Ideas, Energy, Inspiration, Brain Explosion, Back Spasms, 3 Interesting Encounters

Two weeks have now passed on my journey of discovery. I’ve spent the time researching, following leads and meeting people.

Overwhelming!

So many people to meet - such a wealth of knowledge, energy, passion and resources. So many interesting initiatives, educational programmes, companies. So many questions, ideas and issues. What to do with it all? How does it all connect? How do I fit in?

In the last week the scale of what I’m trying to do hit me.

Last Monday I was lucky enough to share a three-course fancy pants lunch with some of the winners of the 350.org Logan Brown Competition (http://www.350.org.nz/news/media).;  I sat with KiwiRail’s new Corporate Responsibility Manager who is currently investigating the switch to biofuels for the entire fleet. He spoke about the difficulties of finding a consistent source of high quality and cost-effective biofuel in New Zealand. The conversation made me realise what a challenge it is to turn an innovative concept, such as making biofuel from wood pulp, into a reliable product fit for large-scale commercial use.

On Thursday, I attended the annual conference of the New Zealand Association of Scientists. The talks were so stimulating that my mental activity reached a fever pitch and on Friday morning my system crashed. When I woke up I couldn’t move. My back had seized up and even a wiggle of my fingers sent it into surges of pain. My body obviously thought it was time for a rest!

After four days lying on my back, sleeping and going for gentle strolls I’m back at my desk, sitting bolt upright tentatively preparing to let the ideas in again. I want to share some of the ideas and questions I’ve been thinking about – one by one this time – so as not to overload.

I have three inspiring meetings waiting to share with you:

The first was with Al Morrison, the Director general of DOC along with Rob Fenwick, DOC’s new Commercial Relations Adviser, their Chief Scientist and Communications Advice Manager. DOC’s mission is to change the culture of New Zealand and persuade businesses, landowners, farmers, government and the New Zealand public that biodiversity is a “MUST HAVE” rather than a “nice to have”. They asked me how I thought this change could be made – a huge question, which I’ll carry with me on my travels.

The second meeting was with mechanical engineer and youth leader Carl Chenery from Auckland. “Can you help me tell the story of how humans can be a positive influence on the environment?” he asked. The book he gifted us – Cradle to Cradle (http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm) has undone my understanding of ‘recycling and reuse’. We spoke about design principles used to construct materials that can be infinitely kept ‘in the loop’. Plastics as food for the environment. I’m intrigued to find out if there is any science research in New Zealand that could contribute to this concept.

Thirdly, I met with computational physicist and Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute Shaun Hendy. His research into innovation networks here and overseas has shown that the more people collaborate, the more productive they become. Shaun is my old physics lecturer and a constant source of new ideas.  His work has been a major inspiration for my journey and he has offered to provide support and mentoring along the way. His research assistant Catriona Sissons has offered to help me analyse and visually represent the data I collect.

That’s just a little taste of some of the meetings and questions I want to explore in the next couple of weeks. I also want to share with you some thoughts from the conference last Thursday - the ones that caused my brain to explode. It was all about fostering innovation in New Zealand. I'll be back with that soon. :)

First inspiring Kiwi on my journey of discovery: #Science as Activism #350 #10/10/10 #climate #education

“The arc of history is long but bends toward justice” – Martin Luther King Junior

This is Aaron Packard’s favourite quote and he’s a true bender. Apart from doing a bit of break-dancing and circus performance in his spare time, Aaron is the Pacific coordinator for 350.org. He’s a passionate environmental enthusiast with a big heart and a seriously silly streak.

Aaron is also my flatmate and the first rebellious optimist on my voyage of discovery. On a rare and beautiful Wellington afternoon we rolled down to the beach on our bikes and sat on the same rocks where 10/10/10 was launched a couple of days before.

I was intending to podcast our fascinating conversation. But, unfortunately my trusty recorder (which has never failed me before) went doolaly and corrupted the file. So no podcast! Only my memory. And this little bad quality video we made at the end:

Ok now… Go memory!

Aaron – positive vision, enthusiasm, love, action – having huge goals and showing you mean business by doing solid practical stuff and getting people involved – the power of people – the power of positive persuasion; of laugher; of being silly; being human; being bold and optimistic.

Putting our humanness before our political alignment, our opinions – making sure that people know they won’t be judged, they are free to be themselves. Engagement through inspiration, understanding and respect – not guilt or fear.

Aaron has a particular talent for getting people engaged and excited. He has gathered together a huge network of friends and contacts around NZ and the world. Over the last few months he has been hard at work co-ordinating the Pacific region’s actions for the 10/10/10 Global Working Bee (see blog Oct 10th). He’d often bounce into the kitchen from his bedroom office and announce things like: “Federated States of Micronesia just registered an action! Woohoo!” He’d snort like a horse, do some crazy dance and return to his room. His enthusiasm is obviously infectious as he persuaded people in every Pacific country to get together on 10/10/10 for working bees – from planting trees to building sculptures out of rubbish (350.org). He also persuaded myself and the other flatmates to get up at 6am on Sunday morning to do a solar panel dance to the rising sun (http://bit.ly/b6i5NY).>

In a way it doesn’t matter so much what people actually did on 10/10/10. What’s more important, I think, is that there is now a network of millions of people out there connected, listening and ready for action. I’m inspired by Aaron’s ability to co-ordinate and inspire such a diverse and dispersed network of people. As a science communicator I’m learning a huge amount from his example.

As Aaron was telling me, 350 treads a fine line between focussing on the emotional appeal of climate change and the hard science. But it’s the emotional connection, he thinks, that really gets people engaged and enthused. Young people are passionate about climate change because it gives their lives meaning and purpose. It gives them something to fight for, a community to belong to and something bigger than themselves to serve. 

I believe this is the spirit the science community needs to tap into to get young people engaged with science. While fewer and fewer young people are enrolling in science courses at school and university, more and more are getting passionate about climate change. We need to connect with young people where their passions already are. We need to tell the story of how science can help them achieve their dreams. After all, without science we wouldn’t even understand climate change and we’d have no idea how to tackle it.

I’d like to see enthusiastic young environmental enthusiasts choosing careers in science as their way of contributing to the wellbeing of the planet and their community. By science I don’t just mean Ecology and Environmental Studies. Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Biology and Technology offer young people the ability to redesign and rebuild the way the world works – so it’s sustainable but inspiring and beautiful too. These sciences allow us to learn from the building techniques of nature; to design materials and processes that nourish rather than pollute the environment; to harness energy from the sun, wind and waves and to turn waste into gold.  

This is creative inspiring work.

It’s like magic – alchemy – but it’s not. It’s science.

Science As Activism!

It’s a way to make a difference.

As Aaron pointed out science gives environmental activists the tools to understand and work with complexity; it enables groups like 350.org to develop evidence-based arguments to present to the public, government and policy-makers and it offers a neutral ground for dialogue.

I see a huge amount of possibility in the network that Aaron has helped to create around NZ and the world. I’d like to engage with this network and tell the story of how science can help us create a positive future. 

I’m not sure how this will take shape yet. I’m looking forward to seeing how this journey unfolds.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions…

 

 

10/10/10 day 1 of a journey of discovery

Someone wise once said you should never go travelling until you have seen the beauty in your own backyard. In this spirit I began my journey of discovery this morning at Island Bay beach down the road from my flat. I hopped on my trusty old bike at 6.15am, thermos cup of tea in hand, helmet over woolly hat and I rolled through the clear morning air to the beach. On the rocks, with a small bunch of environmental enthusiasts and dancing solar panels I watched the sun rise over the Rimutaka Ranges. I can honestly say there is no place in the world that sinks so sweetly and deeply into my soul as the south coast of Wellington. 

What pulled us out of bed so unnaturally early on a Sunday morning was the launch celebration of the world’s largest ever working bee (10/10/10) - along with the enormous enthusiasm of my flatmate, Aaron Packard. Aaron is the Pacific coordinator for 350.org - a passionate climate enthusiast with a big heart and a flair for the ridiculous. It was Aaron's idea to make solar panel costumes out of cardboard boxes and to welcome the sun with a solar panel boogie. Yesterday I helped make the panels and this morning I shook my thing to the beat of the taiko drum. Aaron is one of the first inspiring kiwis on my journey of discovery. In a couple of days I'm going to tell you his story. But for now I want to share some thoughts from this morning.

Standing on the rocks in the exquisite stillness of dawn our attention was drawn to the earth under our feet, to the trillions of hearts beating around the planet, to the miracle of life on earth, the enormity of space and the constant march of time. Listening to the blessing and Waiata I felt a wave of gratitude well up in me. Gratitude for the beauty, wisdom and gentleness of this land. I felt a desire to let this beauty, wisdom and gentleness pour into my thoughts and actions; to let it shape the culture and vision of this country.

There is something magical about New Zealand, Aotearoa. And as Kiwis - Maori or Pakeha - I think we all carry this magic in our hearts somewhere, no matter how staunch or cynical we are.  It may not always show in our working lives or our policies but it's there - there is something about our country that we love. On my journey I hope to discover this magic something. I hope to learn how it has shaped our history and character and how it might reshape our future. I guess you would call this the spiritual side of my journey. 

A Journey Begins

This Sunday I will embark on a journey of discovery around New Zealand.

My aim is to discover and draw together the threads of a new Kiwi vision and culture that cherishes the values and strengths of all our country’s communities and sectors.

I feel something very exciting brewing in the nooks and networks of New Zealand.

I’ve felt it while talking to scientists, artists, environmental activists, entrepreneurs, politicians, architects, economists and community volunteers. I feel it in my bones!

But it’s not the kind of story you see in the news.

It feels like time for New Zealand to shake off the dependence and hesitance of youth and to stand up for what is unique and strong about our country - the ingenuity, creativity and determination of our people and the wisdom, power and beauty of our ancient land.

My plan is to track down the rebellious optimists – the inspired Kiwis who have seen a positive future for the country and are working hard to make it a reality. I want to find out what sets them on fire, what challenges and inspires them and what they think we need to do to achieve their vision.

As I go I’ll collect common threads from across the sectors and communities. With these threads, together with the network of inspired, motivated people, I hope to weave a shared vision for the country – a vision that touches the hearts of all New Zealanders.

For me it will be a journey of growth and exploration – coming into tune with my country and imagining possibilities for my future here.

My inspiration is collaboration. As I travel I will be looking for opportunities to connect the skills, knowledge and passion of the people I meet to form unique, co-operative initiatives that benefit everyone involved. I will bring my own personal skills and experience as a science communicator to the mix.

I see a special place for science in the culture and identity of New Zealand. There is something about the open-minded, inventive, practical, rule-bending spirit of New Zealand that resonates with the spirit of science.  And I believe the science community holds invaluable secrets to enrich the culture, environment and wealth of our people.

So, on Sunday morning at 6.30am I will embark on my journey of discovery. At Island Bay Beach in Wellington we’ll be gathering to welcome the sun up on 10/10/10 Global Work Party day (www.350.org). With over 7000 groups of people gathering in 180 countries to celebrate climate solutions on this day it seems like a perfect way to kick off my journey - a message of hope that positive change is possible.