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.






Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

Energy bills seem to be designed to be difficult to understand. That way, we just pay the bill and don’t ask too many questions! Understanding our energy bills are the first step to reducing them, and ringing your provider to ask them to talk you through it can be helpful. For New Zealand, Canstar Blue has prepared a resource to understanding energy tariffs and Powerswitch helps Kiwis find the energy provider that will be most cost effective for their household.

Below is a diagram from EECA that offers some useful first steps to reducing energy use.

Infographic with tips on saving energy in your home

Approximately a third of the energy a household uses is on heating (and/or cooling). To reduce your need to heat or cool your home, this post about Passive Solar Design and this post about making warm and dry homes can help.

Another third of our energy goes to providing us with hot water. To reduce this component of our energy use, check out Cool Ways To Save On Hot Water.

The final third of our energy use is associated with lighting and appliances.

The Lighting section of the EECA website offers great support for all things relating to lighting, including choosing the right bulbs, looking at down lights, and making the most of natural light.

EECA also have a brilliant section on Appliances, which looks at how to effectively use different appliances, and how to learn about how energy efficient they are.

Each programmable appliance (dishwasher, microwave, computer, etc) or appliance that uses a remote control (TV, stereo, etc) uses approximately $20 NZD a year in standby mode. That is for each appliance. Conducting a simple appliance audit (i.e. walk around your home and note how many electrical appliances you have, and also how many of those are on standby) can help identify sources of electricity inefficiency and wastage.

Tip: Stand up and walk around to do the audit, rather than sitting in one place and trying to do it from memory – it will be much more accurate this way!

And finally, if you want to learn how to monitor the electricity consumption of different appliances or your home in general, check out this video:

Remember: increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste is often about taking a lot of small steps, rather than a few larger ones. But the small steps accumulate into big effects!



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.


Enough is Enough (2): Complementary and Alternative Economies

(Based on workshop by Dr Anna Casey-Cox, Dr Kyro Selket, and Dr Rose Black)

The Economy as an Iceberg 

With so much focus on the financial economy, it is easy to forget there is a diversity of economies, trade and exchange relationships operating in our communities.

The visible part of the iceberg (from Community Economics) represents the capitalist market-based economy, but there is so much of the iceberg we cannot see; so many other relationships and exchanges happening.

Here are some of the alternative economies and complementary economies that exist:



Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

In cultural anthropology, reciprocity refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour ranging from direct barter (immediate exchange) to forms of gift exchange where a return is eventually expected (delayed exchange) as in the exchange of birthday gifts.


Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward is an economy/interaction where if one is the recipient of a good or service, instead of ‘returning the favour’, a good or service is repaid to someone else.

There are many ways to get involved in local, national and international Pay If Forward initiatives.


Timebanking is similar to Pay It Forward economics in that you receive a good or service from someone without the exchange of money, but you do not necessarily return the exchange with them. Timebanking is an example of a complementary currency, where the currency is time instead of money.

Local Currency

Another example of complementary currency is a local currency, which is currency that can be spent in a particular geographical locality or at participating organisations.

A local currency acts as a complementary currency to a national currency, rather than replacing it, and aims to encourage spending within a local community, especially with locally owned businesses.


There are a growing number of local currencies. Some that are receiving a lot of attention for their success are the Brixton Pound and the Totnes Pound, though there are many, many more.

Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy

Also known as shareconomy,collaborative economy, or peer economy, a common academic definition of the term refers to a hybrid market model (in between renting and gift giving) of peer-to-peer exchange.


Collaborative consumption is an arrangement where participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.


Cooperatives are enterprises owned and governed by people that have voluntarily united to meet their needs and aspirations. CO-OP offers useful information to understanding what cooperatives are and how they work.


Improving The Current System

As well as incorporating alternative economies into our current system (and recognising where they are already incorporated), there are also ways that we can improve on the business-as-usual approach: even if we want to operate in the capitalist, conventional system, we can improve on it by embedding our values in the way we do business.

Some examples of how we can do this are by being committed to the welfare of the people we work with (e.g. by paying a Living Wage or ensuring Fair Trade standards are upheld), the communities we work in, and the local and global environment.

Social Enterprises are an emerging type of business that work towards social value (like traditional charities) and financial value (like traditional businesses): they are the place where not-for-profit meets for-profit to for not-just-for-profit organisations.

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Image from Ākina Foundation, who support social enterprises across Aotearoa New Zealand


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:

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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.
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    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




Gifts that Don’t Cost the Earth

At this time of year, a lot of people (myself included) do a lot of present giving. I love giving gifts, it is definitely one of my strongest love language.

However I also believe our high-consumption lifestyles, with fast turn around and disposal of products, is one of the main drivers of the devastating environmental and social issues we face today.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to manage these seemingly conflicting ideas, but I have found some ways to reconcile them, and to give gifts that still uphold my social and environmental values. They aren’t fool-proof, but they are a start

1a) Make your own gifts

1b) Support others who make stuff

Left: handmade apron by my friend Surrayya. Right top: handmade candle by my friend Gemma who started the social enterprise Betley.  Right bottom: homemade reusable facial wipes – a gift for me from my mother-in-law 🙂

2) Op-shopping and second-hand gifts. Just before Christmas is probably not the best time to score bargains, but the post-Christmas season makes up for it! I think there is sometimes the thought that it is ‘cheap’ to give second hand shop items as gifts, but I have to disagree – you can find some really great gifts there!

Plus, the environmental and social impacts of purchasing items second-hand, rather that new, are considerably lower. The article Why Thrift gives a good introduction to these ideas.

Second hand shop finds: brand new DVD for my daughter, and a beautiful dress from my mum.

3) Find shops, brands, and companies that have values that align with yours. A fair proportion of the gifts I give are trying-to-be-more-ethical/sustainable variations of conventional gifts (chocolate, alcohol, candles, shower/bath sets, etc) or other items that I know someone might like.

non conventional
Left to right: wine from growers that have won sustainability awards, Fair Trade chocolate from Trade Aid, and Ethique plastic-free bathroom products.
Less conventional gifts that are doing good things for the planet: plastic free and synthetic chemical free deodorant, bamboo toothbrush, reusable drinking straws.

4) Gifting experiences. Like all the ideas mentioned above, this option is not necessarily more socially or environmentally ethical (I am thinking of when I went on a jet boat which was an experience… but the experience was essentially burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible-in-20-minutes-while-scaring-local-wildlife), but nevertheless giving experiences is not giving STUFF.

5) Pay It Forward Gifting

This can be done informally, through your own neighbourhoods or community, or through organisations that do this work internationally.

Oxfam is able to do amazing work around the world, thanks to money it receives by people purchasing Oxfam Unwrapped gifts.

But perhaps the thing that I have to remember most…

6) I am giving to others, not myself. Sometimes, for some people, the thing they will love most, or the things that will be most useful, or most appreciated, does not fit my criteria.

At this point I remind myself that throughout the year I try to engage in low and conscious consumerism, and so maybe once in a while it is OK to buy something that would not usually be on my shopping list.

I mean, I am not going to buy a novelty item that will just be discarded. I am not going to buy something that completely conflicts with my values (toy gun, fois gras, McDonalds vouchers, etc). But, well, if something someone will really appreciate comes in a bit of plastic packaging, or if it isn’t Fair Trade, or the brand doesn’t have any environmental accreditation…. oh well!

To end this post, I am going to finish with George Monbiot’s article from 2012, which -sadly- has ever-growing relevance: The Gift Of Death

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For great, thought-provoking reading, visit http://www.monbiot.com/

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)

Guerrilla Gardening with Kids

Setting the scene

A friend of mine, Briar, co-ordinates an after-school club, Kirikiriroa Explorers, which focuses on getting kids in and engaged with nature and our local community. It is pretty grassroots-y, there are several of us that help run it, we sometimes make it up as we go along (with the help of the kids), parents can pay using TimeBank credits, and it is a pretty cool little group I am happy to be quite involved with (plus it gets my daughter out and about, too).

I was the main facilitator for several weeks this term (while Briar was away) and I had a great time sussing out what we would be doing.

One week, we went on a scavenger hunt in our local (and rather stunning) botanical gardens. The next week we went to a conservation project site to plant natives, and visited a community garden. But then the third week was extra fun: we trained the kids in guerrilla gardening, and did some guerrilla planting!

What we did

First, we got everyone ready. We put on ninja, superhero, camouflage and other disguises, and thought up secret names for everyone – just in case we got caught! 😀

Next, it was important to lay down some ground rules and discuss guerrilla gardening etiquette. We stressed the importance of only using unused/underused public land. We covered which plants were suitable, and where (no non-natives in the bush, no invasive weeds, etc.). We showed them this great video covering the top 10 rules for guerrilla gardening:

Guerrilla Gardening Training, so the kids are responsible guerrilla gardeners!

Then we went out into the field. There were quite a few of us so the kids decided to split into two groups: some people were going to garden, and others were going to keep watch in case of approaching City Council Officials. They even made up code words, alert calls, and a Emergency Plan in case official-looking people looked like they were coming to tell us off (I feel I should add that while guerrilla gardening isn’t really allowed, in reality it is barely/rarely frowned upon, and in my opinion it is possibly one of the most peaceful, positive and beautiful kinds of resistance that we can engage in. Anyway, they had fun!).

We ended up planting 2 plum trees and about 10 edibles in a few of the nearby green spaces (edibles were marked with ribbons, so they don’t get mown).

Then we ‘returned to Base’ and prepared some seed bombs which they could take home and distribute in their own time (again, big focus was placed on where it is OK to throw different kinds of seed bombs).

All in all, a great afternoon!


Left to right: Captain Mustache, Sparkly Cupcake (yes, that is my child and she made up that name -.-) and I, Swirly-Face.

Options for More Sustainable/Ethical Procurement

This morning my colleague, Dr Anna Casey-Cox, and I ran a workshop on making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices. It was at a conference called Thriving in the 21st Century and the audience were mainly representatives from different organisations, not-for-profits, and social services. I mention this because often organisations like these do not have spare money to spend on non-essentials, so the aim of our workshop was to engage participants in making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices within financial constraints.

We began by showing the clip MAN by Steve Cutts, to reflect on the way we use nature and resources.

Anna introduced the idea of environmental and social externalities that occur when we produce ‘stuff’. These are unintended (and almost always unaccounted for) costs that arise during the production, processing, use and disposal of goods.

Having recently visited the USA and reflecting on food culture there, she used a burger as an example of a product where there are many environmental and social externalities that are not factored into price.

She said on average a good burger costs $4. This was for a bun, a bit of beef, a bit of cheese, a bit of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bit of relish.

A small selection of things the $4 price does not take into consideration are:

  • the cost of pollution to waterways as a result of cattle farming;
  • the environmental cost of the methane and other greenhouse gases that are emitted,
  • the environmental and health effects of the use of pesticides and fertilisers on the lettuce and tomatoes, and
  • the long term individual welfare and broader social implications of paying less than a livable wage to the people involved in preparing the food (growers, processors, cooks, wait staff).

Conservative calculations suggest that by the time externalities are taken into consideration, the $4 pricetag on the burger is probably less than half the true cost of the burger.

Anna observed that here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the dairy industry is seen as a huge industry on which we all depend (which might well be true). It is hailed as one of the essential parts for our economic success, domestically and internationally, contributing $8 billion to the GDP each year.  Yet if we factor in the environmental and social externalities, it may not even cover its own costs!

What we would like to see is the price of our commodities better reflecting the true cost of their production, use and disposal. This will help protect our communities and environment, but will also give us the opportunity to make more informed and conscious decision decisions.

This led on to the the next topic…

When it comes to making more sustainable/ethical consumption or procurement choices, we believe it is important to emphasise that sustainable/ethical choices look different for every individual/household/organisation: what works for one will not necessarily work for the other, as we all have different knowledge, time and resources available to us.

The process is just as important as the end result. So, instead of having a list of DOs and DON’Ts, we have a list of considerations and questions for aiding decision making.

For each purchasing decision, there are many factors to consider and often a persuasive factor is price. Other factors you might wish to incorporate, which take into consideration the welfare of people and the planet, are:

  • Which raw materials and resources were used to make this product? Are there more environmentally considerate options? For example, do we buy envelopes with plastic windows? These require paper, glues, and plastic (derived from fossil fuels). They also contaminate paper recycling. Could we use windowless envelopes instead?
  • What is the packaging on this item? Is it recyclable? Is it compostable? If not, are there alternatives with less packaging, or packaging that can be disposed of responsibly? The same questions can be asked about the item itself. For example, is there less packaging if we bulk buy pens? Or could we shift to pencils (maybe just some of the time?), as they produce less waste and the waste can be composted.
  • Where is the item made? Can we source the item locally? Then it has a lower carbon footprint, and it also support our local economy. For example, are the biscuits in the coffee room locally made or imported?

Labels and accreditations can also be helpful in identifying more sustainable/ethical options. For example the Fair Trade logo indicates producers received a fair wage for their products. There are various eco and environmental logos which can indicate the product has been produced in an environmentally considerate way. Product labels often say where something was made.

Image result for fair trade logo  Image result for environmental tick   Image result for kiwi made

Of course, Anna and I are hardcore passionate about environmental and social justice issues, but it is important to recognise that not everyone might be: we all have different values and different things we care about.

We believe that the first step to making more informed and conscious decisions is first reflecting on what is it that you/your organisation stands for? Then the next question can be ‘how do my procurement choices reflect these values?’

(So for example, if your organisation is about supporting members of the community manage their budget and become financially self-sufficient, buying local might be an important action to reflect your commitment to supporting local people, businesses and the community)

What we believe is important is that we all do what we can, when we can, which almost always means we can do SOMETHING. Most of us cannot change everything all in one go. But each change, and each conscious decision is a step forwards to your/your organisation’s goals, and every action helps make a difference.

I shall finish with this thought-provoking article:

Image result for sustainable consumption