How Efficient is Too Efficient

Obviously resource management involves the consideration and management of competing interests, or if not ’competing’ certainly ‘different’ interests. That’s the democratic society we live in, and one person’s frustration can be another person’s preferred outcome.

It’s the fact we’re different and come from different perspectives that it seems so hard to agree on an approach, and people often question whether others actually understand the perspective they’re coming from. Of course they don’t – but do you understand theirs?

This isn’t a new point to raise, and there are all sorts of methods and best practice approaches that can be adopted to raise awareness and balance competing views to arrive upon an outcome, but I’ve been quite taken by the irony that can be seen within our sector and it’s through this lens that a few more other observations can be made.

I’m loving the recent ‘feel good’ craze with electric cars. Don’t get me wrong, gradually moving away from fossil fuels isn’t a bad idea, but one could say that we’re only in the position to make electric cars relatively easy because of our supply of electricity, and I recall a lot of opposition to wind turbines and hydro-schemes.

I also find it ironic how New Zealand is so keen to tackle climate change even though our efforts may only be a drop in the ocean compared the impact of other countries. With our global citizen hat on – are we focusing our resources in the areas in which we can make the biggest difference? Are we being a good global citizen if we’re not?

Even locally I wonder what we’re doing. Hawkes Bay has great potential as a food growing hub. Talking about being a global citizen – we could help feed the world as well as enjoy some great growth, and what I mean by this is more jobs and more people enjoying a greater meaning in life – great for society yes? All we need to do is manage our water to resolve availability issues. Ironically, we may have done the complete opposite. Do we really appreciate the social implications on the communities most affected?

I think one of the biggest ironies is this obsession for efficiency. Take efficiency to its logical conclusion and this is unemployment. Perhaps the smartest thing we can do is resist ‘too much’ efficiency. I recall a time when I was in Bali and found it interesting how the resort had a man stopping traffic for you to cross the road. I learnt to cross the road some time ago and thought this was a bit over the top, but then I realized that this person had a job and they had meaning. I would be prepared to have a little more inefficiency in my life if it meant preserving someone’s meaning.

You could take this further and suggest the best public policy we could have is to resist ‘too much’ technology. Obviously we don’t want to resist it all, and this is probably the challenge, but if we’re developing technologies that are replacing jobs or slowly leading us away from healthy lifestyles, is that a future we want? Is it actually good for us? What would the world look like with less jobs but more people – and potentially unhealthy people – a world full of massive social challenges that’s what.

How does all this relate to resource management, well the RMA speaks of our environmental, economic, cultural and social wellbeing, but it seems that while people have pretty strong views on other people’s practices or ideas, and whether there’s any elements of irony or not, the social part of the equation seems to have dropped out, and it seems that we’re at risk of beginning to mess with the very basics of our social structures.

Take the primary sector, this is a delicate market, and while society could load up the responsibility on this sector to enhance our environment, could one of the implications be robots to pick our fruit rather than paying salaries due to increased operational costs? Forget thinking the implication maybe asking society to pay a few more cents per apple, technology like this probably isn’t that far away and the more likely implication is massive jobs cuts in the sector. What impact would this have on society?

The point here is that we need to be very careful, and very aware of the trajectories on which we’re setting our society when developing approaches around resource management or deciding on ideas, particularly when our technological advances have the potential to manifest as a foe rather than a friend.