Thinking Globally, Acting Locally:

a philosophy for enabling peace

Elizabeth Guthrey

There are many causes for conflict, and in some cases, we as a consumer are part of a trans-national conflict without even realizing it. Globalization and mass production has created in intricate interdependence between nations that provides efficiencies and a developing economy in many cases. Nevertheless, the natural environments in many countries that ought to provide fresh clean drinking water, nutrient rich soils and renewable resources to the local people, have been struck by inadequate management from a few people with power. At the base of it is usually an opportunity to sell resources or goods or to store mountains of waste from other nations. With all of this in mind, I have begun to think about how I can spend my money with a deeper conscience of the consequences of my simple actions. I look out for labels such as fair trade and organic. But furthermore, I have begun thinking about how I can reduce my dependence on economies that are not sustainable and are potentially the cause for conflicts overseas. Therefore, I adopted the philosophy to think globally and act locally as much as possible. So here is my journey I want to share of taking actions locally:

What are the issues with recycling?

Beginning in my final year of high school, I suddenly noticed there was no recycling system. So I began organizing the infrastructure for separating landfill waste from recycling and connected with our city council that could provide some resources. At that time, I knew that reducing waste should be the primary focus, then reusing, and then finally recycling. What I didn’t realize at this time was how much of our recycle waste, particularly plastic of all types is compressed and sent to China. I know that the process of recycling plastics is not clean, and I wonder how come I’m willing to use plastic items once, here in New Zealand, and then allow them to be shipped off to another place where people of the same human rights as myself have to bear the pollutants. Thinking through, speaking with others, and being open to learning truths has empowered me to be clearer about how I can reduce the sufferings of people in other countries. One way we can reduce throw away plastic use is by growing more of our food and beverages locally.

The process of gaining resources to be more self-sufficient.

Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have opportunities to grow some of my own food and feel connected to my most basic needs. When I moved to California to study at Soka University of America, I was taking many wonderful classes, and learning many theories, but I began to feel disconnected from my basic needs. I had a dream of starting a community garden on the campus, and I had a vision of reducing the excess water usage on non-native plants, and replacing them with natives that are more suited to the dry landscape of Southern California. There were some other students who shared this vision with myself. At the outset of the task, I had no idea how difficult it would be to gain the rights to make changes to the campus landscape. There was a lack of support from people in charge, but we kept our vision, and fine tuned the way we communicated the reason behind it, and our eagerness to take more responsibility for the place surrounding us. When we finally achieved our some of our goals three years later, I came to realize how important communication is and the sincerity and clarity of our purpose. It is my belief that systematic changes need to happen in our institutions, companies, and societies in order to work towards a global peaceful environment, but many people with responsibilities deal with enough challenges without young people giving their opinions for change. Therefore, young people have to work even harder to show the rational for their visions and show a clear path of making them a reality.

Becoming empowered in Christchurch City

Today, I am spending my spare time networking with like minded people in Christchurch city, making new raised bed vegetable gardens, and I have salvaged beautiful wood from house before demolition due to the earthquakes. Recently, I was part of a team putting together a workshop on Urban Conservation; turning ideas into a reality, which was part of the Festival for Transitional Architecture. In small focus groups, people from the public brainstormed the way we can improve our city as it redevelops.

One of the key areas that came up in the workshop was our transportation system and habits. New Zealand is one of the highest per capita in ownership of gas guzzling cars in the world. I have been recently thinking again about what this actually means both locally and globally. Starting from the local level, this means that people have a preference to driving their car, than taking a bus, riding their bicycle or living close to their work so they can walk. This means that we as a nation are prepared to take up vast amounts of land with tar seal roads, that we are prepared to un-sustainably produce large amounts of meat and dairy produce to export, in order to pay for our gasoline. On a global level, the implications are the search for oil in national forests and marine reserves, and the acceptance of major risks from oil spills. During my time at Soka University of America, I had the good fortune to help an environmental policy professor George Busenberg with his research and publication on Oil in Alaska. I have come to realize all the arguments for and against oil drilling, but furthermore, the power of people’s opinions to direct environmental management policies.

Here in Christchurch, I have been involved with the activist group ‘Oil Free Otautahi’. We are opposing deep sea oil drilling close to our New Zealand shores, which the current government has been welcoming. Up in the North Island, other community activist groups have been successful in shunning away a large foreign oil company from testing for oil spots near their shores. It is so important for us to speak up and come together. But this is just the beginning. We have to move towards an economy less dependent on oil. Because even without protecting our own shores and the large ocean species, we are already part of the cause for oil conflicts overseas. I have begun some strategic thinking with a recent group of CPIT graduates through the vision for a cleaner city environment that makes walking and cycling more attractive. I firmly believe that any nation, no matter how small can be the change we wish to see in the world, and that we can pave a way of living that other more seemingly powerful nations can follow.

*Elizabeth Guthrey is an environmental and peace activist, and she is working towards a master degree in architectural management and design.