Living within our limits

Evaluating whether Wellingtonians are living within the resource limits of their region is the focus of new research by a Victoria University of Wellington graduate.

Dr James Richardson - PhD graduate

Evaluating whether Wellingtonians are living within the resource limits of their region is the focus of new research by a Victoria University of Wellington graduate.

Dr James Richardson, who graduated last week with a PhD in Landscape Architecture, explored the ecological footprint of people living in Wellington in relation to the resources available to them.

Working with nearly 60 participants, Dr Richardson says the goal was to envisage new, more sustainable ways of living that could go some way to addressing the impact humanity is having on the planet.

“The focus was coming up with ways of living that reduce our impact on the environment but which allow us to maintain an acceptable quality of life.

“The findings show that there’s a fundamental need to change transportation patterns: air, road and freight. There are only so many changes we can make with regard to things like food transportation, which is fairly essential, but there’s a lot of scope for change in the way people move around.

“On average people in New Zealand travel 4.8 kilometres to work—that’s pretty short by international standards. Yet most people here are driving each day—it’s not that much of stretch to jump on a bike, or to run or walk.

“Another area which could be changed is people’s proximity to their workplaces—it’s not ecologically viable to live far away and commute for, say, an hour each way. Taking a train isn’t always a better option either—travelling a long distance by rail takes the same resources as a short car journey.”

Dr Richardson says flying patterns will also have to change if Wellington wants to stay within its resource limits. “We should be doing more teleconferencing rather than flying to meetings in other cities to be there in person. Fundamentally people will need to move less.”

Other areas Dr Richardson says need to be addressed include reducing international freight, as well as housing. “Houses are getting bigger and we’re building more, rather than smaller and fewer.

“We need to look deeply at what our core needs are and what we can let go.”

Dr Richardson teaches maths and computing at Raphael House Rudolph Steiner School in Lower Hutt, and also teaches permaculture—the development of sustainable agricultural structures which are modelled on natural ecosystems—at a community level in Wellington.

“As part of reducing our impact we need to look at self-sufficiency on a personal scale—we have adequate land to do that. Compared to other design and planning processes, permaculture takes an ethical approach looking at what our core values are around care of the earth, care of people and fair resource distribution.”

Although Dr Richardson’s research is based in Wellington, he says it could be applied to anywhere in the world.

“Only so much can be done in terms of spatial planning, and we can’t keep trying to technologise ourselves to minimise our impact either. A huge amount needs to be done on changing behaviour, which will take a lot of time and a little bit of anxiety.”

To find out more about Dr Richardson’s work, visit his website: www.consciousdesigncollective.com