Optimism in problem solving – like saving the biosphere.

Creating new and viable fabrics from waste fibres can be challenging, a large percentage of our work consists of problem solving, from technical issues to logistical problems. I have come to believe that optimism is a crucial tool in successful solving problems. As Nelson Mandela eloquently said “It always seems impossible – until it’s done.”

Psychological studies have identified optimism and resilience as key characteristics of creative problem solvers. Research tell us that optimistic children perceive failure as:
‘temporary’ (able to be overcome) and ‘specific’ (to the situation at hand).
They perceive successes as:
‘personal’ (achieved through their own effort) and ‘permanent’ (able to be achieved again). An optimistic problem solver perceives not knowing as temporary, that problems are only beyond their current capability.

Alain de Botton is a modern day philosopher and as a philosopher he does does a lot of thinking. In developing his “Manifesto for Atheists” he has devised “Ten Virtues for the Modern Age” Top of that list, number ONE of this ten virtues he believes are the foundations to a successful life is…RESILIENCE.

Resilience is an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity, being able to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience is related to a combination of higher optimism, extraversion, openness to experience. Plus resilient people are less neurotic – which is great to know.

Taking our two key attributes of optimism and resilience we can apply them to the biggest problem we face today..

Scientists alerted the world to the grim outlook of global warming, it wasn’t news that anyone would be delighted to hear. The enormity of the problem and the calamity it can cause seemed insurmountable. The scientist were raising the alarm, they were ringing the bell as loud as they could to get our bottoms off our couches long enough for us to hear the crucial message that we are in danger. That the very earth on which we stand is facing an issue the size of which we have never encountered before and one that needs immediate attention. The scientists keep ringing that alarm bell.

We are slowly responding. Direction has not come from governments, so far the only cross government agreement is that a 2 degree increase in temperature is the outer limit of safety if we want to remain on this planet. Action has had to come from individual citizens as industry would appear to have an undue influence on Governments, outweighing the influence of citizens. Global warming is not just an environmental problem it is equally a social problem as savage storms decimate homes and droughts threaten crops, it is going to take behavioural changes from society to address this.

The magnitude of the problem can understandably make us feel impotent, overwhelmed even paralysed by the sheer enormity of the task.
But there is reason for hope. Recently Bill McKibbon on a speaking tour presented a solution to prevent us reaching the catastrophic 2 degree temperature rise. His solution is divestment in fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies have in reserve 5 x the amount of fuel that would take us over the 2 degree redline. His divestment solution along with suspension of subsidies to giant fossil fuel companies is such a powerful tool it could sway things a little in earths favour.

Al Gore has Plan A and Richard Branson recently launched his “B Team” with the concept of putting people and planet alongside instead of behind profit. So that companies contribute to the environment and society, as well as the economy. Business can and should be a force for good. As the major consumer of resources in the world, businesses need to lead way and to be the major responder to resource and environmental issues.

We can be inspired by companies such as New Zealand born Lanzatech whose low carbon aviation fuel has the potential to provide 19% of the world’s jet fuel, with a reduction in greenhouse gases by 50 to 60% compared to standard jet fuel. This is just one example of companies doing awe-inspiring things to address the precarious situation we are in. We can be immensely proud of the new technologies coming through, the rate of their application and transformation is very positive news.

As society we have both the skills and the intelligence to solve the challenges facing our biosphere. We should take pride in our problem solving abilities and practice using them whenever we can and celebrate our successes loudly for that will give us confidence to tackle even larger challenges.
We can face the current environmental challenges with confidence that not only can we solve them but that we will solve them. So lets every single one of us pull up our sleeves and get on with it.

This article forms part of Bernadette Casey’s recent TED Talk.

TED Talk

TED Talk

TED Talk

TED Talk

Restoring an old fur coat for a new outing.

A girlfriend is getting married in a couple of weeks. She is marrying a farmer and the wedding will be in some of the most beautiful countryside in New Zealand. Thinking ahead about what I should wear I decided to check out the weather forecast, the high for the day is predicted to be 6 degrees celsius (thats about 43 fahrenheit for my American friends) the low is meant to be about -2c (28F). Perfect weather to wear my fur coat!

Years ago I was given a fur coat by a girlfriend, the coat had belonged to her grandmother but as my girlfirend didn’t wear it she had passed it on to me. The coat was made in Russia in the 1920’s and it certainly looks of that era with a wide collar and cuffs (made from bear fur) and large disc Bakelite buttons. The story goes that the coat was only even given to mistresses and never wives (I’m sure there is a book in the history of this coat)

When I was given the coat, the lining had already been removed revealing beautiful stitching of each panel of fur and interesting stamp branding on the pelts. The coat has hung in my wardrobe for nearly 10 years with only a couple of outings in that time. One of the reasons why I rarely wear it is that the leather has become brittle and tears easily. I have mended at tear in one sleeve, but didn’t want to damage it further. After a little on line research into care and restoration of these former “must have” coats I decided to take matters into my own hands.
As a child my Mother had a fox fur stole that she would wear to formal functions. The little fox face that hung down the back of the stole with its glass eyes used to scare and excite me at the same time, with my sisters daring each other to touch its glass eyes and its little leathery snout. The front of the stole was fastened by hooking together the foxes front legs (with its little claws still attached).
PETA’s stand on furs is nonsensical, as a bi-product of the meat industry is makes sense to make the best use of all of the animal, including the poor deceased’s pelt. Plus there is a reason that leather (and fur) attracts a premium, its very durable, its warm and it looks great.
So now that I had decided to wear the fur coat I needed to give it some TLC to prevent any further damage. The leather inside had become quite hard feeling in some parts almost like card rather than leather. Laying the coat on a flat surface I turned the sleeves inside out exposing the leather underside and mixed together olive oil and white vinegar at a 2:1 ratio. Using a cotton sponge I dabbed the mixture onto the leather being careful to stay away from the edges of the coat to avoid getting any oil on the fur. Once I had covered the inside leather with this conditioning oil I left the coat overnight to absorb the oil.IMG_1705
In the morning the leather felt less dry but not as supple as leather normally feels so I decided to repeat the procedure, this time without the vinegar as the coat still smelt strongly from the first application of vinegar. I then hung the coat inside out and will leave it that way for a week in a warm place for the oil to soak into the pelt. This (I hope) will restore the leather to its (almost) former glory and prevent any further tears. I have decided not to insert a new lining as I think the stitch work and markings on the inside of the coat are too beautiful to cover up. I am just going to nip down to the local craft shop and pick up a leather needle for a couple of small repairs. Leather needles are finer and have a triangular profile leaving a smaller incision hole, its also important if you are repairing leather that you use a cotton or linen thread, polyester threads are too hard and will eventually cut through the leather.


The Formary documentary screening – Paramount Theatre Wellington

We are delighted that Sarah Grohnert’s documentary of our work transforming industrial and agricultural waste into beautiful fabrics will be shown as a short before the powerful documentary Who Cares – Quem se importa?

The people showcased in this documentary do.
Their work has huge social impact and is so inspiring it has created the movement of our time – social entrepreneurship.

The Formary’s 3 minute short portraits our collaboration with Starbucks through to our most recent conversations with the Chinese Government and casts a visionary eye over a pressing issue of our time, the best use of precious arable land.

Screening at Wellington’s Paramount Theatre
Tues 7 May 1.00pm, Wed 8 May 6.30pm, Thurs 9 May 1.00pm, Sat 11 May 2.30pm
Ticketing and information: http://www.reelbrazil.co.nz/RBFF_2013/Doc_-_Who_Cares.html