Simon Ngawhika

"Disruption for good"

I met—my good friend Simon Ngawhika—outside the Portland Art Museum for a chat about life. He had come to Portland to visit family and friends after having returned to his homeland—New Zealand. The conversation quickly turned into deeper matters, as we are both struggling with learning to live a life where our actions are aligned with our values of sustainability and equality. This is really hard when you have family and friends all over the world. So I dove right into my questions of hope.


Why do you act in this world?

I act because I want my grandchildren to have a world that is sustainable and equitable.


What makes you think that you make a difference in this world?

I think in intergenerational timeframes, and I try to match my actions with those long term outcomes that I want to make happen for when my grandchildren are around.

How does that look like? Or what does it mean?

It means everything from basic physical sustenance to recreation, spirituality, and the opportunity for my grandchildren to have good lives, fall in love and all that stuff.

But how does that look on a daily basis? How does it influence you?

It influence everything: where I choose to shop, how I choose to get to work in the morning, where I choose to work, the kind of people that I gravitate towards, the kind of conversations that I have.

Do you see that more as an active selection of the right thing or a de-selection of the wrong things?

It is a bit of both. It is basically whichever is easier. Sometimes the choice is easy, for example to deselect soda over water. Sometimes the choice is a little bit harder: should I Uber a car or should I take a bus?

Sometimes it is easier to proactively select something. Sometimes it is easier to just say “not that, not that, it is one of these other two.”

How do you resolve the hard choices? For example one of the things that I am struggling with is how do we reconcile our need and desire to visit family versus the huge carbon pollution associated with the transportation, and particularly with flying which in many ways is the only meaningful way to travel around the world.

For me I look at it in terms of the overall goal. So when my girlfriend and I were going to find a place to rent, where we were going to live was determined largely by proximity to work, public transport and how often we would need to use a car. So we have a place where we walk to work every day. I knew that I wanted to be traveling on an airplane from New Zealand to other parts of the world. I don’t do the calculations, but just intuitively and emotionally it feels like, in a sense that [walking to work] gives me the license to take a trip overseas once a year or something like that.


Changing pace a bit, what gives you hope for the future?

Lots of things.

The way that the dial is moving on social issues as well as environmental issues.

This year will be the first election cycle since 2000 or something that gay marriage was not on the US presidential agenda and that is huge.

The Pope’s encyclical that talks about climate change and income inequality, if we can get, say the whole Catholic Church, aboard with ways to address climate change and social inequality at the same time—imagine what a wonderful world that would be, you know.

The twenty odd billion dollars that Silicon Valley is sinking into electric vehicles, home battery storage, harnessing power from the sun, storing it for when you get home from work at night, all that kind of stuff definitely gives me a lot of hope.


If you were to condense what gives you hope into three words or a very short sentence what would it be?

Disruption for good.

Do you want to elaborate a bit on that?

The biggest kind of thing that I have seen, is that our current civilization suffers from outdated modes of doing things, and so that’s where the disruption comes in. Finding new and better ways to plan an urban area, run an industry, moves goods from one place to another.

Say you had a 3D printer at home that took ingredients you found around the house coffee grinds, bits of pruning from your garden and you could order something on Amazon and it would print at your house after you pay for it. Imagine all the emissions that would be taken out from productions, manufacturing, transportation and all of that.

So just finding completely different ways of making a thing, selling a thing, you know that sort of disruption and doing it for good. Money can’t be good: it depends on how it is made and what it gets spend on. Money itself is not evil it depends on who is making it, who is spending it, what their intentions are, so yeah disruption of how we do things, and using the proceeds or inputs from that in positive ways.


My last question: sometimes I have what I call Sad Sundays. They are like days

Are they followed by Meatless Mondays? [Laughter]

No most days are meatless in our household. It’s a Sunday where I just feel like I am off and everything is hard and frustrating, if you could make me do one thing on Sad Sunday, what would you make me do?

Well if you are sitting in a corner, are sad,  the lights are off,  and all the appliances are off, you are doing good for energy conservation that’s cool. [Laughter]

The other thing you could do would be to take a walk in the forest or by a stream or river and yeah reconnect with Mother Earth. That’s what I do when I am sad, it cheers me up.

Thank you!


Are you also reconnecting with Mother Earth to get your spirit back up? Or what are you doing? Let us know below. Also, how are you resolving the hard choices about transportation?