VOLATILITY is the new normal - that's the message I gave Rotary Club of Wanganui North when I spoke to members four or five years ago.

I had been told beforehand the group was worldly and was instructed in the invitation to challenge them.

Judging from the response, however, the brief was misguided and most club members were neither expecting nor wanting a presentation that challenged the dominant paradigm.

The response that day was, of course, perfectly "normal". Almost no adult human seeks out new and different world views. On the contrary, we are far more inclined to cling to outdated ones, as "Make America Great Again" does, than to acknowledge changing realities.

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Social media allow us to reverberate in echo chambers of our own beliefs, where we know we're right because the echo told us so.

I've been writing about Donald Trump, doubling-down and the post-truth world for two years now and, if anything, I am more certain of the point I've been trying to make: most people are irrational.

Seems there's now a Nobel Laureate who has been arguing the same for decades.

Behavioural economist Richard Thaler was recently awarded a Nobel for his study of the psychology of economics. Traditional economic theories have failed time and again (think 2008 global financial crisis) because they don't sufficiently incorporate human psychology.

In no way do I intend to single out the members of Rotary North, but rather use this example as illustrative for what our community, our nation and our world face: volatility made worse by inertia.

In other words, the longer we choose to ignore inconvenient truths, the greater will be their negative impacts.

Well-informed leaders from former President Barack Obama to Pope Francis agree the greatest threats facing humanity are climate change and wealth inequality. I've written extensively about both in the Chronicle for six years, yet neither gets traction in Whanganui.

Community leaders ignore these issues at all of our peril because the result of each is increasing volatility in many forms: social, economic, financial, political and an increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

Volatility is not good for social order, and Whanganui is a perfect example of the canary in the coalmine: a coastal, river city with high levels of inequality.

Some readers may remember the 1982 film by Godrey Reggio called Koyaanisqatsi, about "life out of balance." The film is unnerving, as is much of what comes via news media these days: hurricanes, mass shootings, hurricanes, opioid epidemics, hurricanes, people sleeping in cars, hurricanes, rising suicide rates, hurricanes, and children dying from cold, damp homes.

When Buddhists become the aggressors, you know the world is well and truly out of balance.

My solution to imbalance, as any regular Chronicle reader knows, is called "Eco-Thrifty".

This approach to design and to life is about living better on less. Seems I also have good company along these lines in the form of Costa Rica, the small Central American nation that regularly tops the Happy Planet Index published by the New Economics Foundation.
Despite per-capita income one-quarter that of New Zealand and one-fifth that of the United States, Costa Rica matches the Scandinavian countries in terms of equality, wellbeing, life expectancy and ecological impact. As Jason Hickel of the Guardian recently put it, "Costa Rica proves that rich countries could theoretically ease their consumption by half or more while maintaining or even increasing their human development indicators.

"The opposite of growth isn't austerity, or depression, or voluntary poverty. It is sharing what we already have, so we won't need to plunder the earth for more."

I suggest our community leaders look to Costa Rica for something truly leading-edge, or else we'll end up along the lines of Greece or Puerto Rico.

Nelson Lebo
Nelson Lebo

Dr Nelson Lebo is a researcher, design consultant, farmer and dad.