Earthlimited | Earth Limited?

To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.

Wendell Berry

  • Connecting climate change to real world situations
  • Fostering thinking and action towards long-term sustainability and resilience
  • Bridging between the realities of local-level adaptation, science, and policy
  • Imagining, visioning and creating positive and proactive solutions

What we all need to be doing a lot more is to make the connections with the good things that are happening and connect with others. We need as many communication bridges as possible to support this. is one communication bridge.

Contact: +64 21 149 3659; Email:

About Earthwise Consulting Limited

I formed Earthwise Consulting Limited at the beginning of 2001. Prior to this time I had spent a decade working on climate change projects in the UK and Europe, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Bangladesh. These projects involved a range of activities including research, capacity building and professional development.

Since 2001 my work has involved:

  1. In New Zealand: A focus on grassroots adaptation to climate change, science communication on climate change and sustainable agriculture. This involved working with farmers, Regional Councils, Government ministries and others within New Zealand.
  2. Internationally:
    • Various consulting assignments in Fiji, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu.
    • A self funded overseas trip in 2007, which involved filming interviews with farmers in Asia and Europe regarding climate change and their local responses. I have made some film clips from this.

Qualifications, work and life experience

Dr Gavin Kenny CV 2016

  • 1977 – forest labourer with the New Zealand Forest Service.
  • 1978-81 – completed a Bachelor of Horticultural Science at Massey Univeristy, New Zealand. This was a 4-year degree that was mostly prescribed until the final year. Disillusioned with what I experienced as non-critical learning I chose not to specialise in my final year, as normally expected. Instead I studied ecology, natural resource economics and environmental agricultural science.
  • 1982-83 – spent time WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), fruit picking in Central Otago, working and travelling in Australia, back-packing through Asia.
  • 1984-1985 – enrolled at Lincoln College, University of Canterbury for a Masters in Horticultural Science, with the aim of being the first student to complete post graduate research at the Biological Husbandry Unit. I gained an honours degree (second class, first division), focusing my thesis research on insect pest interactions through an intercropping trial.
  • 1986-1989 – enrolled at Lincoln College for a PhD in Agricultural Meteorology. This was submitted in mid 1989 and finally awarded in 1991 (delayed by the transition of Lincoln College to independent University status).
  • 1990 – A few months house-sitting by the beach followed by 6 months contract work with the former New Zealand Meteorological Service.
  • 1991-1992 – Research scientist in the UK, based initially with the Atmospheric Impacts Group, Birmingham University and subsequently a founding staff member with the Environmental Change Unit (now Institute) at Oxford University. Responsible for the day to day management of a two-year EU project on “Impacts of climate change on agriculture and horticulture in Europe”, involving nine research groups from six European countries.
  • 1993-2000 – Research Fellow and then Senior Research Fellow with the International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato New Zealand. Project management and team member contributions to climate change projects in New Zealand, Bangladesh, the Pacific Islands and a development project in northern Viet Nam.
  • 1993-2000 – Small farmer on 1 hectare of land, Mount Pirongia, Waikato,
  • 2001-2012 – Director, Earthwise Consulting Limited. Focused on working within New Zealand from a home office in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay and being a home based father for my three daughters until they completed their schooling.
  • 2007 – Grassroots perspectives on climate change. A self funded (with funds from my mothers estate) trip to film grassroots perspectives on climate change. This is documented in my Journal and Voices from the Earth pages.
  • 2012 and ongoing– Continuing with Earthwise Consulting Limited work with an increased focused towards overseas work, particularly in the Pacific.
  • 2014 and ongoing – Small farmer on 7 hectares of land in the Coromandel Peninsula.

I have  contributed to three IPCC assessments since the mid 1990s. I was a lead author of the Agriculture chapter in the Second Assessment Report and was a contributing author to the Australia/New Zealand chapters of the Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.

I have been officially recognised for my contributions to the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to the IPCC in 2007.

Contact: +64 21 149 3659; Email:

© Copyright 2016 Gavin Kenny and Earthwise Consulting Limited

Are we now funding disaster tourism?

When I read the following article in the New Zealand Herald my immediate thought was that our government is now funding disaster tourism. What other point can there be in seeking to develop tourism in such a fragile and vulnerable place as Kiritimati island?

Funding a transition away from dependence on imported diesel to self reliance with solar energy is fantastic. But are tourism and fisheries developments a smart move for an already very fragile atoll environment? Fisheries throughout the Pacific are already under huge pressure as this story of one person’s journey captures so powerfully. And of course climate change will have major impacts in the Pacific in coming decades.

A better approach would be to focus resources on fostering greater self reliance among the approximate population of 5000 on Kiritimati. At present they are almost wholly dependent on imported food. In 2012 I learned about successful trials with atoll agriculture in Ontong Java, a remote atoll in the Solomon Islands. The short term focus of this work is to increase self reliance. The long term plan as sea level rises is to relocate people. This sort of approach makes a lot more sense but unfortunately we’re not seeing a lot of sensible decision making.



Expensive, large scale, projects aren’t the way forward

Here’s an opinion piece on the proposed Ruataniwha Dam which was published in Hawke’s Bay Today yesterday.

I continue to be appalled at what is verging on a propaganda campaign by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, at our (ratepayers) expense, in relation to the proposed Ruataniwha Dam. The latest is a special edition of Our Place, circulated to ratepayers this week. Yet again, as I’ve read and heard continually, the recent drought and the prospect of more of the same with climate change is being used as a justification for the dam.

Let’s be clear the primary intention of the dam is to support agricultural intensification not to provide security against climate change and future drought risk. The latter is debatable and should not be used as a justification for the scheme in the absence of a comprehensive assessment.

I’m speaking from experience. I have worked professionally on climate change for more than 20 years, in New Zealand and internationally. Throughout this time my work has focused on impact and adaptation assessment with a strong emphasis on resilience building over the last decade.

There has yet to be a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation options for Hawke’s Bay. The Regional Council is right to identify future drought risk as one possible threat. However there will be multiple threats to the region which will require multiple responses.

Other possible threats include the potential for more intense rainfall events, sea level rise impacts, increased plant and animal pests and diseases, impacts on native flora and fauna, and impacts on human health. How well will the region be placed to deal with these multiple threats with such a huge investment of funds in one large water storage dam?

This doesn’t sound like a very smart risk spreading exercise to me. Sea level rise alone has the potential to have huge impacts, and associated costs, on Napier and communities such as Te Awanga where there is already active coastal erosion.

Hill country farmers have literally been left high and dry with the Council’s singular focus on the dam. Let’s remember that the vast majority of the 1.42 million hectares that make up Hawke’s Bay is hill country.

In the current HBRC 10-year plan the proposed solution for the hill country was an afforestation scheme which naively pinned its hopes on an international carbon trading market that has now collapsed. So we’re looking at the majority of the region still being exposed to both drought and extreme rainfall events.

With the “all eggs in one basket” approach with the dam there is no back up solution for the hill country at present. Instead ratepayer resources are being channeled into a scheme to irrigate 24,000 hectares of arable (flat) land (less than 2 percent of the region’s land area), some of which is already irrigated from groundwater.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the dam issue is that there are other options for addressing drought and other climate risks and there are farmers who are being proactive in exploring them.

Landscape diversity, soil management practices that provide increased buffering against drought and flood, as well as matching land use to land class and local microclimate, are the keys. These need to be linked to a focus on becoming price makers of high quality products with locally owned value chains from farm to plate. I’ve spoken to enough farmers who see the potential of this. We need to be working with and supporting them much more than we are.

To put things in perspective even with a ten percent reduction in average rainfall, and more summer droughts as we’ve just had, we’d still be receiving significantly more rainfall than Tuscany in Italy.

It’s time to take a big pause from what has become a very undemocratic and dishonest process. We need some genuine, fully participatory, future visioning and planning for the whole region which is founded on a comprehensive understanding of all possible future climate and other risks.

Dealing with future drought

Here’s an opinion piece that I wrote for last week; my thoughts on how climate change and the prospect of more droughts in New Zealand’s future might reshape farming in this country, and how those changes might flow through to wider society.

For more than twenty years I have worked professionally on the ‘what ifs’ of climate change, focused mostly on what it might mean for agriculture. I’ve done this work in New Zealand, Europe, the PacificIslands and Asia. During that time I have experienced the progression from the hypothetical to real world responses. Climate change, particularly as experienced through more frequent drought and flood events, is increasingly influencing what farmers are doing in many countries. It is not clear whether this is yet the case in New Zealand although I suspect so.

With a record summer drought just behind us, and with negative and positive effects that will continue to unfold for farmers, it is relevant to ask ‘what if we get more frequent and intense droughts in the future? How might farming change and how might those changes affect wider society?’ To help guide our thinking and acting for the future it is instructive to firstly look to the past, not just in New Zealand but to other societies and civilisations that have entered periods of more frequent and intense droughts.

In the ‘The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization’, Brian Fagan explores the impact of climate shifts, including drought, on civilizations over the last 15,000 years. In his Preface he comments that “In our efforts to cushion ourselves against smaller, more frequent climate stresses, we have consistently made ourselves more vulnerable to rarer but larger catastrophes”. The story of the city of Tiwanaku is a good example. Over a period of 500 years Tiwanaku thrived near the shores of Lake Titicaca in what is now Bolivia. The city was supported by agricultural intensification that was strongly reliant on water. The onset of a climatic shift around A.D. 1100 changed everything. Annual rainfall declined by 10 to 15 percent over a prolonged period and Tiwanaku crossed a critical threshold of vulnerability. “The ability of the Tiwanaku state to adjust to the great drought was limited culturally by centuries of rapid population growth underwritten by the remarkable productivity of the raised fields. Tiwanaku’s economy was entirely dependent on this single agricultural technology, which in turn depended on abundant water. When the water failed, the entire system collapsed.”

Focusing back on present day New Zealand we have seen a strong move towards intensification of farming over the last twenty years. This was well documented under the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in the ‘Growing for Good’ report. Two obvious examples of this intensification are the increased focus on irrigation and the huge increase in use of urea fertiliser. The lesson from Tiwanaku is that it would be unwise to simply put our faith, and a huge amount of debt for infrastructure development, in more large irrigation schemes.

This is not a matter of cockies versus townies. Agricultural intensification in New Zealand has been fuelled by our collective demand for consumer goods. We can’t criticise the negative things we see with farming without looking at our own behaviour. And that gets to the crux of what climate change requires of us all; behaviour change. Simply put we’re increasingly living beyond our means and the capacity of our land and water resources to sustain our wants.

What’s the alternative then? Since 2001 I have worked on documenting positive things farmers are doing that are relevant in terms of building resilience to climate change. This includes increasing numbers, still a minority, who are shifting to biological soil management; changes in pasture species and management with a focus on longer covers (not grazing the grass so hard) and greater rooting depth; changes in stock policies aimed at greater flexibility; a focus on greater soil moisture retention; fencing of riparian areas; on-farm water storage; planting trees for multiple benefits; fencing remnant native bush and putting them into QEII Trust covenants.

We already have the ingredients for smart, resilient, farming systems. The future vision I have for farming in New Zealand is consistent with Colin Tudge’s Campaign for Real Farming. In a New Zealand context this would involve developing a ‘Food First’ policy to ensure that the basic food needs of all within New Zealand are met for now and for a future with climate change. We then export the surplus. This would be founded on low carbon farming systems that are a functional part of, and working within the natural constraints of, local environments. There is a lot of unrealised ecological potential in this regard, which is strongly linked to unrealised economic potential.

To develop such a future we’ll all need to look at changing our behaviour. In Colin Tudge’s words “We are talking about the difference between a world that could endure effectively for ever, in peace and conviviality, and one that could be in dire straits within a few decades.”

Film project

A short clip from the villages of Chame and Manang in the Annapurna region of Nepal. Included is a brief interview with a local conservation officer.

This clip is a sample from the 34+ hours of film that I recorded in 2007 as part of an on-going film project. I’ve presently got a rough edited 25 minute segment of film but progress has been slow. Lack of funding has been the main impediment to completing this, so if you can help me in any way please let me know.