Community seeds for climate action


Climate change is no longer a future issue for future generations to deal with. It is here and now, and becoming harder to ignore in our everyday lives. We can see it in the more frequent and severe storms, floods and slips, the loss of lives and homes, the rise in food prices.

As the climate crisis continues to unfold we have been thinking about the role that community innovation has in responding.

Like always, we have more questions than answers: 

·      How can we make climate action something for everyone, especially people and whānau who are busy and stretched just trying to get by? 

·      How can we as communities come together to be leaders in climate change responses?

·      What are some things we can do to make our communities better places while also helping to reduce climate changing pollution?

·      How can climate action be woven into our work to improve personal and community wellbeing?

We believe that community innovation has a lot to contribute to our collective response to the climate crisis.

As Helmut Modlik said, when speaking about the Talanoa and a Te Tiriti-based wānanga on climate change that Ngāti Toa Rangatira is leading:

if you have a flood in your laundry, you’ve got two jobs: you gotta mop and you’ve got to turn-off the water. If you don’t turn off the water, you’re mopping a long time, a long time. And I’m here to tell you that for a range of systemic reasons, both central and local government are moppers – they’re in the business of mopping. [It's] only the community – informed, empowered and resourced – can turn off the tap, can turn off the water.

So, what is the role of community innovation in climate change response?

1)     Projects which work at sparking our imagination and showing us ways that social and economic relations can be different are essential to climate action. These projects can teach us new ways of living, which are usually much more sustainable and supportive than our current models.  

2)     Community innovation processes usually result in responses that are multipronged, and that address more than one issue at once. A lot of us don’t have time to engage with politicians about things like climate issues when we have other more pressing day-to-day needs in our lives. A community innovation way of working leads us to find responses that address these more immediate needs in ways that also address climate change.

3)     Coming together as a community is crucial when facing complex problems like climate change. At Te Hiko we are trying to break beyond thinking about climate action as individual responses and think about the possibilities for change when we work together.  

4)     You can’t have meaningful climate action without transformative social change. Systems which encourage wellbeing and prosperity for all communities goes hand in hand with a more sustainable relationship with our planet. Community-led innovation is where the seeds for this change are sown. 

5)      We believe that there is not one solution or approach that is needed. The opportunities to act don’t just lie with politicians and scientists. Important changes happen at the local level, in our everyday lives.  This means that there is not just one ‘right’ way to do climate action. There are as many responses as there are people, whānau and communities.

6)     We believes that climate action isn’t always a neat process, at times it can be messy, confusing and daunting. But it doesn’t need to be perfect to be meaningful and effective. Community innovation practices are designed for, and thrive in messiness.


What does community innovation teach us that can help us in navigating climate change? 

·    How to hold difficult conversations 

·    How to deal with and uphold a range of different perspectives and needs at one time

·    The value of our personal and local knowledge 

·    How to acknowledge and process trauma and grief

·    How to be comfortable not always having all the answers and not letting that stop us sparking conversation 

·    How to work together in disparate collectives


When a community has the right conditions, and is well practiced in doing the above things, then they are in a much better position to respond to the climate crisis.


Responding to a flood in a neighbourhood is more effective if the neighbours already know each other. If they know who is going to need an extra hand, and which house you can find the equipment and skill you need. They will recover stronger if they already know how to care for each other as they grieve, and how to remember as we rebuild after disaster and try to avoid repeating mistakes. These are all the kinds of things that communities who practice community innovation are more confident in doing.

We have some questions we have been asking ourselves as we think about how community innovation might help us tackle the climate crisis.

·      How does this project imagine different ways of being in our economic systems?

Our Fruit and Vege Co-op, for example, means that people can access fruit and vegetables at an affordable price while also building robust, inclusive local economic systems that get more value for money by sharing the costs and plugging the drain of profits moving out of the community.

·      Does this project encourage a more sustainable way of living?

At the Common Unity Project they don’t describe their projects, like the Sew Good Collective or Recycled Rides, as climate change projects. But they work to show us, in practical ways, more sustainable ways to live.

In Porirua East, our Ngahere Korowai project aims to transform the hills surrounding Porirua East to a protective ngahere. This project creates opportunities for employment and skills training in jobs with positive environmental outcomes, access to Rongoā Māori and Mātauranga and increased pride in Porirua East. Importantly, Ngahere Korowai would be owned and led by locals. While connecting the community, the this korowai will help to increase biodiversity, capture pollution (including carbon), and protect from flooding. The benefits to the community and the benefits to the environment go hand-in-hand.  

·      Are there skills people will learn from this project which will help them with climate action?

Practicing hard decision making and being able to see and understand a wide range of perspectives are some of these skills. Project for Public Spaces is working inspiring people to collectively reimagine what public spaces can look like. It focuses on the power of collective vision, and requires that people come together to work together to imagine a space which contributes to the wellbeing of all those people who are sharing that space, rather than our own individual wants and needs. In our small way, Innovating Streets also supported community to practice hard decision making.

·      What are the conditions, mindsets, and shared values we need to make this project work? How can these be used to help us deal with climate change?  

This can be seen in Firesticks, an Indigenous led initiative, looking to revive cultural burning with the ultimate goal of encouraging both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities to work together to maintain a healthy and resilient ecosystem. Firesticks highlights the importance of cultural learning, positive communication, sharing of experience and willingness to work across differences to achieve a common goal, which are all essential in thinking about climate action.

·      How does this project work at using and building community connections and relationships which we can turn to in times of crisis and change?

Alexandra Narvaez and Alex Lucitante, upon discovering mining operations of their ancestral land, without consulting the community, needed these community connections to help them protect their land. The Cofán community came together develop a plan forward and file a lawsuit against the Ecuador government. The court ruled in favour of the Cofán and the mining operations were cancelled. These existing community connections and relationships made taking action swifter and more effective.

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