Maurice Judd is an environmental chemist teaching environmental science, sustainability and interdisciplinary studies at the tertiary level. He comments on the recent Royal Society Report: Facing the future: toward a green economy for New Zealand.
The recent expert Royal Society paper: Facing the future: toward a green economy for New Zealand, is an excellent document and I encourage readers to download a copy and study it. I do; however, think a re-title is appropriate. The report would be more usefully titled: Facing the future: toward a green society for New Zealand.
As you would expect the paper clearly identifies many opportunities for us. In particular, I agree that in the global context New Zealanders and humanity faces multiple challenges that are clearly opportunities. New Zealand is in a strong position to accept these challenges and adapt successfully. The authors list four “potentials” they view as setting is up for success: We have existing strengths. We have renewable energy systems in place and the basis of a low carbon technology and service based society. A number of us are already taking the initiative. And we are already innovating in areas leading to “social inclusiveness” and “collaborative processes”. The authors also state we have much to do; including: building a clear vision of an inclusive and prosperous tomorrow. Building the research capacity to support the vision. Making long term investment in areas such as inclusive decision making processes and capacity in land use, energy, transport and housing. And they say we need a “well informed and stable policy environment”.
All of this is true and I would add that there is a clear understanding among many citizens, and citizen and professional groups (like the Royal Society) that change is necessary. There are plenty of reasons for optimism.
Following on from this introductory section as we would expect, the authors concentrate on the easily seen opportunities; however, there are important pieces glossed over or missed out.
The discussion on transport correctly identifies the vulnerability of our society to access and cost for fuels but the analysis of solutions fails to introduce the necessity of effective public transport and rail networks running on renewable fuels. In my view, this is an important oversight.
The authors also identify innovative approaches to participatory decision making, such as the Land and Water Accord but fail to mention the risk that groups such as this can be captured by well resourced special interest groups. Inclusive approaches that will yield truly sustainable solutions will require the input from all stakeholders not just those that have historic economic and political power. Once again my view is that this omission is important.
This leads to the, in my mind, most serious flaw with the report. The authors do state that New Zealand must become more socially inclusive but do not follow that thought with a description of just how radical an institutional change this is. Institutions that are inclusive and participatory will be totally different from the competitive market lead ones we have today. The authors state that New Zealand will require “strong leadership.” I disagree, we will require “effective leadership” maybe even “servant leadership” or an innovative approach. Strong leadership is an anathema to the inclusive cooperative style the authors suggest we need. Institutional business-as-usual will not provide the necessary structures and marked change is required.
Having said this, the authors have put a vision in front to us, as a dream of what may be. That is the import point: What is our vision for the future? Is the vision an inclusive green one or is it something much darker. The choice is ours!
In short; the report, as the Royal Society hoped, is a start for a wide ranging conversation and I hope change. I encourage readers to download the report and discuss it widely. Bring it to the attention of your: fellow citizens, Members of Parliament, your Mayors and Councillors, your bankers; anyone who will listen. The authors see this as a huge opportunity for New Zealand. I agree. As quickly as we can we need to make the vision of an inclusive green sustainable New Zealand a reality.