Letter from Dunedin

Action in Dunedin over the past two months has mostly revolved around making two verbal submissions (with Rosemary Penwarden) to local government authorities. The first was to the Dunedin City Council (DCC) and the second was to the Otago Regional Council (ORC).

The purpose of the submissions was to gauge and garner local government authority support for the objectives of the Our Climate Declaration. Based on the first goal of gauging potential support, the fact that questions were asked following the submission is always a positive sign. While it is always nice to see heads nodding in affirmation, which there were, it is invariably a bad sign if no questions are asked. This is the good news. The bad news is that one of the questions I was asked about my call for the DCC to help lead the more than 30 schools in Dunedin that are burning coal to more sustainable practices was “Why come to us and not the ORC?” The ORC, this person went on to say, is responsible for air quality in Dunedin. I explained that our group was looking not simply for legislative action, but for broader leadership aimed at creating a better, more sustainable city. I suggested that our council could help provide the needed inspiration and technical expertise for our schools, as an example, to overcome the obstacles they perceive. I mentioned how the DCC’s finance team’s expertise in capital budgeting evaluation (especially life-cycle cost analysis), purchasing (especially achieving economies of scale through bulk purchasing, which is something the 30 plus schools could naturally benefit from), and general project management would be of invaluable help to schools as they navigate what is sure to be a unique undertaking. At the ORC, I was asked, or more specifically told, “Isn’t the substance of my submission an issue for central government?”

In terms of garnering support, I am meeting with the Finance team leader at the DCC. This I have arranged at my own instigation. I am also awaiting a meeting with the DCC’s CEO. I do note, with some disappointment, that in spite of my call for the two local authorities’ councillors to become signatories to the Our Climate Declaration as individuals and as councils, only two DCC councillors appear to have done so. 

An airing of the film The Bentley Effect will occur at Knox Church’s Stuart Hall on 7 November at 7pm. This inspiring documentary tells the story of a community’s heroic stand against unconventional gas mining in the Northern Rivers region of Australia. The film’s director, Brendan Shoebridge, and two of the main characters will be present at the film’s showing.

I am in the midst of penning what I have titled “The tale of two schools.” This story contrasts two primary schools. Both are on the South Island and both are Green-Gold Enviroschools. But other than sharing a similar island and a similar Enviroschool award status, the two are remarkably different when it comes to their environmental impacts. One (Ngatimoti School) offers hope, serving as a beacon for other schools to learn from and possibly emulate. The other (Opoho Primary School) appears to be an example of greenwash. One of the important lessons I plan to accentuate is the critical role of champions for bringing about genuine change and keeping the momentum going. Ngatimoti School displays champions who, as Joanna reports, are always looking for ways to improve. In contrast, Opoho Primary School has lost its champions since becoming a Green-Gold Enviroschool. Whereas it used to incorporate environmental-thinking into all its practices, it no longer does so. I note, for example, how 10 years ago the school would have included in its job advertisements its preference for teachers with a commitment to environmental sustainability. Today the school is advertising for a teacher, but its advert makes no reference to this commitment. In fact, the school seems to have no true commitment to the environment. The school chooses to use coal as its main heat source, refuses to commit to any timeline for phasing out its use of coal, and is uninterested in the fact that the majority of its students are driven the relatively short distances between their homes and school. Yet, all the while, a sign sits outside the school’s office that says the school cares for the environment, and the school regularly advises all those who will listen that it is a Green-Gold Enviroschool.