Friday 14 January 2022

The Ships From The North: Why Autarky cannot be New Zealand’s answer to Climate Change.

Lifelines: New Zealand, as we know it, would be impossible without the existence of a global transportation and trading system. Should Climate Change fundamentally weaken the industrial societies of the Northern Hemisphere, the supply-chains upon which New Zealanders depend would become increasingly disrupted. How long could our society endure if the ships from the North stopped coming?

DAILY BLOG EDITOR, Martyn Bradbury, warned his readers recently that Climate Change mitigation is now Aotearoa-New Zealand’s only viable option. Reversing the steady rise in global temperatures may have been possible if the largest industrial powers had taken action fifty years ago. Tragically, they refused to make the necessary changes, and now it is far too late. Climate Change is already upon us, and its effects are only going to get worse.

The “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” (to borrow Paul Simon’s superb phrase) who actually run this planet know that it is far too late to save industrial civilisation as we know it. Their weird preoccupation with spacecraft and interplanetary travel betray this grim realisation.

They want to leave the mess they have made behind them, spreading the deadly virus of ruthless environmental exploitation across the universe. All nonsense, of course. There is nowhere in our solar system where human-beings could establish a remotely sustainable colony, and it is doubtful whether the technology required for inter-stellar travel will ever be invented. Physics is physics – and the physics says “No.”

All of which raises the question: “Can we live with Climate Change?” Right here, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, is it possible to construct an economy and a society capable of sustaining a population of five million? Is autarky a serious option?

For those unfamiliar with the term: “Autarky is the characteristic of self-sufficiency, usually applied to societies, communities, states and their economic systems.” (Wikipedia)

Only the Māori can speak authoritatively about the sort of economy and society produced by living self-sufficiently in Aotearoa. From the beginning of the fourteenth century, until the late-eighteenth century, the inhabitants of these islands lived entirely without outside contact or assistance. All production of food, tools and medicines was internal, as was the trading of goods and services. For roughly five hundred years, in a multitude of small communities, Māori lived entirely alone in these islands at the bottom of the world. At any given moment between 1300CE and 1800CE, however, it is generally agreed that the combined population of these isolated human settlements never exceeded 150,000 individuals.

Could we expect to do better? Our first impulse is to say “Of course!” But a little careful thought should be enough to dampen our optimism. New Zealand, as we know it, would be impossible without the existence of a global transportation and trading system. Should Climate Change fundamentally weaken the industrial societies of the Northern Hemisphere, the supply-chains upon which New Zealanders depend would become increasingly disrupted. How long could our society endure if the ships from the North stopped coming?

Now, at this point, many Kiwis will interject that New Zealand is one of the world’s most efficient food producers – so at least we won’t starve. The truth of the matter, however, is that New Zealand really isn’t that productive agriculturally. Without the fertiliser we dug out of Nauru, and which we now import from the Kingdom of Morocco, the grass upon which our entire primary production sector depends would fail us. Those ships from the North are indispensable to our well-being.

Not the least important items upon all those cargo manifests are the pharmaceuticals that keep the world’s deadly diseases at bay. Currently, New Zealand possesses no pharmaceutical production facilities worth speaking of. So, if the ships stop coming, then tens-of-thousands will die for lack of the medicines we currently take for granted.

Among the first priorities of a self-sufficient Aotearoa-New Zealand would be the creation of a basic pharmaceutical industry. The use of the word “basic” is entirely deliberate, because in a world economy significantly disrupted by the intensifying effects of Climate Change, acquiring the highly sophisticated technology needed to produce anything other than the most simple medicines would become increasingly difficult – if not impossible.

This problem: of laying our hands upon vital technology, and the components required to keep it running; can only get worse and worse.

If you’ve ever wondered at the images of dilapidated tanks, rusted and overgrown, in desolate Third World landscapes, then you have already encountered the paradox of “parts”. Tanks are extraordinarily complicated machines, always breaking-down. If the replacement parts required to keep them running become unavailable, then these terrifying fighting machines become completely useless – mere scrap-metal.

What is true of tanks is, of course, also true of John Deere tractors, and all the other agricultural equipment that make New Zealand cockies so productive.

This problem should give serious pause to all those who argue that, in order to prevent these islands being over-run by climate refugees, we will need to arm-up to a degree not before seen in our history. Defence spending, they say, will have to go up – by a lot. But, unless we intend (unrealistically) to create a large, vertically integrated arms manufacturing industry, the “Fortress New Zealand” argument makes no sense.

Any country which arms-up, immediately makes itself militarily and diplomatically dependent upon the nation state supplying it with weapons.

Just think about acquiring that most basic of military tools, the automatic rifle. Once the shooting starts, a nation’s stockpiled ammunition soon runs out. What does it do then? Basically, it begs its arms supplier for more. If, for some reason, the US, or the UK, or Australia, tells New Zealand “No.” Or, more likely: “Sorry, mate, we can’t spare you any at the moment”, then those automatic rifles instantly become nothing more than expensive metal clubs. Obviously, if the weapons your nation is seeking are fighter aircraft or warships, then the re-supply and maintenance problems are magnified a thousand-fold.

“Fortress New Zealand” is a pipe-dream – unless, of course, we allow ourselves to become a fully-fledged colony of the USA or Australia (the most likely option, if only from a geographical perspective) or, maybe, China. Even then, the whole survival scenario rests upon the assumption that the arms-bearing ships from the North keep coming.

The anthropologists tell us that, for a little while after the first Polynesian voyagers made landfall on these islands, the great ocean-going canoes that had carried them here went back and forth between Aotearoa and their Pacific homelands. Eventually, however, the canoes from the North stopped coming. The men and women who had arrived on these islands, the last sizeable land-masses to be settled by human-beings, were finally and entirely alone.

Until new sailing vessels arrived from the North.

If those ships hadn’t arrived, “Aotearoa” would have survived. But, without its constant and extensive connections with the rest of the world: the very connections most endangered by accelerating Climate Change; “New Zealand” cannot exist.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 14 January 2022.


John Hurley said...

So why has the MSM been gass lighting us with the benefits of immigration and population growth?

Arthur Grimes [Q&A]: "If you're anti-immigration you're xenophobic"; "UK has 60m Japan 120 and they're doing o.k?"

When you abandon nation anybody is us so the people already on the boat don't matter; it isn't sinking for the foreseeable future and there's always a bolt hole for the rich man.
Covid has shown how New Zealand citizens vie to come back: Kiwis from India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UK, Australia, China.
We have taken citizenship far too lightly (ie elites have).
A lot of people don't follow politics, their vision is a few 100 meters in any direction. The media keep their eyes off the territory and Jacinda is a pacifier.
It is all one drunken party.

Think of the implications of this statement:

In these circumstances, key questions concern the way in which these changes and their impact have been understood by New Zealanders, both “new” and “old”. As with anything as significant as the demographic and cultural changes that have occurred, there are bound to be concerns. If democratic debate and constructive understanding is to 2emerge, then the quality of information provided in the public domain is an essential precondition. As with debates about biculturalism, the media play a critical role in determining the nature of public discussion and private/public understanding. Along with certain institutions, especially the education system, the media provide one of the most important, and possibly the most important, point of contact. The media, in all its diverse forms – print, radio, television, electronic – is a key institution in the creation and distribution of images and messages about our community(ies). Those significant others in our community, in the absence of in-depth personal contact or experience, will be described and explained to us via the media. It helps confirm who we are as individuals and members of various communities. As the demographic make-up of New Zealand has changed since the late 1980s, the media have played a critical role in exploring what this means for all of us.
Reporting Superdiversity - Paul Spoonley

Negativity is racist; the media take on an elite role like stockmen at the stock sale they work for a higher order; they are supra-national because nation isn't a thing anymore. Corporates join in because a public is an encumberant.

Shane McDowall said...

In 1991, Douglas Coupland's "Generation-X" came out.

There is a chapter entitled "New Zealand Gets Nuked Too".

Many foreign millionaires, and the odd billionaire, have homes in New Zealand.

I suspect that they, like myself, would rather ride out the storm in New Zealand than anywhere in the northern hemisphere.

Trev1 said...

Don't worry Chris, in 2020 the Sun entered a Grand Solar Minimum which means Total Solar Irradiance is diminishing and global temperatures will begin to drop. The effects are likely to be felt from 2030 onwards. The implications for agriculture and food production are potentially very serious. The warming we have experienced over the last 150 years since the end of the Little Ice Age (1350 to 1850 approx.) has been temporary. Thus the endless Climate Change cycle continues.

sumsuch said...

C'est impossible. Yet ... we must fight the know-nothing crowds trying to plunder the last dribs of the industrial revolution, which was always plunder to begin with. Using this platform of Covid, a strong war govt (socialist) response to climate change here is the only honourable course, the only slight way for our children and grandchildren. Ironically, it needs talkers over Helen Clark's focus groupers. It needs the last social democratic Labour generation from the 70s. And that is only 'Akela, we will do our best'.

Alternatives, please?

greywarbler said...

That boat analogy is the thing.

When you abandon nation anybody is us so the people already on the boat don't matter; it isn't sinking for the foreseeable future and there's always a bolt hole for the rich man.

Jacinda and Labour are trying to satisfy the cruise ship mentality and keep the boat nice and steady. They could be forgiven if they at least set up some pilot schemes where the government got behind citizen initiatives that were well planned and viable but everything gets left to the business people and the accounting management firms. And Robertson - someone called him a snuffling mole - apt!

Ricardo said...

Chris, it seems that every time I check out this blog you have posted some new apocalyptic prediction. US Civil war, NZ civil war, NZ autarky, Chinese power gaming...

Chris it is summer, get out of your cellar, have a cold beer, light up the barbie, go for a good swim..

Ross said...

NZ does have a pharmaceutical industry - both animal and human products.

greywarbler said...

You should stay lying down in your place of rest - you are just a ghost now and all your prognostications on economy have not been fortuitous to us. Rest your soul if you have one and let us face our future without your stumbling footsteps guiding us. Every housewife knows to hunt around for cheaper goods means less outgoings and this idea wrapped in fancy prose was more an observation than suitable for an influential homily.

Among the notable ideas that Ricardo introduced in Principles of Political Economy and Taxation was the theory of comparative advantage, which argued that countries can benefit from international trade by specializing in the production of goods for which they have a relatively lower opportunity cost in production even ...
David Ricardo Definition - Investopedia › Economy › Economics

In arguing for free trade, Ricardo formulated the idea of comparative costs, today called comparative advantage—a very subtle idea that is the main basis for most economists' belief in free trade today.
David Ricardo - Econlib › Biographies

Ricardo said...

Greywarbler, great ideas never die.

Comparative advantage, a simple insight and immense truth, has been one of the several reasons behind the seismic lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty over the past 200 years.

Before the thundering hordes descend on me for this pro-capitalist and free market statement, let us also acknowledge the truth that increased government shares of increased GDP have seen social transfers also contribute mightily to beating poverty.

Social transfers and free markets can and do complement each other.

Time now to return to my morning tea with Engels.

greywarbler said...

seismic lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty over the past 200 years.
It's been like lifting plants out of the soild where they were established and patting them into place somewhere convenient for yourself. In my experience they will suffer even if they do go on living. People are both sensitive and resilient, but they find things to treasure that sustain them in difficult circumstances. Giving them some money and enabling them to buy modern goods does not necessarily enrich their lives. Your thinking is facile and tailored to suit your requirements.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny, my economics textbook said that the law of comparative advantage only works when "Properly stated". That's a rough paraphrase anyway. It then went on to state a whole lot of exceptions.About a page's worth if I remember correctly. Perhaps a little more. It seems that some economists are coming to the realisation that it doesn't necessarily work. Particularly with regard to underdeveloped countries, And those that specialise in commodities – such as Canada..

greywarbler said...

And could it be said to be macro-economics? What about the little people who make the little things which bring in money to feed and house themselves and their family? The ant and the boot meet and the ant loses. The Grand Theory which is basically correct and likely to bring a higher level of efficiency meets the needs of human society and gazes down with incredulity - there is a better way, it says. But unfortunately for you, you are yesterday's fish and chip wrapper.