Ben is the leader of Wellington environmental group “42 Collective”. The collective was started in Dunedin, but was unsuccessful there. He moved to Wellington earlier this year, hoping the idea would generate more of a response.
The 42 Collective now boasts around 200 members. It is based on the idea that despite the higher living standards and rise in consumerism in developed countries, “there hasn’t been a similar sort of growth in what economists or people talk about being ‘wellbeing’ or ‘happiness’. What we’re trying to question is whether or not we can live with less costs, but still maintain the same sort of happiness.”
The collective’s name came from two things: the 42nd latitude, which runs through New Zealand, and the BBC’s The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. “I grew up listening to [it]…and there was a funny line which always stuck with me, which was ‘the meaning of life is 42’. So, essentially, The 42 Collective is about promoting what we think the meaning of life is – to be happy, and to make sure that that happiness doesn’t cost others.” The website http://www.42collective.org.nz states their aim as “to simplify and encourage the shift towards lifestyles that enhance personal wellbeing, maximise resource and energy efficiency and minimise harm to people and the environment,” to which the collective refers as the ‘less-cost lifestyle’.
The group’s campaign was launched about a month ago. It is based around their website and a stencilling campaign.“What we’re trying to do over the next 2 or 3 months, or through the 4 phases, is try and tell a story through the stencil, called ‘Here’s the way we currently live.’ Secondly, what are some of the costs of that sort of lifestyle? What are our impacts on the environment and the people? The third phase is about how good we feel about these things and our own personal satisfaction, and asks if we are conned into buying things by marketing. Are we suckers for social norms? Finally, the fourth phase is about providing [members] with practical solutions. Then, in December, hopefully we’ll have a bit of a launch party.” Another reason to join up, kids!
Last Thursday, the 42 Collective launched Phase 2 of their stencilling campaign, which links into the Wellington ‘less-cost lifestyle guide’ they are trying to create online. “The idea is like Wikipedia …[we want] to use people’s collective knowledge to build something, so that all members can add to it.” The idea is that people in Wellington will be able to click on the guide, which will produce a map with shops and companies [that] are environmentally friendly, and will promote environmental events.
One way to find out how sustainable you really are is through an ‘ecological footprint’, which assesses how much of the planet’s natural resources you use and require, and presents your footprint in the a certain amount of land, in hectares. The average person in the world takes about 2.2 hectares of land.
However, most developed countries, such as the US, Australia and NZ, have “about 8 to 10 hectares per person, so the actual amount of land area that’s require to sustain our way of life is completely way beyond what everyone else has. If everyone was to get to our living standards in the world, we’d need about 5 more planets. It’s not really that fair that we’re living the way that we are and other people can’t, because it’s not possible.”
Surprisingly, if you eat meat, your footprint increases. “There’s no doubt that eating meat takes more resources than you need – it requires heaps more water to feed cattle, it requires a lot more energy. These types of things, like water, aren’t included in the price. If it was, meat would be a lot more expensive. One of the big problems in the world is that the environmental goods and services are often not included in the price. So if the real price of being unsustainable was included in the products, I think you’d have a lot more people living sustainably”.
The current Labour government see the environment/climate change problem as “one of their big issues”, and Ben hopes that “now we’ve lost the rugby, we’ve got to think of something else that we can fight over, and maybe sustainability can be that thing.” The 42 Collective wants to help New Zealand citizens see how important sustainability is, because they believe politicians only act “when they feel that the people are behind them. And the public, through movies such as An Inconvenient Truth, have actually started to engage in the environment. Once the public moves, the politicians will move with them.” The New Zealand Government has already implemented several sustainable governmental objectives such as Govt 3, the government initiative which encourages sustainability in governmental agencies. The issue of sustainability has also raised “lots of issues around Maori and their rights to resources. It’s not just about how you manage it, it’s how about how you share it.” Unfortunately, governments will never be able to please environmentalists, something Ben suspects has something to do with the emphasis by governments on economic growth – “and I guess what we at the collective are trying to do is question whether or not growth and money and income is really the best goal to have.”
Although governments have been somewhat slow in reacting to the seriousness of climate change, he believes that something is finally being done. “You look two or three years back, and the issue of climate change was sidelined. Now it’s a mainstream issue and everyone’s knows a bit about it, and that’s enabled the government to do stuff.”
Students can also play a major part in the 42 Collective, through joining the collective online at http://www.42collective.org.nz/, or through the Collective’s Facebook group. “We’re keen to get students and younger people with fresh ideas… Students are a key part of the collective, because they’re the ones with the energy to do something.”
BUYING LOCAL PRODUCTS VS SUPPORTING MARKETS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
“If you choose to buy stuff from Ecuador and you’re not happy about the way employers are treated, you can then tell the company that ‘I am choosing to buy your stuff now, because I support developing countries.’ Sure, boycotting products will have an effect, but you don’t want it to come at too much at a cost.” Or you could “choose to buy stuff made in China, if you can be sure that, for example, one dollar of the products price goes to the workers.”
This can sometimes have slightly unexpected outcomes, for example, “a kilo of cheese or butter coming from NZ actually has less emissions than a kilo of butter made in Europe, because the way we make our butter is far more energy efficient.”
ORGANICS – ARE THEY REALLY BETTER? WHAT ABOUT THE GREATER USE OF ENERGY THAT GOES INTO PRODUCING THEM?
“It’s not black and white sometimes, and that’s what we (42 Collective) are about. We’re about trying to learn about some of these things and not just accepting something because the advertising is clever. Organics are not made on mass production, so maybe you need more energy to make them. But, in the end, I guess you have to balance those costs off against other things – like whether the costs of using pesticides, and the costs of human health, and the costs to other plants and animals are greater or less than the cost of using slightly more energy.”
Ben compares the gradual realisation of climate change to that of cigarettes. “Initially, people said: ‘don’t be crazy, how can you prove that this particular cigarette is causing me cancer?’” Similarly, climate change has taken a long time to be accepted because the science is quite complicated. Additionally, “ it does mean things like power prices are going to go up and petrol prices are going to go up, and the governments don’t like making things cost more if they can help it.”
He illustrates how current environmental problems often come as a result of unsustainable practise. For example, climate change is “a good example of how being unsustainable does come at great costs. If we managed to consume or produce emissions at a level which the climate could absorb and process, then we wouldn’t have a problem.”
QUICK SUSTAINABILITY IDEAS FOR STUDENTS
“With students it’s difficult, because often they don’t have much money.” Putting ‘no junk mail’ stickers on your letterbox helps, along with thinking about how you use shared cars and thinking about the clothes that you buy.“Thinking about the unpriced costs, like whether or not you’d be willing to pay slightly more to ensure it’s been made by someone local and the that actual money goes back into our economy – and also that the labour’s good, and that the environment isn’t sacrificed. And sure, it might cost a bit more, but these clothes are usually more durable.” Supermarket shopping – taking your own bags before you go. Buy a bike. It may sound clichéd, but “when people realise how unsustainable cars are, the actual price will go up heaps – so by buying a bike, you’re already setting yourself up for the future.”