“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” said anthropologist Margaret Mead, 1978’s winner of the Planetary Citizen of the Year Award.
At the time, Small is Beautiful, E F Schumacher’s “study of economics as if people mattered” had saturated the Age of Aquarius as we knew it here in our tiny fragment of ‘the West’.
Unfortunately, perhaps inevitably, the equal-and-opposite forces of me-first capitalism and Muldoonist money primacy were just around the corner, although not so much on Waiheke where we continued our May Day activism, send friends to Greenham Common to contest nuclear power and lived to see our Prime Minister take Nuclear Free New Zealand to an Oxford debate.
Mead’s observation has continued as something of an island anthem and graces the wall of the Waiheke Resource Trust rooms where the phoenix of our once internationally renowned and highly successful community waste minimisation initiative rose again and still works indefatigably to change the world.
Last Sunday, it hosted the Waiheke Community Housing Trust’s celebration of its successful completion of the Onetangi housing initiative that is now providing accommodation for three separate households – an innovative and well-thought-out model for intensification accomplished against almost insurmountable planning costs on an island locked in an acute housing crisis (see page 6).
Individuals and small groups of people have always influenced and contributed to social change. Elites, hard-faced bureaucrats and ‘the market’ never will. Our current crises, if they are solved at all, will go down in history as small individual strands weaving together around the premise that people – and the planet itself – matter.
For those of us who grew to adulthood in the 60s and 70s, it’s been unthinkable for a decade that New Zealand cannot house everyone who lives here, in inclusivity, comfort and opportunity. How feeble are our institutions when some businessman’s jealously guarded patent is allowed to deny countless thousands of children what used to be known as a proper home life?
In this enquiry into proper responses to the world as we suddenly find it, I’ve spent a recent weekend in Kyiv and another in Oslo.
Kyiv, that is, as a city of sunny, golden squares, sweeping bridges, lively and companionable characters, the comedies of old and deep friendships and a strong connection to the land. This virtual Netflix Ukraine hasn’t yet faced the terrifying wasteland of burnt out apartment buildings, batteries of rockets spraying the countryside and grim-faced soldiers that we have seen since the 24 February invasion.
Servant of the People is the massively popular television series devised and produced from 2016 by now real-life president and war leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s television production house. Such exuberant life and hope is at the mercy of ham-fisted European politics and the monstrous real-life invasion of a country finally and successfully shaking off rapacious oligarchs, bone-deep corruption and centuries of being trampled over.
Made about the same time and perhaps even more acclaimed, if less funny and droll, is Occupied’s deep dive into a Norwegian kingdom occupied by the Kremlin in a dramatic multi-season, multi-episode series. It fictionally depicts political machinations over disparate petro-state power plays and the casual cruelty of the few who wield the power to tear down climate emergency responses – a must see.
In the twists and treachery of its three seasons of geopolitical powerplays too real for comfort, Norwegian prime minister, Jesper Berg (somewhere in the near future) sees his political party’s ambition for Norway’s transition to clean energy technology brought down by a brutal Russian occupation sanctioned by a European Union demanding that Norway re-open its oil and gas facilities (to be run by Russians). Indefinitely. In flagrant breech of the international norms of sovereignty and civilised behaviour. The Russians were not amused.
Interestingly, both nations stayed in character as they battled the unequal odds. It’s easy to wish for more of this kind of creative, global dramatization of climate induced, geo-political disasters that conjure fear, turned usefully to actions, in tackling fossil fuel dependency and the entrenched inertia power mechanisms in global politics.
At the end, Berg goes on air to the world. Power blackouts in Moscow, successfully engineered by young Norwegian techies, will continue every day until the Russian Government and its European enablers pay what they owe to the planet for the decades of pollution, he says. “Make them lose money. Attack the energy supply, not just Moscow. Attack any big city. Don’t wait for climate agreements to save the planet. Don’t wait for democracy to save the planet. Don’t wait for anybody. Only you can do it.” • Liz Waters