4 Jan 2016

Gearhead Granny

From Our Changing World, 9:06 pm on 4 January 2016

With the world’s carbon budget running out and frustrated with an apathetic government, entrepreneurial ‘granny’ turned ‘gearhead’ Rosemary Penwarden has taken matters into her own hands to work towards a zero carbon future. University of Otago science communication student Siana Fitzjohn meets Rosemary to talk about her vision for the future.

Three hundred people attended the 2015 climate change consultation meeting in Dunedin, while 16,000 written submissions pleaded with the New Zealand government to tackle climate change. In spite of this overwhelming response, the New Zealand government has all but ignored their pleas, setting carbon targets that would barely reduce our emissions at all, ignoring the fact that New Zealand remains, per capita, one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. And because of this New Zealand communities are now turning to alternative leaders to effect change.

Leading the charge in community climate change action for Dunedin is Rosemary Penwarden, a climate activist who has kick-started a project to reduce Dunedin’s climate emissions. For most people, climate change feels like a big, incomprehensible problem that we can’t do anything about. However, for Rosemary, the issues of climate change are very personal, following the birth of her grandson.

“The most amazing moment of my life was to watch my daughter give birth to my grandson. I know that my grandson will be in the midst of this in 2050, so a lot of what I do now, I do for him,” says Rosemary.

Rosemary’s vision relies on the success and cooperation of communities, to realise our potential to connect with other human beings instead of being trapped by consumerism.

“Have fun together. Ultimately, that’s what matters. It’s not money, it’s people, it’s family, it’s community”.

Rosemary is involved in the Valley Community Workspace nestled in the North East Valley in Dunedin. Over 500 square metres in size, the converted warehouse is laden with the skeletons of Utes, cars and bicycles, all ready for the installation of their new electric motors and batteries.

In the corner of the factory an engine-less Hilux awaits its low-carbon transplant, which will “’electric-ute’ it to life and make it the first communally- owned electric vehicle in the city.

A keen member of the project since its inception is Steve Ward, the man who’s also been behind some electric bike conversion. He sees electric bikes are another alternative form of low carbon transport

“Electric bikes are a game changer,” he says. “Especially in hilly Dunedin”.

The commitment from people like Steve and Rosemary combats the notion that the older generation are apathetic to the plight of climate change. They argue there are lots of advantages that the older generation can bring to projects like this.

“We are at the stage and age where we can devote time,” says Steve.

He says the bottom line is that we need to pledge a commitment to transition to a renewable city. And if the granny can become a gearhead then anyone can do it.

“We can do it. We have the resources, and we have the skills and we have the people here who can make it happen. It’s just adaptation to our new world that were facing,” Rosemary says of a low carbon future.

“When you stand up, it gives you courage, and I want us all to learn that courage”.

After all, this is not just our future but the generations that will follow us.