Taking a first step

Sustainability. Sounds like a good idea. Tom McKinlay reports.

Dunedin's a lovely spot. No question. Now we are piping our waste further out to sea you can go for a swim at St Clair pretty much any time you feel strong enough.

And on two city blocks the cycle lanes have been widened so you no longer take your life in your hands when using them.

But by other measures, our city is likely to be doing no better in the green and pleasant stakes than anywhere else in New Zealand. Indeed, by such measures, both this country's clean and green offshore marketing campaigns and way we go about our patch are likely to be unsustainable.

One such measure is recorded in the World Wildlife Fund's 2012 Living Planet report, which once again notes New Zealand is consuming considerably more than its share. It would take something more than three and a­half planets to sustain our way of life, if everyone else on the planet went about things in the same way, according to the report.

Indeed our lifestyle needs 4.31 ‘‘global hectares'' (gha) to support it, on a per person basis. The global average is 2.7gha per person, and even that is overtaxing the earth's ability to cope by about half a planet, WWF says.

Yes, that's right, the familiar tut­tutting.

At this point several responses are possible. One is to shrug it all off as too big and impossible to address.

Another is the Dunedin City Council's eight­week Sustainable Living Course.

On the face of it, this is an uneven contest. In the one corner, a problem of imbalance on global scale. In the other, a modestly funded initiative - albeit a national one - run out of a cosy backroom in a city church.

But Sustainable Living Course co­ordinator Maureen Howard has a view on that.

‘‘Focus on the things that you can influence,'' she says at the first session of a new course.

It's the sort of advice psychologists are keen on, she adds, just in case those present don't want to take her word for it.

For those of us in Dunedin, saving the polar bear from climate change­wrought ecosystem decline is a pretty big ask, she says.

But composting, cutting out a few chemical cleaners, growing some veges, eating seasonally and cycling, are all options. And they are worthwhile, Ms Howard contends.

In this way we stand a better chance of ‘‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs''.

That's something of a definition of sustainability.

Week two of the course looks at energy conservation: efficient use, minimising loss and generation.

I'll report back next week and over subsequent weeks of the course, giving a little taste of what's possible in the sustainability stakes without leaving town. I can walk to the cosy backroom in the Filleul St church, which keeps the carbon footprint down for a start.

It's also worth noting that this newspaper is printed on a renewable resource.

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