Podcast

#4 Susan Krumdieck

By May 7, 2020August 18th, 2020No Comments

Rethinking Renewable Energy with Professor Susan Krumdieck

HAPPEN FILMS PODCAST #4

In Episode 4 of the Happen Films Podcast, we speak with Dr Susan Krumdieck. Susan is an American-born, New Zealand-based Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Canterbury University. Her research has developed novel methodologies and tools needed to rapidly downshift fossil fuel use while recovering real value for people and environment.

Over the course of her research she has worked on development of every type of renewable and alternative energy technology, culminating in founding the emerging field of Transition Engineering. Transition Engineering actions social responsibility and sound science to deliver change projects that down-shift the exposure to fossil fuel supply and climate change risks. Transition Engineers work in the gap between fossil fuelled expectations and constraints of flourishing.

This is a topic that fascinates us both. The first time we met Susan was in 2016 when we interviewed her for our film Living the Change. It was a game-changing conversation for us, as while we weren’t exactly ‘techno-optimists’, we soon realised how little we new about the realities of the mainstream renewable energy story. Susan might break your bubble about that story, but she does it with great passion and always with a tone of what we called ‘hopefulness’ and she calls ‘purpose’.

Susan’s approach to renewables, and that of Transition Engineering, is to begin with our vision for the future. These days, rather than simply researching new technologies to make renewables more efficient, she is rethinking how we use our technology, how much of it we even need, and what alternatives exist to technology itself that could improve our lives while reducing our exploitation of the earth.

RESOURCES
Read the article based on this conversation. (Coming soon)
Book: Transition Engineering: Building a Sustainable Future, by Susan Krumdieck
Article of interest: Susan’s response to the film Planet of the Humans.

Follow Susan
Website
YouTube
Blog

Jordan:

Hey everyone, we’re Jordan and Antoinette and welcome to another episode of the Happen Films podcast. If you’ve seen our film Living the Change, you might recognise this week’s guest professor, Susan Krumdieck, who we interviewed in that film about renewable energy.

Antoinette:

Susan’s a mechanical engineer whose focus is on researching how we can rapidly shift away from fossil fuels. In over 40 years of research, she’s explored every type of alternative energy technology and co-founded the Global Association for Transition Engineers. Transition engineering aims to develop projects that downshift the exposure to fossil fuel supply and climate change risks. We wanted to talk to her about the role of renewable energies in our future and how our societies can transition to consuming less energy.

Jordan:

We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Antoinette:

Hi Susan, thank you so much for joining us. It’s really great to see you again. And this feels like a really timely discussion to be having. We were really excited last time we talked to you and now it just sort of feels like it’s ramping up this, the subjects that we want to cover. And we’ve got a million questions and a short amount of time, so we’re going to launch straight in. Despite the fact we’ve got lots and lots of big questions to ask you around renewable energy, we wanted to just hear a little bit about your personal story first. Could you tell us how you came to be a mechanical engineer?

Susan:

Well, the usual story of a high school teacher that pointed me in the direction of engineering. When I asked him, you know that that power plant that they’ve built down on the reservation and the pollution that it’s been pumping up here into our mountains, it seems like it’s killing the rivers and the and the ponds, it’s killing all the life in there. Who does that, right? Like how, how does that happen? And he said, well, that’s mechanical engineering is who builds power plants. And I said, okay, that’s what I’m going to do then, because obviously they aren’t doing it right. And we need to, we need to figure out how to do that right.

Jordan:

So this was, you were living rurally in America and quite connected to nature and had a kind of, that rural upbringing. And you noticed the changes that were happening in your local environment due to this power plant.

Susan:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a town of less than a thousand people that is 400 miles or so from any major city. And so for us to be having this smog and pollution, so that the people in Phoenix can watch TV or something, it just seemed like, Oh, things are out of whack. And I was actually really fascinated with anthropology and archaeology and the project of human civilisation, how we organise that and how we do it. And so that’s what I was more interested in, but then it’s like, well, if we’re, if we’ve got this thing where we’re destroying ourselves, then maybe we ought to figure that out. Then when I got to university, of course, what I wanted to work with sustainable energy. So yeah, mechanical engineering seemed to be the way to go there. And so, got the first degree in mechanical engineering and aerospace, and then went on to do a master’s degree in energy systems engineering. So that includes buildings as well as, um, combustion and air pollution and all of the forms of generation of energy. And I did research during that master’s degree on, I actually did kind of a new thing: I put together control theory and anthropology. So nobody understands it but me, but I got my masters. But what it did tell me is that, I think my models, right. And I think that when you have a sustainable society, cause this is what I was looking for, it isn’t about what technologies you use, it’s about what you believe, it’s about what your whole project is. And societies that are sustainable, their project is about survival. It’s about continuing on what works, it’s about not doing things that are risky. And and that is definitely something that fossil fuel has allowed us, as a civilisation, to put away and say, no, we don’t really believe that anymore. We don’t, we don’t believe there’s anything that’s too risky to do because we are all-powerful.

Jordan:

And so going into the workforce, what kind of mission were you on and what kind of work were you doing?

Susan:

I worked for the solar certification rating corporation. Writing the software that lets you test solar collectors and make sure they’re good. And then I worked for the wind technology research center on feedback control for wind turbines to make them more efficient. And I worked for a company that does energy auditing and energy management of buildings to reduce the amount of energy they use and reduce costs and improve comfort. And then I decided I wanted to do a PhD and really the only offering I could find was in biofuels. So I did my first PhD on combustion of biofuel. It was a kind of fuel made from wood. And that’s where I really first came across the problem of the salesmanship of an idea not matching the reality of the technology. And not just the technology, but the basic physics. So I didn’t do that anymore and I ended up doing a PhD in advanced materials and then got back into energy. And part of that was coming to New Zealand, where I kind of had enough academic freedom to work on what I really thought needed doing.

Jordan:

And so you’ve had pretty extensive experience in solar, in wind, in hydrogen, a broad array of renewable energy…

Susan:

Yeah, I did work on hydrogen for a while, and carbon capture and storage.

Jordan:

Right. And so during that time, what story were you told about the potential of these technologies and what was kind of the reality once you began working with them?

Susan:

Well, the way that it works in research, so at universities, at research laboratories, is that the story you’re working on is the one that the funder wants to tell, right? So you get funding to work on hydrogen and fuel cells and stuff. Because that’s the story that politically sounds pretty good, right? We’ll just substitute something that’s green and clean for the one that, yeah, we know, you know, we know the fossil fuel, this is fossil carbon that has been under the ground for a hundred million years, and now we’re putting it in there and that’s sort of changing the world and we know that. Got it. So we’ll just use technology. We’ll just get these alternative technologies better, more efficient, better materials. And then they’ll just substitute when they become competitive. And that story actually, it’s not the reality, that you actually have to face, which is hard. It’s hard to see it when you’re a researcher and you’re working under a programme that is funding hydrogen research. And the story is that we’re going to switch to hydrogen, it’ll be clean and green, it only makes water vapor. And yet there’s something teasing at your mind. Like, yeah, my materials research to allow these lovely fuel cells to work, my materials research is great. It’s good work, I’m publishing it. I’m doing, you know, I’m delivering on my on my research programme, and yet there’s something I don’t quite see. Right? So there’s something bugging me here! Oh but apply for the next programme, right? Just keep going.

Antoinette:

So you were working in the field, researching and with funding you were able to follow through on lots of projects over the course of, you know – I guess 20 or 30 years? – in this space or at what point in that time did this realisation that was starting to come to you, make itself really known; what was the catalyst for that?

Susan:

I probably never would have come to that point if I hadn’t worked on so many different of these alternative and sustainable systems, right? These technology solutions. And I think I might’ve been getting complacent in doing that because you get the pat on the back that you’re a good person working on good things, right. Trying to save the planet and you understand the problems, which makes you a good person. And one day my son, it was actually “a” moment. My son came home from high school and his class had watched An Inconvenient Truth, right. So although he is my son and he knows about climate change and he knows what I do, that movie kind of changes your perspective in a way that, that you haven’t heard people talk about it like that before, it’s been kind of an abstract problem. So he came home and he was quite disturbed and he wanted to know if it was really as bad as it seemed like in the movie. And well, as a researcher, I know it’s way worse! So, you know, sort of smugly, well, darling, actually, it’s worse than that, you know. And poor little guy he’s well, but you’re working on sustainable energy, right? You’re working on sustainability. So, so it’ll be okay. Right? I mean, if it’s really that bad, then we must be working on it. We must be going to fix it. And that’s when I was about to answer “Oh yes…” You know, and then I thought, wait a minute, actually, that’s what’s wrong, that no matter how successful I am or the programme is, or all the other people working on, you know, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage and renewables, we’ll get the same thing we’ve got now, where there’s something wrong, that story of substituting these things for the fossils, isn’t actually true, that we have to start working on not using the fossils and it’s a profoundly other way around perspective. But at that moment, I also saw that working on sustainability gets us where we’ve gotten to. We’ve had sustainability since the seventies, and nobody’s ever said, Oh, you know, let’s not do that. We’ve been doing it. And we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten to, which is just way too much fossil fuel consumption. So it must be that we have to work on what’s unsustainable and downshift that. And yeah, we’ll use renewables if they make sense, we’ll use wind and solar, if it makes sense. But that world is profoundly different than the fossil fuel world, and that leads you down a whole new way of looking at things.

Antoinette:

Yeah. What was that experience like, to have it – for you personally – to have that shift?

Susan:

Well, the first thing is you’ve got this little problem of, that now you sound like the mistress of doom. Because the thing that we all were counting on is not going to be the answer. Right? We have to really check our assumptions, check what we, you know, what are we even working on? And so for a while I thought, okay, I just, I need to tell other people that what we’re working on, you know, look at it. It’s not, it’s not gonna work out. We need to do something else. And then, that was hard. Like nobody wants to hear that because what’s the alternative then, you know, goodness gracious. Are you in the pocket of the oil companies then? No, not at all. But then, I luckily had really brilliant PhD students, got really lucky with a streak of just a great group. And we just started saying, okay, then what are we actually working on? And how would we work on it? Because we’ve got to have a method. We’ve got to have a way that you work on things. And the the definition of the problem. In engineering, if you try to solve a problem – you set up your assumptions, you set up your requirements – and you can’t find a solution, then you don’t get upset. You know that you’ve posed the problem wrong. So you back up and you restate the problem, make sure you’ve really, you’ve got the right view and that your assumptions are valid and then you go forward again. And so we said, okay, let’s follow that. It always works. And we did. And that idea of working on the downshift of fossil fuels, you then have to understand how we actually use them, how we’ve organised around fossil fuels, how we’ve built our whole cities around fossil fuels and our commerce and our global supply chains. And wow, it’s a really big problem. But at least we can start making headway and we’ve got the tools to do it. And so I think turning that around, to that actually, it’s quite positive to be working on the thing that actually needs doing. I feel like I don’t have that confusion bothering me that something’s wrong anymore. And besides that, we’ve done lots of projects that have worked out with just such surprising and great outcomes that we think, yeah, this is the way to go.

Jordan:

So that kind of goes against the grain of a lot of hope that renewables and green technology has that not just engineers have, but everyone, a lot, most people have this vision of the future where it’s pretty much business as usual, except we’ve swapped out the bad fossil fuels for the good renewables. Could you break down why that actually isn’t possible?

Susan:

Well, probably the first thing is visions of the future because that’s one of the first things we started looking for was how much does it matter what your vision of the future is? And actually visions of the future are pretty silly at the moment, they’re either Armageddon or they’re the Jetsons and Star Trek and stuff like that. So what that tells me is that we’re quite future blind, actually. It’s not the best skill that we’ve got. And the more you look at it, the more it’s probably because we haven’t had to be, that if you have a sustainable society and things have worked for generations, then you know what the future looks like. It’s what you’re creating right now, because that’s what works, right? You educate the kids to be able to know what to do. You have your way of doing things and that’s how you’re going to keep doing them. So, given that we’ve sailed off into some other way of doing things because of our ability to, because of fossil fuels and science and engineering, then the question really is, I think, to fill in the gap between our expectations and what the planet really does have to offer. And I just, I called it Transition Engineering because there’s a, we’re at a point now where being able to understand why solar and wind aren’t just this substitute for fossil fuels is a really hard problem. And we have to, we have to see that transition. We have to see how it will work. We have to engineer the transition and then show people, the same way we engineered solar panels and then showed them. And then you go, Oh yeah, well, that’ll work. The engineers said it would. So I think, if that answers your question, that just saying they won’t substitute, that’s a thing that engineers would understand without much problem. When I teach engineering, you know, the students are disappointed cause that’s what they thought, but they can get it. But they need to pretty quickly move on to, okay, what does the future look like then? What is this project, what’s this journey we’re on? If it’s not the substitution one.

Jordan:

Yeah. So our societies and our systems, they’re built around this incredibly energy dense fossil fuel and yeah, it could just cannot be substituted. So what is the solution then?

Susan:

Well, you transition to the downshift of using fossil fuels in the system you’ve got first, because I don’t know that the world owes us a do-over. Right? We have the houses we’ve already built, the vehicles we’ve already built, the cities we’ve already built. And the very first project is simply to downshift 10% a year of fossil fuel production, consumption and emission. Covid just showed us what that looks like, right? Oh, you didn’t know what it looked like before. Well, now you do. It means don’t drive so much. Don’t fly to a meeting in Los Angeles because you can. Just don’t. So thank you, COVID. That’s been, that’s been really lovely. It’s been a very frightening lesson, but there we go. Yeah. So step one. Now we already do have a lot of technology development in all sorts of things under our belt. And the one thing I will say about this downshift is that it’s not a roll back. You can’t go back. You have to be real about what you’ve got now, what you’ve already invested in that, the energy and materials you’ve already invested, and then the answer is to use less? Yeah, that’s what it is. That’s the answer! So doing that in ways that are fruitful and in ways that actually generate benefits and generate real value, that’s the mission. And it doesn’t look exactly like just developing technologies. It looks more like developing systems and integrating a lot of complexity that engineers aren’t used to. So while we call what we do Transition Engineering, it’s really a whole-system integration sort of thing. We look at social behaviors. We look at the values that people exchange with each other without having to use energy and without having to exchange money. There’s a lot of things there. I don’t know if I could give you an example, would that help, of a transition engineering project?

Jordan:

Yeah, for sure.

Susan:

So the city of Grenoble is a beautiful place. It’s up in the mountains, up in the Alps, it’s in a valley. And so in the winter, the air pollution settles in the valley and you have terrible air pollution and they have an awful lot of automobile congestion, because in the sixties they built big freeways through and around and out of the city. And now people are living sprawled out up the valleys, and commuting into the city for work. There’s a lot of research institutes there, there’s industry, there’s universities. And so there’s a lot of people driving their cars, not just in and out, but also around. And so the city of Grenoble wanted me to work with them on transition of Grenoble to a city that isn’t congested and doesn’t have that air pollution and has affordable living, affordable and high quality houses for people. And so the solution that they already had was that we’ll use electric vehicles and we’ll use renewable energy and we’ll get people to share rides. So they wanted to go from one person per car to five people per car, and they wanted to use electric cars. So we want to push people to get electric cars or incentivise people. Now they didn’t know exactly where the renewable energy would come from, but that was the plan. And so you say, okay, well, one of the first rules of Transition Engineering is that we don’t have solutions. We start off with understanding where we are. We go through a process of looking at the history, how did we get here? What was it like a hundred years ago? And what things have happened along the way? And then we go forward a hundred years and we examine the things that we think are solutions. And we see if they’re there. And then we explore that place, because there’s a lot about that place a hundred years from now that we know, we know that this beautiful is a river is still there, that the beautiful mountains are still there, that people still make amazing cheeses and chactreuse liquer. And, you know we know that the old Roman ruins are still there. You know, it’s only a hundred years from now. We’re talking about a place where people have lived for thousands of years. So we did our project and we went to the future and we found that, okay, these 300,000 people are living here. They’re still doing science. It’s all great. But they are not car commuting at all. It’s not even that they’ve just substituted – because if you go from now 100 years into the future, and you take the substitution of our current vehicle fleets with electric vehicle fleets, and you do those numbers, it’s not a huge calculation. You find that we are buried under a mountain of lithium battery waste that we do not know what to do with, and we’ve exhausted the supplies of cobalt, and so we could drive around? Maybe life is better than that, maybe spending an hour each day in a car – maybe that’s what we could capitalise on. We could give people two hours a day back, by changing the system. So it’s no longer designed around the automobile commute, which is the thing that is degrading the city anyway. And so we invented a product called the Placefinder and what it is is, your sort of center of your activity system. What you have to do is work, right? You have to get to work cause otherwise you can’t make a living and that’s your calling. That’s what you have to do, is get to work. So from there, you start to put in all of the other activities. So if you have kids, a school, if you sing in a choir, you want to go to a church. So it’s just you start putting together all the activities and you form a web. And within that web is where your house has to be. Now, what are the possibilities that on a given day, you might go shopping for a house and find one that you can afford, and that suits your family in that web space? And the answer is almost vanishingly nil. Why? Because the way our real estate system works is that on the days that you are shopping, the only houses you can have a look at are the ones that happen to be on the market that day. And that’s a very small percentage of houses. So what you need to do is you need to shop for a place in that community. And you can do that in a way that isn’t just a real estate transaction, it’s letting that community know that you want to be in there. Because there’s probably people in there who actually want to be over there. And if there’s not actually enough houses for all of the people who actually need to be in that web space, then the government needs to incentivise building of certain kinds of properties in that space, and it now knows what they are. And we’ve, de-risked the redevelopment of old properties that are not healthy, and that are not up to specification with the new properties. And that’s the thing that’s stopping developers from doing intercity redevelopments instead of the greenfield developments. It’s that lack of knowledge and that lack of knowing the market. So with this way, to help people find their community and the Placefinder also connects people up with people who would be their peers in that community. Like other people whose kids go to that school, other people who shop at that shop, and they can start having conversations and getting to know each other. And then you just find your way into that community much easier. So facilitating to organise into the post-car communities and lifestyle, so that they don’t even need a car. And then we can start reclaiming the space in the city that was dedicated to the car for all the other things we can do with that space. There’s an example.

Jordan:

Hearing about transition engineering it’s much more broad and much more holistic and looking at the system as a whole and how it benefits people. And it sounds like broadening the options that people have in their lives in order to reduce their individual consumption and live better lives…

Susan:

Just giving people the value option. I mean, selling people and marketing people on the idea that you need to go shopping, right? You need to go to the mall to go shopping. Cause that’s what everybody does. And what if you gave people an option that had much more value than that? If the changes that you’re making that step down fossil fuel also give you back these pieces of life that are actually fulfilling and have a lot of real value, then why not? Why wouldn’t you do that? What is so precious about fossil fuel? Yeah, there are some things that are really good about it, and that’s why we’re going to save that for those things. You know, we’ve got to understand essentiality and importance. These are parameters in Transition Engineering that you don’t normally see in engineering projects.

Jordan:

And like revaluing such a precious resource for the things where it makes sense to use it. Instead of shipping plastic toys from China, maybe we should reserve that for medical helicopters or something.

Susan:

Cause we’re going to have actually a lot of work to do just keeping up with adapting to the climate change we’ve already created. And so those projects, rather than always just trying to recover from the latest disaster, we’ve always gotta be moving forward, because when we spend money to build something, it’s got to be the something that will last us for hundreds and hundreds of years. Because our endowment has a shelf life on it.

Antoinette:

Something that you said earlier when you were describing the work in Grenoble is, how did you phrase it: in a hundred years we’re not going to be driving. If we were driving, we’d be buried in lithium, under lithium batteries. That’s a very visual image. When people say we can’t swap renewables for. we can’t swap fossil fuels for renewables. It’s almost like that’s a statement that doesn’t, almost doesn’t make sense, isn’t it? But when you say that – we’re going to be buried in lithium if we’re still driving in a hundred years, that to me says we can’t swap fossil fuels for renewable.

Susan:

Right. Well, some people attribute Einstein with the saying that an unsustainable trend cannot continue. And it’s not that hard to look into the future on any of the things that we tell ourselves we’re going to be doing and interrogate that, and ask the question. And it’s quite difficult the first time that it pops your story bubble – like the students in my class, one of the first exercises I have them do is to calculate the cumulative CO2 emissions if we follow our trend of driving, how much we drive and how many cars we add to our country and you get a curve that looks just like the Mauna Loa CO2 emissions curve. It just keeps accumulating. Right? You put more CO2 in the air, it stays in the air, there’s more in the air. And then they tested out, they modeled, if we use the government’s policy – this is one of the main policies – to substitute, well, it’s not even exactly substitute, it’s just more electric vehicles, right? Cause it’s not a substitution it’s just, we’re gonna have, we’re gonna encourage electric vehicles. So we have the continued growth of the vehicle fleet and we have a really astronomical growth of electric vehicles. Well, every electric vehicle has a carbon footprint. Every regular vehicle has a carbon footprint when they’re made, because of all the materials that go into them. And then the fuel that you use. Yeah, the electric vehicles use 80% renewable electricity in the New Zealand grid. And so we expect that this is the answer. And what you see is that the cumulative CO2 emissions with that policy to 2050 is almost exactly the same as without it. And then they start playing with other scenarios. All right, now I want you to have a cap on the number of vehicles in the country. That number of vehicles doesn’t grow. And it also starts to decline – 2% a year, right? So we retire the old vehicles slowly. And the number of vehicles goes back to where it was in 2000, actually, we’ve almost doubled the number of vehicles in this country in 20 years. It’s nuts. You might’ve noticed if you’re in New Zealand. And so we have this downward trend to vehicles, and you start to see that curve actually, it’s way more effective than more electric vehicles that the cumulative CO2 is much less. Alright. Now we all drive a little less every year. Alright. So, so we start organising ourselves into these activity webs where we can live a walkable lifestyle or maybe walkable in our neighborhood, and then we have an electric train ride to the CBD for work, but we start to move to the same amount of driving that people in Melbourne have who use the Go Get Car Share and use the electric trams to get to work. So down to about 1500 kilometers per year of driving instead of 15,000. And you see the cumulative emissions do what they’re supposed to do. They stop growing. Cause that’s all that matters is that we don’t keep adding carbon to the air and we can keep under that two degrees C limit by that kind of change. And yeah, that’s, that needs to be understood by policymakers and by the public, that this lifestyle that we’re going to is better. We got to start going there and yeah, the government can help. We need electric trams and electric trains in our cities. We need to start pushing the cars out of the way. We need to move to a share car system, because that is how you decrease the number of cars and still everybody can do what they need to do. And it would actually work. Whereas the substitution scenario, more wind or something, doesn’t change the emission trajectory.

Antoinette:

So what would be your response to the argument about efficiencies and the fact that the science is constantly improving the efficiency of renewable energy?

Susan:

Oh, there’s definitely upper limits on, on that. I mean, we’re used to telling ourselves the story, that science, which it isn’t science, it’s engineering, so the efficiency of things. And this is so true, you know, Watts engine was maybe half a percent efficient and now a diesel engine is 50% efficient. So yeah, we can get better. And then you’ve probably heard of something called Jevons’ paradox, which says, well, we get more efficient, which allows us to use more. Therefore being more efficient actually just creates more demand. Okay. I’m going to write a paper someday debunking Jevons’ paradox. You’re correct – in an unconstrained system. But as every creature on this planet knows you fit within your constraints or you’re dead, you’re gone, extinct. So because we’ve blown the lid off our constraints for a little while during the fossil fuel era and because engineering allowed us to do that because we got really good at what we do, we got so good at getting that fossil stuff out of the ground and into the air. That’s why engineers have to come right on this too. We have to start joining the project of Transition Engineering, as a standard, not as an extra thing, like sustainability energy engineering kind of became a little pocket specialty over there in the corner where it can’t do anything to, to transition engineering needs to be, you know, everybody. So that’s why. Yeah, push back on engineering, if you want to, push back on that and say, look do due diligence on the transition, which we are now going to make you, it’s your job, you know, get onto it.

Jordan:

How do individuals who aren’t engineers or business owners or politicians, how do just regular people help kind of nudge the future in this direction?

Susan:

Well, okay. The hardest way is to flip your perspective. But just say, okay there’s some of these optical illusions that you can, you can see it one way and then you look at it and there’s another thing there, right? I need to do that with my own perception. And that is that I’m going to start thinking about downshift of bad things instead of you know, pushing and always purporting for more of something. I mean, more of anything is just not viable right now. Even if it’s more of a good thing we’ve been doing that for the last 30 years, this is what you get. So less of the bad things, instead of more of the good, instead of more of the good things. So there’s that. And then probably the way to really, get on board is probably what people have already been doing: seeking information, right? Seeking stuff. So people are reading Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics book, right. It’s accessible to everybody. It does have a lot of economics in it, but in a way you can understand it. Well, guess what, there’s a book called Transition Engineering: Building a Sustainable Future that you can get that’s about the same size as the Doughnut Economics book. And you can read it. And I promise it’s not an engineering book. Maybe I should have named it something else, but I do mean engineering because just the basic term engineering means making things work. All right. So making this transition work and it’s got stories, it’s got examples and it’s got this sort of new paradigm in a way that anybody can understand it. So I’ll plug my book on what should an individual do? They should buy my book!

Antoinette:

And we’ll put a link actually to the book and the YouTube description. There’s also a lot of publicity now around living with less waste, a lower consumption lifestyle. We’ve been talking a lot about the big things like flying and driving and construction of the renewable energy industry. But as individuals, I suppose, we’re not always aware of how much fossil fuels go into just the everyday things that we have around us. Right.

Jordan:

A lot of it’s hidden supply chains. Yeah.

Susan:

Yes, it is everywhere. That’s for sure. Well, I know people like to think about their own lifestyle and that they want to make their choices, you know, like I want to eat less meat, that sort of thing, but I’m telling you it’s time to push back. Okay. So you right now are sort of limited in what the choice that you even have is, so if you have to shop at a supermarket, cause there is anything else, then pushback, definitely let them know. I don’t care for all of my vegetables wrapped in plastic. Just everything you see that, you know, isn’t right. You just push back, let them know, that has a lot of power, actually, the pushback. The other thing is you could actually push back on their consolidated global supply chain model. That has fallen apart again, thanks to COVID. And so look, I happen to know that there are farmers all around us. I want you, my local grocery store to open up an area of your supermarket that is for that. And I think you should go get the Transition Engineering team at Canterbury if you don’t know how to do that, but I’ll help you sort it out. Cause it’s a matter of just making it work. Right. And we actually did this with a supermarket once up in the North Island. And it wasn’t a big problem because that supermarket, they got this tiny margin, they’re actually just feeding a corporate, you know? And so for them to be able to participate in a local market by facilitating it, you know, they would charge for the floor space or the same as with the other things, except it’s a local circuit circulation and they’re part of it. And what have they sacrificed to do that? Well, just some more of that sterile supermarket space has now been turned into a local space, which has these more interesting things in it. And rather than the locals having to find their way into the global supply chain in order to come back to their local shop, just that carving out of the local space, it would be an innovation., And you would have to figure out how it would work and how you would figure out what you’re going to get from different people and how it’s going to work. But so what? Just do it. We can help you.

Jordan:

I think it’s a much more empowering vision of the future that people like you are painting, where we can play a part in it. We’re not just kept in that box of a consumer. We’re not waiting for the next electric vehicle, the next technology to come around to save us. That narrative’s so disempowering and keeps feeding a false hope and a false story. So to be able to be feeling powered it can be so transformative and actually leads to real solutions and real change.

Susan:

You hit it on the head because “empowering” and “free”. Okay when we go to the future a hundred years from now, one thing that has really struck us is that you never hear humans referred to as consumers. That’s not what humans are. They’re mothers, they’re teachers, they’re policemen, you know, they, they do something, they don’t just consume. And when they when they engage in the market, when they go to the marketplace, they’re actually part of it. And so that whole concept, you know, where did that come from of that you refer to human beings as consumers? That’s a short-lived sort of timeframe where our expectations, everything was to be passive and to just respond to the marketing, respond to you know, that the socialisation of this consumption and it gets really vacuous and we get obese and we lose real value. So, yeah, that’s the way I describe it you just push back. And by that pushback, you do free yourself. And you challenge people that know I’m actually free of that system now. And I want to create the next one. I want to participate with you in creating it. And that’s – why not work on that project for a while? We’ll see how that goes.

Antoinette:

What I always feel with you is that you have hope, and that you are excited about the future hope.

Susan:

Hope is a funny thing, because I kind of reserve hope for things that I don’t have control over. I feel purpose, actually, right? I am pretty sure that there is still a future out there 100 years from now that I want to gift to my kids and grandkids, right. People that I know will be there a hundred years from now. And I want to gift to them one of the possible hundreds of thousands of futures. That is a gift, that is a good thing. And that future depends on everything from here going the right way. And so I could sit back and hope that that happens, or I could make sure I’m thinking about that and having the purpose of instigating creating, causing a disruption that actually takes us that direction. So I would say it’s more purpose than hope.

Jordan:

For people who want to learn more about transition engineering – we’ve mentioned your book – and want to learn more about this future, do you have a couple of resources, easy go-to things that people could follow up on?

Susan:

There’s a website I’ve been working on for a while called Global Association for Transition Engineering. So if you search on transition engineering, you won’t get a whole lot of other things besides transition engineering. And so you can go to that website and you can read around and have a look. And I do have a nice young engineer here who is helping me to write up the projects that we’ve already done in a way that you can just experience that new world, basically how it unfolds. And all of the IP that I generate by doing this, you know, like that new Placefinder app, it would actually be a business that Placefinder business, that would replace real estate essentially. That is all IP that is free to anyone to use and develop, you know, it just create waves of new ideas that go out there. The old way of economics, the old way of IP protection, the old way of forming corporations, I’m done with it. The new way looks different and I’m inventing it as we go. So yeah, my website, transitionengineering.org, you can go there. There’s YouTube videos. I think the book is a good starting place actually.

Jordan:

Cool. And we’ll link all those in the show notes, so people can follow up and find out more. Yeah. So I think we’re at about time. Thanks so much, Susan, for chatting to us and yeah just providing that really important perspective and allowing us all to kind of take stock and reconsider the direction we’re heading and the expectations we have and visions for ourselves and the future. And yeah. And thank you for the work you’re doing.

Antoinette:

Yeah, thank you for your work.

Susan:

Hey, well go back to the beginning. When your boy says, Mom, you got to do something.

Antoinette:

You don’t get left with any choice do you?

Jordan:

That’s a call to action.

Susan:

You take that on board. That’s right.

Jordan:

Thanks so much for tuning into this episode. You might have noticed that we don’t have any sponsors or ads in these podcasts, and that’s because we’re supported by our listeners. So if you’d like to support the show, you can do so at happenfilms.com/support. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time.

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