Late last year my family and I made a decision … my older sister and I had sold our Mum’s small house in New Zealand. We had a choice, either pay off the mortgage on our own home or travel and document grassroots perspectives on climate change. Of course you all know what we chose to do.
It took a huge effort to organise our journey, but we could never have done it without all of you. In various ways you all helped us along the way. I want to especially mention Khun Tuenjai and her amazing network of people in Thailand. You organised such a busy itinerary for us to start our journey, but it was such a rich experience and we met so many warm, generous people in your country… too many to name here. After Thailand we were on our own a lot more and it was very hard work at times to meet and film people and places. But we managed. Viet Nam was hard, but we have some very good friends there who did their very best to help us. Our brief stay in India was greatly helped by Andy in New Delhi.
Nepal was both challenging and inspiring … for Lena, Ali and I it was truly a highlight of the journey to walk together for 19 days and to cross Thorong La Pass (5400 metres). Amidst illness and long days walking we managed to capture a few gems on film. I greatly enjoyed meeting Ngamindra and his colleagues in Kathmandu and I sincerely hope we can find a way to work with and support you. Everything in Egypt came together at the last minute, but again we met such warm, hospitable people who did their best to help us. Thankyou to Angela and Selim, and to Prof Zakharia for compelling me to go out to the Western Desert where we again met some wonderful people at Bahariya Oasis … thankyou Ahmed and Corien.
In Italy I have to thank Marco and his small team and I sincerely hope we can keep working together and find ways to work with all of these other wonderful people we have met. And who would have imagined the connection with Katharina and Alfredo in a beautiful valley in Umbria … a place we went to because the accommodation was a good deal and it looked nice! In Milan, thankyou to Iva and Paolo for having us in your home. We experienced the same warmth again with the Galli family in Lugano. Our time in France was too short, but thanks to Remy for having a bit of time to meet and talk… and to Jean-Pierre and Claire in the south of France for your wonderful work. Unfortunately I’m not able to communicate to many of the real grassroots people we met … farmers, village leaders and others … Thankyou to those of you who helped me meet all of these people.
A special mention goes to my cousin, Michael, who has done such a wonderful job with the blog page. And to my big sister Jill for buying me such a great hat!…. and to everyone else who I haven’t mentioned by name!!
We’ve come to the end of our journey now. On Saturday, 7 July we leave London for New Zealand. Lena is staying on here until late October and has already started a job here in London. For me the last week or so has been a time to rest and reflect. I have a lot to do when I get home, not least of which is to start earning some money again!! I still don’t know yet how I’m going to produce a documentary out of all that we’ve done. But it will happen somehow.
For most of our journey we’ve been experiencing warm, often very hot, weather. Not so since we came to England! Temperatures have been in the late teens to low 20s. There was flooding last week, including in Doncaster, South Yorkshire where Karen’s Aunt and Cousins live. On the BBC news website someone suggested that there was a need for reafforestation in many parts of England, in hills that were deforested at least 500 years ago. A big source of the problem, someone else said to the media, is that there have been too many housing developments in flood plains since World War 2. Along with these developments have been storm-water drainage systems and other infrastructural developments (such as motorways) that have tended to be contrary to, rather than in harmony with, natural water flows. The experts say that climate change is a factor. In the past floods often occurred after cold winters, with snow melt. Not so now, they are more a result of unseasonal rainfall events such as has been experienced here over the last week. What is the real source of the problem, what are the right solutions? The reality of the early 21st century is that these issues are the legacy of centuries, perhaps thousands of years, of human activity that has often been contrary to nature and natural processes.
What lessons are there to learn from the past? Visiting Stonehenge yesterday was cause for some reflection on this question … a place that first had a human presence around 5000 years ago in an environment that was originally forested. But from listening to the audio commentary as I walked around it is clear that we have many more questions than answers. There is an awful lot that we are very ignorant of, but we’re not very good at acknowledging our ignorance in all of the things we do in our modern world. We drove down the road to Old Sarum, the subject of what I consider to be a very powerful painting by Constable. A painting that to me is a reflection, actually a question, on the right relationship between human and nature. It was a Constable-like day with many clouds in the sky, wild and windy, a bit of sun trying to break through.
The end of this journey is near and it’s a beginning of another phase that I expect to be very challenging. Thanks to my Mum’s estate, I found the resources to buy professional film gear and head off on a journey. I found support from some amazing people along the way, firstly from our amazing friends in Thailand, in particular Khun Tuenjai, and then from others in different places. I don’t have the resources to do any more. It’s time to get back to New Zealand and start earning some money again. But so many people have given so much and shown belief in me and what I’m doing. I’ll keep on working as well as I can to make something out of all of this.
We arrived in London on Saturday (23 June), our journey almost over. There was a major scare at the airport in Paris. After doing an automatic check-in and passing through passport control we were in the queue to check in our bags. It was then that I discovered that the black bag with all 30 plus hours of film from the last four and a half months was missing. No bag, film gone. I was told afterwards that I went white with shock. Through a combination of real exhaustion and carelessness the bag had been left behind in our lease car when we dropped it off and transferred to a shuttle. Fortunately we had time to spare and I had kept the paper with the phone number for the lease car company (only because it had a map on it and I’m a hoarder of maps!). They found the bag and delivered it to me at the arrivals area. This temporary loss had me questioning, for a short time, what I had achieved from this journey. Was it nothing without the film? I don’t believe so. In fact I have gained so much more in terms of a deepened understanding of the real issues people are already experiencing and some of the very positive things that are being done. I capped off the day by taking Emma to see Crowded House and Peter Gabriel in Hyde Park. It was a great way to finish a nearly disastrous day.
Yesterday I visited the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and gave a presentation covering my New Zealand adaptation work, lessons from this and reflections from the last four and a half months. It was well received, with plenty of questions and some discussion afterwards. One of the staff talked about the current international debate that is happening in terms of who pays who for adaptation and how you make the distinction between adaptation to climate change and adaptation to the inherent variability of climate. This sort of debate is paralysing international actions. I kept reinforcing my very clear view that the only way forward is to be guided by what is happening on the ground. Too many people now are spending too much time in meetings, workshops and seminars talking and debating what ought to be done to address climate change. Meanwhile, people on the ground are acting. The smartest farmers are, in my view, always ahead of everyone and I certainly believe we’ve encountered some very smart people of the land on our journey. We do need local, national and international policy but it will only be truly effective if shaped in a way that is relevant to people’s lives and aimed at empowering local people to own and implement local solutions. The problem is, to put it in the simple words of Michun Gurung, that we have too many talkers and not enough doers.
Where to from here? We are presently based in London until 7 July, then fly back to New Zealand. I have a couple of meetings lined up before we leave, including a return visit to DEFRA to talk in more depth to some staff there. I’m still searching for the right connections that will help me realise the goal of a documentary film. A book might also be a good idea. Seeking funds to support grassroots exchanges and sharing of information is something I will continue working on.