In Bangladesh, the Government pays for millions of villagers to have a little box in their homes that transmits electricity. Each house has solar panels on the roof and a battery to store power: two things that are common enough now in many parts of the world.
But the little transmission boxes are different. They connect each household in the village, allowing them to buy and sell power to each other. Those villages have bypassed the development stage of being connected to the national grid, forced to pay high prices, subject to unreliable distribution. They have their own microgrids.
What's more, because they generate their own power and trade it among themselves, their money keeps going round and round in the local economy. The energy needs of the villages are not lining the pockets of offshore power company investors.
When it comes to fighting climate change, this is just as important as lowering emissions and building seawalls. Strengthening local communities, which includes making their economies more resilient, will be critical as the stresses of the climate crisis kick in.
Will we have microgrids in New Zealand one day? The advantages for rural communities currently burdened with expensive infrastructure costs are obvious. There are advantages for suburban streets too: why not band together with your neighbours to produce clean power at a lower price than what you currently pay? And get to know each other better, and help save the planet.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the company RedGrid is building on the idea, with technology to create an "internet of energy" in the home. They can connect appliances to avoid power wastage, saving up to 40 per cent in power use.
The trouble is, microgrids are not even legal right now, in this or many other developed countries. Officially that's because if too many people leave the national grid, the cost of maintaining it will lead to price rises for those who remain.
It's part of a larger conundrum facing New Zealand power companies. As alternative energy sources become cheaper, is it fair that everyone not using them should face ever-rising power bills?
But if that's the explanation for the lack of microgrids in this country, it's not an acceptable one. The real reason the new technology – that transmission box – isn't available is that the power companies risk going out of business if it is.
As renewable energy technologies – solar, wind and tidal – become more attractive economically, the companies are very keen to maintain control. Even though we probably won't need them anymore.
Imagine being able to buy the gear simply and cheaply at the Warehouse. Will it be like the days of pirate radio, when the Government did its best to shut down transmission by renegade broadcasters on ships at sea? That failed, because in the end what government is going to tell people it will decide for them what music to listen to?
What government is going to say it must control the energy supply when we can generate and share it ourselves more cheaply, and strengthen local economies in the process?
Maybe that will turn out to be wrong, and the power companies really will bring us lower prices as they roll out the new energy sources. If so, that's fine. We won't need microgrids if we have something even better.
But clearly they will be important in the Indian subcontinent and in other parts of the developing world, as an alternative to coal-powered and nuclear generation. For all you doom merchants fretting about the coming apocalypse, that's a terrific reason to give cheer.
So how is the future looking at your place? In this country, many of us face coastal erosion, floods, drought, wildfire, airborne disease and a host of other climate-related pressures. But there are ways in which, even if you live somewhere high-risk, the future could be pretty exciting.
If we're prepared to seize the day, that is. It's not just about microgrids. In every field – food production, transport, domestic life, you name it – there's an opportunity to address climate change and build a better world. Achievable, transformative and effective, provided we actually do it and do it soon.
THE INSPIRATION comes from a movie. Australian Damon Gameau wanted to know what life would be like for his 3-year-old daughter in 2040: when she's a young adult. How good it might be, that is. So he set out to find technologies that already exist – no pinning his hopes on future miracles to save us all – that show the way.
Microgrids was one. Marine permaculture is another. Regenerative farming is a third, and the intersecting possibilities of new transport technologies are in there too. The movie is called 2040 and in my experience, if you watch it, it will change your life. (It's still screening in one Auckland cinema and it's easy to arrange screenings for groups: find out more at the website, whatsyour2040.com.)
So, marine permaculture: should we plant forests underwater? There are seaweeds that can grow half a metre a day, to 50m long. They draw down carbon dioxide, thousands of tonnes per square kilometre per year, restoring alkalinity to the ocean and enabling other sea life to thrive.
We can eat seaweed, so can cows, lowering their methane emissions. We can make clothes and plastics from seaweed, we can turn it into biofuels to run vehicles, turn it into fertiliser to grow other food. It contains valuable nutrients like omega-3.
We can feed, according to one of the scientists in 2040, 10 billion people with the protein from marine permaculture alone.
What are we waiting for? New Zealand has one of the longest coastlines in the world.
Well, we're not exactly waiting. Niwa scientist Wendy Nelson produced a paper on this in 2017 that got recognised as one of the most influential climate-change analyses in the world. Nelson-based company Waikaitu currently harvests wakame seaweed in the Marlborough Sounds and turns it into organic fertiliser. Nelson, Auckland University and Waikaitu have a Government grant to explore the possibilities. Which are surely enormous.
What about: farming that feeds the soil?
The thing about carbon is that while it's damaging in the atmosphere, it's enriching in the soil. So why doesn't farming draw carbon out of the air and bury it? That's what trees do, after all.
Regenerative farming is done with crops. The result is diversity of pasture, better growth, better eggs and meat from the animals that feed on those crops, better everything. For every 1 per cent extra carbon in a hectare of soil, says another of the scientists in 2040, water-holding capacity is increased by 166 thousand litres.
You'd think they'd do this all the time, and there are some striking examples of it in New Zealand. But regenerative farming is far from the norm, in this country or anywhere. Instead, fields are cleared and fertilisers applied: the grass will grow and the animals and crops will benefit, until one day they don't. Over time, this is how to kill the soil.
The UN believes the world will run out of topsoil in 60 years. In the movie, there's a suggestion the degradation of soil, with the loss of carbon, is a bigger cause of climate change than burning fossil fuels.
It can be reversed. You can help do that right now: there's an Australian scheme run by a company called Carbon8 that asks for donations of A$8 a month. That's enough to enrich the soil by sequestering, or capturing, 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. It equates to offsetting the emissions of 80 people.
Green cities: that is, cities literally covered in trees and crops and gardens? Why not? Transport? There are new worlds of possibility opening up. Uber and e-scooters barely scratch the surface.
NEW WAYS of powering ourselves, growing food and moving around won't amount to much if we don't also front up to economic and social reform. Gadgets are not going to save us and nor is the way we run our economies today.
If you want a measure of that, try this. It's often reported that in the past 30 years an unprecedented number of people have been lifted out of poverty, and it's true. But as Damon Gameau, the film-maker behind 2040, says, 4.5 billion people in the world still live on less than $5 a day. The World Health Organisation says to get them all over that mark will take 207 years and to do that the economy will need to grow to 175 times its present size.
What we're doing is broken. Not fit for purpose in ordinary times, definitely not fit for purpose as we confront the climate crisis. For a measure of that, try this: the world is now consuming 90 billion tonnes of resources a year, but to be sustainable it should be 50 billion tonnes.
We crossed the 50-tonne line only 20 years ago and by 2050, at current rates, our consumption will have doubled again, to 180 billion tonnes. Are we doing much about the climate crisis yet? Not really.
Gameau is an optimist. "Not only are there so many people who want to take part in telling a new story," he says, determined to do his bit to make it true, "we have everything we need to make it happen, right now."
He interviews Kate Raworth, the British economist who invented doughnut economics, the theory that we have to learn how to live in the sweet spot between meeting the needs of people and planet, and not destroying it. "People want to be working on something they can see is actually helping to regenerate the world," she says.
Can we do it? American novelist and environmentalist Jonathan Franzen takes the pessimistic view, although like all pessimists he calls it realism.
To confront the crisis effectively, he says, "Overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar lifestyles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it. They can't dismiss news they dislike as fake. They have to set aside nationalism and class and racial resentments. They have to make sacrifices for distant threatened nations and distant future generations. They have to be permanently terrified by hotter summers and more frequent natural disasters, rather than just getting used to them. Every day, instead of thinking about breakfast, they have to think about death."
His point is, none of that is going to happen. And therefore: "If you're younger than 60, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilisation of life on Earth — massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you're under 30, you're all but guaranteed to witness it."
Even among those who deny the causes, is there anyone who doesn't understand that all these things have already started to happen?
IS COLLAPSE inevitable, as Franzen says, or is Gameau right? The radical transformations he promotes – growing seaweed, nurturing the soil, abandoning fossil fuels, changing the balance of our diets – these are not absurd ideas. They exist already and can all be scaled up to whole population levels. And there are many more like them. We can do it if we want to.
So what's stopping us? The way we have this debate is, for starters. Our Government takes moderate steps, seeking consensus, but the result is the steps are not big enough and they don't achieve consensus anyway.
"Instead of having governments that simply react to the disaster, we need governments that take us off in a different direction," says Raworth. She visited New Zealand this year, and told the Government the same thing.
But the Zero Carbon Bill is not enough, even though it's condemned for including methane at even a basic level. The proposal to use discounts and penalty fees to favour electric cars over others is not enough, but it's condemned as unfair. Council plans to date to deal with coastal erosion, extreme weather, airborne disease, will not be nearly enough. It's plain as day there's no future in drilling for more fossil fuels, but there are those who want to do it anyway.
Despite what you might hear, we don't have a war between town and country, and we should call out everybody who tries to stir one up. We know we have to end our dependence on fossil fuels, but in the council elections right now there are people trying to stir up outrage over a "war on cars". We should call that out too.
To say you understand climate change, but let's deal with it later, perhaps when we've got enough roads for everyone to drive freely on: that's the modern form of denialism.
There is a war coming, but it's not against farmers or cars. The war is for the planet, and one way we'll know it's started will be when, as always happens in wartime, we tell those modern denialists they're no longer welcome in the debate.
FRANZEN IS right about some things. To fight the climate crisis war, he says, we need to strengthen society. "In times of increasing chaos, people seek protection in tribalism and armed force, rather than in the rule of law, and our best defence against this kind of dystopia is to maintain functioning democracies, functioning legal systems, functioning communities.
"In this respect, any movement toward a more just and civil society can now be considered a meaningful climate action. Securing fair elections is a climate action. Combatting extreme wealth inequality is a climate action. Shutting down the hate machines on social media is a climate action. Instituting humane immigration policy, advocating for racial and gender equality, promoting respect for laws and their enforcement, supporting a free and independent press, ridding the country of assault weapons — these are all meaningful climate actions.
"To survive rising temperatures, every system, whether of the natural world or of the human world, will need to be as strong and healthy as we can make it."
Fighting the climate crisis is not just about saying the people of Bangladesh and India can have their microgrids and we'll be sweet. They can grow their seaweed in Japan if they want and we'll be sweet. It's America that has to fix its farmland. We don't need to.
We're part of it here too. Not just because we're all in it together, but because we can make a difference. We're the people of the All Blacks. The people of Lorde and Kiri Te Kanawa and the best farming practices in the world, that now need to become better again, the people of Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering and Te Rauparaha and Whina Cooper and Katherine Mansfield. Our list of champions is long and they inspire us all and I'm sorry but why the hell would anyone think we can't make a difference?