Sometimes people don’t need more facts. What they need is a plan.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise that we face multiple challenges in the world today – environmental, economic, political and social. Climate change is far from the only problem, but it is probably the most significant, because it makes everything else much worse. Many of us have been talking about this for decades, and slowly gaining traction, but it wasn’t another rigorous, scientifically conservative, well referenced report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that seems to have tipped the balance. It has taken a cyclone of unprecedented scale to bring home the real cost of our, and the world’s, inaction.
The science tells us that we still have a brief window to stop runaway climate change. That means we can still prevent the sort of feedback loops that would probably bring an end to homo sapiens 10,000 year experiment with civilisation. If they kick in, we just won’t have the abundance of resources, including the food surplus, to make cities work.
So it give me great comfort to know that the window still exists. That’s a helpful fact. Now what we need is a plan.
That has been my main focus since first being elected to Whakatāne District Council in 2016. In that first term the council agreed a set of principles to govern how we respond to climate change. We asked the people of Whakatāne for feedbaack, and we got strong support. In my second term on council we agreed a set of strategies, targets and action plans. Again these got strong support. The result has been both reduced council carbon emissions and substantial work on adapting to climate change. Last year we agreed on a reset of those strategies – a shifting of gears. You can expect to have your say as part of that work.
I need to add here that I didn’t do that work by myself. The success of the programe is really down to the highly talented staff that work and have worked at WDC. What I provided was the political leadership that allowed staff to do their jobs well.
The next phase of the climate change work needs to engage our communities better. If we have learned anything from the array of disasters that Whakatāne District and other areas have experienced, it’s the need for resilience in the face of an uncertain future. At the heart of resilience is community.
National and regional agencies, and the council, are important in terms of emergency response and long term recovery, but it is our willingness to look after each other that is the most critical. It is when we check on the neighbours because we know they may need a little help, or get stuck in where we see the need, that we see the best of us. Great examples are the Community Emergency Response Teams in action, or springing up, in places like Edgecumbe, Matatā, Waiohau, Thornton, Galatea / Murupara, Awatapu and Manawahe. Marae, who fling open their doors to become critical parts of the emergency response infrastructure, are another. It is a reminder of how blessed we are in the Eastern Bay to live in communities where people look out for each other.
Adapting to climate change isn’t just about disaster response. Council’s job is to make sure our infrastructure is both robust (strong) and resilient (able to spring back when parts of the system fail), but that’s just one part of the story. Given the impacts that Cyclone Gabrielle is already having on things like food supplies, how do we build a more resilient economy in the Eastern Bay? It’s not just about food sovereignty – we need to build strong local economies, that cycle resources (including money) around and around the community as many times as possible so as to extract maximum value.
WDC Council members were privileged recently to hear from Jacob Kajavala of Industrial Symbiosis Kawerau about the work to build synergies across businesses in Kawerau (and increasingly beyond). They work with workforce development training, recruitment and employment, and growing industry and opportunity. These kinds of collaborations across local businesses have great potential to build a vibrant local business ecosystem which provides some buffer from international economic shocks because they are grounded in strong and enduring relationships.This could be a building block towards a true circular economy, where upcycling applies to resource flows (eg the waste from one enterprise becomes the feedstock for another) people flows and financial flows.
It’s just one example of how the Eastern Bay of Plenty has the ingredients we need to build a strong, resilient, interconnected, prosperous and ecologically grounded sub-region. We just need a positive vision and leadership.
First published in the WhakatāneBeacon 8/3/23