Phil Stevens

In his own words:

My family arrived in New Zealand in 2005 (from the US), fresh with all the expectations and apprehensions one would naturally ascribe to newcomers to a land recently popularised in fantastic widescreen exposure.

I grew up in a desert, shaped very much by a landscape which speaks of scarcity in the most understandable sense and yet offers abundance to those who learn its secret language. The livelihood afforded desert dwellers, however, is delicately balanced against overreach unless huge efforts are made to import the most basic requirements: water and food. My hometown, like others in the sunbelt of the US, grew phenomenally….roughly quadrupling its population in my four decades living there and stretching the definition of unsustainability to the point of absurdity. When the time came to pull up stakes, our desire to pursue self-sufficiency meant that a destination with a temperate climate and reliable rainfall was a prerequisite.

A job opportunity (in New Zealand) came, we did our research, weighed the pros and cons, and trusted intuition that this place offered better-than-average odds of weathering the gamut of changes that seemed to be imminent.

What greeted us was an interesting mix of genuine resource and soundstage illusion: Kiwis impressed us immediately with easy warmth, trust, hard work and sense of humour, but “clean and green” turned out to be a facade as rivers suffocated under their burden of eroded hill country and effluent discharge…. At the threshold of momentous changes in our social, economic, political and environmental frameworks, does New Zealand really have better-than-average chances for managing the transformation to a post-globalised, post-financial, post-petroleum state?

Kiwi inventiveness will give us a psychological as well as a practical leg up as we retool for a more artisan-based manufacturing sector, but for any sort of modern technology that we presently take for granted there will sometimes be high barriers to production. Electronics, computers and communications hardware, in particular, require raw materials and fabrication plants that do not exist in New Zealand. If we plan on maintaining even a semblance of our present day networked lives, we will need to bootstrap the expertise and facilities quickly and prepare for much lower performance from all the future contrivances that are pressed into service….

So, are the puzzle pieces there? Although the indicators are clearly warning us of a chaotic time ahead and forces which must be countered in order for the essence of the human spirit to flourish in a sustainable relationship with our home planet, the chaos is not insurmountable and we have the gift of good land plus resourceful people to lend their efforts. As a well-known proverb has it: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.”

Excerpted from “How resilient are we? A New Zealand immigrant’s perspective,” in the blog Fleeing Vesuvius.
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