Thoughts on the Anthropocene

This week’s T3aser is brought to you by our in-house philosopher and student of life, Mark Skelding.

Behind the ongoing climate “ping-pong” argument – how much, how soon, how bad – is another, even more arresting concern.  Human beings, as a species, have reached a point where we can change the way the planet system functions – and we know it.

In relocating fossil carbon from underground to atmosphere to ocean, we impact the geology and the chemistry of the planet. In diverting rivers and clearing rainforest, we change local ecosystems. In parallel to these activities, a massive extinction is underway, plastic turns up in the foodchain, weather systems change, deserts move, populations starve, war, or migrate – and so it goes.

Intellectually, it is almost impossible to believe that one species can become a force of nature in little more than 50 years, yet viscerally, emotionally, intuitively we know this in our bones and being. We have had the knowledge for around 25 years, and in that time things have got much worse – including the social and psychological damage to ourselves.  That we fail to look for connections keeps it simple – and preserves the illusion of powerlessness.

The sudden collision with so many human driven events has been called “catastrophic” for the planet, a word that places human impact alongside that of the asteroid that hastened the demise of dinosaurs.  That’s powerful.

Ironically this opened the way for our evolution: we are children of chaos. We are unique, however, in now knowing the impacts of our actions. This intelligence brings with it unprecedented moral and ethical issues for which Western thinking has little language, less imagination and almost no appetite.

As we clear-fell the lungs of the planet, convert oceans into plastic micro-bead soup, frogmarch species to extinction, allow human population unlimited increase, treat rivers as chemical drains and reduce the growing capacity of living soil, what does kaitiakitanga mean on a planetary or national scale – or even for our regional and local members and staff?

In treating the planet as an inert, uninvolved setting for our human drama, we maintain our focus on the “only-human”dimension of life.  By making only ourselves meaningful, we consign all else to wallpaper.  However, in exercising our power over the Earth system we have changed a balance, and that system is resetting itself in ways we cannot fully know – we just get the data of a power infinitely more all-encompassing than our own pushing back to reach a new equilibrium over the next hundreds or thousands of years.

To become a force of nature means that we have made a mark in the geological record.  As well as the upward march of CO2, the radiation from our nuclear explosions has caused a measurable gauge of when we stumbled upon this rite of passage – the Trinity Test: 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945. This marks the start of the Anthropocene, a new geological age, predicated on the shift of one species from smart ape to planetary force.

We have begun to understand that we and this beautiful planet are uniquely bonded.  We depend upon the Earth system for the miracle of life, creativity, love, care, and laughter.  The Earth depends on us for the recognition, awareness, appreciation that only a self-reflective consciousness can bring.  Evolution appears to follow a trajectory of finding ever more efficient ways of moving energy and information around.  The latest appears to be self-reflective consciousness, and we have an opportunity to co-evolve this, or go the way of the dinosaurs through our own volition.

We will doubtless continue to debate the meaning of the data, but, in concluding that we have careered into the planet system and knocked it sideways, we must decide whether we continue to try to bend it further to our self-interested service or whether we can learn to work with the Earth system processes to achieve the great benefits of civilisation. The one is a form of violence that will almost certainly end in tears, and the other is like stepping into a brand new, committed relationship: a responsibility for sure, but it’s a whole new adventure, impossible on our own.

Either way, there’s no going back now: mopping up won’t work.

 

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Did you miss us?

Hey! Welcome back! Or rather, welcome back to us.

We’ve had a bit of a hiatus, but we now have a shining new website, and will be updating the T3aser blog as well to replace the blog function on our previous website.

We would very much like this to be a space to share positive ideas and stories. If you would like to make a contribution, or have an idea you would like to share, please contact T3asers@gmail.com

Thames Be Fruitful

Have you walked along the waterfront path in between Richmond St and the Wharf and seen the citrus planted there? Have you swung on the swing at the new playground on Hauraki Tce and wondered what the trees to the south are? Have you seen the fruit tree plantings at Te Puru School or along Burke St? You probably have; we’ve been busy.fruitytree

Many of these trees have been proudly planted by Thames Be Fruitful; over 200 in fact. And the best bit is that the trees are there as a community resource; by the people, for the people, and they join the Bright Smile Community Garden on Mackay St as another way to add food to a conversation about community.

The benefits of having trees around where we live are multiple and far-reaching: they provide shade, provide shelter for birds and insects, calm moods, and can even promote spending more time in the outdoors. Initiatives such as Thames Be Fruitful has the added bonus of bringing communities together to share an experience- an experience which only gets better as the trees get older.

Our next community planting day will be Saturday 13th August, beginning at 9am at the Community gardens on Mackay St. We would love to see you there, and if you are able, please bring a spade with you.

What’s new with old stuff?

I’m sure you all know the Seagull Centre – where you can pick up a bargain or drop off your old stuff and know that someone else will have a use for it…but did you know that we are about to expand both in area and purpose? Work will begin soon on the area adjacent to the Seagull Centre constructing a new drop off area with additional buildings for sorting and storage and some new education and workshop spaces. Also the road will be re-routed so that EVERY car on its way to the transfer station will pass through this new drop off area. ALL useful items will be recovered before people travel on to the Transfer Station thereby saving resources from the landfill and our customer money in dumping fees. This will also mean that the existing “old” site will be for sales only and ultimately car-free, making it safer for shoppers.

Since the Seagull Centre opened its’ doors 10 years ago, the number of legal landfills in New Zealand has halved from 60 to 30. This means that waste has to be transported long distances from source. This is true in the Coromandel; our waste has to be transported from all of our transfer stations to the rubbish tip in Tirohia, 40+ kms away. This rubbish tip also services places as far away as Gisborne!

When we expand, the Seagull Centre will be placing a lot more focus on education and community involvement.  One of the volunteers at the centre has already been running holiday programmes for kids around making cool stuff out of bits and pieces from the Seagull Centre. The new classroom and workshop area will provide dedicated spaces to run programmes like these and others around how we can reduce waste. The workshop area will provide facilities for the local community to get involved in upcycling, that is, making new things out of old ones; and fixing up old or broken things. And later there may also be the potential for partnerships in community enterprise.

T3 supports the Seagull Centre in their philosophy of looking at “waste” as usable resources. Come down, check it out….and see what may be possible!

This guest post was brought to you by the Seagull Centre’s Trish Hatfield and Louise Deane

Be green all the way- a natural burial option in Thames

Most people don’t like thinking about it, definitely prefer not to talk about it unless in euphemisms, even though it is inevitable and unavoidable for every one of us. Death, the ultimate consequence of living…could also be described as a human beings final opportunity to choose the sustainable option. At death a person can make the ultimate gesture to the environment, by returning the body’s nutrients to the ecosystem rapidly and without pollution, contributing to the restoration of our land and the planet to a more natural state. In the words of Edvard Munch, ” From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
Many of us are familiar with traditional burial, which involves a standard treated wooden casket, embalming of the body, and burial 6 feet deep in the soil with a tone or plaque to mark the spot. However, room is scarce for such luxuries as a grave each, and the traditional burial may not be best choices for the environment: embalming bodies uses quite harsh chemical such as formaldehyde and these are leached into groundwater, perhaps at up to 40 mg of formaldehyde effluent per litre of groundwater in the first year.  Another important consideration is the depth of burial: there is limited biological activity six feet under the soil to aid decomposition of casket or body. One alternative to traditional burial is cremation, and you can read arguments for an against the environmental footprint here and here. Another alternative is a burial in more natural circumstances, where the body is not embalmed, treated with oils, or in fact put in a large box made of treated wood. During the natural burial the body is placed within an untreated wooden or cardboard casket or shroud, and buried between 50 and 100cm deep in the active top layer of soil. Often a tree is planted on the site with the intention of regenerating natural forest to create a bush park commemorating those buried there. Around the world natural burial sites vary from woodlands to wildflower meadows, orchards and parklands of native flora. While “returning to the earth” is key, equal emphasis is placed on the natural burial ground as a special site in which the bereaved can visit a loved one for peaceful contemplation surrounded by natural beauty.

As part of the global rise in environmental awareness, natural cemeteries started appearing in the 90’s in the United Kingdom, where there are now more than 300 natural burial sites. The first eco- internment in New Zealand took place in Auckland in 1999, and when Wellington City established Matakara in 2008 it was the first natural burial cemetery in a city outside the United Kingdom. The natural burials group in Thames formed about 2 years ago with the aim of creating a natural burial site in the TCDC area. Submissions were made to local council and a new Cemetery Bylaw was adopted in May 2015. The standard depth for all burials is set at 1.9m (6 feet, 2 inches), with the exception for natural burials which are treated differently but maintain a minimum soil cover of 1 metre between the top of the casket/ shroud and the surface of the earth. For the natural burial site two options at the Totara cemetery were looked at but found to be unsuitable due to lack of topsoil. The group working in collaboration with TCDC is now committed to a site at the Omahu Public Cemetery about twenty minutes drive from Thames towards Pareoa. The site is currently in the design stage with plans for trees to be planted at grave sites so that the natural burial site will become like a park.

In the meantime, if you would like any more information about natural burials, or would like to participate in a workshop on Mortality and Living Wills, please come along to the Thames Community Resource Centre at 609 Mackay St on Saturday 16th July from 9am. Koha entry.

 

To bring Power to People

Wintec is supporting a T3 initiated research project into sustainable energy in Thames.  For T3 it is an opportunity to progress a vision of a community owned energy company that draws power from sustainable sources, delivers energy to local users at beneficial rates, and nets a surplus that is used to develop other community initiatives.  Wintec see it as part of an international project looking at sustainability solutions in several countries, which – they hope – will generate further developments in New Zealand. T3 is most involved in the first phase of research into the range and viability of energy options for Thames. This is currently underway with preliminary results due in August.

The research project will look firstly at the potential for local energy generation, including solar, microhydro, and even geothermal from accessing flooded mine shafts.  Second, the research will conduct a preliminary needs assessment of power users, particularly in areas where there is significant daytime power usage – such as Pollen Street and users such as TCDC offices, Thames hospital, schools, and retirement villages. This is because storage systems are still relatively expensive, and there are not great incentives to use the national grid itself as a giant battery. These two sets of information will inform an assessment of the potential to create a local energy network in line with the Thames Urban Development Strategy, that sees Pollen Street as the spine of a local energy network.

The final piece of this first phase will explore business models for such community initiatives elsewhere in Australasia and beyond. “Pro-sumers” – who produce and consume power – are driving a worldwide move towards energy grids that are more like interactive networks than systems to deliver power from central producers to distant consumers. Prosumers – particularly those who own a social enterprise energy company – have direct control over their energy, and are far more protected from corporate profiteering.

On the basis of this work, Wintec and T3 anticipate a second phase involving local electricity and energy contractors. This will enable members of their staff to develop the technological specifications for getting an integrated energy network underway. These staff members will be able to use this work to achieve a Masters qualification form Wintec.

The vision of a locally owned energy company was spurred by Grant Burnett, then CEO of AG Price engineering. He suggested “Thames and the coast could be self-sufficient in its own energy, from sun, wind and water, in five years if the will were there.”

That was 2010.  We’re getting there.

 

This is a guest post by Mark Skelding- he’ll also be at the T3 cafe on the 6th of July (7:30pm, at Brew cafe, Pollen St). Come along and say hi!

Our community learning to speak out.

Toastmasters is an international organisation that supports hundreds of thousands of people to challenge themselves and improve speaking and confidence. An exciting new initiative to bring Toastmasters to Thames is giving locals this chance to gain confidence in presenting and public speaking. Effective communication of ideas can drive change within our community which is exactly what T3 is about, and Toastmasters has developed guides to improved speaking, listening and presentation skills that are developed through club participation. Every person has a role to play (appraising, timing, introducing and being an audience member) at every meeting; essential skills that also assist whoever is speaking to develop.

How often is there a opportunity to stand up for something you believe strongly in or speak in front of our peers, but you step back and leave it to someone else to step up? Often enough, which isn’t surprising when public speaking is rated as one of people’s greatest fears. This is why the club has started in Thames and is attended by a great range of locals from beginners to experienced speakers. They are all keen to see everyone do their best every time someone has a chance to speak. This all started as part of a conversation at T3 meetings and at the T3 cafe, where there was strong interest expressed by many locals. From there a public demonstration meeting was held at the Thames Civic Centre which was well attended and received, and gave attendees a great deal of information about how Toastmasters works. From that a club of enthusiastic local gather to work together on their public speaking skills.

Most of the ideas that T3 are of interested in promoting are essential services and include groups like TCDC and the community board: in fact TCDC and the Community Board have clearly stated that they need community input. They are aware of the interest that T3 has in developing a sustainable future for the Thames district. Confident speaking will ensure that they hear what members of T3 have to say. This can be best achieved when ideas are clearly thought through and spoken in a powerful way.

Having a Toastmasters club in Thames is one way of allowing people to practice speaking
confidently. By getting key community leaders to listen and understand will bring about the change that will make our community sustainable.

When: The club in Thames started meeting on the 11 May.
Where: The Lounge at St James Church twice a month. The second and forth Thursday of the month.

This post was brought to you by the man bringing you Toastmasters: Ian Stewart. Thanks, Ian!

Growing together

Bright Smile Community Garden in Thames is blooming! Started in 2007 as a joint venture between the Supported Lifestyle Hauraki Trust and the Ecotrust, for the past 9 years the gardens have been drawing people together from different backgrounds, different ages and abilities to grow more food. Even though the days are now becoming shorter and cooler, there is no sign of things slowing down at the gardens. On any Thursday morning, you can find a committed and enthusiastic bunch of locals and a dozen lifestylers (under the guidance of two garden supervisors) all mucking in to get things growing. The gardens have a sub- tropical fruit orchard containing bananas, pineapples, cherimoyas and more, as well as various citrus and stone fruits, and a hedge of feijoas. There are stabilised adobe annual vegetable garden beds in a magical mandala design, fragrant flower gardens and herb beds, as well as plantings to attract birds, bees and butterflies. It is a great place for a picnic, some quiet contemplation, or to run around with children. Just last fortnight Bright Smile was the venue for a fabulous outdoor event to celebrate the achievements of Peter Rutherford, outgoing CEO of the Supported Lifestyle Hauraki Trust. Under a gorgeous blue sky and a dazzling white marquee guests were dancing, talking, laughing and eating together.

2. herb and flower bed in november

The community garden is an asset to Thames as well as having profound importance at both a local and a global scale. Community gardens are a venue for building healthy communities; not only are skills shared between members but also a sense of place, and enhancement of emotional and spiritual well-being. Other benefits are not to be sneezed at: environmental education, urban agricultural experience, and even local economic development through the creation of co-operatives and markets. Gardening is not without its physical exertions, but there are jobs for all abilities in large, well run gardens, and for the many participants these opportunities to get moving are certainly a bonus! Other benefits are cheap, local produce but above all a sense of belonging to a community.

As we move forward into an uncertain future, one of the simplest and most valuable ways we can stay connected to each other and our changing world is through growing our own food together. The Transition Towns movement has at its core enabling community resilience around the issues of food, economics and energy, in ways that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling. Growing food in community is a way to meet these ideals. The seeds of change are planted in the ground, but also through fostering new generations of mindful individuals. We are blessed in Thames to have Bright Smile thriving as it is, as well as council approval for further community gardening development to happen at other venues. If you are at all interested in becoming part of something wonderful, get in touch and we can start growing together.

When: Every Thursday morning 9-12
Where: Bright Smile Community Garden, northern end of Mackay St

 

Doing good with firewood

Have you noticed the poplars on the hills getting golden? A certain crispness in the air of a morning. Winter is coming. For everyone this means an increased likelihood of colds and flus, and the inevitable rise in your power-bill. A harsher reality is that for some families and individuals in our district winter means bone-chilling cold because firewood has been unobtainable or unaffordable. Yet wood is not scarce; it is the getting it which is the problem.

Some months ago T3 began work to change this where we can. John and Ian (those dashing Nissan Leaf drivers) arranged a private donation of fallen trees, which they have shifted, split and begun delivering to needy homes in Thames (9 trailer loads to date). We’ve connected with local charities and organisations, and spread the warmth through word of mouth.

It’s been hard work but worthwhile; TCDC’s Community Grants have recognised it with a $1000 grant in the latest round, which will go towards equipment hire. It won’t split and deliver the wood though and there is no shortage of that! If you would like to lend a hand delivering the next 9 trailer loads or moving and splitting the next woodlot, get in touch with transitiontownthames@gmail.com

Electric success

Wow! What an event. Thank you to everyone who came along to support it. In total we had an action packed 2 hours; 100 people through. We got 60 of them into the Telsa’s and 30 got to ride around in the comfort of the Nissan Leaf.

It was a great image for the bus load of visitors arriving in town during the time. Strat Peters (Chair of the Thames Community Board) was there and spoke about his excitement and the realization that Thames itself can lead the charge towards a different approach towards community energy.

Watch this space…