Peter Creevey

In the current literature on global warming and climate change, reforestation and the preservation of rain forest is high on the list of the most useful contributions any one individual, group or nation can make. This is well ahead of the potential benefits of carbon credit trading, which may run the risk of becoming another form of stock market trading, as did water rights in Australia. From this viewpoint Peter Creevey can feel justified in the choice he has made to use his time and energy in ‘rescuing’ trees wherever he has happened to be during his rather peripatetic existence of recent decades.

It started when he went to live in Queensland in 1997 seeking a warmer climate for a neurological parasitic infestation which he had contracted while serving in Bougainville, training trainees in community development and reconciliation. There he learned to live happily in a Toyota campervan and take opportunities to house-sit, in order to see Northern Australia in a leisurely way. Thus he became used to living without the clutter of household possessions, and realised that much of the ‘stuff’ that we humans spend our lives accumulating is simply not needed. His one regret is perhaps the lack of his valued books. He sees ‘living simply’ as more than a statement of faith and piety, for it reduces the drain on the world’s resources, cuts consumerism and, in Peter’s view, improves physical and mental health and life expectancy.

While in Australia he joined the Society for Growing Australian Plants, an activity which gave great contentment, and he has continued his interest in trees during the last few years, back in New Zealand, mainly Christchurch, while again dividing his time between house-sitting and living in a campervan. Wherever he settled for a time he found native trees and plants growing in situations where they could not possibly thrive; he would put them in pots if they were small enough, and transplant them into old milk cartons, then seek out better situations for them, encouraged by the thought that they would probably outlive him, possibly by many centuries, and help to maintain genetic and biological diversity and increase the oxygen supply for animal life.

Without his own land on which to rehabilitate the tress, he donated them to Trees for Canterbury, and took part in planting days organised for reforestation projects. On a long term house-sit in Golden Bay, and another in Takapuna, he planted native bush, as also at the Quaker Settlement while taking part in Rosemary Morrow’s permaculture seminars. He has recently joined the Summit Road Trust in Christchurch, and the Quail Island Trust where he is helping to reforest some 31 hectares out of an 81 hectare total area of the island, as part of the overall development by the Department of Conservation. It is said that Parihaka rangatira Te Whiti was kept captive on Quail Island in the Lyttleton Harbour, which has served as a leper colony and quarantine station - for humans as well as the teams of huskies used in Antarctic expeditions. Now it is to revert to native forest and a destination for local residents, an inspiring transformation.

Since his teens Peter has been reading the scientific warnings about the impact of humankind on the planet, including the morbid Club of Rome report back in the 70s, and the writings of Schumacher, Lovelock, David Suzuki and others - all pointing to a growing crisis, but virtually ignored by the power elite of the world- politicians, masters of industry, bankers, manufacturers, merchants and retailers. It was his conviction that these writers were telling an unpalatable truth that led him to move away from his roots and explore widely, living alongside ‘third world’ cultures, spending many of his early working years as a journalist and editor in Samoa, and raising his children in the tropics, forgoing the trend of his contemporaries to settle down as professors and businessman, and to buy homes in tree-shaded suburbs, the ultimate target of those living in what the botanist Hugh Wilson calls ‘the car-infested swamp’ of Christchurch.

Peter’s more recent experience is that the impetus behind the warnings has begun to build up, with people like Michael Moore and Al Gore being given a little limelight and prime time. Even so, with a mass media trained in ‘balance’, every scientific pronouncement has been matched by an opposing message, negating the effect of the warning.

Now it seems that the facts about climate change, global warming, species extinction, peak oil, and the need for alternative methods of producing energy have gained a global momentum, and politicians are being forced by public opinion to take notice of the ‘smart cars’, house insulation, wind-power or tidal generation of electricity, even though such ‘green ‘energy generation depends on oil.

Peter sees two enormous difficulties ahead, the tendency of us humans to resist change until it is forced on us, and our refusal to recognise or address the glaring problem of over-population. When eco-refugees are saved as the oceans rise over-population is almost celebrated, while in countries without social security large families are vaunted as a possible guarantee of support for aging parents. We face a paradox in a society where the Hippocratic oath is respected, and resources and energy are directed into preserving and maintaining existing human life. The answers lie in permaculture and family planning.

Meanwhile Peter will go on rescuing and planting his trees, living very simply indeed, using his Gold Card for public transport on buses, ferries and trains, a most freeing experience, although he admits to finding cycling in a Christchurch winter harrowing in the extreme! He is also living without reliance on either car or campervan. His motivation sends a clear message to others.