- Torfrida Wainwright

Pathway to Survival and Tapatahi: Coalition for a People's Aotearoa

It's a Leftist truism that we can't just wait for capitalism to collapse in on itself, we must work towards creating a decent, fair society anyway. But it is also increasingly clear that, as long as the current structures of economic and political power and ownership continue to operate in Aotearoa, we are highly unlikely to succeed in taxing the hyper-rich out of existence to get housing and income security for all. Or to achieve a real democracy that honours Te Tiriti and the voice of the people over vested interests. Or to end fossil fuel production and intensive dairying in time to slow global warming. And we will not stop war.

Here we are on this rare blue planet, so far unable to find any spanner to throw into the works of global colonising capitalism to stop its insatiable cancerous growth gobbling up our only home. Meanwhile those few who are riding the ever more complex global machinery of money-making, resource stripping, over-production and ecosystem degradation are preoccupied with keeping it going so they don't fall from the top of the heap.

What will stop this endless expansion is not human effort but physics. The reality of the planetary "Limits to Growth" that were accurately predicted 50 years ago. Running out of oil, water, farmable land and the minerals needed to make cell-phones and all the complex wiring of our globally connected urbanised societies. The baked-in global over-heating and the various climate tipping points are only part of this collapse of Business As Usual, which is not only inevitable but approaching quite fast.

It's in this dire context that people are also starting to see opportunity - for the transformation of our current extractive societies into forms of localised, sustainable, collectivist communities that can survive these planetary changes. This shift to framing our poly-crises in terms of opportunity is reflected in the fast rise of the "degrowth" movement globally and in Aotearoa over the last couple of years. This movement emerged out of academic discussions on the steady-state or circular economic models, the limitations to "green growth", the reality of resource overshoot and the need for a rapid and managed reduction in total energy use if we are to cut global emissions in time.

Meanwhile, at the same time as writers and researchers were developing these ideas for macro level changes, people throughout Aotearoa and overseas have been (sometimes for decades) working on bottom-up, community development approaches to local self-sufficiency and sustainability, setting up a wealth of initiatives - time banks, savings pools and alternative currencies, urban farms, community gardens and permaculture, repair cafes and food waste projects, work co-ops, tiny forests and much more...

Building A Movement: First Hui

These two strands of this new movement for social change came together for probably the first time in September 2023 at Degrowth Aotearoa NZ's (DANZ) first conference, "Beyond Growth", in Pōneke. A buzzing space filled with 150 people talking excitedly about practical ways to build a new society based on an Economy of Enough - sufficiency, not growth.

Hui presentations covered questions like - How do we enable a just transition to a degrowth economy? What can we learn from the economies of places like Kerala (India) and Costa Rica that are further down the degrowth path? How do we strengthen local communities from the ground up? What do we need for collective well-being - e.g., universal basic income, equitable energy rationing, free public services? How do we reconnect to the land and to one another?

Because the problems are many and interconnected, so are the vast array of solutions. These include local food security, 15-minute cities, non-fossil transport options, zero waste techniques, citizens' assemblies - and much more. At the root of it all is a shift in values, away from profit-driven exploitation, and towards the power and importance of connection - to the whenua, to our local community, to one another, to the collective journey we are on. All the sessions at the Pōneke hui were recorded and are available on DANZ YouTube channel, with more info on DANZ's Website.

A Few Highlights

Nate Hagens (US author of "The Great Simplification") - how and why Business As Usual is hitting resource limits and planetary boundaries and will not continue, and how local communities can prepare for that. Catherine Knight (NZ writer on policy) - we must plan for "sufficiency", not growth. Like Hagens, she thinks current economic vested interests will prevent any NZ government publicly committing to a planned transition to degrowth or to an economy based on collective welfare and the protection of nature. (i.e., to end capitalism!) But there's much we can do to be ready to grasp the opportunity when the inevitable crises happen (e.g., supply chain failure, another pandemic, war overseas, more floods/drought etc). Her Newsroom article "Collapse Is Not A Dirty Word" (Newsroom 11/07/23), is a good read.

Manu Caddie (Ruatoria) - the importance of matemateāone - the deep love for the whenua and one's community, and the deep pain at losing these that many Māori have experienced. Such a love must lie at the heart of our new society. Timotee Parrique (France) - "decroissance" (degrowth) emerged as a concept in France in the early 2000s, but then faded away till recently owing to continued disagreements between "degrowthers" and eco-socialists. He warned us to look for commonalities and avoid unproductive factional conflict.

The second day of the hui featured people working on many specific initiatives and provided space for networking. Covid was good for linking people through zooms and Webinars, but nothing beats face to face in building a movement! Another practical outcome of the hui was the start of an initiative to build a national Resilience Network, aimed at linking and supporting the huge number of local projects and mutual aid organisations around the motu.

Second Hui

DANZ held a second hui in October 2023 in Tāmaki Makaurau and more are planned for other centres. The energy is palpable and the movement has grown fast over the past few years, and is now bringing together academics, researchers and writers with community workers, unionists and activists in many areas of climate, social and Tiriti justice.

This broad range of different backgrounds, skills and perspectives brings its own productive tensions that will need to be worked through. Already the concept of a Resilience Network raises the age-old question: Do we work for changes at the national macro level, or do we work for local change from the bottom up - "building the new in the shell of the old"? It is clear that both approaches are needed and could work in synergy. As New Zealanders wrestle with more floods and extreme weather, we will become clearer about what we need for practical collective survival at both macro and local level, and get more skilled at putting them in place. And it will hopefully also become clearer to most people what big system changes are needed to support this.

Be Prepared

Those managing our current economic and political systems are clearly not able to prevent the oncoming collapse, which in Aotearoa's case may well start with a long-term failure of our overseas supply chains. If it happened suddenly, it would be likely to result in a move to a multi-party Government of civil emergency that could coordinate a rapid shift to a simpler, localised economy and society that is far less reliant on imported fuel, fertiliser, food or other goods (as happened in Cuba in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed). It makes sense for us as citizens and as progressives to prepare for the time when Business As Usual ceases and the opportunity arises to replace it with fairer, more democratic collectivist structures at both a national and local level.


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