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The Future Is Now

Issues

Tom Belford01 June 2020

Sir Peter Gluckman, top science advisor in the previous government, has (with colleagues) prepared two ‘must read’ papers for anyone seriously interested in ‘what next?’ for New Zealand. And there are more to come.

His papers reinforce the reality that a ‘new normal’ is upon us … those who anticipate and adapt will survive and possible even prosper; those who fall back to familiar patterns and routines will get left behind, if not squashed.

The first paper, titled The Future Is Now, cogently expands upon the following set of questions, each one generating many others, any one of which will require considerable debate over facts, logic and values in the days ahead:

  • How will the economy deal with an inevitable downturn in consumer spending, and supply chain disruptions?
  • Can small businesses recover and again lead the recovery? Will entrepreneurial firms be able to take advantage of our low barriers to entry into a new market landscape?
  • What will our export sector look like into the future? Does this accelerate change in the primary sector?
  • How will the tourism sector have to evolve?
  • How will employment patterns and modes of working evolve, and what skills will be needed?
  • How do we return New Zealand to a healthy balance sheet?
  • Can we use our success with the pandemic to leverage foreign direct investment and new business opportunities?
  • What lessons are there for the organisation of public services and social safety nets?
  • What opportunities emerge for our science and innovation sectors?
  • Will this event trigger change in education delivery mechanisms? Will it undermine or create new opportunities for higher education?
  • What will mobility look like, internationally and locally, especially when many sectors rely on short-term and permanent migrants for labour and skills supply?
  • And can we sustain our progress towards a more inclusive and cohesive society?
  • Will our relatively unique COVID-19-free status be an advantage for sectors such as export education? And could it be used as a magnet for investment and for attracting organisations and companies to locate significant activity here?

The paper adds that, “The current opportunity for a reset offers a chance to think about how we move to deal with the other existential threats, climate change and environmental degradation.”

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could consider Gluckman’s list of questions and conclude that ‘business as usual’ was either likely or intelligent. As he puts it, we must plan the reset. And this first paper simply poses the myriad essential questions.

It includes this observation:

There has been much discussion in the period prior to the pandemic of the need for New Zealand to move towards a more sustainable and carbon neutral economy. Trade-offs that may have seemed impossible prior to this crisis may now be seen in a more credible light. This period of disruption could encourage entrepreneurs and innovators working alongside government to create opportunities and businesses that can thrive in a green economy.”

And:

The post-pandemic reset should allow environmental and green economy projects to flourish – rather than a hasty build-back of business models that were essentially ticking time bombs in the face of climate change and ecological limits.”

This is John Key’s top science advisor rattling the cage, not Greenpeace!

And indeed, the second paper from the Gluckman group is titled: The Environment Is Now.

More on that to come.

 

Tom Belford01 June 2020

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