In 1978 a small group of final year architectural students completed an undergraduate sub-thesis study of Low Energy Settlement Patterns in New Zealand at the University of Auckland under the supervision of Associate Professor Cameron McClean. Each student concentrated on a particular aspect of human settlements while simultaneously participating in a group ‘think tank’. Some areas of study led to conventional conclusions while others – in particular Leslie Matthew’s chosen topic of agriculture, a key factor – led to a group consensus that existing spatial patterns of settlements in New Zealand would ultimately need to change with the advent of a diminishing supply of easily accessible fossil fuels. My own sub-thesis, In Search of Steady State, concentrated on the context of low energy settlement patterns.
In 1978 my background and the time available to write a sub-thesis on the broad issues of sustainability were limited and I relied heavily on research that had been carried out by others in a number of disparate disciplines. My sub-thesis included a summary of that research in the form of a table which compared the attributes of growth and steady state settlements and the direction of change required for a transition. In 1979 a summary of my sub-thesis was published in the international journal Urban Ecology as a short communication titled Ekistics and Energetics: A Sustainable Future Planning Approach.
It is now 44 years ago since I wrote my sub-thesis, and progress towards planning and preparing for a sustainable future in New Zealand has been limited. In 2017 the ecological footprint of New Zealanders was one of the highest in the world and the New Zealand agricultural sector has one of the highest per capita contributions of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. New Zealand also has one of the highest per capita hydroelectricity production, but no electrified national railway system which links towns and cities. The opportunity for New Zealand to become a leader in adopting well established principles of sustainability has been largely ignored and wasted.
Globally and in New Zealand it has taken decades for early warnings of climate change to be taken heed of. Climate change deniers have much to blame for this delay. But even when there was finally general global acceptance that humankind induced climate change is a reality and the first commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol started in 2008, there have been delays in commitment by New Zealand due to the lack of political will and influence by lobbyists with vested interests. The documentary, Hot Air: The Politics of Climate Change in New Zealand, is an indictment of how “big business recruited climate change deniers and spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, frighten politicians and remove climate change from voters’ attention and governments’ agendas.”
The expression "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. A sustainable growth economy on a finite planet is a physical impossibility. Nonethless, in New Zealand and elsewhere the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised to the extent that many politicians and business leaders still use the phrase “sustainable growth".
Even government departments which should know better use this phrase. For example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) used this phrase on its website in October 2016.
“MBIE's purpose is to Grow New Zealand for all. 'Grow' relates to the economy. To achieve the standard of living and quality of life we aspire to, we need a better-performing economy that delivers sustainable growth.”
The above obfuscation as to the true import of sustainability and a continued prevailing mindset that economic growth should and could continue motivated me to update myself on broader issues of sustainability and progress made over the past 40 years or so and then write an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. In October 2015 I joined the research organisation ResearchGate and I started to collect and read relevant journal publications and books, and view videos, documentaries, and lecture series which address the multi-faceted and interwoven issues of sustainability.
The problems we face do not form individual linear chains of cause and effect. We need to understand the interconnections and dynamics of the problems in order to resolve the problems individually and in combination. A standard book approach to learning about the web-like nature of these problems has its limitations due to the linear nature of reading. Using multiple footnotes or endnotes is an improvement. David Fleming adopted a dictionary approach with cross references in his hardcopy book LEAN LOGIC: A dictionary for the future and how to survive it. An electronic form of his book is even more useful. Shaun Chamberlin has converted David Fleming's book into an online version. This online version could be improved with a more easily accessible glossary, index of terms, and a search engine. The software HelpNDoc provides these features and this is the software I have used used to develop a web publication. There is no need to read this web publication from start to finish. Active learning is encouraged by delving into whatever takes your interest.
My work-in-progress web publication, Issues of Sustainability, using HelpNDoc, came online on 25 August 2021. This web publication will be added to and revised over time.
Ivan M. Johnstone PhD
Dunedin, New Zealand
23 October 2022