Revised 24 May 2019

In 1978 a small group of final year architectural students completed an undergraduate sub-thesis study of Low Energy Settlement Patterns in New Zealand at the University of Auckland under the supervision of Associate Professor Cameron McClean. Each student concentrated on a particular aspect of human settlements while simultaneously participating in a group ‘think tank’. Some areas of study led to conventional conclusions while others – in particular Leslie Matthew’s chosen topic of agriculture, a key factor – led to a group consensus that existing spatial patterns of settlements in New Zealand would ultimately need to change with the advent of a diminishing supply of easily accessible fossil fuels. My own sub-thesis, In Search of Steady State, concentrated on the context of low energy settlement patterns.

In 1978 my background and the time available to write a sub-thesis on broad issues of sustainability were limited and I relied heavily on research that had been carried out by others in a number of disparate disciplines. My sub-thesis included a summary of that research in the form of a table which compared the attributes of growth and steady state settlements and the direction of change required for transition. In 1979 a summary of my sub-thesis was published in the international journal Urban Ecology as a short communication titled Ekistics and Energetics: A Sustainable Future Planning Approach.

It is now 40 years ago since I wrote my sub-thesis, and progress towards planning and preparing for a sustainable future in New Zealand has been limited. In 2017 the ecological footprint of New Zealanders was one of the highest in the world and the New Zealand agricultural sector has one of the highest per capita contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. New Zealand also has one of the highest per capita hydroelectricity production, but no electrified national railway system which links towns and cities. The opportunity for New Zealand to become a leader in adopting well established principles of sustainability has been largely ignored and wasted.

Globally and in New Zealand It has taken decades for early warnings of climate change to be taken heed of. Climate change deniers have much to blame for this delay. But even when there was finally a general global acceptance that humankind induced climate change is a reality and the first commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol started in 2008, there have been delays in commitment by New Zealand due to the lack of political will and influence by lobbyists with vested interests. The documentary, Hot Air: The Politics of Climate Change in New Zealand, is an indictment of how “big business recruited climate change deniers and spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, frighten politicians and remove climate change from voters’ attention and governments’ agendas.”

In New Zealand and elsewhere the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised to the extent that many politicians and business leaders still use the phrase “sustainable growth”. Even government department’s which should know better use this phrase. For example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) used this phrase on its website in October 2016.  

“MBIE's purpose is to Grow New Zealand for all. 'Grow' relates to the economy. To achieve the standard of living and quality of life we aspire to, we need a better-performing economy that delivers sustainable growth.”  

MBIE’s Purpose Statement directly clashes with New Zealand’s commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol to curb and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Continuing obfuscation as to the long-term feasibility and viability of a growth versus a steady state economy and deliberate misinformation has motivated me to write an update of my 1978 sub-thesis in the form of web publication and a series of e-learning courses.  In October 2015, I started to update myself on broader issues of sustainability and progress made over the past 40 years. This process has involved collecting and reading relevant journal publications and books, and viewing videos, documentaries, and lecture series that address the multi-faceted and interwoven issues of sustainability. For me, education is a major key for progress towards transition from a growth economy to that of steady state. That is why I have written this web publication and developed my website In Search of Steady State which has allowed others to look over my shoulder while I undergo the process of writing my update and take advantage of some of the resources that I have identified and collected.

Ivan M. Johnstone BSc(Physics), BArch(Hons), PhD

9 April 2019

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