A report on Navigating Critical 21st Century Transitions outlines five transitions we all need to make to:

  • low emissions living
  • be better prepared for living in a disrupted climate
  • be a low waste society
  • be more connected as a community
  • adjust to the need for life-long learning.

All of these transitions relate to the purpose of local government, which is why Taituarā commissioned Dr Stephanie Pride to write the report. I found it illuminating to look at the assumptions behind the status quo approach to climate change, waste, community interactions and education, identified in this report. Being aware of these assumptions is helpful when facing our own and others’ resistance to change. These assumptions include:

  • People are allowed to carry out activities which produce emissions without consequence.
  • It is normal to put rubbish out at the gate for collection, and disposal to landfill.
  • The climate will generally continue as it has in the past.
  • How people interact as a community is a matter of chance and personal choice.
  • If people invest time and money in their education when they are young, it will set them up for their whole life.

All of the statements above have been a true reflection of our lives to some degree, and more so for those of us who spent a decent amount of time in the 20th Century (older people). It’s no wonder that we face resistance to being told we can’t carry on living our lives based on assumptions that have served us well in the past. That’s why it’s likely to be older people who are most annoyed by the removal of car parking spaces to make room for bike lanes or ‘innovative street’ trials; or that they have to ask for permission to stick up a retaining wall to protect their property from the sea (and might not get it); and to be the least prepared for changes in the types of jobs available to them (and to end up feeling useless and unemployable).

The following descriptions (which are just a sample of what is included in the report) can help us to picture what the future could look like once we fully understand that we need to let go of the assumptions that have served us in the past.

Low emissions – future state

  • People actively track and manage down their emissions.
  • Systems to track and measure emissions are sophisticated and are used everywhere.

Living in a disrupted climate – future state

  • Extreme weather events are frequent.
  • We all know what we need to do during extreme weather events.
  • Some settlements are completely relocated/abandoned.

Low waste society – future state

  • Waste disposal is regarded as anti-social.
  • Consumer choices are driven by waste considerations.
  • Everything that enters the country has to have a sustainable path for its life cycle as a condition of its entry.

Community interconnectedness – future state

  • Structural discrimination is well understood and the design of systems, processes and projects is constantly adjusted to counter it.
  • Discriminated groups are supported to have a voice and an equal part of the conversation.

Learning-empowered communities – future state

  • Learning is needed at all stages of life.
  • Almost all routine work has been automated.
  • Communities are able and empowered to learn the things they need to ensure well-being.

Dr Stephanie Pride points out that many of these changes will need to be made at the community level (alongside national and international actions). This is where local government can assist. These five transitions are also closely interconnected – so we need to consider how each action taken at a local government level can contribute to more than one of these outcomes (rather than advancing one of these at the expense of any of the others).

It will be interesting to see how these critical transitions are reflected in the Future for Local Government Review. It has been set up to ‘reimagine the role and function of local government’ in order to build a sustainable system that delivers enhanced wellbeing outcomes for our communities.

Taituarā is offering an eight-week online course called Introduction to Long Term Thinking to support local government professionals to develop their capabilities for thinking about what their communities will need in the future. The course starts on 16 June 2021.