Are these shows an extension of “think global, act local”?
There’s a globality to them – if that’s a word – and it’s local as well. So many people, globally and locally, complain about things. We find people who see a problem, a resource that someone else has considered superfluous, and have gone, “We think there’s something we can actually do about that.”
What overseas sustainable effort most interested you?
In Cuba, a former professor of Marxist philosophy had built this machine in the jungle – it ground coffee, it crushed his sugar cane, it had a sharpening wheel. He was just adding a saw blade. It worked off an old 50s car diff. We were particularly interested in him because he uses pig effluent to create methane. Or you go to Peru, to the turn-off to Machu Picchu, and we went the other way, to probably the world’s only potato park.
And in New Zealand?
The number of nondescript warehouses and factory buildings in little suburbs all around the country where people were doing incredibly creative things, from making natural fungicides to extracting things from pine bark to use in brain injuries or to use in ethanol.
Are Kiwis good at this stuff?
I think we are. In the last series, [a company was] creating a biofuel using bacteria and steam from steel mills and they’ve just received tens of millions of dollars’ investment from overseas. That is the key message: how do we support the people doing these things?
The alligators in Louisiana sounded interesting.
They have this huge alligator meat and skin industry, and something like 20% of the body weight of an alligator is fat. What do you do with it? These high-tech labs always have something like a domestic microwave oven. So we spent about 15 minutes watching alligator fat cook into a viscous liquid. It smelt like fried chicken – so we got a bit hungry – and they use it for various things including a form of biofuel.
To what do you attribute your televisual success? Most presenters on TV are beautiful young things, whereas Wikipedia calls you a “bearded ginger”?
Does it? I might have to go and get some editing rights. I had to shave the beard off before we started filming. I don’t know, I’m really fascinated by people. All I do is go out and find interesting and worthy people and make them look good.
Being on TV1, are you allowed to do Seven Days?
Nooo. In fact, [producer] Jon Bridges, when they first started, sent me a video clip of him crossing my name out on the whiteboard. I worked with the Downlow Concept when Seven Days was Off the Wire on National Radio. There’s seems to be a real resurgence in making what appears to be low-budget comedy: Jono and Ben, The Radio’s just started, the one with Oliver Driver, Seven Days, the project I’m looking to be involved with.
Would you like to do more stand-up?
When we couldn’t film during winter, I went back on tour with my history show Eating the Dog, at little town halls all through the provinces. I really love doing that. We’re just in negotiations for doing a much more comedy-oriented show later in the year.
Do you feel green guilt because of your TV role?
I’ve always lived pretty sustainably. I’ve always been really interested in where food comes from, which is why I got involved in the first place. We only have to look at the horsemeat saga in the UK – traceability and that sort of thing. I’m also fascinated by communities – strong communities are important. Sustainability is not just about saving the planet, but also about having a better and more wholesome place to live in your neighbourhood or city or town.
If you were king for a day, what one thing would you get people to do?
A compost bin. It does actually start with those simple things. Plant a fruit tree. Meet your neighbours.
GLOBAL RADAR: THE NEW WORLD, TV1, Wednesday, 8.00pm