Imagine: it is 1912, the day that the Titanic sails on that fateful voyage. But things are different: a sister ship in the fleet has just sent word that they have sighted icebergs quite a way further south than usual, on the route that the Titanic will travel. This news has spread through the passengers and crew. In groups around the ship, people discuss what should be done. They call it a 'visioning' process, and everyone gets a say.
The experts know that if the ship hits an iceberg it will be an icy grave for all. But not everyone on the ship is an expert. Some say 'full steam ahead, the weather is nice, the ocean is calm, let's get to New York as fast as we can: we can steer around icebergs!' Others question the veracity of the message about the icebergs: perhaps the captain of that other ship is playing games. Others perhaps think that the worst an iceberg will do is put a dent in the ship, certainly not cause such a behemoth to sink. Perhaps some choose to get off the ship before it leaves port, in a 'constructive paranoia' response of the type Jared Diamond would later describe as the reason Papua New Guinean tribes people do not set up camp beneath dead trees.
It would be up to the captain to take into account all the information available, and choose what to do, giving appropriate weight to the opinions of the experts and the non-experts. Most likely in that situation a responsible captain would decide to mount a double watch for icebergs, and go slowly through the 'iceberg alley' portion of the voyage. Better to arrive later than planned, than to not arrive at all. Or perhaps the captain would count up the number of lifeboats and lifejackets and decide the whole journey was too risky. Or perhaps he would choose a different route, swinging far enough south that no iceberg could possibly get in the way. Any decision about that voyage would be made through the lens of safety and survival. Life onboard, assuming the voyage goes ahead, would be adjusted to account for the new reality.
This 'Opportunity NZ' discussion thread is headed up: "Why is a vision necessary?", and I wonder if most of the discussion here is just so much 'rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic', a euphemism for spurious activity that has no impact on the eventual outcome. I see people chiming in with all sorts of optimistic ideas that would be wonderful if climate change were not such an all pervasive existential 'iceberg' issue.
From The Long Emergency (by James Kunstler) to The Uninhabitable Earth (by David Wallace-Wells), a certain group of experts spell out the future for the human race, and it is not pretty. In New Zealand terms, dealing with climate change (getting to net-zero CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions means reducing our average gross carbon emissions from (my calculation) 15.8 tonnes per person in 2018 to 4.7 tonnes per person per year into the future (the level that our annual LULUCF (land use and forestry) is offsetting our personal emissions), and as far as I can tell that doesn't include emissions from inbound and outbound aviation.
Our average emissions per household are 42.7 tonnes of CO2-e per year! How many people know that? That looks to me like a pretty damn big iceberg. And to avoid hitting it, we've got to reduce it to 12.7 tonnes. We need to lop off 30 tonnes of CO2-e per household per year, plus our international aviation. That is a 71% reduction.
Sure, we need a 'vision' for New Zealand. It should have to do with reducing our emissions. And to put that into some context, an analysis calculated that our daily emissions from burning fossil fuel (so only part of the total picture) during lockdown were down by a world-leading 41%.
Let's say that again: in our most reduced level of activity in the country in living memory we achieved 41% lower daily emissions, while to achieve net-zero emissions we need to reduce by 71% of a larger number, plus our international aviation.
My vision for New Zealand is that our team of 5 million people understand these numbers and work together to achieve the reduction in pretty short order. Since the rest of the world takes notice of what we do, perhaps this would also help the rest of the world act on their own commitments to the same goal - because otherwise our achievement would amount to diddley-squat in global terms.
Most of the other stuff I would like for New Zealand while we do this would amount to rearranging the deckchairs if we cannot shrink the iceberg. We should figure out a way to make each household feel responsible and accountable for their carbon emissions. We should move towards more equality, and eliminate child poverty. We should not encourage population growth. We should not restart our international tourism industry, but rather take this as an opportunity to redeploy that resource. We should do whatever we can to reduce use of fossil fuels, especially in commuter transport. We should target growing more of our food here rather than importing and exporting so much of it - somehow taking into account the carbon-miles as well as the economic costs when deciding who is the 'most efficient' producer, (how crazy is it that we both import and export tomatoes?). And in case it is different, eliminating poverty should mean that we feed everyone every day, especially the children. Most of these items would be a reflection of our 'values'. Other items might be called 'strategies'.
The use of 'vision' in a strategic planning process involves identifying a future state beyond the 'known'. Having decided the destination, the creativity of the planning process is about how to get there. Your 'values' are what you live up to on the journey, the things you do not compromise. Done well the whole fits together to generate a cohesive roadmap. But often, the roadmap allows for needed innovation on the way. When they built the Sky Tower, they say, they did not know exactly how they would remove the crane from the top when they finished....but they knew they would figure it out. So your strategies include actions to figure out how to resolve uncertainties, investment into figuring out how to do things you do not already have answers for.
In finishing, I'd like to loop back to the part about the captain of the Titanic. Sitting in fine weather in Southampton, with no sense of danger from icebergs, the captain would still take into account the knowledge that the icebergs are there and the assessments of the experts about the danger they represent, and then make a decision about what to do. An important challenge with climate change is the nice days between bouts of bad weather, and the incremental nature of the developing emergency. It is difficult for non-experts to 'see' the connection between a trip to the beach in the fossil fuel car, and the impact that millions of trips to the beach, or work, or to collect groceries is going to have on our lifestyles before very long. Heck, it is difficult for the experts themselves to stop taking those trips. Just like we would never have gone into lockdown if a leader had not told us to do so.
Vision Week is a great way to get a conversation going, and perhaps surface a range of interesting ideas about what our values are, and where we would like to take this small country. I think we need the captain to take this information, together with what the experts are saying about climate change, and make some far-reaching decisions. I cannot see how any consideration of vision as we emerge from Covid-19 can be made without setting some pretty clear national targets for emissions reductions, with urgency. Those are some pretty big icebergs, and if we do not do something very different we are going to run into them for sure. And if we do not exactly know how we will achieve them, that can be okay as long as we are investing in figuring it out, also with urgency.
Now, who is the captain?