Emergency Action Plan for New Zealanders (and others)

We believe that New Zealand, like all other countries, is about to enter a period of extended crisis. The severity and timing of the events that will unfold are uncertain, but the likelihood of major change is increasingly hard to refute.

Because the possible drivers of change are multiple and interconnected — including global warming, resource scarcity and economic collapse — it is not easy to plot a course that will completely protect us from the effects. There will be many surprises. But the combined effect of the ways we each respond will determine the quality of life we can expect. Maintaining our current behaviour is asking for trouble. It will be no use leaving things for the government to fix. Nor will individual survivalism get us far.

We believe it vital that we learn to respect and nurture living beings — including one another — and the world that sustains our life. How well we appreciate the importance of working for the common good will be most clearly reflected in the economic policies we apply. Acknowledging the possible sources of change and consciously preparing for it together will help us make life-enhancing choices.

Being caring and thoughtful involves taking urgent steps to:

reinforce community links

  • practise more cooperative, inclusive and consensual ways of interacting with one another
  • devolve decision-making to the level of the people most affected
  • ensure vulnerable sectors of the community are adequately supported and resourced
  • localise health services and prioritise preventative health care
  • fully engage radio, television and community newspapers in educating ourselves for change
  • forestall any trends toward authoritarian rule

foster the regeneration of land, water, air and living communities

  • invest in personal and shared assets and endeavours to bolster resilience and biodiversity
  • develop long-term ecologically-sound land- and water-use programmes and infrastructure
  • recreate urban areas as integrated ‘village’ communities and reinvest in rural communities
  • use on-site and local resources to meet basic needs
  • implement considered limits to New Zealand’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions

reorient education

  • base education on an understanding of our finite ecosystem and humanity’s niche within it
  • cultivate a holistic perspective when considering responses and designing solutions
  • develop facilitation and leadership skills
  • refocus educational and research institutions to support local and regional needs
  • have vocational training support a stable economy by promoting regional self-sufficiency
  • implement general training in nonviolent defence and the peaceful resolution of conflict

guarantee the supply and quality of food

  • reserve land for, and invest in, the production of local food from
    living soil
  • establish seed and food banks
  • promote nutrient-dense food choices
  • protect genetic biodiversity in food production

develop appropriate technology

  • support local enterprise, manufacturing and industry, including clean energy technology
  • create functional, resilient and energy-efficient buildings using local skills and materials
  • invest in high-quality, low-tech maintainable machinery and tools for
    all purposes
  • divert resources from non-productive to life-sustaining infrastructure
  • concentrate infrastructure development in areas least prone to adverse events
  • promote, develop and maintain local broadband networks
  • refocus urban design to favour walking, bicycle use and public transport
  • extend and electrify rail
  • redevelop domestic shipping for bulk-goods transport
  • redevelop the breeding stock, equipment and skills base for working with draft animals

construct a stable (ecologically-based) economy

  • limit all economic activity to that which protects nature’s capacity to regenerate itself
  • embrace business, finance and insurance models based on reciprocity and cooperation
  • support local providers of products and services that meet basic needs
  • subject international trade agreements to strong sustainability and transparency criteria
  • dismantle the means by which corporations are privileged at citizens’ expense
  • dissolve the exclusive right of banks to create legal tender
  • develop local, regional and national interest-free currencies to forestall liquidity shortfall
  • progressively tax consumption – and its promotion – to minimise resource use
  • progressively tax accumulated wealth and wealth transferred out of
    New Zealand
  • prepare for increased immigration compatible with land use and infrastructure capacity
  • adopt comprehensive indicators to monitor local and national wellbeing.

We offer this list as a starting point for considering what strategies will best meet the challenges ahead, and invite the input of all concerned people to an ongoing conversation.

New Zealand Fleeing Vesuvius Project Team

How we can bring the world out of the mess in which it finds itself

Tuhi-Ao Bailey

Tenei te mihi ki te maunga, ki nga awa, ki te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. Ki taku hapori me toku whanau: he mihi mahana. Ki o matou tupuna: haere, haere, haere atu ra ki Hawaiki-nui, ki Hawaiki-roa, ki Hawaiki-pamamao. Ki o matou uri: e mahi ana matou mo koutou, ake ake ake.

I have tried to write this article many times in the past three to four years. I have changed dramatically in that time, from a full-on, full-time city activist to a rural… well, I don’t know what to call myself now but whatever I am becoming, I feel way more grounded and as if I’m making a real difference, finally, without running away to the hills.

People used to bemoan the lack of privacy in small villages yet now we live in a global village that can record and make accessible our every comment to whomever, forever. Once we had freedom to fully participate in important decision-making; now our lives are run by the exploiting capitalist class and more and more of us are forced into the ratrace, living in giant, toxic, concrete jungles just to survive. How many feel useful or happy? How many have real community or even remember what it’s for?

In considering the mess of the world, I find it easiest to write about my personal journey, not because I want to talk about myself but because I find the personal easier for people to relate to and because it gives context to my points of view.

My father’s parents were Maori farmers from Taranaki. In the great urban drift of the 1950s my dad moved to Wellington to study and work. My mother is a second-generation pakeha ‘New Zealander’. My father died young, when I was almost seven, so my mother has worked fulltime as a secondary teacher (and solo mum for several years) since a few months after my father’s death.

Both my parents were passionate about spending time in nature and discussing current affairs. It must have rubbed off because I ended up studying environmental sciences at university. When I finished there I did some volunteer work with NGOs, trying to get a foot in to some paid work. It proved fruitless and instead I found some activist groups – people I could work with rather than for.

I started off volunteering in a small group working on rainforest protection but in the late ’90s that global campaign was coming to an end. Other groups were working on animal rights, stopping the expansion of roads through communities and stopping the war in Iraq. I was involved with those groups for a while and eventually came upon anarchism and the politics of free people governing themselves non-hierarchically.

At one point I travelled the globe, documenting the causes of the world’s problems and the awesome solutions communities were creating. That film’s still not done because in the following years my life became activism instead. My fellow activists became my friends. We would set up and manage new groups and projects, organise protests, guerilla garden, yell at weapons conference-goers, occupy mountaintops destined to become open-pit coalmines and lock ourselves to buildings. We squatted in houses, ate dumpstered food and cycled, walked and hitched the country. I wore lots of patches and badges for a while. I even tried to be vegan for a couple of years. There were lots and lots of meetings. Our activist ‘scene’ grew quite large for a time and we started to talk about creating a community to support one another, about building a future together. That was when it all started falling apart.

Creating a self-sufficient, committed community in the city would involve purchasing, at great expense, land that had been stolen from Maori, renting from unreliable property investors or squatting rare sites until we were moved on. Then there were the politics of just getting along while trying to be as radically progressive as possible, and the problem of who was in or not given that we lived in one of the most transient cities in the country and some people had strong ideas of what type of people they wanted to live and work with. It was a nightmare and delusional to say the least.

On top of that, we kept losing. The tipping point was when I and several others were raided by police and jailed for a month facing serious charges.

Those few weeks in jail were stark and I never want to go back, but it opened my eyes to a world I had never seen, a world occupied mostly by society’s rejects: Maori, Polynesian, the poor, drug addicts, prostitutes, gangs. My sheltered little self-righteous activist world seemed a joke, a choice in which I didn’t really think and work strategically to help create a better world. I’d been leading a privileged life that meant little to these people in the ‘real world’. On a personal level I also realised my own fragility: the fear of being trapped and having no future. My mother’s continual warnings of self-care and being more aware of the reality of others living on this planet finally made sense.

For a long time I had wanted to leave the city and live on some land where I could grow food and enjoy the beautiful things of this planet such as forests and rivers – while still actively working for a better world for everyone. I had also wanted to go back to where my dad’s whanau were, to my turangawaewae. I don’t remember any words but somehow he must have fed into my subconscious when I was young, the need to care for our land as kaitiaki.

My partner and I wrote a letter to someone we knew who lived in my kui’s papakainga asking if we could move there for a while and live in my tent. After a short but anxious wait, we received his reply: he had asked the kaumatua and they were happy for us to come. We packed our bags, my tent and the dog and hitched our way there. We planned to stay for two months. Almost four years later we are still here, raising our young son. We have helped kickstart a community movement against several giant petroleum companies and our corrupt government, and we’re helping rebuild a self-sufficient village. Beyond the occasional self-doubt and frustration with life, I’m happy.

Why did I tell you all that? Throughout my years of trying to work out solutions for this mess we’re all in, I realised that it’s only through finding real community that we can truly have the grounding, collective wisdom and strength in numbers to resist the shitty things in this world such as capitalist corporations and corrupt governments with their systems of exploitation and inequality.

The only problem with this picture is that to find that community I had to find the land to which those people were dedicated. That might not seem like a problem until you think about where most people on this planet now live – not on their own land, or land that could support a community, but in cities. That was the problem when my activist friends and I tried to become a community from within a city. It was impossible to decide to move to some land because everyone wanted something different or they had no means of getting there anyway.

I am privileged to have found land and a community to live with. I did not need money to move here and if I didn’t whakapapa to this people I might have struggled to be accepted here and particularly to be able to speak in meetings – although I know of many rural Maori and non-Maori intentional communities desperately in need of people to come and live with them. I am also privileged because of the sacrifices my people made to keep and maintain the land against years of muru raupatu, poverty, corruption and depression.

But living here has not come without lots of hard work. I’ve had to bite my tongue and listen and watch and learn. I’ve had to work with criticism, suspicion and little support. I’ve had to face my shyness and prejudices to get along with people who are at first glance very different from me and to learn a new language and culture. The speed and arrogance of the city took a long time to get out of my bones but they had to go so that I could merge with this place and these people. I still have a lot more work to do on that front but things are already far better than what I had in the city.

And what now of the ‘activism’? A few months ago we were forced to take on about 15 massive petroleum corporations who had been given government permits and council consent to mine throughout our region, on- and off-shore.

Prior to moving here, I would have formed a small group and we would have gone out and protested, but not this time. We took it to our community first. We debated the issue, got to the guts of it and came out in strong opposition, together. We then took it to the next community along the coast and to other communities across the country. We formed a small group to put the issue in the media and debate it publicly and we now have many hundreds of people whom we can call on for support.

For my first time ever, we have the media almost completely on our side. Perhaps it’s a fluke; perhaps it’s timing, with increased awareness of climate change and of the massive scale of the industry expansion. But maybe it’s because we are changing the way we approach the situation.

We’re not just rushing out and saying, “Oy, you suck, go away”. We’re not going out as radical activists but as ordinary local people who care deeply about the place we call home and we’re saying, “Hey, this is our place you’re threatening and there’s heaps of us and we’re organising and networking and we’re going to stand up to you to protect it as best we can. We’re going to win over your workers, your voters, your suppliers, your families and your markets. It’s going to cost you and your shareholders aren’t going to like that.”

The main difference though is that I’m not thinking antagonistically. I’m thinking about disempowered communities and empowerment. It’s not How can we fight them? but How can we become more powerful so that they can’t hurt us? Focussing on building allies, not enemies, is a tactic I saw being used successfully by Dine and Hopi in Arizona who forced out a mining company recently after years of polluting and resource theft. So far it’s working well for us here.

Another thing I’ve learned is to not act morally superior. Our group was recently called “philosophically opposed to fossil fuels” by a petroleum PR guy. A few years ago I might not have realised the detriment of this label. Nowadays I try to ground my politics in the real issues that mean something to most people. Rather than say fossil fuels are bad, for example, I say we’re using them up way too much and too fast for the planet to cope and for our children to live well. I find this approach much more acceptable and engaging.

I also try not to be judgmental – I was always being accused of this and rightly so. The problems of the world are collective so individual solutions are not going to work. Being vegan or refusing to drive for example can just make our lives more difficult while the problems don’t lessen. We should do what we feel capable of on an individual level but the real challenge is changing society and that can’t be done by judging people and making them feel bad. That doesn’t mean being falsely nice to people but trying to understand the bigger things that stop us all from living within the planet’s means, whether it’s social pressures, poverty or just habits that are scary or hard to break.

So I am now involved in rebuilding our papakainga to be self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable. We have a few community gardens that are providing fresh organic food for several families and large hui year-round. We are working on renewable energy systems. We have our water supply secured. We are fencing and replanting streams. We are farming. We are repairing buildings and cleaning up the land. We are starting fundraising businesses to employ whanau and we have set up a monthly hauora. People are also moving home. But most importantly, the community is coming together for the first time in decades and discussing longheld hurts and fears and coming out better at the other end. I am honoured to be here in these inspiring times.

I reflect on things often. There are a few things that stand out since my homecoming as feeding this change. The first are tikanga maori and rongo. I would translate tikanga maori as finding and following the natural law that maintains balance between all things – between tangata and whenua, atua and wairua. It starts with discovering and knowing whakapapa, our inseparable connection to all things, to our tupuna and to our uri. Coming home has reconnected me.

Rongo I would translate as peace: life without war, time to cultivate crops, gather food, study the world around us, care for ourselves and to bear and nurture children. It’s been good for me to step out and have some rongo time to ground me and remind me again what we’re struggling for.

The next is good leadership – based on tikanga maori and rongo. Leadership doesn’t have to be hierarchichal but it needs to help others grow. The practice of humility, patience, wise speech, calmness, honesty, respect and the ability to truly hear others and understand them is an amazing skill that I see amongst some people in my community. I honour that wise leadership and attempt to follow and walk alongside them in my own infant-like, clumsy way. I’ve got a long way to go still but I feel like I’ve finally found the right path.

Ki nga morehu.

Ko te po te kaihari i te ra.
Ko te mate te kaihari i te oranga.

Design for surviving Vesuvius – Atamai, a permaculture village

Joanna Santa Barbara

Atamai Village is an attempt to respond intelligently to the risks and opportunities outlined in other chapters of this book. Atamai villagers hope that the evolving responses in their settlement, in whole or in part, will be useful for many others, including those in urban areas.

The response needs to take into account the need to mitigate climate change and adapt to low or zero fossil fuel use, the constraints of sea-level rise over the next century, the need to step outside, as much as possible, the mainstream financial system and the importance of a local steady-state economy within the biophysical limits of the region.

Influences on design

The traditional village is seen as a resilient human settlement throughout human history, on a scale that permits some division of labour, specialisation and exchange. Villages in various cultures strike some balance between the privacy of family groupings and the benefits of direct cooperative effort for the common good. Atamai is designed as a traditional village, in that it aims at a high degree of internal food, energy and water security, and of economic exchange within the village and beyond.

It is a permaculture [1] design, adapting human purposes to the observed flow of sunlight, water and wind and to the soil and geology of the land, following natural systems in creating a diverse, multilayered food system, minimising inputs of external resources, energy and labour, using materials in cycles to produce no waste and continually optimising relationships between design elements.

Other influences on design of land use have been Yeomans’ Keyline Design principles [2] applied to water conservation. Organic and particularly biodynamic gardening principles are used in food production.

Influences on design of dwellings have been New Zealand’s Building Biology and Ecology Institute [3] and Christopher Alexander’s “pattern language”.[4]

A principle of technology use in the village was developed by Jurgen Heissner (see below): basic needs such as food production, water, energy, and sewerage must be served by simple technology, with enduring hardware, parts that can be repaired by non-experts or replaced by simple manufacturing techniques, and able to be fuelled by other than fossil fuels. Less resilient technology will be used while available and as it serves less basic village needs. Heissner calls the concept “layered technology”. All materials and machines used in the village are researched by life cycle analysis, energy efficiency, materials used, cost, durability, exchangeability of parts and so on.

The village is designed to foster a balance between independence and interdependence, social and private, and to run democratically. Extensive Common Land, about which decisions are made by consensus, fosters the communal aspect of the village.

Attention to beauty is highly valued in gardens, houses and shared areas.


The concept of a traditional village as a structure with potential resilience to climate change and peak oil was developed by Jurgen Heissner, based on observations of European villages. Heissner began to work with a small group of people in 2006, purchasing land outside Motueka, on the north coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The land saddles a ridge in the foothills of the Kahurangi Range. Much of it is steep degraded pasture land, with some gentle slopes and flats. The group, after observation and discussion of land use, began terracing slopes and planting fruit trees. A sustainable development company for the purpose of building the village infrastructure was set up. The next stage was the development of ‘Te Mara’ (The Garden), a food production area, with the creation of ponds and terraced gardens.

District Council consent was obtained for the first phase of subdivision in 2009, and prospective villagers began to purchase lots. Some began living in pre-existing houses on the land or adjacent rented houses. Construction of the first new home began in 2010. In that year consent for the second stage of subdivision of land was obtained. At this point the group was large enough to begin governing the use of the Common Land and to decide how the village would function as a social entity. The next stage will be the third and final subdivision of the planned village centre. This will bring the number of lots to about 50, for an expected population of about 150.

How does it work?

People join Atamai by purchasing their private dwelling site and a share in the Commons, and agreeing to four covenants attached to each title. Two of these apply to the physical infrastructure of the village and two apply to its social functions. They are:

Treatment of the land must comply with organic gardening (Biogro) standards.

Houses must conform with minimal eco-architecture standards regarding size, non-toxic materials, local materials, passive solar design, energy and water self-sufficiency, composting toilets and greywater use.

Decisions in the village will be reached using a consensus process.

Conflicts arising in the village will be dealt with by early resort to a process of conflict resolution. Prospective villagers agree to some training in consensus and conflict resolution.

To each lot is attached a Commons share. This land, larger in total area than the combined private lots, will be developed as a common resource for villagers.

The land – the vision and where we are so far.

Some adjacent land has been purchased by villagers joining the project with a view to eventually incorporating the whole in the village Common Lands. The lands, in total, comprise about 120 hectares, and include formerly gorse-covered degraded pastures, pine plantation, and flat land. The areas most suitable for community orchards have been planted and are already bearing fine fruit. Some of the area suitable for vegetable gardens has been planted and is producing well. The plan for a pine plantation is to progressively replace it with native and compatible exotic forest, more useful timber crops and some areas for selective firewood harvesting.

Lot sizes vary from just over half a hectare to smaller clustered lots, allowing for purchase by people of modest means, and for rental accommodation and co-housing.

The village centre plans include a plaza, a community hall, commercial-grade kitchen, café, general store and library.

Land restoration

Land restoration is a shared ethic. Land is contoured to minimise erosion and retain water. Thousands of native trees, bushes and grasses have been planted. Attention is given to planting bee, butterfly and bird attractors. Grazing of animals is managed consistent with land restoration.


Water for households is filtered roof rainwater used frugally. Household greywater is used on orchard plantings. There will be no blackwater because of the use of composting toilets.

Water for horticulture is conserved from rainfall by Keyline and Permaculture methods. Ponds have been constructed for beauty, water storage and as a fire safety facility.


The task of restoring the soil is a high priority for villagers. Organic principles of minimal external inputs are being applied. The orchard soil is being developed by biodynamic principles. An expert in large-scale composting is teaching other villagers ways of using “unwanted” biomass such as gorse, thistle and aging trees in compost heaps to increase soil fertility. A limited number of cattle have been introduced to provide manure for this purpose. There is attention to compensating for mineral deficiencies in the soil. A complex soil amendment has been developed by Heissner and others, including the use of biochar. This appears to have increased soil fertility when introduced into plantings. It will be desirable to demonstrate this in quantifiable ways.


Initial houses will be rather widely spaced to comply with district council rural residential regulations. It is planned that the later-built houses can be clustered around the village centre on small lots or as flats above shop fronts. The village uses a brick press to make earth blocks from its own soil for some of its structures. As well as attention to the several principles of eco-architecture mentioned above, there is the intention to create houses of exemplary beauty.


Thought has been given to how to produce a varied, nutritious diet on the village land. It is relatively easy to grow a great range of vegetables and fruit in the location. Olive and walnut trees have been planted for later oil production. A full-time gardener, assisted by WWOOFers,[5] works on food production. Grain production remains a challenge, with experiments proceeding. A flock of hens produces organic, free-range eggs.

Currently the harvest is placed in a small “shop” with some refrigeration. Villagers collect their food needs, record what they take, and are charged for the goods later. This will move to a box scheme, where villagers will receive a weekly assortment of the current harvest. Organic dry goods will be bought in bulk to provide villagers with lower cost food beyond village production.

One family has a milking cow which provides for several other families.

Thought is given to bioregional food production, with possibilities of using each microclimate to its greatest advantage, rather than having each household try to produce the full range of food needs. Several Permaculture designers are applying their minds to this issue.

A Community Garden is close to implementation. This will provide food and a forum for teaching and learning gardening.


Houses are powered by solar energy, active and passive, with the future possibility of wind power. Cooking is on wood-burning stoves, supplemented by gas cylinders. The wood is sustainably harvested from the land, with replanting. There is a need to develop sources of liquid fuel and gas.


The village will be car-free. Cars will be parked on the periphery. Residents will be encouraged to walk and cycle within the village and to the nearby town. There will be small electric vehicles for those who need less active transport. Electric bicycles are used to cope with the hilly contours. The intention is to move to a car-share system, with perhaps one car per four families.

Village economy

There is strong encouragement to turn first to other villagers for the provision of needs, and to improve goods and services by discussion of what is needed before purchasing from outside the village. A mechanical and engineering shop is already operating within the village, servicing the heavy machinery used for construction and land maintenance and other farm vehicles. A builder is deriving all his income from village work, as is a gardener and a landscaper. Some of these people, including the architect for several of the early dwellings and the orchardist, devote a portion of their payment to ‘sweat equity’ towards the purchase of a lot in the village. This subserves the deliberate intention to bring together villagers with the skills needed to build and maintain the village. Some of these skilled people are not in a position to purchase lots outright; the sweat equity option enables them to become part of the village.

It is hoped that a sizable proportion of villagers will have livelihoods based in whole or part in the village economy, extending from there to offer goods and services to the surrounding region.


Many villagers share the critique of the mainstream economic and financial systems ably expressed in this book. Several have been active in establishing a local currency system for the township and surrounds — Tasman Area Local Exchange Network System, or TALENTS. This system has decoupled its valuing unit from the New Zealand dollar. The value unit is one free-range egg. It is intended that villagers will be encouraged to use TALENTS in their exchanges. This will further encourage the village economy.


Decisions about the use of the Commons and about the evolving social structures of the village are made by Atamai Village Council which meets every three weeks. The consensus process is likely to undergo refinement as experience is gained. Training in facilitation will occur at intervals, along with training in consensus decision-making and in conflict management. A Code of Ethics dealing with issues such as respect, kindness, diversity, conflict and confidentiality is under development.

A Strategy Group meets to consider the impact of local, national and global context issues on Atamai, such as how to prepare for the interruption of supply chains of essential equipment.

There are working groups for Permaculture Land Use, Food Distribution, Process (of meetings and relationships) and Finance.

Social life

At the time of writing, about a score of adults and a dozen children live on or near the land, with three more families poised to join soon, and participating in decision-making by email. The current pattern is to come together for a potluck meal after a Village Council meeting, along with children and guests. Seasonal feasts are also part of the evolving pattern.

Most villagers interact with other villagers on a daily basis, often in a context of exchange of goods and services, but also for social pleasure.


Children have an important place in the village. It is a safe place for them to roam, by foot or bicycle. Playmates are close by. All adults share some responsibility for their wellbeing. There are useful tasks they can do for the common good, for example, helping with stacking hay. Adults beyond parents are at hand to admire their accomplishments, and potentially to teach them things.


Learning is the priority task of children, but is important for every village member, at all ages. People joining the village so far have skills in horticulture, eco-building, woodworking, eco-architecture, business, landscaping, health (mainstream and alternative), psychology, heavy equipment use, mechanics, peace studies, education, engineering, computer hardware and software systems, project management, alternative energy systems and accountancy. Almost everyone identifies the need to advance in knowledge in some of their areas of lesser expertise.

Many of those with children are strongly oriented towards the Steiner type of education, and there is discussion about the possibility of having a Steiner school in the village. The village itself is seen as a fine context for education at all ages. Children can be included in various kinds of work as helpers, and learn as they go. Those with more knowledge in certain areas, for example, horticulture, can advise others as they observe their gardens.

In this early stage of village development, learning needs have been identified in the areas of meeting facilitation, consensus process and conflict resolution.

A problem of traditional villages in times before easy access to travel and communication has been their limited, constricted knowledge stock, and the absence of outside stimulus. For some villagers, the intellectual environment has been boring and stultifying. They have needed to go to centres of greater population concentration for more advanced education and many have been glad to get away. This has been one of the causes for the global decline of villages. Initially, this is not a problem for Atamai Village. Internet connection enables rich access to unlimited knowledge stocks, and interaction with others. Some village members work on international projects and engage in knowledge production with collaborators on the other side of the world. It is also the case that, while uneasily aware of the contribution to carbon emissions, members visit large cities in New Zealand and overseas.

Air travel is becoming more expensive and is a heavily carbon-emitting activity; our future is likely to involve much less movement across large distances. The permanency of Internet connection to knowledge stocks is not certain. In the future, Atamai and all other human settlements may need to put effort into providing cross-global knowledge and stimulation for learning, sending people out and bringing people in for cross-fertilisation. Maintaining a fertile learning environment may need attention and resources. We will need “vertical” transmission of knowledge to the young, and “horizontal” knowledge exchange with the rest of the world.


Much about village life exerts positive influences on health. A vegetable-based diet of fresh, uncontaminated food is a good start. The demand for more active ways of moving around — walking and cycling — will add to population health in the village group. Perhaps more important than either of these are two social factors. Firstly, the friendly social relationships possible in a village and the trust that there are people around who care about each person are strongly conducive to good health. Secondly, empowerment to contribute to decisions that affect one’s life is important to mental and physical health.

Currently, villagers get almost all their health care outside the village. As constraints take hold, it may prove very helpful that among the villagers, there is a significant stock of health knowledge of various kinds, including how to grow and use medicinal herbs.

Social responsibility

Villagers bring with them varying proportions of commitment to personal good, family good, national and global good. From the beginning, there has been the idea of an attempt to show others how it is possible to live in harmony with Nature, as a contribution to broader social good.

Some members see this as one level of action, and experience an imperative to act at a regional, national and global level. A third of the villagers has been involved in the Transition Town movement in nearby Motueka. The village sponsors a fortnightly radio show on Transition relevant issues, and provides significant players for the local currency organisation. Members are involved in projects of national or global reach in peace education, climate change activism, other ecological issues and financial system issues.

It has been felt important to foster a relationship with local Maori iwi; this has begun.

For many villagers, it seems that one of the best contributions they can make to the Common Good is to show how to live well and sustainably together.

Curves ahead

There is concern that it will not be possible to establish the village as a viable economic entity before tumultuous changes affect much that is taken for granted. The concern about severed supply chains of essential goods motivates Atamai to try to acquire these things as soon as possible. However, the costs of land development are enormous, leaving few funds for such purchases.

To be fuel self-sufficient as well as food self-sufficient, the village would need to double its land assets, and is beginning to examine this issue.

There is abundant research informing us of the importance of social equity for a multiplicity of social benefits, particularly health. While people enter the village with a considerable range of differences in wealth, it will be very important to be watchful about experience of inequity in the village.

A true steady-state economy within bioregional limits will mean a steady-state population as well. This means deliberation in limiting population growth, with adoption of a norm of two children per family, or fewer for regions that are already overpopulated. For the village, it is likely that continuing access to reproductive health services will lead to this level without need for further effort. But can we rely on the sustained availability of the means for fertility control?

In the direst projected scenarios of the future, where food production has been affected and people are deprived, hungry and on the move, it is possible to imagine a village like Atamai being invaded by aggressors. There are so many pressing developmental issues that this has not been seriously discussed. The tentative thinking at this point is that the best defence is abundance, enabling villagers to say, “There is room for you at our table, if you will work alongside us.”[6]


Atamai offers a promising (and exciting) experiment in living for those who are fleeing Vesuvius.


  1. Permaculture is a contraction of “permanent agriculture”, but has come to mean a good deal more. It is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modelled on the relationships found in natural ecologies. See Wikipedia.
  2. Yeomans P.A. (1954) The Keyline Plan. Free online version: http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010125yeomans/010125toc.html
  3. Building Biology and Ecology Institute. http://www.ecoprojects.co.nz/
  4. Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein. (1977) A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press, USA.; The Nature of Order: Books 1-4 (2002-2004) Center for Environmental Structure, USA.
  5. Willing Workers On Organic Farms – an international organisation whereby half-time labour is exchanged for bed and board.
  6. Inspired by Starhawk in The Fifth Sacred Thing NY: Bantam, 1993.

On being in time for Transition

Sharon Te Apiti Stevens

We are called to prepare urgently for Transition. We are reminded by Rob Hopkins [1] and other movement leaders to motivate one another by sharing our visions of a positive future, a future made from well-connected communities taking time to laugh together in a garden paradise. Or something like that. We know we should go plant a garden, take up bee-keeping, organise a walking school-bus, and volunteer for conservation planting on the weekend. We really, really should. “We have little time, and much to accomplish”. [2]
It’s urgent.

The limits of urgency

Urgency. It’s worth a momentary pause to consider the consequences of our experienced urgency. Even the most positive possible future hangs under the pressure of crisis. We face the perturbation of ecological systems on a large scale. We confront the increasing scarcity of oil, phosphates and other key business-as-usual resources. From hemisphere to hemisphere, and in our own communities, we witness an increasingly active spectre of radical financial instability, a demon of aggravatingly unsustainable social inequality. In our personal lives, in our family and friendship networks, in our workplaces and communities, we feel and struggle against the strain of alienation from oversized and insufficiently responsive organisations and governments.

These well-rehearsed — and partially warranted — indicators of potential crisis hover like an apocalyptic cloud framing this article and most any other environmental communication. These disaster scenarios have penetrated collective consciousness and everyday discourse to the point that they are present regardless of whether they are invoked explicitly. We can determine to be positive in our outlook as well as our actions, but when we make this choice, we agree to struggle for our future at the level of cultural consciousness, not just at the level of manifest reality.

All of us living today were born into an era of a fraught collective relationship to nature. The apocalyptic trope has been seeded in our consciousness at least since Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, since early modernism, when the Romantic split pitted a cultivated poetic sensibility shaped by mystic reverence against scientific disciplines forming for knowledge, agency and control. From the early twentieth century, a Prophet Jeremiah pattern of language use began to appear regularly in nature writing,[3] an initially American genre that has shaped the worldwide conservation movement’s growth, priorities and general development pattern. “Millennial ecology” [4] crystallised as a major aspect of international environmental discourse from the 1960s forward, through Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1960), the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1972) and the debut of acid rain discourse in international politics.[5] This discourse, with its deep patterns echoing the religious rhetoric of end times, gave birth to a popular, international environmental movement, one that joins intrinsic to extrinsic motivation for change by underscoring that personal and social reform are both morally urgent and necessary for survival.

We have now lived for five full decades with our consciousness shaped by the shadow of imminent doom from ecological collapse. Our consciousness of urgency — and our failure to clear away its causes — presents human behaviour as a strange puzzle. Social and communication researchers indicate that, to a degree that is underrepresented in the mainstream media, people have long accepted the basic reality of the problems predicted by climate change scientists; they care about these problems; and they believe urgent action is required. In spite of this, and ironically, one of the major reasons people respond inadequately to global climate change is because people believe their agency is inadequate to address a problem of such scope; the nature of how we conceptualise environmental problems contributes to people’s unwillingness to act.[6]

There is a time when the apocalypse’s pressure overwhelms the human spirit. The only fitting solution seems to be escape. To rapture. Or to survivalism.

At a time when entire peoples — and species — have lost their homes to flooding, deforestation, war, agribusiness and other forms of hatred and greed, when health has been lost to the increasing toxicity and the decreasing nutritional quality of food, it may be that we no longer have time to indulge in the moral miasma of an urgent need to create a more positive future.

Our only time is now, a now that holds the whole complexities of hope and suffering, joy and negativity.

Adding sustainability to the should-really-do list

Two years ago I spoke to a number of persons who were highly motivated to develop more sustainable lifestyles. I was interested not only in how these people successfully changed their lives, but also in where they perceived barriers to change, where they experienced friction in their lives. These interviews pointed repeatedly to the challenges people face in finding the time for their dreams of a more eco-friendly life. Often, making sustainable choices simply required more time than people believed they had available. In their time-constrained choices people experienced a painful friction, that feeling caused by two world-views rubbing against each other, or by the failure of one aspect of a lifestyle to fit harmoniously with another. Friction can wear down even the most highly motivated.

Or it can raise their consciousness.

Anthropologist Kim Fortun, studying and abetting ongoing grassroots responses to the Bhopal disaster in India, argues that double binds are the stuff of social movements.[7] When facing up to a seemingly impossible situation, embracing the irony of a double bind can serve as a spur to inventiveness. The way we relate to time is full of such ironies, full of potential energy for a major social movement.

Consider these scenarios.

  • A key volunteer in efforts to establish community gardens and build skills for Transition buys packaged, processed food on her way home because her day is busy, she is tired, her kids have sports practice just about already, and she doesn’t have time to cook.
  • A city professional has decided that the future of her young children depends on her taking Transition more seriously, and she wishes to set up a large lifestyle block and start managing it for high density, sustainable food production. The purchase will lock the family into a long-term commitment to the bank and a longer daily commute. By the time the mortgage is paid off, the children will have left home.
  • Staff in an overburdened medical system see so many patients that the stress impacts their own health, but no matter how many people they see, they only have time for the most urgent cases. Some leave their careers prematurely because they cannot sustain the workload, adding to the strain on those who remain behind.

We are embedded in complex, unsustainable systems. These systems work well enough in some respects, and therefore they may be experienced at the day-to-day level as sustainable, but they do so by externalising as many social and ecological problems as possible. Sociologist Anthony Giddens calls this process the “sequestration of experience” to highlight how the day-to-day security of our social life is maintained by alienating ourselves, through routine, from both social problems and from nature. He argues that reflexivity, and the desire to take reflexive control over our life, challenges the “ontological security” we have created through this alienation, and is likely to provoke existential crises that we have too few social and spiritual resources to deal with.[8] We need to reclaim our being from this alienation, to build our security in new ways, but we intuitively recognize the cost of doing so.

Those who choose to add sustainability to their to-do list risk not only the additional time burden of one more thing, but also the experiential friction of one more thing. They risk facing the painful ironies that our social systems have been set up to help us sequester. Where will we get the social and the spiritual resources necessary to challenge our culture’s time consciousness?

Enough problem statement already

If time — not just the amount of time, but the way we experience time — is a deep part of the problem, then time is part of the solution. Not the urgent sort of time, except to the extent that urgency contributes to our critical experience of a double bind; but time, existential time, that is open and expansive. When we can relate to time as a friend, not as a taskmaster, we can move more freely within it. We need to become more conscious of our being in time.

Step 1: Make friends with time

I no longer remember the name or the allegiance of the theologian who, two decades ago, persuaded me that we have a moral imperative to love the era we have been born into. It goes against the grain of environmentalist discourse, but to love our Earth means to love the inheritance our parents have given us. It also means to love the inheritance we will leave for our children, casting off the moral discourse of right and wrong that saturates environmentalism. To overcome the sequestration of experience and to free ourselves from the deadly routines of our lives; to stop using our energy to feed regret and fear, anger and shame; we need to open ourselves to what is. The Earth that is. The society that is.

What is, not what we wish that we and those before us had chosen. We are called to love our era, and love this moment, now; to stop regularly, as Eckhart Tolle urges in A New Earth, and remember to be present in the day. [9] To Breathe. To take our shoes off and tune our feet to tell us whether we are standing on soil or on dirt. To take time to see others as persons, not as systemic functions, even when we have been brought together with them by an organisation for organisational purposes.

We cannot make more or less time, but we can change our experience of it. This requires solitude, reflexivity, nurture.

The simple act of loving ourselves at this moment will generate friction with business-as-usual. Love can turn heads, and embodied action will follow after. If we first love ourselves while remaining conscious, without denying the complex socioecologies,[10] the human and natural systems we are embedded within, in time we will come around to act in love with the Earth. Believe it.

Can we believe this even when the seeds of action are still buried in the dark soil of our hearts and consciousness? Can we believe in those seeds when our hearts have been as burnt by late modernity’s time consciousness as our fields are burnt by chemical inputs? Believe it. If we change our experience of time, we will heal, we will see the shoots from action rooted in love rather than fear, and we will heal the Earth.

Step 2: Reclaim time

On an individual level, experiment with, then put into place strategies for creating boundaries around the time spent doing business-as-usual. We may not be able to unplug from unsustainable systems altogether, but we can transition away from them. Perhaps only a slow step is possible at first, but a small amount of time reclaimed for sustainability will prepare the way for reclaiming further time later. There is value in reclaiming time from unsustainable systems even without knowing what will be put in their place. Better activities will suggest themselves in time, but expansive time for reflection may be required first. Time alone might be needed, time walking amongst paths and along rivers without deliberately planning the steps necessary to conserve them.

What activities might reclaim our time?

  • Spend at least a day a week without touching the computer.
  • Spend at least a day a week without reading.
  • Cut television time in half.
  • Be conscious of routes to connectivity, and set boundaries. How much, and with what rapidity, does each one of us communicate through social networking software, mobile phones, email, eating meals with our families, playing with children, spending time hanging out in local spaces where we might create new local connections, where we might build a shared understanding with neighbours who are likely to be more different from us than those we work with?

Interestingly enough, already decades ago, before the Internet explosion, conservation farmer Wendell Berry wrote that more conscious choices about the technologies we adopted would have led first to more leisure, and subsequently, out of the wealth of leisure time, to better land management and increased care for our communities.[11] His argument (in his case, applied to farm technologies) was not anti-technology, but rather pro-thoughtfulness, in favour of using a good technology to shift our use of time, not to make us more productive according to the same old unreformed economic measures. Leisure is the seed-bed for creativity, and hence for the energy to change direction.

What else might we do to reclaim time?

  • Cut the regularity of errand running trips in half, for example by consolidating errands. (This will likely cut consumption as well, as if naturally.)
  • Don’t bring work home. Those working from a home office can still contain their work hours.

Don’t bring work home. Don’t bring home the laptop, email or reading. Build routines that leave behind the burdens of even the most socially and ecologically valuable roles, freeing minds and creative energy for anything else. Those who are unaccustomed to setting boundaries around working hours will likely fail in any attempts to do so because of workplace pressures. They may need to think about how some of their responsibilities could be restructured. In other words, those who make a conscious choice to give themselves the luxury of a little time may likely find themselves experiencing the generative friction of a double bind.

In North America, a Take Back Your Time movement is developing as a coalition that cuts across standard interest groups. Its message is that, if you’re not staying late at the office, you could be resting, helping a child with homework, developing a hobby, volunteering. From this message, a working group has created a public policy agenda appropriate to the U.S. context.[12] What would an appropriate policy agenda be for Aotearoa?

  • Make six weeks’ paid vacation the standard, even in an economic downturn. Pay people less and employ more people. Aotearoa really can’t compete in terms of salaries, so stop trying. Keep skilled workers by giving them a high-quality life. Give a good quality of life (and a good wage) to the less skilled, too, and see if it pays off (literally) in terms of less strain on the social safety net and fewer social problems over the long term.
  • Create career leave opportunities. Encourage workers to apply for two weeks’ leave each year for a personal or professional development purpose, regardless of whether that purpose is explicitly a part of a workplace’s mission. Make this paid where possible. Do the same on the longer-term scale by encouraging applications for three months of career leave every three years.[13]
  • Shorten the full-time work week to 32 hours.
  • Alternatively or additionally, encourage businesses to create an increasing number of part-time jobs, even for professionals. Mandate income and benefit parity for all part-time workers. Set policy to make the equivalent of single-income households more attractive again through providing meaningful opportunities to combine part-time incomes, which would lower consumption, increase civic participation and give people more time to spend with one another, all of which are necessary for transition to greater ecological sustainability. Allow both men and women the satisfaction of fulfilling their career potential, being involved in the management of their households, and having time for other activities. In other words, seek gender equity and equal freedom to participate in all sectors of society not only by valuing how women contribute to what was traditionally men’s work but also by valuing work that was traditionally done by women (work that both men and women in part-time jobs could usefully contribute to): child care, kitchen gardens, volunteering and the crucial work of local community connectivity. Ensure that the minimum wage is sufficient for supporting a family on a single full-time income.
  • Strengthen unions especially with an eye to addressing work-life balance and quality of life in the workplace. There is some evidence that work overload has a more negative impact on people’s experience of time and balance than do actual hours spent at work.[14] As workplaces increasingly demand more productivity per person — cutting back on staff without cutting back on goals — the strain will be felt by workers before the work stops getting done. In addition to undermining the long-term sustainability of workplaces, that strain will have negative impact on the experienced free time and motivation people bring to anything else in their lives, including the spare capacity they have to engage in the personal work of lifestyle change and community resilience-building.

Step 3: Bring cooperation and creativity into open time to design sustainable, human-scale systems that will open up yet more time

Most of what is suggested in this section requires a bit of time to begin with, and will not be successful — will not be sustainable — except where people and communities have reclaimed a bit of time. Wherever that time has been brought back into self-nurture and community, however, it can be used to build new systems that are more sustainable, responsive and human-scale. Where those systems are built with an eye to using cooperation effectively and sustaining “human resources” as well as other resources, they can help local areas begin to hold even more time within community, nurturing face-to-face networks and local projects.

What sort of cooperative structures can help move time back into local community?

  • Form outward-directed intentional communities to share resources. If these are designed right, they will need less income per person to maintain, freeing up time for food growing, participating in the local region beyond the intentional community, and otherwise supporting the work of transition to more sustainable and resilient regions.
  • Form purchasing cooperatives that can cut down on errand trips to save both time and petrol.
  • Form babysitting circles that are robust enough to give children a sense of extended family and parents opportunities not only to spend time alone with one another but to attend evening meetings and participate in community activities.
  • Create a time bank.

Cooperative projects such as these will build community in myriad ways. Where those involved are explicitly committed to sustainability, and to nurturing themselves in ways that will make burnout-induced consumption less necessary, these projects can grow enough spare capacity to sustain resilience-building even beyond the group.

For those who find themselves unemployed through recession or other reasons, building local networks and creative cooperatives is a particularly valuable social activity. A sustainable future will require significant employment change throughout society. Those who are among the first to be “set free” from unsustainable systems still benefit from those systems to a degree — from still-functioning (partially-functioning) social welfare, from family and friends who are still in gainful employment, from still-functioning medical systems, and so on. Over time, it will become more and more apparent that these systems cannot bear their load, but to the extent that alternative social systems have been constructed from the grassroots, we can transfer that load from the large-scale unsustainable systems to more sustainable and local systems. Imagine, for example, a leaner but simultaneously more responsive national medical system, with its burden relieved by a healthier food supply and a proactive alternative health centre readily accessed within neighbourhoods defined by walking distance.

Step 4: Finally, let us be patient with ourselves and one another.

Perhaps this is simply a return to the first step, to making friends with time. There is no need to deny the real state of current socioecological systems to admit our humanity, including our limits, and to accept that the generative aspects of a fallow field also apply to the human soul. When our stories of urgency and the material conditions that accompany them keep us from “thinking like a mountain”,[15] let us at least respect a pace of change that allows us to think like a tree, rooted and aware of the slight changes in the wind and the seasons. If we do so, we are more likely, not less, to plant an orchard.


Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (Totnes, UK: Green Books, 2008), 94-103. See also Nikki Harré, this volume.
Richard Heinberg, from the cover and foreword to The Transition Handbook: 10.
Scott Slovic, “Epistemic and Politics in American Nature Writing: Embedded Rhetoric and Discrete Rhetoric,” in Green Culture, ed. Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 82-110.
M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, “Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from Silent Spring to Global Warming”, in Green Culture, ed. Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 21-45.
Maarten Haajer, The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
K. M. Norgaard, “‘People Want to Protect Themselves a Little Bit’: Emotions, Denial, and Social Movement Nonparticipation,” Sociological Inquiry 76 (2006): 372-396. Also, S. C. Moser, S. C. and L. Dilling, “Toward the Social Tipping Point: Creating a Climate for Change,” in Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, ed. S. C. Moser and L. Dilling, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 491-516.
Kim Fortun, Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991).
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Create a Better Life, (London: Penguin Books, 2005).
The word “ecologies” should be enough, but I use “socioecologies” to be explicit about how ecologies include humans, our inputs and outputs, our technologies, our populations, our economies, our means of governance, our knowledge and so on. In doing so, I nod to anarchist Murray Bookchin’s social ecological way of seeing connections. I am not, however, specifically advocating his social programme, as my emphasis is on what is real, not on what is ideal. See my discussion in 65-66 in A Place for Dialogue: Language, Land Use, and Politics in Southern Arizona, (Iowa City: The University of Iowan Press, 2007): 65-66.
Wendell Berry. “Horse-Drawn Tools and the Doctrine of Labor Saving” (1978), rptd. in The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural, (San Francisco, North Point Press, 1981): 104-112.
“Time to Care Agenda,” Take Back your Time, < \a href="http://www.timeday.org/time_to_care.asp">http://www.timeday.org/time_to_care.asp (accessed June 9, 2011). See also John de Graaf, “Reducing Work Time as a Path Toward Sustainability”, in State of the World: Transforming Cultures, from Consumerism to Sustainability, (The World Watch Institute): 173-228, online at http://www.newdream.org/programs/beyond-consumerism/reclaiming-our-time/recommended-resources (accessed 9 June 2011).
Jessie Vandeweyer and Ignace Glorieux argue from study findings that male career leave may be one of the best routes to gender equity in the home. See “Men Taking up Career Leave: An Opportunity for a Better Work and Family Life Balance?” Journal of Social Policy 37 (2008): 271-294. It may well be that the reform of social policies and social systems that condition our experience of time may be an issue that connects feminist, labour, and ecological issues and points the way to a healthier socioecology across the board.
Natalie Skinner and Barbara Pocock. “Work-Life Conflict: Is Work Time or Work Overload More Important?”, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources 46 (2008): 303-315.
Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain” in A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949).

Sustainable economy: keeping wealth (wellbeing) in our families and communities

Bryan Innes

Before industrialisation, economy mainly referred to local economy and household economy, based on cooperative and competitive processes. How can we shift from today’s centralised and global economy to a resilient local economy?

Our universities traditionally focus on macroeconomic models based on assumptions of profit maximisation and competition. It is taken for granted that money must be created as interest-bearing debt. The Greek word oikonomia — household management — points to an interpretation of economy as the management of material resources. My understanding of economics is based on the energy transactions that underpin ecological relationship. I use the design tool of sector analysis — the study of flows of energy (including materials) into, through and out of a site. This chapter explores a system of exchange that mimics the energetic exchanges that occur at the boundaries of natural systems.

Ecology and economy

The reality of nature is that all is connected with all.

Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest is not so much about comp-etition as about fit to niche. The better the fit to niche, the more diversity and resilience and the greater the energy efficiency and organism success. The “fit” is actually the system of exchange between the organisms (or complex of organisms) inside and outside the niche.

One can view the niche as a site with flows of energy in various forms into and out of the site. The fit of the organism determines the level of efficiency it exhibits in energy harvest and management. Economy is the description of those flows.

Economy has relevance at all levels and within all parts of the universe; it is observation-based, that is, science-based; it deals with physical reality and bears little relationship to classical economics.

Systems have boundaries across which exchanges happen. If there are no exchanges then systems cannot exist. If more energy leaves a system than enters it, the system winds down and collapses. If more energy enters a system than leaves it, the system grows and ultimately self-destructs. Living cells are bounded by semi-permeable membranes across which exchanges happen.

Energy is continually being exchanged everywhere. Put a boundary around any site and there is an economy of exchange. Economy permeates all. It is not a subset of anything.


Ecology reveals that organisms are at least as cooperative as they are competitive.

For example, fungi in the soil have no trouble dissolving minerals in rock particles. Canopy trees have no trouble harvesting energy from sunlight to photosynthesise water and carbon dioxide into sugars. What happens at the root level is a trade between trees and fungi, sugar for dissolved minerals. Give-and-take between organisms weaves complex beneficial relationships throughout ecosystems.

The principal of reciprocity applies to all bounded systems. This is a natural law. Interest (usury) violates this principle. Exponential growth is the result of violation of this principle. Self-destruction is the outcome.

Reciprocity is at the heart of sustainability. It is the principle of balanced giving and receiving. It is at the core of agreement between humans and has been for hundreds of thousands of years. Our cultures have always demanded that we honour our word when we make declarations of agreement.

We make a paradigm shift when we view economy as a social exchange process that we share in rather than compete in.

The JAK Bank

In 2005, Eva Stenius, a board member of the JAK Members Bank of Sweden, spoke at the first Ecoshow in Manukau City about interest-free banking.

The core of the JAK Bank system is reciprocity. This is manifested through concurrent savings and payments, a system invented by a Swedish engineer, Per Almgren. The system ensures totally balanced flows. The service, performed by the member-owned bank for the individual member, is fully reciprocated by the member.

The JAK Bank is a centralised banking system which is government regulated. Even though it is a non-profit bank the JAK Bank carries a high internal overhead (equivalent to a 3% interest rate) required to service the 40-odd employees, the bank infrastructure and compliance costs.

Establishing a similar model in New Zealand is a most unlikely prospect. Bank startup in New Zealand requires $35,000,000 of equity before any overheads are considered.

The Genuine Wealth System

After visiting the JAK Bank in Sweden I decided to use the basic values and systems of the JAK Bank and embed them in a new system based on personal agreements creating bounded, shared economies. In most societies there is freedom of association. This means there is freedom to act collectively.

The Genuine Wealth System (shared economy system) is a system where people who freely associate combine their contributions, governing their relationships through agreements that cover how they cooperate together just as we can in our families.

Each member’s contribution is accounted for. The management and ownership of the aggregated deposits stays with the group. On-line accounting systems make it possible for the accounts to be viewed by any member of the group at any time.

Group protocols govern how money is accessed and moved.

Members can use funds in the common account, interest-free, to purchase and create assets owned by the group.

How do concurrent contributions and payments work?

Example: 10 people contribute money on a regular basis into a common pool. At some point a member asks to use $5,200 and is given the use of the money.

A member making payments of $100 per week into the pool for a year will have returned the $5,200 but not reciprocated the service received from the group.

Instead, the member is asked to make deposits of $100 per week — $50 for payments and $50 as contributions — for two years, after which the member will have reimbursed the original $5,200 and contributed $5,200. The contributions are then available to uplift. In the meantime other members of the pool are able to make use of the first member’s contributions. Reciprocity is satisfied. This is a perfectly-balanced arrangement, totally fair.

Purchase agreements

An asset is purchased or created for a member of the group according to prior agreement.

When taking possession (of a house for example), the member enters into a purchase agreement covering the amount, the payments, the concurrent contributions and the term.

It is like a hire purchase agreement without interest but with contributions. Ownership is not transferred until full payment has been made and contribution obligations are met.

The magic of acting collectively – the release of social capital

A community economy includes much more than the cash contributions the members can aggregate.

Non-cash resources are usually at least as big as cash resources. This is sometimes called social capital. It is the relationships and collective skills, labour, experience, knowledge, materials, contacts and obligations that can be called upon.

Everyone in the group has a vested interest in creating the best results possible at the lowest cost. This leads to the exchange of social capital. The result is a quicker turnaround in creating assets and a shorter financial commitment period for the individual.

Use of social capital results in a dramatic reduction of the cash cost of building a house: it can be at least halved — with variations from group to group — so that the payment time for the individual member can be reduced by 50%.

Contrast with a conventional mortgage

Interest payments typically range from 100% to 200% of principal by the time the mortgage is discharged (excluding set-up fees, brokerage etc.), making costs two to three times the value of the asset. By bringing into play the social capital of the group, under the shared economy system, home construction costs can range from 50% to 100% of the asset’s value.

Example: $80,000 house cost, $200/week outgoings

A community approach to housing can easily save 50% in costs (labour and materials). The balance will require a purchase agreement of $40,000, with $100/week in payments and $100/week contributions.

After eight years the total outgoings are $40,000 (payments) plus $40,000 (contributions). The asset created is worth $120,000.

With conventional mortgage finance for $80,000, without collective input, an asset valued at $80,000 can be paid for over a period of 15 years at $200 per week.

The community approach is three times more efficient than conventional borrowing in this example, creating one and a half times the value in half the time.

Acceleration effect

The combination of purchase payments and contributions increases the cash flow into the collective pot. After each purchase, the next purchase can be made sooner. Soon contributions can be accumulated very fast.


There are now a number of groups of people using this system in New Zealand. They are of mixed age, gender, ethnicity and income levels. They include family groups, groups with a housing focus and groups with no particular focus. Group size is at present from four to fifteen members; the upper useful limit is probably thirty members.

Most of the groups have been formed as a result of public meetings so those who form a group do not necessarily know each other very well.

In one group a request came from a member shortly after start-up for $1,000 to retire credit card debt. The group was a bit nervous, so the person concerned offered to sell his car (worth $4,000) to the group for $1,000. The member uplifted the $1,000 and entered a purchase agreement with the group to buy back the car (and contribute concurrently). Essentially the group had become a pawnshop for this transaction. Now, a year later, the level of trust in this group is very high and collateral is not required.


A game has been devised that replicates the shared economy system but collapses time.

The goal of the game is to create wealth within the local community and minimise total outgoings. The group of players is the community. They are aiming to all be better off after a year’s transactions, with more income and less fixed expenditure.

Individual profile (role) cards are created and handed out at the beginning of the game, with four parameters: income and profession/occupation, fixed costs, discretionary spending and individual goals (short and long term).

To introduce an element of randomness, we have “Opportunity/Crisis Cards” (20-30) also created by the group. These should be applicable to any player, such as “breaking a leg”, “pay rise”, and collective events such as “setting up a free wifi service”, which entices discussion around personal and collective goals.

The players have individual graph papers to plot the development of the four parameters. They each choose how much of their own discretionary spending should go into the group pool, and how much should be used privately (spending and/or savings).

The roles, besides the ordinary players, are the Accountant for the Savings-pool, and the Banker, who is handling the fixed costs/outgoings for each player and adds them together to see how the “leaks” from the collective change throughout the game.

Learning the lessons

The players get together, maybe over a bottle of wine and a shared meal. The time for each cycle of the game is theoretically very short. In practice there is a lot of conversation and laughter. This is the time of learning. How do we cooperate together to get our needs met? Can we create solutions to a player’s problems which may have lower or no costs? What other ways could we cooperate — the usual standard negotiation strategies come into play — what have I got that I value little and you value highly, what have you got that I value highly and you have little value for?

Playing out the community economy system, through the transparency and conviviality, creates opportunities for players to learn and change their contribution and purchase strategies to achieve their goals faster, and by degrees the collective strategies enabling everyone to achieve their goals faster. Players’ non-cash assets very soon become valued and used. The mere tabling of an aspiration, sometimes even a very big goal, can call forth an immediate solution.

The enthusiasm and excitement of groups beginning to understand the richness and benefits of their involvement is palpable.


Community economy is a bounded economy within which the rule of reciprocity applies.

Community economy calls forth cooperation and ethical behaviour. It generates interdependence, the glue that binds and grows community.

Community economy harvests from the wider economy, supports personal and local sovereignty (no bank manager to decide who gets to share in the economy), and develops a wide range of skills including those of management and cooperation.

Community economy engenders a new way of seeing, a way that sees human beings as naturally cooperative and life-affirming.

One unanticipated outcome has been the formation of close, fun, supportive relationships within each community. This is resilience!