Urban Homesteading and Radical Home Economics

Setting the Context

Dr Ottilie Stolte from the University of Waikato sets the scene for understanding how our households have shifted from productive to consumptive units, and how that affects us as households and as a society in general.

She suggests that neo-liberalism values have led to a shift in how households operate/live: where profit is the measure of success and the market is seen as the best way to achieve profit, there is a push for work that was traditionally outside the market economy to be made into a marketable good or service.
Neoliberalism - Ottilie Stolte countering neoliberalism - ottilie

What this has meant is that work that doesn’t contribute to the economy is under-valued, and a lot of this is work carried out by women (and ironically, a lot of this is under-paid even when it has been made into a marketable service – care work, cleaning, and so on).

Here is a media review talking about what can happen when neo-liberalism meets feminism:

The Work-Spend Cycle

The work-and-spend cycle is a phenomenon in which people in affluent nations remain trapped in a pattern of long hours of work and increasing consumption spending that fails to generate lasting improvements in well-being and plays a major role in ecological degradation.

Dale Southerton, Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture

For example, many work long hours and so rely on childcare services, but then need to earn more money to pay for the childcare, and so end up working longer hours.

But how can we break out?
How can we reduce the amount of outsourcing we do?

Can we shift our view of the system, so that money is a means to an end, rather than an end itself?

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Can we reclaim some of the jobs, and skills we have outsourced, that we now pay for? (But while reclaiming it, throwing in a bit of gender equality, so that jobs are shared – check out Çiçek Göçkün’s TED talk).


Can we borrow, share and swap more, to reduce our reliance on money exchanges for goods and services? (This post on Alternative Economies has more info.)

Eight Forms of Capital

Ethan Roland of Appleseed Permaculture puts forward the idea of 8 forms of capital, which are often inter-related and can sometimes be exchanged for each other. Working out which we are richer or poorer in can help us identify opportunities to holistically develop/build assets in a variety of different capitals, and also engage us in shifting away from the dominant paradigm that only values financial capital.

Consumption to Production

To be more productive and less consumptive we need time (and skills). Spending more time on home skills means less time to earn money. But it’s OK! Because you don’t need as much money to start with, as you are making things that you would otherwise have to purchase.

And while we are looking at living with less money, you might want to check out the book Frugal Hedonism – a guide to having fun without spending money. Our group of Permaculture Students came up with some of their own ideas and the general consensus was nature, friends, food, drinks, a little risk (fire, mild law-breaking, etc.), or combinations of several/all have the making of an excellent time with very little financial expenditure.

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Getting Started

Some good resources for people starting on their homesteading journey are:

And here are some links to some fun activities that may well change your life if you don’t already know them:

Beeswax wrapInstructions from My Healthy Green Family (using oven), or video below (using iron).

Keeping productive animals

  • Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.
  • Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.

Preserving and fermentingCommon Sense Home have a excellent guide to food preservation for beginners, including cool storage, drying/dehydrating, canning, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and preserving in salt, sugar, alcohol or oil.

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The Love Food Hate Waste website has instructions, videos, recipes and more for food preservation. It also has resources for food planning, storage, waste minimisation, and more!

Home made cleaning products – there are hundreds of recipes available online, from simple ones with ingredients you’ll probably already have in your cupboard, to ones that focus on reducing environmental harm and ‘nasty chemicals’, to what might be a nearly comprehensive list of all the options, and everything in between.

Reusable padsAnne-Marie, if you are reading this, please create a link about the reusable pads you make so that we can share and celebrate the story behind your products that look after the Earth and people. Thank you! 🙂 In the mean time, the How to Make Your Own Reusable Menstrual Pads page on WikiHow will do.






Your Home: Cold and Damp, or Warm and Dry?

As someone who was raised in Germany and now lives in New Zealand, I’ve got to say I love this videoclip!

Most of New Zealand’s houses have poor thermal performance. In winter, most of them are cold and damp. The remainder are warm but expensive to run. Ian Mayes says the problem is most Kiwis have not lived in warm, dry homes; poor quality homes have been normalised. It is so common, that  parts of the Census is dedicated to asking whether your home is cold and whether these is mould growing in it.

Thermo-Hygrometer: Modell HM 16We should all have thermo hygrometers in our homes. If everyone had one, there would be riots as people realise they are paying so much for cold, damp, poorly performing homes.

Ian Mayes, 2018

Making our homes warmer

Our homes can be made warmer by heating them well and reducing heat loss.


There are different ways we can heat out homes, and EECA has created a great resource to compare the options, depending on the size and use of the space you want to heat.

Reducing Heat Loss

Tips on insulating and reducing heat loss can be found in this blog post but here’s a little bit of extra info about my favourite topic – windows!

A single pane of glass only has an R-value of between 0.15 and 0.19. Standard double glazing is around R 0.26 and the fanciest double glazing might reach R 0.6.

Because even the best double glazed windows still have low insulating abilities, curtaining is very important.

The 4 rules for good curtaining are:

  • Cover ALL glass. Windows. Doors. Funny glazed spots. The lot.
  • Always 2+ layers. It is the air around and between layers that insulates, rather than the material itself. A single layer doesn’t trap nearly as much heat as a double layer.
  • Energy saving curtains should close off airflow over the window glass
    Image from http://www.green-energy-efficient-homes.com/energy-saving-curtains.html

    Stop reverse convection currents. By having curtains touching the floor, or  pelmets, or both!

  • Good behaviour. Close curtains in the afternoon, to stop daytime heat escaping. Open curtains in the morning to allow heat in during the day.

Making our homes drier

Ventilation and moisture control can help us make homes drier.

Note: Ventilation is different to draughts in that the former is a chosen air exchange, while draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges and heat leakages.

We want less moisture in our homes because it makes them healthier and less prone to mould. Good ventilation combined with other moisture control practices can reduce relative humidity.

Once again, EECA have created a great resource for tackling dampness and reducing indoor moisture, which can be found here: www.energywise.govt.nz/at-home/dampness.


Passive Solar Design – Building an Eco Home

Bigger Picture

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the majority of homes perform to a very poor standard. They are cold, damp, expensive to run, and making us sick. Each year there are 1600 deaths caused or contributed to by poor housing conditions.

New homes are usually also poorly designed; constructed to minimum Building Code standards.

‘The worst house you are legally allowed to build’

In addition, we are building these poor quality homes on some of the world’s best farming land. And not with diverse people and households in mind:

BRANZ is an independent and impartial research, testing, consulting and information company providing services and resources for the building industry – www.branz.co.nz. They have created a resource ‘Measuring our sustainability progress: Benchmarking New Zealand’s New Detached Residential Housing Stock’.

According to the World Health Organisation, the following temperatures lead to health implications:

  • Less than 16oC affects respiratory system
  • Less than 12oC affects cardiovascular system

(These values are for healthy adults. Children, elderly and people with illness or disabilities require at least 2 degrees warmer than these values.)

Living areas should not fall below 18 degrees and bedrooms should not fall below 16 degrees. Yet in New Zealand, 17.9% of living rooms are colder than 18 degrees during winter months (despite active heating), and 13.6% of bedrooms are colder than 12 degrees. In addition, 55% of our homes have visible mould.


This is making people sick, but we can do a lot to avoid it.

For example, it has been calculated that for every $1 you invest into insulating your home, you save $6-10 through direct cost savings (e.g. power bill) and indirect savings (e.g. lower medical bills, better school attendance and education, etc.).

When designing or retrofitting a home, it is important to consider the three factors:


If you try to cut on one, you will end up cutting on the others as well. We spend 55% of our lives in our home, so it is important to make sure we make it good.

pexels-photo-280221.jpegPassive Solar Design


There are 5 key principles to Passive Solar Design:

* Orientation

* Insulation

* Thermal Mass

* Airtightness

* Shading and venting

Orientation (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

By getting the shape and size of the building right, and by facing it to Solar North, we are able to harvest ‘free heat’. This is because windows are energy loss and gain points. Some windows lose more than they gain. Too much glazing leads to too much heat loss. Most glazing should be to the North, with moderate amounts to the East and West. There should be as little glazing as possible to the South.


Surface area is also a factor to consider. The greater the surface area, the greater the heat loss; the more compact the shape, the less heat will be lost. We can think about this in terms of volume: perimeter ratio.

surface area

It is also important to be aware of corners, as they are difficult to insulate. Every external corner is a weak point in the structure, and the more corners, the greater the thermal weakness of the building.


energy use

There are 3 sources of heat in the home:

  1. Solar heat that is harvested
  2. Occupant load (heat generated through people living, e.g. bodies, appliances, etc.)
  3. Added heat (e.g. heat pump, etc.)

In New Zealand, our main aim (for most of the year) is to keep warm air inside. To do this, we need to insulate.

In an uninsulated house, heat can be expected to be lost in roughly the following ways:


Insulating different places (e.g. ceiling, underfloor, etc.), reduces the overall heat loss speed. However, it is important to think about the whole thermal envelope of the house. It does not make sense to just insulate one area of the house as the heat will then just escape somewhere else. It can be likened to being naked in the cold: it helps if you put on a jacket, but to get truly warm you will also need trousers, socks, hat, etc. 3 jackets but no trousers/socks/hat is not as useful as one of each.

When insulating, another important factor to consider are thermal bridges. Thermal bridges are materials that connect from the inside to the outside of the house. It is very easy to lose heat through thermal bridges. As with house design, edges are often the weak point of insulation, as well.

Curtaining windows is important because windows allow a lot of heat loss. There are 4 rules to good curtaining:

  • Curtain all glass (or cover it in some way if it is not possible to put a curtain on)
  • Have 2 (or more) layers
  • Stop convection currents through pelmets and having curtains to the floor
  • Good curtain behaviour – close curtains before heat is lost, around 4pm.

The diagram below illustrates the difference between a well and poorly performing curtain:


Shading and Venting (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

shadingNorth facing side needs to have shading that is moveable and non-permanent, because it has to be able to let sun in in winter and shade from sun in summer à otherwise it will be too cold in winter and too hot in summer.

Deciduous trees are not the answer to shading in this climate, as even with no leaves they still shade at least 50% of light and heat.

The ways to keep the home cool in summer are:

  • Insulation (keeps home cool in summer, as well as warm in winter)
  • Shading
  • Ventilation


Generally, we over ventilate New Zealand homes, plus many homes are draughty. Draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges, while ventilation is when it is controlled (i.e. we have taken control over when and how the air change takes place).

We need to change air in the house every day to ensure good health. We want to do it quickly, not trickling (e.g. through draughts and by leaving a window open a little bit). By opening a window in one part of the house and another on the other side, we can create a path of air movement so that the air exchange is quick. This is especially good in winter, as fast air exchange means thermal mass will not cool down, and so the home will remain warm.

Thermal Mass


Further Resources

“Remember, we don’t have to do everything; we just need to do as much as we can. And if more of us do more, that will be enough; we don’t all have to do it all.” – Ian Mayes

Enough is Enough: Growth, GDP and Alternative Measures of Progress

(Based on a workshop delivered by Dr Maxine Campbell and Dr Beat Huser)

Introducing Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and the Free Market

Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profits. Some of the key characteristics of capitalism include the accumulation of wealth and capital, wage labour, a price system, and competitive markets. It is the economic system that has come to dominate Western countries.

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Image from http://bloggingblue.com/2012/04/free-market-capitalism/

The idea of a free market has become almost inextricably interwoven into the ideals of the capitalist economic system. A free market is an idealised system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and consumers. The desire is that the forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority. However, unfortunately without some universal values towards the environment and human welfare, it has become clear that free market economics can become abusive to people and planet.

Neoliberalism is the political ideology associated with free market capitalism. It calls for a laissez faire approach to the economy (i.e. let it do its own thing without regulation) that celebrates markets, profits, and risk-taking.

Many (particularly but not exclusively the political left) argue that some or all of these concepts are resulting in widening inequality between rich and poor, and are fueling practices that lead to environmental destruction; as their largely unregulated practices mean profits are internalised, but negative environmental and social consequences are externalised and considered beyond their scope of responsibility.

Put simply, if you focus on growth, competition and profit maximisation, you place value on them. Market capitalism and neoliberalism put these things in front of everything else, including the welfare of people and the planet.

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Why neoliberalism, capitalism and the free market clash with environmental and social ethics is because if you are in a closed system (like, say, a planet), because there are a fixed number of resources within the system, anything you gain is at the expense of someone else.

We need to think about how we can be happy with this much:

enough 2.png

Instead of this much:


Maxine Campbell

Many people, across the political spectrum, note that in all of history there has been an unequal distribution of power and wealth. However, that does not mean it must or will always be that way: power and wealth is a socially-constructed, man-made feature of our species. And it can be changed.

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Image from Image from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/occupy-wall-street-anti-capitalist-protesters-demonstrate-wall-st-corporate-greed-gallery-1.963450

Economic Growth, Gross Domestic Product, and interesting alternatives

The videoclip below offers an easy-to-follow description of economic growth and GDP.

Most countries use GDP as the only or most important indicator of success. There is no denying, GDP is a good indicator of economic activity.

However, it is NOT a good measure of progress and well-being, of non-market items (e.g. volunteering). Also, it values all dollars equally, regardless of societal consequences; a dollar spent on health is valued the same as a dollar spent on weapons production.

‘We cut down green spaces and build mental health facilities, but the green spaces were mental health facilities to start with’

Beat Huser

Ironically, the developer of the GDP, Simon Kuznets, warned not to use GDP as a measure of welfare or as a sole measure of success – but that is exactly what most countries have done.

Image result for what is the genuine progress indicatorGenuine Progress Indicator – GPI

Unlike GDP, the Genuine Progress Indicator incorporates aspects of the non-market economy, separates welfare-enhancing benefits from welfare-detracting costs, corrects for the unequal distribution of income, and distinguishes between sustainable and unsustainable forms of consumption.

The GPI is still based on economic activity, but it is more inclusive than the GDP.

There is a strong case for measuring progress with indicators beyond just economic growth, and there are many examples that have been developed, including some which are used around the world, today.

Sustainable Economic Development Assessment

Gross National Happiness – a case study in Bhutan


Urban Design: People, Places, Spaces


Today, over half the world’s population live in urban areas. By 2050, it may be as high as 80%. Despite cities only occupying approximately 2% of the world’s land surface, they account for approximately 70% of global CO2 emissions, and this is only going to increase in the future.

In addition, spaces are designed for economic growth, rather than people: parks, playgrounds, community centres and dwellings are pushed out of the centre – to make space for businesses and parking lots.

(Full movie available here: https://vimeo.com/162029805)

Image: AcidFlask via flickr.  CC license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Sustainable Cities Net http://www.sustainablecitiesnet.com/sustainable-cities/future-biodiversity-the-role-of-cities-and-local-authorities/

So how can we ensure cities and city developments keep people at their heart? And how can we make sure we look after the earth, and the other fauna and flora we share urban spaces with?


A Good Use Of Space…

Until recently, many urban designers were not aware that the way a city is designed determines how people behave, interact, and enjoy it.

A well designed city (or area within a city) will look different to everyone, but some key features are:

Elliott St has become more liveable thanks to Auckland Council's laneways programme.
Elliott St, Auckland  https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/better-business/78403950/laneways-inject-liveability-back-into-new-zealand-cities
  • Foster interconnectedness: there are many opportunities for people to meet and interact. Cul-de-sacs are great for dwellings as they do not have any through traffic, and are often relatively safe. Pedestrianisation of areas has also been found to radically change how people use a space; with more pedestianised areas resulting in more people coming out, walking, and socialising.
  • Foster well-being: there are opportunities to connect to nature, education centres, community services, and these are accessible to all.
  • pexels-photo-878000.jpeg
    Fostering interconnectedness and well-being.

    Working within the bioregion: ideally, urban and rural settlements within a bioregion will be self-sufficient, or almost. Bioregional self-sufficiency means the area will be more environmentally sustainable (for example it may have lower emissions, as less needs to be imported), it will have a vibrant local economy (as people will be supporting their local initiatives and businesses), and there will be a stronger identity (as each bioregion develops to suit its local area).

  • Make the most of available resources: good design turns ‘waste’ into resources, utilises horizontal and vertical space, and means features have more than one use (e.g. a living wall can produce food, help purify air, and provide insulation to buildings). Even space itself can be a resource; if buildings are arranged randomly, a lot of ‘lost space’ can exist, but with some care, space that can be used positively is found.


Aiming For Utopia…

After the industrial revolution, many cities became progressively less liveable; congestion, pollution, and unreliable supplies of resources meant many people suffered or lived in poor conditions.

There have been many ideas and movements to try and find solutions. Some have been somewhat successful, and others have resulted in additional challenges. One thing that has been discovered, is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: to be effective, ideas need to be tailored to the local social, cultural, political and environmental circumstances.


Ebenezer Howard is the founder of the garden city movement. As well as the links, this video offers an informative summary:

Though he and many others have attempted to solve city problems, those that forget to put people at the heart of design may find their ideas less successful.

For example, many past and present city planners like to zone the area they are working in. Zoning is the process of diving land into different zones and encouraging certain activities within each. While this may seem rational and make a place appear more organised, it is likely to be less practical for the people that live, work and play in the city.

In mixed use spaces, everything is much closer and convenient. Zoning can be a result of a disconnect between urban design and the people that use the space.


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Waimārama opens first papa kāinga

Bringing Back Papakāinga…


When New Zealand was colonised, traditional Māori settlements experienced extreme disruption and destruction. With traditional lifestyles threatened, many Māori migrated to growing cities and were made to live in culturally inappropriate houses.

Fortunately, there is now a growing movement to bring back papakāinga.



Introducing Jane Jacobs…

Jane Jacobs.jpg

Jane Jacobs was a writer and activist who was greatly influential in urban studies, sociology, and economics.

Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities became one of the most influential American texts about the inner working and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists – Project for Public Spaces.

jane jacobs
From Project for Public Spaces

For example, in many cities, 90% of road space is for cars and 10% for people. However, 90% of the street population is pedestrians. So, it is time to stop catering for cars and start catering for people.

City Nature and Nature in Cities…

Ecosystem services are the services an ecosystem provides us for free, and include resources (e.g. raw materials), regulating services (e.g. air quality and pollution management), habitat services (e.g. maintenance of genetic diversity), and cultural services (e.g. tourism).

A healthy, sustainable city values ecosystem services and encourages biodiversity.

Urban areas are not only the living areas of humans, but fauna and flora as well.

– Bruce Clarkson, University of Waikato




The World Needs Changemakers

Related image(Based on a permaculture workshop about creating resilient communities through active citizenship)

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Here, a resilient community is presented as one that is diverse, inclusive, healthy, and able to respond to changing conditions. How can we create resilient communities that are more equitable, self-sufficient and fun through active, engaged citizenship?

Factors that Increase and Decrease Resilience

Jo Wrigley, community activist and advocate, says resilience of an individual, family, or community depends on different factors and circumstances. Having shared values or purposes is a factor that increases resilience. Social connectedness and communication opportunities are also factors integral to a resilient community.

In contrast, isolation (physical, social, or otherwise) can decrease resilience, and the ability to recover after disaster or adapt to changing conditions.

Then there are factors that can increase or decrease resilience, depending on how they are used, for example technologies and different economic models.

Resilience and Inclusiveness

Resilience can grow when there is a diversity of skills, knowledge, and experience. Plus, a diverse and inclusive place can increase compassion, equality, and fun.

When we engage in attempts to increase inclusiveness, often there are many benefits. Let’s take an example of a workplace wishing to increase accessibility by installing a ramp to the door…


One idea Jo Wrigley puts forward is the idea of developing solutions to include the margins, not just the normal/status quo/average. The result is that (hopefully) more people that are currently not catered for may currently have their needs met.

For example, currently most mainstream education systems cater for the ‘average’ student. Those with exceptionally high or low academic skills do not have their needs met in the ‘average’ classroom. But what if we were to design for these groups, instead of the ‘average’/’median’ student? It is likely the latter would still have their needs met (as their abilities are somewhere between the two extremes), but so would the others, as well.

Image from http://justmytype.ca/dare-to-disrupt/

Privilege, Resilience, and Creating Change

Understanding privilege (especially our own, if we have it) can be helpful in understanding our resilience – our own, our family’s, and in our community.

The How Privileged Are You? test by Buzzfeed is far from perfect, but can be a useful resource when beginning the journey towards understanding one’s privilege.

Michael Edwards writes an interesting article about privilege, resilience, and the status quo in his article The Privilege of Being Privileged. And Erdmann offers ideas about how to use privilege for good.

Disrupting the Status Quo

There are many types of activism, though John-Pierre Maeli has usefully categorised them into 12 types. Activism can be peaceful, violent, or something in between. It can be direct, indirect, or a bit of both. It can be for subtle, in-your-face, or somewhere between the two. Activism is as varied as the activists themselves, and finding the space you want to work in will be different for each person, depending on the issue, their experiences, their currently life situation, etc.

Image from www.artkillingapathy.com

Jo Wrigley suggests a way to engage communities and disrupt the status quo is to:


Agitation arises when a sense of injustice challenges. We want to act when we are frustrated or unhappy by what we are seeing. Others want to act, too, when we are able to get them agitated.

Education provides us with hope so we continue to engage in a cause. It also means we can make more informed decision that will help us create the change we want to see.

Organisation brings people together; to feel hope and to act. And the agitation can begin again, as the message spreads…

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Energy and Technology Solutions (for a More Sustainable Future)

Most of the systems we rely on every day are energy intensive and require large resource inputs; whether it be our food, health, transport or other commodities. We are producing, consuming and discarding resources at an alarming rate, and our current energy generation and consumption behaviours are unsustainable. With ecological and social problems occurring on a global scale, it is important to consider alternative technology and energy options for a more sustainable future.


Energy is the ability to do work and is required or present in pretty much everything at all times. Understanding this, and understanding the different types of energy that exist can help us create energy and technology solutions to different problems and challenges we face. Doing this in a way that considers people and planet helps create technology and energy use options that are more appropriate.

Our modern societies are heavily reliant on fossil carbon energy (let’s stop calling it a fossil fuel, as that means we see it as an energy resource we want to burn), and while access to this energy has transformed our lives in previously unimaginable ways, it does pose some major concerns.

Once concern is that fossil carbons are a non-renewable energy source, and because we will not be accessible indefinitely, the lifestyles and resource use patterns we have become accustomed to are not sustainable.

Another concern is the huge environmental impacts the combustion of fossil carbons is having, because this process releases large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Humans are creative and resourceful, and we are continually developing and changing our ways of doing things. Here are some interesting things we are doing to try and address our energy and technology challenges…

Renewable Energy

Technology to harvest and store renewable energy is continuously improving. Renewable energy can be harvested on small and large scales.


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When we had our domestic solar system installed.


Giant solar system in Japan (https://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2015/06/24/japan-building-giant-battery-systems-to-store-solar-power/)

This video offers an introduction to renewable energy sources:

Geoengineering ‘Solutions’ (please note the inverted commas!)

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.

Oxford Geoengineering Programme 2017

There are many different geoengineering techniques, which are usually divided into one of two categories:

  1. Solar Radiation Management, which aim to reflect sunlight back into space before they have a warming effect on the atmosphere. Examples include cloud seeding, space mirrors, and pumping aerosols into the stratosphere.
  2. Carbon Dioxide Removal, which aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Examples include ocean fertilisation, creating biochar as a carbon sink, and carbon dioxide scrubbers (such as mechanical trees).

Appropriate Technology


Appropriate technology is an ideological movement that involves small-scale, labor-intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound, people-centered, and locally controlled projects.

Pachamama Alliance

This video by Urban Farmer Curtis Stone asks viewers to consider the purposes of technology, and the differences between Hi-Tech and Appropriate Tech.

Further reading:

Appropriate Technology – understanding what it is, with examples (Pachamama Alliance)

10 Cases of Appropriate Technology (ListVerse)

Ecological Worldviews

(These notes are based on a full-day workshop titled ‘Ecological Worldviews’ facilitated by a colleague and me as part of the Go Eco Permaculture Design Certificate.)

Learning objectives:

  1. Be familiar with the different factors that shape worldviews.
  2. Understand the term ‘dominant social paradigm’ and its role in shaping our worldviews.
  3. Understand the meaning and differences between ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘instrumental value’.
  4. Be familiar with different ideas, philosophies and theories that may foster worldviews more aligned with ecological thinking, including the New Ecological Paradigm, Deep Ecology, and example of some indigenous worldviews.
  5. Be familiar with aspects of Te Ao Māori (Māori world, culture and values), and how it can help describe and develop peoples’ relationships to nature.
  6. Understand your personal worldview, including factors that shape its development, and values that support or create dissonance when trying to develop a way of being that has Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share at its core.

Photo is borrowed. The right wall is adorned with carvings of the most popular Māori gods, and the left has depictions of gods from the main world religions.

We started the day with a mihi whakatau (a less formal version of a pōwhiri) onto Te Aratiatia Marae, the Marae nestled within Fairfield College. We chose for this Marae to be the location for the workshop as the wharenui in this Marae is unique in that it is a place for the celebration of all religions and spiritualities.

For more information about Te Aratiatia Marae and its beautiful wharenui, follow this link: http://www.faircol.school.nz/files/ff4e4b49c519b128/file_attachments/6/Marae.pdf

What is a worldview and what are the factors that shape its development?

A worldview can be thought of as the lens that we see the world through. It is shaped by our personal, family, cultural and global experiences, and there are many different influences that develop it.

Factors that shape our worldview include:

  • Our ideas about higher powers in the universe. Is there a God, or multiple Gods? If there is/are no God/s, what is the ultimate authority in the universe? Is there even one, or are we all autonomous individuals?
  • Our ideas about the world. Where did it come from, and where is it going? Is time linear, circular, or something else?
  • Our ideas about humans. What is our purpose? Is there a purpose? What role do we play? Are we essentially good, bad, or neither?
  • Our values. How we define and determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
  • Our ideas about knowledge. How we define and determine ‘true’ and ‘false’. Science, faith, both?
Getting in Touch With Your Worldview
Getting in touch with your worldview

The Dominant Social Paradigm, and a New Ecological Paradigm.

According to David Suzuki, the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP – the dominant beliefs that shape the way Western societies function) is comprised of three basic beliefs:

  1. technology will spare the planet, and all things detrimental can be resolved with continued pursuit of industrial advancement;
  2. economic growth and prosperity will resolve any disinterest or dissatisfaction with societal problems; and
  3. political representatives in office are there for the benefit of the people and their country, and that ultimately they, and only they, have the capability to handle policies that effect society as a whole.

One response to this has been the development of the idea of a New Ecological Paradigm (NEP), which is loosely based on three ideas:

  1. environmental protection is possible through limitations on industrial and population growth;
  2. planetary demise is directly correlated with human-influenced interactions with natural ecosystems and landscapes; and
  3. humans are one, usually the major, cause of global environmental deterioration.

(Extracted from Environmentalism has failed, or has it?).

The NEP Scale is a set of questions that people can complete to see how far their ideas about the world align with the Dominant Social Paradigm, or the New Ecological Paradigm.

Understanding intrinsic and instrumental value of nature

Intrinsic value is the value that an entity has in itself, for what it is, or as an end.

The contrasting type of value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is the value that something has as a means to a desired or valued end. Instrumental value is always derivative on the value of something else, and it is always conditional.

It is uncontroversial that ecosystems and species possess a wide variety of instrumental values (e.g., cultural value, recreational value, medicinal value, spiritual value, transformational value, natural resource value, and ecosystem services value). What is contested is whether ecosystems and species have non-instrumental value, value as an end, or value in themselves as well (i.e., intrinsic value).

Sandler, R. (2012) Intrinsic Value, Ecology, and Conservation.

Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4

Image result for ego eco

If we think about the different values we place on people, animals, plants, and ecosystems, it is often very easy to identify their instrumental uses. It is more challenging to think about how and why we assign intrinsic value, or even the ways we might show it.

freeFor example, plants give us food, fibres, and medicines. We use them for fuel and construction. We value the ecosystem services they provide (such as turning CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe), and the aesthetics they offer (flowers, for example, or what plants contribute to landscapes). Less often we think about their value beyond their use to us (for example, other species depend on them entirely, as well). Less frequently still, do we consider their intrinsic value… and even if we do make this acknowledgement, what are the ways we display this?

Deep Ecology

In 1973, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess introduced the phrase “deep ecology” to environmental literature. The deep ecology movement is about recognising the intrinsic value of all living beings, and that humans are part of and inextricably linked to nature.

The Deep Ecology Platform details the key ideas on which the Deep Ecology movement is based, and the movement itself is about using this understanding to shape how we interact with our environment.

The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia Hypothesis was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor.

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.

The above is an extract from the Wikipedia entry on the Gaia Hypothesis, which is really a great online starting point for understanding the Gaia Hypothesis.

Gaia, Earth, Home.

Māori creation story

Ngaire Pene shared the Creation Story according to Māori mythology in the form of a guided meditation (which I cannot begin to summarise in any way that could give it justice, though here is a link that begins to explain some of the ideas within it).

The importance and significance of including this story in a discussion about ecological worldviews is because in Māori tradition, just like most indigenous cultures and belief systems, there is great focus on nature, nature-human relationships, and how humans can live within natural systems.

How different religions and spiritualities shape cultures and worldviews

Our personal religions, spiritualities, or atheism help shape our worldviews, as do the dominant and/or historical religions in the culture of our society (wherever we are in the world).

Different religions and spiritualities promote, encourage or (re)inforce different ideas, which help shape the worldview of those that follow it. When looking to understand which ideas different religions/spiritualities foster in terms of human-nature relationships, their Creation story/the-story-of-how-things-started can be a useful place to begin.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

For example:


In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God created the world followed by humans, and put humans in a position to take charge/care of nature. This creates a hierarchy with humans above animals, plants and the rest of nature, and so sets us apart from the rest of the natural world.

Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, but this idea of separation from and dominance over nature has then become a key concept in Western culture (which has been heavily influenced by the then -and probably still- dominant religion of Christianity). Western culture has undeniably led to very destructive practices against nature, and people.

Other religions, spiritualities and faiths have a different understandings of how the world came to be, and the role of humans. They also place worth on different values and ethics. Reflecting on these differences (as well as the many shared ideas that exist) can be helpful in developing an understanding the different worldviews that exist across cultures and countries.

Of course, our individual experiences, as well as our personal interpretations of our religions and cultural norms, means that there is great diversity in worldviews even among people that share the same faith.

Reflecting on our own worldviews

Reflecting on our personal worldviews can help us make sense of our beliefs and behaviours. There are many different worldview tests available, of which my favourite is the Annik de Witt Worldview Test.

To better understand our worldview, it is helpful to think about what the different influences in our lives have been (family values and upbringing, dominant culture and religion, social norms, personal experiences, etc.).

Reflecting on our values (here is a place to start with that) means we can identify which values are important to us, and which values we express but might be creating dissonance between what we do and what we would like to do.

For example, I created these two tables for myself:

1. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel are positive

Value How I currently express it How I can increase it
Community Volunteering Getting to know my neighbours
Compassion Refraining from judgement, and remembering people have different experiences and struggles Practice being more patient, especially with certain friends
Love Through caring for friends, family, and people I meet Be a bit kinder and more loving to myself
Responsibility Doing what I can to minimise the negative environmental impacts of my life/lifestyle Own my ‘failings’/errors more, even if it is uncomfortable

2. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel create conflict with how I would like to be.

Concept/idea/value How it manifests in a way that creates dissonance with my ethics How I can challenge/change this
Perfection I have to always be the best I can focus on always doing my best, instead of being the best.Security
My status/ popularity I worry a lot about how I am perceived by others, which sometimes leads me to be somewhat deceptive in order to ‘save face’ I can let go of the idea of needing to please everyone, and be more accepting of who I am (including my shortcomings)
Passionate about beliefs Sometimes I am  unnecessarily argumentative and it ruins the conversation I can be more accepting of the diversity in other people’s opinions and beliefs
Measures of success I was raised in a culture that valued climbing a career ladder, earning progressively more money, and accumulating wealth I can pursue work (paid and unpaid) that makes me happy. If I place less importance on material wealth I won’t need to buy so much, which means I don’t need that high-paying career in the first place

I shall finish this post with a video clip that amazed me when I first saw it: it challenges many aspects of our dominant cultural paradigm, and offers more positive alternatives.

Thriving By Nature – Permaculture

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Next weekend my colleague and I begin running a Permaculture Design Certificate at our work. Unfamiliar with permaculture? This is a nice little clip where people explain what permaculture is to them.

I think that permaculture means different things to different people, and people choose to apply its principles and processes differently. But essentially, it is a series of 12 principles underpinned by three values – care for the Earth, care for people, and sharing resources fairly – that can be applied to… anything!

Traditionally, permaculture was used to design food systems that mimicked natural systems but were more productive. More recently, we are seeing examples of permaculture principles and design being used in: architecture and building; city planning; designing businesses, organisations, and services; and all aspects of how we organise and live our lives.

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The permaculture course we are running at my work will take place over the next year – there are 12 modules (approx. one a month) and for each one I will be writing a summary post about. Details about the modules are here.

In the meantime, some of my favourite permaculture resources are:


Future Living – Growing Your Own Food

This evening my colleague facilitated a workshop on growing your own food (first of eight workshops we are running called ‘Future Living Conversations’). Here are some notes, insights and reflections 🙂

“Growing your own food has almost become a subversive act”

Tania Ashman, my colleague.

And I think she is right… at least for many of us who are living in urban areas of economically developed countries, where supermarkets and out-of-season (and out-of-climate) food shopping is the norm.

But with the convenience and choice available to us elsewhere, why would we grow our own food? Here are a few of the reasons we came up with:

  • we know the history of the food… who grew it, where it was grown, how it was grown, if chemical pesticides/fungicides/fertilisers/etc were used (and if they were, they were probably/hopefully on a lower scale to commercial growers)
  • growing food encourages biodiversity in our gardens (e.g. birds are attracted to veggies that have gone to seed)
  • food we grow is more affordable and conveniently located (and it arrives fresher) (AND we can grow different varieties from those in the shops)
  • it is therapeutic and an opportunity to learn
  • it offers opportunities for sharing and trading with neighbours
  • the carbon footprint of our food is lower
  • we have grown it ourselves! (there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment)

Actually it seems the real question is not ‘why would you grow your own food?’, but rather ‘why not?’.

Tania from the Waikato Environment Centre (Chartwell Library, May 2017)

Tania explained that when it comes down to growing your own food, it doesn’t matter how much or how little you know about gardening: just start!

She recommended using permaculture principles for establishing and maintaining your productive garden. Permaculture is about using, following and mimicking natural ecosystems; working with nature, rather than trying to control it.

While each person will find their own way of growing their food, here are a few of the ‘best practices’ that were mentioned:

  • Don’t grow a monoculture – even if you only like one particular vegetable, grow a variety of different plants. This is important for the health of the soil and garden as a whole.
  • Practice crop rotation – don’t keep growing the same thing in the same year season after season, as this is not good for the soil (upon which your whole garden depends). Check this page for really easy-to-follow information on how to crop rotate.
  • Group plants according to their water needs (e.g. all the dry plants together, all the plants than need lots of water together, etc.) – this increases water efficiency.
  • Recycle all nutrients – by composting your garden and kitchen waste.
  • Don’t over weed – letting some plants go to seed means they can self sow for next season. Or even if there are a few plants in there that you didn’t plan on having there…. unless you are going to put something else where they are, consider just leaving them there because anything is better than bare soil. Remember:

Don’t leave soil bare, as it strips it of nutrients and life. The only time soil is bare in nature is after an ecological disaster… we don’t want this in our gardens.