Jeanette Fitzsimons’ work has been inspired by the Limits to Growth ever since that much-maligned book came out in 1972. She has been, over those years, an environmental activist, university lecturer, researcher and writer, parent and eventually grandparent, farmer, musician, and for 13 years co-leader of the NZ Green Party in the national parliament. She has worked on climate change, energy, transport, sustainable land use, organic farming, farm forestry and more – which are, of course, really all one. She is now “retired” on a small organic farm on the Coromandel peninsula which she works with her husband Harry, and is Patron of the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust, and the Soil and Health Association of New Zealand.
“I’m enormously proud to be associated with the Blueskin pioneers. We need resistance to the bad ideas and demonstration of the good. The Blueskin demonstration provides inspiration to many who want to follow this path. Well done, and keep going!”
I Have Enough Now
by Jeanette Fitzsimons
Greetings from the deep Tasman Sea, about 100 miles from land. I should’ve had 6 days back home before the deadline for this piece but weather, winds and multi-national oil drillers are not predictable. A perfect excuse for delaying writing, but I realised today it’s also an opportunity to do it now and add some context to the theme I was planning: the balance between opposition (and the negative) and working for the positive.
Bunny McDiarmid of Greenpeace plucked me out of my comfortable week of living sustainably, milking our cow and fostering calves, growing the garden, restoring the damaged ecology from the disastrous fire that swept across our regenerating hillside, planning a grid-tied solar scheme for Thames, and dropped me into a little boat 110 miles from land. There we have spent a week confronting a massive industrial oil drilling ship that is shattering the peace and beauty of the ocean. We are also confronting the government’s insane resource development policy of mining and drilling for fossil fuels, in more and more extreme environments, putting our environment and our economic future at risk and diverting investment away from the clean renewable energy we need.
We challenged the stupid law rushed through Parliament with the narrowest majority to protect the foreign oil driller from kiwis trying to protect the ocean. We have spent a week describing tight circles inside the 500m “non-interference zone” around the (Ig)Noble Bob Douglas. For more details see my blog at http://hot-topic.co.nz/
Now we are on our way home, sailing in a straight line with a destination – what a relief. We will be at least a week late getting home and it’s a time for reflection.
Young idealistic activists have often said to me “I only want to work on positive things. I don’t want to waste any energy on the negative.” Often I’ve felt like that too. It feels so much better to focus on positive change, hope, optimism, design for a better future. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, community gardens, local transport solutions, the list is long. But after doing that for a while it feels like I’m ignoring the big issues.
It hit me with some force a few years ago that no matter how much renewable energy we build and how much we improve energy efficiency, it won’t make any difference to climate change, or keep a single tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere. The fossil fuel industry won’t stop just because we have better ideas and they aren’t needed. We will get more coal and oil as well as more wind and solar and biofuel, and just grow the economy faster. Well, if you were the CEO of a big coal corporation, would you shut up shop and go fishing just because the solar economy was taking off?
So whether we like it or not, we have to confront directly those things damaging our land and air and water and climate: the fossil fuel industry; the overuse and pollution of water; unsustainable fishing; destruction of biodiversity. Yes, it is negative, so for our own health we have to work on both tacks (couldn’t resist the sailing metaphor here): supporting the good and opposing the bad.
Climate campaigners need to work to plug the holes out of which coal and oil are extracted. Those holes won’t close without a big fight.
My first big environmental campaign was against nuclear power when I returned to this country in the mid-seventies. It soon became clear that we would have no credibility unless we could say what we were “for” – how should we get our electricity if not nuclear? Won’t we “run out”? Don’t you environmentalists want to take us “back” to cold baths and candles? So we produced a lot of information about energy efficiency and solar and wind technologies. I even went door-to-door showing people how to turn their hot water thermostats down to 55-60°C from the normal 80°C that greatly increased standing losses and power bills and risked burning children and old people.
In 1981 we were in the midst of the crazy “Think Big” projects and I spent the year focussed on the Mobil Synthetic Petrol plant in Taranaki, turning a clean low carbon fuel (methane, potentially CNG) into a dirty one (petrol) with the loss of half the energy in the gas in the process. By the end of that campaign, and the publications I did with ECO, it seems the only people who thought it was still a good idea were the Minister of Energy Bill Birch and the chair of the Synfuels Corporation Colin Maiden; unfortunately they had the power.
It was also that year that I was involved in establishing a co-operative farm north of Auckland where we practised organics, biodynamics, two-tier farming, farm forestry for specialty timbers, bee keeping etc.
The negativity of opposing the Synfuels plant sent me on a tour of the country with camera and notebook that I called “mapping the green shoots”. I visited solar houses, biogas plants, co-operatives, a sail-assisted fishing vessel, compressed biogas vehicles, permaculture, and had a great time with great people sharing their experiences. This resulted in several articles and slide-tape shows (the low-tech predecessors of DVDs) that were useful teaching tools. It was also a great experience for my 14 year old son who came with me until the start of the school year called him home.
Even in Parliament there was this duality – fighting the proposed changes to the RMA, fighting the government every step on genetic engineering, but also getting the Royal Commission and the moratorium in place, and drafting and passing the Energy Efficiency Act.
My life is still like this; working with Thames Transition Town to get insulation into low income homes, organising a bulk order of the best quality wood stoves, planning a grid-tied solar scheme. And at the same time working with Coal Action Network Aotearoa against all new coal mines – the huge Southland lignite projects (fortunately Solid Energy self-destructed and saved us a lot of work); taking Bathurst Resources through the courts over their proposed Denniston mine; developing the case for wood waste to feed Fonterra’s boilers instead of the new coalmine at Mangatawhiri. And now, confronting a giant oil rig in the Tasman Sea.
I think this reflects a basic principle of human psychology. Once you really understand the crisis the world is in, you can’t ignore it and you have to fight it. But if you spend your whole life opposing the bad you become bitter and angry.
On this voyage I’ve been reading Jonathan Porritt’s new book, The World We Made. It’s a fictional account from a 2050 viewpoint of how humanity came to turn the crises round and live sustainably. It describes the amazing technologies that made it all possible, from algal fuels to personal robots to airships to wheat engineered to fix its own nitrogen. As an account of what technology is up to and where it will be soon, it is engaging and hugely optimistic. Yet I really don’t feel technology is the issue.
We have the technologies now to live very well with a small fraction of the energy and materials we now use. We have the resources and technologies to ensure everyone has clean water and every child goes to school. What we don’t have is the will, the economic systems, and the collective compassion to shift investment patterns and make it happen.
If we could do it now, but don’t, what needs to change? And why would the 1% choose to embrace sustainability and justice when they are doing very nicely thank you acquiring material luxury by turning the world to waste?
A revolution in sustainable technology would be helpful in making our lives more comfortable in a sustainable future, but what we need most is a revolution in human values, a reorientation of our goals. A shift from growth in GDP, to growth in human well-being and justice. A shift from “More!” to “Enough”. Enough waste, enough greed, enough corruption: I have enough now. The rest is for others, for Nature so that all may thrive.
Then we will be able to keep the coal in the hole and send Anadarko home to Texas – where hopefully they won’t be welcome either. Because their ocean is our ocean and our climate is their climate.