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.

The importance of working together

Climate change is real and we humans have contributed significantly to this. I have no doubt in my mind now. The scientific evidence is there. More importantly people on the ground are experiencing profound changes. Hearing this from local people is one of the most important things that I gained from travelling through Asia to Europe with my family in the first half of this year. If you haven’t read our blog from this journey check in the archives.

Another important thing that I gained was a deepened sense of hope amidst the very clear evidence of overpopulation, pollution and environmental degradation in many countries. There are people, a minority still, who are acting for the future now. I’ve talked about this as I shared stories from our journey.

What I also gained was a deepened understanding of the long-term connection to nature that exists in many countries, both eastern and western. This connection is not always obvious, but it is evident in some landscapes and in the things that some people are now doing. There is a renewal, a reawakening, a rethinking of things that is beginning to emerge. My experience of this was cause for reflection on New Zealand where we are still working out how to live together and with our unique, but hugely modified, environment.

With only 4 million people and an abundance of natural resources, surely we can get it right? If we can’t, who can? What we need to do, and this is a very big challenge for New Zealanders, is to embrace our past, look beyond our differences and start working together for our collective future much more than we are. I hear it said that we can’t look forward until we have effectively dealt with the past or resolved our differences. Will we ever? There is a different way. By working positively together for our shared future we will also find ways to address the many social, economic and environmental issues that we have. In my view it is a matter of urgency that we do this. Change is happening in the world to a much greater degree and at a much faster rate than we fully appreciate here in New Zealand. I’m not a doomsday person but I do believe that we are either going to choose or be compelled to work together much more than we presently are. If we do this by choice and with vision then we have real potential to provide leadership for the world.

A letter of thanks

Dear Everyone!!

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.

Reflections from Stonehenge and Old Sarum

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.

Reflections from Stonehenge
Reflections from Stonehenge
A 'Constable' scene ... looking towards Salisbury from Old Sarum
A 'Constable' scene ... looking towards Salisbury from Old Sarum
A view towards Old Sarum, just another hill from a distance, but a hill with 5000 years of human history.  Fields and sky dominate now
A view towards Old Sarum, just another hill from a distance, but a hill with 5000 years of human history. Fields and sky dominate now

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.

In London, journey nearly over

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.

A man and his vines

Yesterday I met Jean-Pierre Caumont at the Montcuq market and bought some of his wine. This morning I drove to his farm to film an interview with him, most likely my only farmer interview in France and the last on this journey. Jean-Pierre comes from a farming family in the village of Escayrac. He went to University but was drawn back to the land and now farms farms 60ha of cropping land and 3.5ha of wine grapes with his wife, Claire. They also own about 40ha of forest land for biodiversity and aesthetic benefits. Jean-Pierre has always felt an affinity with nature, but farmed conventionally for many years. Increasingly he saw the effects of intensive use of chemicals and also began experiencing more chaotic weather patterns. So he decided to move towards an organic production system. The term ‘organic’ or ‘biologique’ in French, is one that he and his wife, Claire, have been cautious in using. They are people who are simply passionate about the land and the environment and don’t really like to be labelled in a particular way. Over the last 20 years Jean-Pierre has noticed more extreme weather events, more unpredictability with rainfall, and higher temperatures. Hotter summers are being reflected in increased alcohol content of wines in the region. He perceives greater challenges in the future with cropping than with the wine grapes. The deep-rooting of the vines enables them to withstand drought, for example. His experience is that with organic soil management, biodiversity protection and diversity of production they have a greater capacity to buffer against climatic extremes. Both Jean-Pierre and Claire are strongly committed to protecting local biodiversity, demonstrated by the fact that they recently bought a neighbouring piece of woodland to prevent another would-be buyer from clear-felling it.

If you live somewhere in Europe and want to support a couple of very dedicated people by purchasing their wine you will be able to find out about them over the web in the future. The name of their farm is Le Pech d’Auzonne. You can get mail order wine by writing to them: Claire and Jean-Pierre Caumont, Escayrac, 46800 Montcuq, France.

Jean-Pierre and Claire Caumont are deeply committed to protecting and enhancing their local environment for the future
Jean-Pierre and Claire Caumont are deeply committed to protecting and enhancing their local environment for the future
The man and the vine.  Jean-Pierre can honestly say that he knows every vine in his 3.5ha vineyard
The man and the vine. Jean-Pierre can honestly say that he knows every vine in his 3.5ha vineyard
Vines with woodland in the background. The woodland was purchased by Jean-Pierre and Claire to protect biodiversity around their farm
Vines with woodland in the background. The woodland was purchased by Jean-Pierre and Claire to protect biodiversity around their farm

Reflections from St. Cyprien

After leaving Chichilianne we drove west and then south to the village of St. Cyprien to stay with Janet Hulse, the elder sister of my good friend Julia. Along the way we stopped for a night in another small village in the Puy de Dome region, south of Clermont-Ferrand. We’re now at Janet’s place near St. Cyprien, in the south central area of France. Tomorrow I am meeting with a local farmer who I met at the market this morning. This may well be my last interview on this journey.

We have done a lot of travelling but I have managed some interactions with people as well as continued to reflect on lessons from this journey. I have talked increasingly about the importance of finding ways of working harmoniously with our earth, with the natural world. This concern is shared by the well know British scientist, James Lovelock, who developed the so-called Gaia hypothesis. However our views differ on how we might work harmoniously. In his recent book “The revenge of Gaia” he expressed his concerns about the state of the earth and suggested a planned retreat of humans from nature as part of the solution, with a focus away from agriculture and towards synthetic food production. I disagreed with this view before and disagree even more strongly now. The many people we have met in different places and their very positive actions support a different approach that is focused on an intelligent and heart-felt re-engagement with nature. Everything we have, all of the wonderful and undesirable results of the industrial revolution and our modern technological revolution, have been derived from the earth in some form or another. We cannot so easily retreat as Lovelock thinks. At the same time I totally agree that we need to do something. Fortunately there are people who are acting, and we need to pay attention to them. I look to the leader of the Karen village in northern Thailand and his very smart 16 year old daughter, to the Buddhist monk north of Bangkok, to the work of Ajarn Yak in Thailand, to a wise 78 year old man in northern Viet Nam, to wise local leaders in Nepal, to the work of Sekem in Egypt, and more recently to the inherent understanding of our place in landscape, in nature, that is still visible in parts of Europe and in the work of the best farmers here.

In the parts of Italy we visited, Switzerland, and now in France we see landscapes where there is a history of understanding the importance of forest and water management. In all the places we’ve been in these countries I have seen hills covered with trees that in New Zealand and many parts of Asia have been stripped bare. In Switzerland, water catchment areas are forested. In New Zealand, when I gave a talk to a Regional Council a couple of years ago I was considered naïve to suggest that planting trees was the most important thing we could be doing as a response (adaptation and mitigation) to climate change. Everywhere I’ve been, every place I’ve seen, every person I have spoken to over the last four months has reinforced this view. In Europe I see the legacy of centuries of understanding the importance of managing whole landscapes. We don’t have this legacy in New Zealand. What we do have is a freedom of choice that many other countries and people do not have any more. But for how much longer?

It is very clear to me now that there is a great, unrealised, opportunity to develop truly effective responses to climate and other global changes by simply opening our eyes and ears to the very good things that people are already doing all over the world. In fact I believe we must do this. Things are now moving too fast for the politicians and scientists to keep up. People are already acting, some are already well ahead in their work and thinking.