Behind any strong movement is a strong team of people that upholds it. At 350 Aotearoa, our volunteers are our lifeline; they give a voice to our environment by driving actions with the passion and assertiveness needed toward building a better, cleaner future.
We often get caught up in the cause – the excitement of the actions, fighting for the climate – but forget to take a step back and speak to those around us about our common goal, divestment. So here, three 350 Aotearoa volunteers explain why they’re involved in climate change action, what they’d like New Zealand to look like in the future and how they became involved with 350 Aotearoa. Get inspired.
Erica Finnie, 23 / University of Auckland masters student and Fossil Free UoA member
You’re a student at The University of Auckland. What are you focusing on in your masters?
I’m exploring the ways that an inherent ‘vulnerability’ to climate change is being resisted by government and grassroots actors in Fiji, to highlight local ways of understanding climate change that are often missing from dominant scientific framings of climate change in international negotiations and climate policy.
How did you become involved with Fossil Free UOA?
I felt deeply conflicted when I found out the University of Auckland has no ethical investment policy. I was in the third year of my geography and environmental science degree, learning about the impacts of climate change in lectures and meeting classmates whose families were impacted by air pollution in China or cyclones in the Pacific. I couldn’t comprehend how I could be learning about climate change and thinking critically about how to address such a complex problem, while the very same institution was continuing the fund the biggest polluters. I had heard Bill McKibben speak about the divestment movement so when I saw that a group had formed at the University of Auckland, I was in.
And how did you become involved with 350? I hear you’ve even had a 350-themed birthday cake before…
When I was in my second year of high school, I was really lucky to go to Enviroschools Youth Jam. It was the first time I’d been surrounded by other young people who really cared about environmental issues and were doing something about it. A group of university students came to the Youth Jam as tuākana, and then invited me and my friends to get involved with 350 Wellington as it was starting up. I loved getting to work alongside people who shared similar values and who were actively doing something about climate change. I am still so grateful to the original 350 Wellington group who went out if their way to include us, and always made sure that our ideas and contributions were valued. I loved the group and spent a lot of time at school talking about climate change and 350, so much so that my friends made me a pretty epic 15th birthday cake.
Why are you so passionate about sustainability and environmentalism?
I see environmental problems as a form of injustice. The way we consume and ‘develop’ impacts other living things: our emissions impact the global climate which impacts other areas of the world, and changes we make to environmental and social systems now will impact the potential for future generations to thrive. I think we need a systemic shift away from thinking that economic growth is more important than the livelihoods of other species, and other people.
In terms of our environment, how would you like New Zealand to look in 10 years’ time?
I’d like New Zealand to be a lot more caring. This looks like a lot of things, but mostly it looks like greater care given to how we interact with others and with our environment. I’d like mixed land-use in our cities so people can live closer to work and amenities and be less reliant on cars to get around. I’d like walking and cycling to dominate streets for short journeys, and to have better public transport networks for longer journeys. I’d like a supportive welfare system and affordable housing options so that everyone has a warm place to live. I’d like households and businesses to internalise the environmental impacts of their actions and actively minimise waste and emissions. We’ll have no new fossil fuel projects and existing projects will have transitioned to renewable energy.
And what actions have you been involved with? Do you have a favourite?
I’ve been involved in a range of actions over the years. My favourite was definitely the Fossil Free UoA occupation of the vice chancellor’s wing of the university clock-tower building in May this year. Fourteen of us occupied the space on the basis that we would not leave until our Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon publicly support divestment of the university’s endowment fund. This action was our way of escalating our campaign after two and a half years of communication with the vice chancellor. It felt really powerful to take a strong stand on an issue I feel so passionately about, and to do it in a supportive group of friends. We’re not natural rule-breakers, we’re just a group of students who care so deeply about climate change that we felt we needed to step up and take a risk to be taken seriously. The widespread coverage and support of the action was a huge success, and we really lifted the profile of the Fossil Free campaign on campus.
A memorable moment during your time at 350?
Two days after our occupation of (and removal from) the vice chancellor’s wing, we had a march for divestment through the university. The turnout blew me away. We had hundreds of students, staff and members of the community showing up and supporting our cause. It was the first time I could see our long-term strategy of making divestment a widely supported issue really becoming a reality. I’m so excited for the future of the campaign as our group continues to grow and upskill, and our vice chancellor has no choice but to support divestment.
Blaze Forbes, 28 / Wellington resident
You have a background in science. Did your passion toward environmentalism stem from your career choice, or did your career stem from your passion?
Short answer no, but these two things – a “passion toward environmentalism” and a scientific background/interest/way of looking at things – these two things have sort of intertwined and fruitfully influenced each other over time. Growing up, it was somehow instilled into me that “environmentalism” – being mindful of the environment, treating it as something wrong to degrade, and also as something aesthetically very valuable – was a kind of “moral fundamental”, just like trying not to be a bad person, treating-others-as-you’d-like-to-be treated, etc. Incidentally, I am not sure how this came to be precisely, as I did not grow up in a politically-active or conservation-focused household. My environmentalism really blossomed upon spending time in the bush. Long story short, this was really facilitated by a good friend of mine, a keen “bird and bush” person; we’d spend month long stretches in remote bush (eg. Te Ureweras) bird-watching. I learnt the names of many things and some bush-craft. Science comes into the picture around this period – my focuses were more human biology, physiology, but I’d be meeting a lot of people working in broader biology/ecology fields.
Environmentalism relies heavily on science. How do we know what science to believe and what to ignore?
It’s a big area, how to communicate effectively scientific findings of wide social/political relevance can be a tough one. I’m not sure we have the best answers to this vital question to date, so my general advice to the general public would be twofold.
One: Understand a little bit how science is communicated and how the media report on it – generally, if some scientists make some interesting findings that are of interest to the public, these will be publicised in some way, often by the university which they are affiliated with. However, both the university and the media reporting upon any university press release, often exaggerate the findings – sometimes exaggerating the degree of certainty of said findings. What is the public to do? Difficult! Ideally consume media from sources that can be trusted to do good background work and/or have proven track record of scientific literacy… but this also may be hard to judge, so it is a difficult issue (NB: a general “barometer of plausibility”, at least for health-related findings, is how many things does the new discovery purport to solve/address? the more conditions new finding is claimed to “fix”, the more likely it is bullshit reporting/research).
Ideally, if you are not especially involved or up-to-date on an area of research and you wish to know what’s what, you’ll have to do a bit of reading around – read multiple articles, try and get a feel for what the scientific consensus is, try and find sources that you trust – understanding that you probably will have to read more than one piece on an issue, and that can be time-consuming.
Two: Be aware of your own biases. Your inclinations may not necessarily be wrong, but try and understand why you hold certain views, and what, if any, evidence underpins them. I’m not saying you should stay away from places that share your viewpoints – far from it – but be keenly aware that when many people who hold the same viewpoint congregate together, or some media outlet specifically caters to such a grouping of people, be keenly aware that these are the ideal conditions for confirmation bias. So try and be aware what the position is of people outside your “bubble”, if only as an exercise in being able to address counter-claims – although sometimes doing so may put a check on some of the more extreme, or some of the muddier, less-well-defined viewpoints/positions that exist within your circle, or within your “media diet”.
What particular actions have you been involved in and what key causes drive you?
This year, protesting the Petroleum conference in Taranaki, protesting the Australian governments support for the Adani coalmine, and fundraising for research 350 has commissioned. Climate is the key cause that drives me (reports out recently that we are on track for about three degrees of warming by the end of the century!) and is obviously the common denominator, but indigenous rights is also a kaupapa that I get behind.
What other measures do you put in place in your life to ensure you yourself are a conscious consumer?
I like to be involved in groups like 350 that focus on systemic change, but personal choices, in aggregate, are also very significant. I follow a vegan diet, a fact which still kinda surprises me when I think about it, but the climate case for it is so persuasive. Transport is usually public or cycling. Currently, I am interested in moving towards zero waste, if not actually ever achieving zero waste, I would like to significantly cut down on waste, but that is very much on the to-do list. Air travel is another difficult one to cut down on.
Where do you hope to see New Zealand, in terms of the treatment of our environment, in 10 years’ time?
- Starting from 2018-ish, ambitious climate targets set out under the framework of the Zero Carbon Act Generation Zero has been pushing for – we as a nation get into the habit of planning our economic development to be in line with whatever the current carbon budget is, and both culturally and politically are committed to the making the kinds of changes that will get us to net zero emissions by 2050.
- All electricity generation is renewable.
- Aggressive push for wide EV adoption – perhaps all countries driving on the same side of the road could pool purchasing power?
- Shift in city and transport planning, emphasising walkable cities, strong public transport systems, good quality and readily available housing.
- A shift in the agriculture sector – away from intensification, towards diversification. Aid for farmers that want to make the transition, or who want to make their own ventures more sustainable, is available.
- Continued and renewed effort for conservation of native wildlife and ecosystems.
- Support for Pacific neighbours, both financially and politically; a real relationship of equal partnership whilst simultaneously understanding differences in need, responsibility for historic issues and economic situations.
- More broadly, a final burial for the idea that environmentalism and economic prosperity are somehow incompatible – moving forward on the world stage with the stance that a sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand is a strong Aotearoa New Zealand.
Torfrida Wainwright, 67 / Christchurch resident
How did you originally get involved with 350?
I went to a talk by Bill McKibben when he visited Christchurch in 2009 as part of a tour of New Zealand. We got a small group together that worked towards a big 350 international day of action during the Copenhagen talks. We got about 3000 people taking part in an event in Victoria Square as well as at New Brighton and other venues throughout Christchurch and Canterbury.
How do you try to influence your own immediate community through your actions or words?
Through being a Green Party member and a climate activist. Which, in effect, includes contacting a lot of people via email/text/phone/social media a lot of the time, nagging them to do something or come to something!
Have you always believed in clean energy, or did you learn about it later in life?
Most of my knowledge of clean energy came from involvement with 350.
Where do you hope to see New Zealand, in terms of the environment, in 10 years time?
I hope the new government will have managed to avert or minimise as many of the threats to the environment as is possible. I don’t have much hope, really, in terms of climate disruption or biodiversity loss, but we have to carry on anyway. I’m interested in how we can build a progressive movement to counter the destructive effect of the current economic system. See George Monbiot’s latest stuff, Paul Mason (Post Capitalism), Naomi Klein etc. It’s a race against time to develop alternative systems for looking after one another and the environment (alternative economic systems) versus the rapid development of climate chaos, bio-diversity loss and the breakdown of ecosystems, which will bring with them famine and resource wars and big human migrations over the planet. We can’t expect our affluent little bolthole of Aotearoa to remain unaffected for long.
What changes do you believe we can all make in our own lives to be more conscious consumers?
Get real about what we are personally entitled to if we believe that all humans, all other species and indeed the earth itself have any rights in common with us, given the limits of the planet and what is happening out there. Radically cut down the huge amounts of stuff we consume and start a movement of conscious frugality, focussing on and treasuring instead our relationships with the earth and other sentient beings.
If you’d like to volunteer for 350 Aotearoa, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more