Your Word: Sense and sustainability, Esther Whitehead


‘In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.’

– Michael McFauland

Think about it, think about women not having the vote, think about slavery, about apartheid.

They are wrong, incongruent and archaic. In retrospect, it’s utterly unbelievable that people turned a blind eye, or considered it appropriate to maintain the status quo.

Some 12 years ago, I set about starting a community conversation on sustainability in Queenstown. Let’s just say it didn’t get started.

Then, five years ago, I started a local petition to ban single-use plastic bags, which I incorporated into a national campaign.

It eventually led to the national ban, which finally came into effect this year. That was the start of Sustainable Queenstown, which tackles local issues around waste and climate change.

In the last three years our community has not only found this discussion more palatable, it now seems to be the order of the day.

Whether you love her or hate her, Greta Thunberg has accelerated this discussion, as the poster girl for the cause, and by highlighting the importance of a democratic voice to her peers.

The global climate strikes annoy, offend, inspire, agitate. There is no doubt they are having an impact.

Many say it’s just noise, that activists aren’t actually doing anything, they’re just hypocrites. Yet to be alive means to have a carbon footprint – so there is that!

However, surely there is nothing wrong with idealism with a strategy, or fighting for the redesign of meaningless policies, broken regulations and poor leadership?

Throughout history, all movements start with noise, with activism in the form of public marches or strikes, this is as familiar to us Kiwis as elsewhere.

We need advocates who stand up and lend a voice to our ecosystems. Climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion, Sustainable Queenstown and others have been that voice locally. This trend is global as it sweeps across local networks.

The aim of this people-based pressure is to push local governments to take action to reduce carbon emissions and plan for adaptation, as well as put pressure on national government.

We now know the earth’s capacity is finite, while the population and our aspirations for material consumption continue to grow.

Current evidence indicates we have already stepped over several safe planetary boundaries (IPCC report 2018).

Having this knowledge creates a moral purpose to push for reform – and once there is a critical mass of understanding, to ignore the facts becomes loathsome and potentially unlawful. This is why declaring a climate emergency is important. This is why we need local people engaging with democratic issues – we must first have understanding before there will be change, and this commonly starts with noise.

It’s been of huge interest to me that so many local candidates for our upcoming election have talked strategically on climate change.

This is such a huge shift from three years ago. I believe that we have some knowledgeable and capable candidates. What can they do for us?

They will need to dig deep, in a time of change, they will need to confront the brutal facts to manage the level of change we’re dealing with, and they will need a supportive culture.

Make your vote count!

Esther Whitehead is champion for sustainability in Queenstown