climate.

Identifying key global drivers of change can help us "achieve a broad and open-ended adaptability to inherent unpredictability", argues David Holmgren, an Australian ecologist. One possible scenario he sketches envisages continued use of fossil fuels as climate impacts worsen, exacerbating hazards and leading to a hardening of power in the state and corporations. Another scenario suggests that resource constraints and severe climate impacts lead to a breakdown of global civilisation and eventual re-emergence of simple social organisation and low-impact technologies.

Without changes in basic values and practices, and a fast transition to low-carbon energy, we’ll destroy the diversity and beauty of the world. As climate hazards occur with increasing frequency and intensity — think the latest West Coast, Marlborough and Canterbury floods, the Wellington region storm damage, devastating European floods, the North American "heat dome" and associated wild fires, the Pakistan heatwave, and drought and famine in Madagascar — the social challenges have become more pronounced and the risk of social conflict has increased.

I don’t think many people would disagree with a future that allowed us to swim in clean rivers, a future where our food was free of chemical residues and nature could thrive, where our homes were warm and welcoming, and where our energy needs were met by renewables and not imports of cheap dirty coal. A regenerative, distributive and resilient Aotearoa New Zealand is possible, but it requires us to plan ahead and negotiate the river braids, backtracking if we find a dead end. In short, it requires a clear focus and adaptive practice.

So let’s not ignore the discontent, but not pander to the extremists either, because we need to maintain a tolerant, caring society. That means listening, not to insults, but to fears and worries, and building space for safe discussion, and space to reach consensus where possible. Ultimately though, this decade, we must take action to reduce emissions and adapt, and we must exercise as much tolerance as we can, because a radical transformation is required and it will challenge us all.

I love negotiating our braided rivers. I want to find my way downstream to a new economic model that treasures and protects Papatuanuku and builds a regenerative and resilient Aotearoa New Zealand.

Scott Willis is a climate and energy consultant. Each week in this column one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.



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"The section of our community who attended the "Howl of a Protest" a week ago are fighting hard to stay still"
They are working hard so we don't travel down another dead end on your braided river
Examples are, having to import dirty coal because government banned the mining of it. Banning gas exploration when we could use it to replace dirty coal and establish a reticulation system that could be utilised by hydrogen and biogas
Our technology and society has never been as dynamic and progressive (in the true meaning of the word) as now
NZ farmers have never been more aware of their impact on the environment as they are today
That is not a worldwide attribute.
The general population is no different in that we work with the environment, technology, knowledge, regulation and market, to make a living but we don't see the environment bit because we don't work the land
They don't farm like their grandparents did or even their parents
The older farmers don't even farm like they did in their youth
Show them your way and let them decide if you're right
We need innovators, leaders, educators, not messiahs pushing emotive fear

"They don't farm like their grandparents did or even their parents", you're right, their grandparents didn't pollute rivers.

And your grandparents did not have the internet, vaccines, supermarkets, cars, aeroplanes, the list goes on and on, all of which pollutes something, somewhere.

I find your argument is weak and illogical.
Here is a reality check for you - People across the globe are dying and suffering right now due to the effects of climate change and even if we immediately phased out oil and gas, emissions from agriculture alone may make it impossible to limit warming to the 1.5C goal in the Paris agreement.
Across a slew of sectors from food and fast fashion to construction and heavy industry, companies have helped drive climate chaos. As climate impacts accelerate – the world is boiling, burning, flooding and melting – there is unprecedented pressure on all companies to start taking their own role in the crisis far more seriously.
I'm not interested in pointing fingers but recent global events have mad it clear that we must ALL reduce our impact on this planet NOW if we are to have a prosperous future.

I don't know where you get your world view from Pat but I like
The media is totally unreliable when it comes to political issues.
Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction stories before the current Middle East wars, started 20 years ago.
All a pack of lies.
Last years figures show more people dying in the USA because of cold than heat.
Chinas problem are all CCP made. Iran has the similar problem with its government.
People keep building onto the natural waterways and then look to blame everyone else when disaster strikes.
South Dunedins flooding is a case in point.
Lets hope the DCC keeps cleaning those mud traps out.

Eyes Wide Open you once again display flawed logic. The historical number of deaths from natural disasters (mainly earthquakes and pandemics) is not a measure of climate change related deaths.
A study just published in Nature Communications on Thursday has calculated exactly how many excess deaths we can expect per additional metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The figure, called the mortality cost of carbon (MCC), estimates that one person will die for every 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide in excess of the 2020 emissions rate.
Our world in data is an excellent site, I suggest you read the parts that actually relate to climate change, such as-
Although interestingly the world has already warmed since this was written.

It's a pity that an article that had regenerative in the title did not cover the concepts of Regenerative Farming or Permaculture. I only recently came across the concepts on one of my YouTube/ Wikipedia wanders. They hold a lot of promise for New Zealand and given they are based on good old fashioned common sense, something most farmers have in spades, I do wonder why we don't see more of it.

You may also be interested in this article
Also I encourage you and anybody else you wants an insight into the problems with NZ dairy farming to checkout the excellent documentary available on tvnz onDemand entitled Land of Milk and Money.

Common sense is drowned out by ideological imperative, the Right hooking onto farmers' issues.

You speak of the right, look at what your beloved left is doing........

This author really should tackle the economics of climate adaptation. Specifically, the main charge against the recent Climate Change Commission report: that it attempts to overrule the ETS by diktat of what is and is not an acceptable carbon mitigation. I hope we can all agree that we should start by abating the "low-hanging fruit": carbon emissions that are easy to substitute at low or no economic cost. That is, essentially, marginal efficiency: exactly what the ETS is designed to achieve. The decentralised decisions of individual economic agents, not centralised planning. I'd rather a world where your typical Karori family buys a smaller car (rather than an SUV!) over a world where poor people can't afford to eat cheese or meat. A market-based system like the ETS will get us there without a great deal of bureacracy.

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