Introduction

In 1978 a small group of final year architectural students completed an undergraduate sub-thesis study of Low Energy Settlement Patterns in New Zealand at the University of Auckland under the supervision of Associate Professor Cameron McClean. Each student concentrated on a particular aspect of human settlements while simultaneously participating in a group ‘think tank’. Some areas of study led to conventional conclusions while others – in particular Leslie Matthew’s chosen topic of agriculture, a key factor – led to a group consensus that existing spatial patterns of settlements in New Zealand would ultimately need to change with the advent of a diminishing supply of easily accessible fossil fuels. My own sub-thesis, In Search of Steady State, concentrated on the context of low energy settlement patterns.

In 1978 my background and the time available to write a sub-thesis on the broad issues of sustainability were limited and I relied heavily on research that had been carried out by others in a number of disparate disciplines. My sub-thesis included a summary of that research in the form of a table which compared the attributes of growth and steady state settlements and the direction of change required for a transition. In 1979 a summary of my sub-thesis was published in the international journal Urban Ecology as a short communication titled Ekistics and Energetics: A Sustainable Future Planning Approach.

It is now 40 years ago since I wrote my sub-thesis, and progress towards planning and preparing for a sustainable future in New Zealand has been limited. In 2017 the ecological footprint of New Zealanders was one of the highest in the world and the New Zealand agricultural sector has one of the highest per capita contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. New Zealand also has one of the highest per capita hydroelectricity production, but no electrified national railway system which links towns and cities. The opportunity for New Zealand to become a leader in adopting well established principles of sustainability has been largely ignored and wasted.

Globally and in New Zealand it has taken decades for early warnings of climate change to be taken heed of. Climate change deniers have much to blame for this delay. But even when there was finally general global acceptance that humankind induced climate change is a reality and the first commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol started in 2008, there have been delays in commitment by New Zealand due to the lack of political will and influence by lobbyists with vested interests. The documentary, Hot Air: The Politics of Climate Change in New Zealand, is an indictment of how “big business recruited climate change deniers and spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, frighten politicians and remove climate change from voters’ attention and governments’ agendas.”

The expression "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. A sustainable growth economy on a finite planet is a physical impossibility. Nonethless, in New Zealand and elsewhere the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised to the extent that many politicians and business leaders still use the phrase “sustainable growth”. Even government department’s which should know better use this phrase. For example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) used this phrase on its website in October 2016. 

“MBIE's purpose is to Grow New Zealand for all. 'Grow' relates to the economy. To achieve the standard of living and quality of life we aspire to, we need a better-performing economy that delivers sustainable growth.”

Obfuscation as to the true import of sustainability and a prevailing mindset that economic growth should and could continue has motivated me to write an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Education is necessary for a change in mindset to combat obfuscation that continued economic growth is a viable long-term option. Although there is now greater acceptance of the hard evidence that climate change is human induced due to the burning of fossil fuels and that we clearly need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible, there is still limited awareness or acceptance that climate change is but one of many symptoms due to growth in population and consumption of resources. Regardless of climate change, continued growth in the consumption of resources can only but lead to ecological disaster.

In October 2015, I started to update myself on broader issues of sustainability and progress made over the past 40 years. This process has involved collecting and reading relevant journal publications and books, and viewing videos, documentaries, and lecture series that address the multi-faceted and interwoven issues of sustainability. While doing so, I developed this website to provide resources and links to resources on issues of sustainability for others who are undertaking their own studies on current issues of sustainability. In November 2018 I started writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis with the title of In Search of Steady State Revisited and I included an electronic version of this work in progress on my website. It will take me years, if ever, to complete this update, and a few weeks ago I deleted this update from my website as I was no longer comfortable allowing others to look over my shoulder while going through the process of writing an update. I have subsequently had a change of mind. My original focus was on writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Given the number of visitors who browse and download information from this website, my primary focus is now on providing resources for visitors to my website.  Although writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis is now a secondary activity, rather than waste what I have written so far, I have re-included my work in progress on this website. This draft update can be viewed here

Ivan M. Johnstone
6 August 2019


In 1978 a small group of final 5th year students at the Auckland Architectural School completed an undergraduate sub-thesis study of Low Energy Settlement Patterns in New Zealand under the supervision of Associate Professor Cameron McClean. Each student concentrated on a particular aspect of human settlements while simultaneously participating in a group ‘think tank’. Some areas of study led to conventional conclusions while others – in particular Leslie Matthew’s chosen topic of agriculture, a key factor – led to a group consensus that existing spatial patterns of settlements in New Zealand would ultimately need to change with the advent of a diminishing supply of easily accessible fossil fuels. My own sub-thesis, In Search of Steady State, concentrated on the overriding context of low energy settlement patterns in New Zealand.

In 1978 my background and the time available to write a sub-thesis on the broad issues of sustainability were limited and I relied heavily on research that had been carried out by others in a number of disparate disciplines. My sub-thesis included a summary of that research in the form of a table which compared the attributes of growth and steady state settlements and the direction of change required for a transition. In 1979 this table was published in the international journal Urban Ecology as part of a short communication titled Ekistics and Energetics: A Sustainable Future Planning Approach.

It is now 40 years ago since I wrote my sub-thesis, and progress towards planning and preparing for a sustainable future in New Zealand has been limited. In 2017 the ecological footprint of New Zealanders was one of the highest in the world and the New Zealand agricultural sector has one of the highest per capita contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. New Zealand also has one of the highest per capita hydroelectricity production, but no electrified national railway system which links towns and cities. The opportunity for New Zealand to become a leader in adopting well established principles of sustainability has been largely ignored and wasted.

Globally and in New Zealand It has taken decades for early warnings of climate change to be taken heed of and climate change deniers have much to blame for this delay. But even when finally there was general global acceptance that climate change was a reality and the first commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol started in 2008, there have been delays in commitment by New Zealand due to the lack of political will and influence by lobbyists with vested interests. The documentary, Hot Air: The Politics of Climate Change in New Zealand, is an indictment of how “big business recruited climate change deniers and spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, frighten politicians and remove climate change from voters’ attention and governments’ agendas.”

The expression "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. A sustainable growth economy on a finite planet is a physical impossibility. Nontheless, in New Zealand and elsewhere the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised to the extent that many politicians and business leaders still use the phrase “sustainable growth”. Even government department’s which should know better use this phrase. For example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) used this phrase on its website in October 2016. 

“MBIE's purpose is to Grow New Zealand for all. 'Grow' relates to the economy. To achieve the standard of living and quality of life we aspire to, we need a better-performing economy that delivers sustainable growth.”

MBIE’s Purpose Statement directly clashes with New Zealand’s commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol to curb and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. I notified MBIE of the above anomaly in October 2016. A copy of the MBIE website purpose statement as at 5 March 2017 can be download here. MBIE had not corrected its purpose statement.


Obfuscation as to the true import of sustainability and a prevailing mindset that economic growth should and could continue has motivated me to write an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Education is necessary for a change in mindset to combat obfuscation that continued economic growth is a viable long-term option. Although there is now greater acceptance of the hard evidence that climate change is human induced due to the burning of fossil fuels and that we clearly need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible, there is still limited awareness or acceptance that climate change is but one of many symptoms due to growth in population and consumption of resources. Regardless of climate change, continued growth in the consumption of resources can only but lead to ecological disaster.

In October 2015, I started to update myself on broader issues of sustainability and progress made over the past 40 years. This process has involved collecting and reading relevant journal publications and books, and viewing videos, documentaries, and lecture series that address the multi-faceted and interwoven issues of sustainability. While doing so, I developed this website to provide resources and links to resources on issues of sustainability for others who are undertaking their own studies on current issues of sustainability. In November 2018 I started writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis with the title of In Search of Steady State Revisited and I included an electronic version of this work in progress on my website. It will take me years, if ever, to complete this update, and a few weeks ago I deleted this update from my website as I was no longer comfortable allowing others to look over my shoulder while going through the process of writing an update. I have subsequently had a change of mind. My original focus was on writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Given the number of visitors who browse and download information from this website, my primary focus is now on providing resources for visitors to my website.  Although writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis is now a secondary activity, rather than waste what I have written so far, I have re-included my work in progress on this website. This draft update can be viewed here

Ivan M. Johnstone
6 August 2019





In 1978 a small group of final 5th year students at the Auckland Architectural School completed an undergraduate sub-thesis study of Low Energy Settlement Patterns in New Zealand under the supervision of Associate Professor Cameron McClean. Each student concentrated on a particular aspect of human settlements while simultaneously participating in a group ‘think tank’. Some areas of study led to conventional conclusions while others – in particular Leslie Matthew’s chosen topic of agriculture, a key factor – led to a group consensus that existing spatial patterns of settlements in New Zealand would ultimately need to change with the advent of a diminishing supply of easily accessible fossil fuels. My own sub-thesis, In Search of Steady State, concentrated on the overriding context of low energy settlement patterns in New Zealand.

In 1978 my background and the time available to write a sub-thesis on the broad issues of sustainability were limited and I relied heavily on research that had been carried out by others in a number of disparate disciplines. My sub-thesis included a summary of that research in the form of a table which compared the attributes of growth and steady state settlements and the direction of change required for a transition. In 1979 this table was published in the international journal Urban Ecology as part of a short communication titled Ekistics and Energetics: A Sustainable Future Planning Approach.

It is now 40 years ago since I wrote my sub-thesis, and progress towards planning and preparing for a sustainable future in New Zealand has been limited. In 2017 the ecological footprint of New Zealanders was one of the highest in the world and the New Zealand agricultural sector has one of the highest per capita contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. New Zealand also has one of the highest per capita hydroelectricity production, but no electrified national railway system which links towns and cities. The opportunity for New Zealand to become a leader in adopting well established principles of sustainability has been largely ignored and wasted.

Globally and in New Zealand It has taken decades for early warnings of climate change to be taken heed of and climate change deniers have much to blame for this delay. But even when finally there was general global acceptance that climate change was a reality and the first commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol started in 2008, there have been delays in commitment by New Zealand due to the lack of political will and influence by lobbyists with vested interests. The documentary, Hot Air: The Politics of Climate Change in New Zealand, is an indictment of how “big business recruited climate change deniers and spin doctors to manipulate public opinion, frighten politicians and remove climate change from voters’ attention and governments’ agendas.”

The expression "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. A sustainable growth economy on a finite planet is a physical impossibility. Nontheless, in New Zealand and elsewhere the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised to the extent that many politicians and business leaders still use the phrase “sustainable growth”. Even government department’s which should know better use this phrase. For example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) used this phrase on its website in October 2016. 

“MBIE's purpose is to Grow New Zealand for all. 'Grow' relates to the economy. To achieve the standard of living and quality of life we aspire to, we need a better-performing economy that delivers sustainable growth.”

MBIE’s Purpose Statement directly clashes with New Zealand’s commitment to abide by the Kyoto Protocol to curb and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. I notified MBIE of the above anomaly in October 2016. A copy of the MBIE website purpose statement as at 5 March 2017 can be download here. MBIE had not corrected its purpose statement.


Obfuscation as to the true import of sustainability and a prevailing mindset that economic growth should and could continue has motivated me to write an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Education is necessary for a change in mindset to combat obfuscation that continued economic growth is a viable long-term option. Although there is now greater acceptance of the hard evidence that climate change is human induced due to the burning of fossil fuels and that we clearly need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible, there is still limited awareness or acceptance that climate change is but one of many symptoms due to growth in population and consumption of resources. Regardless of climate change, continued growth in the consumption of resources can only but lead to ecological disaster.

In October 2015, I started to update myself on broader issues of sustainability and progress made over the past 40 years. This process has involved collecting and reading relevant journal publications and books, and viewing videos, documentaries, and lecture series that address the multi-faceted and interwoven issues of sustainability. While doing so, I developed this website to provide resources and links to resources on issues of sustainability for others who are undertaking their own studies on current issues of sustainability. In November 2018 I started writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis with the title of In Search of Steady State Revisited and I included an electronic version of this work in progress on my website. It will take me years, if ever, to complete this update, and a few weeks ago I deleted this update from my website as I was no longer comfortable allowing others to look over my shoulder while going through the process of writing an update. I have subsequently had a change of mind. My original focus was on writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis. Given the number of visitors who browse and download information from this website, my primary focus is now on providing resources for visitors to my website.  Although writing an update of my 1978 sub-thesis is now a secondary activity, rather than waste what I have written so far, I have re-included my work in progress on this website. This draft update can be viewed here

Ivan M. Johnstone
6 August 2019




IN SEARCH OF STEADY STATE