Its 2019 and time for new vision! Last year, though it felt odd being at university at the age of 60, I chose to become a Masters research student. I wanted to find out why mainstream waste minimisation strategies were not working and whether the national Māori zero waste organisation, Para Kore, had a more useful approach. Studying has been ridiculously hard, immensely rewarding, has given me a vision for our region, the Far North.
What I’ve found while interviewing folk who were moving to zero waste lifestyles is an inspiring commonality. New Zealand citizens of all ages and walks of life that adopt zero waste lifestyles demonstrate a spacious and contented sense of being who they want to be. ‘Zero wasters’ had formed greater connections with neighbours and community, felt good about themselves, and enjoyed improved household health and wellbeing. Costs were down too but it was their sense of respect for the natural ecosystems around them and a regained understanding of deep held principles that set these people apart. You couldn’t help being drawn to their lifestyle and it started me thinking more widely.
I’m convinced (and excited) that for us local householders, a flourishing Far North region is ‘ours for the taking’! Far North Flourishing is a vision of every Far North home celebrating life, health and vitality. Of neighbourhoods not just safe but are flourishing. Loneliness a thing of the past, children thriving, and ecosystems regenerating. Birdsong returning to the bush, people enjoying the support of their neighbours, and the coastal waters beginning to burst afresh with marine life.
Would you be willing to shelve for a moment your ‘Yes, but….’ thinking (not an easy thing to do, for reasons that will become clear later) and read on, open to this possibility of a flourishing Far North region? To share the 3 reasons which lead me to this conviction, I’ve mapped my thinking across three blogs: i. Where it Starts ii. There is no ‘Them’ iii. Let the Journey Begin. Like all maps there are a few twists and turns so it requires a bit of focus. I’m trusting you, dear reader, find inspiration for a celebratory year ahead.
Where it Starts: Householders are powerful influencers
“You will never solve problems using the same thinking that created them”, Einstein advised. Yet, that’s what we householders seem to be doing now, expecting businesses and the government to resolve the issues they have created? Flogging a dead horse. Householders angrily railing against the business sector or the state at not sorting problems that have arisen: river pollution, or mental health, or obesity or the issues of waste. It’s not surprising citizens see themselves as powerless, given recent political history.
For decades politicians have relegated us householders to a role as ‘consumers’. We’ve been told we need an economy something like that in the picture above where the business sector becomes the driver of an ever-growing economy, benefits ‘trickle down’ to all, and the government is on hand to sort out any issues. It was a political idea called ‘neoliberalism’. But while this system was meant to work out for everyone, it’s increasingly clear to every ‘man in the street’ that it is failing. The whole system seems broken. Well, perhaps it is! More and more economists and global political thinkers believe this political idea is well past its use-by-date if it ever had one, and I agree!
This neoliberal economic model was never about reality, merely how a few reasonably brainy economists wildly over-simplified economic thinking down to a basic model so people could ‘get it’. And they did! Because of the model’s simplicity and the needs of the time, this neoliberal model of ‘free market economies’ and ‘decoupling environmental issues from economic growth’ swept across the world. Embraced first by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, New Zealand followed soon after. This same over-simplified idea that ‘a growing economy will make everybody thrive’ underpins practices of the Far North District Council today.
Neoliberal politics saw the Far North District Council’s role shift from coordinating services on behalf of householders to becoming an economic driver in the region. When problems developed from business sector activities which couldn’t be resolved by the Council, that same ‘Yes, but..” response came to the fore with justification or blame in place of local people working together to develop solutions. Far North Holdings became a commercial business arm no longer open to control by the public, accountability for decisions taken and outcomes achieved by FNDC narrowed to financial measures while accountability for social, cultural and environmental wellbeing was pushed aside.
In the depths of our being, we sense the issues all around us, threatening our wellbeing and that of our beloved natural environment. The gap between wealthy and poor is growing, pollution of our environment is more and more obvious, mental and physical health is patchier, and loneliness is at an all time high. We feel the system is doomed and unable to create the wellbeing we need so we householders have increasingly disconnected from both local and national politics. We are left with that useless but understandable pastime of railing angrily at ‘them’ out of frustration. And while many sense that blaming ‘them’ is having little effect, just flogging a dead horse, what else can be done?
Well, hey, remember neoliberalism was just one story that a few guys dreamed up to help us get a handle on the complexity of the workings of national economies. As political journalist, George Monbiot  puts it, “Neoliberalism is dead: we need a new story”. Lets get real: those people and organisations to whom we address our ‘they should do something’ rants are themselves powerless within a broken system. Surely, we must look into alternatives?
The good news is that a new political model is now visibly emerging around the world. It’s emerging here in the Far North too, you just may not be aware of it yet. Often termed the “Politics of Belonging”, it’s based around a newer wiser model of the economy (see diagram) that progressive economists these days realise better depicts the real world.
Now a way to resolve the challenges we face in the 21st century becomes clear. Look carefully, can you see how we householders are now not merely portrayed as ‘consumers’ but understood as playing a vital role in driving our economy? Householders have power, just as the State and Business sectors do. Indeed, more so, for we are also the ones that look after and create the vitality of the commons, those shared resources that belong to us all that are so vital to our national economy.
This is what is so exciting, so empowering, knowing that what we householders do makes an essential difference to the way the nation runs. So, if we aren’t as powerless as we’ve led ourselves to believe in recent years, can what we Far North householders do make enough difference to allow our region to flourish? I believe so.
There’s an African phrase, ‘Sihamba nabahambayo‘ which means, ‘We take along with us those who are ready for the journey’. My next blog, ‘From Rubbish to Flourish Part Two: There is no ‘them’’ is subtitled, ‘It’s too lonely by ourselves but ‘easy as’ when we do stuff together with others’. In this blog, you will also discover if you are a ‘Drifter’, an ‘Anchor’, a ‘Voyager’ or a ‘Treasure’! You may find it’s just the journey you’ve been waiting for.