This short piece is a reply to Dr Reuben Steff’s insightful new article about geopolitics and strategic risks to New Zealand on Newsroom: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/nz-cant-kick-the-can-on-global-crises
Great piece Reuben, and I largely agree with your assessment. The confidential nature of New Zealand’s National Risk Register is frustrating especially for those wanting to contribute to research, idea generation and strategy on catastrophe resilience. It seems that the decision of the government has been to keep ‘bad news’ quiet rather than foster a national culture of strategic planning and resilience (compare Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway).
There was some public work in the 1980s on nuclear impacts (which applies to other hazards too such as trade isolation, great power war, climate altering volcanic eruptions, etc). Recommendations for a ‘Phase II’ project to understand vulnerability and resilience were tabled but killed by security officials. Apparently, it was in the best interests of New Zealand to keep resilience thinking secret or non-existent. Yet you don’t buy house insurance because you’re planning for a house fire, you buy it because a fire would be unbearable.
Given that this information is not public, our new project (Aotearoa NZ Catastrophe Resilience Project) looks to start to create ‘modules’ similar in nature to those that might be found in National Risk Register but covering catastrophic and existential threats. Societal prioritisation processes across all risks, are only possible if the thinking is transparent. We further plan to begin crowdsourcing strategic solutions from industry, the public sector and academia.
There are those beyond NZ who care about NZ’s resilience. These are found in the long-termist community that values humanity’s future. An impartial moral stance sees the most worthwhile thinking to be location agnostic, and a rationalist perspective seeks (and finds in eg NZ) optimal targets for developing human resilience. Leveraging this thinking, and its local proponents, could lead to a think tank on NZ resilience issues (eg your Aotearoa NZ Resilience Initiative) catalysed by proof of concept from this and earlier work. We also favour a ‘Parliamentary Commissioner for Extreme Risks’ to look across this set of issues.
Regional collaboration will be important if there is decay of global interconnectedness. New Zealand should re-evaluate its regional trade mix. In particular, NZ should probably ensure complementary rather than competitive industry with Australia.
This exciting new work to try to uncover vulnerabilities and crowdsource solutions for 2023 rather than 1987, and using processes such as Delphi to generate a ‘big 10’ approach, could be insightful. There are some obvious contenders, for example diesel is still needed to feed the country (production, processing, distribution). The recent murmurings about onshoring fuel stockpiles are initial token gestures (eg converting 20 days operational reserve into 24 or 60). This might buffer a 90-day trade hiccup, not a years-long disconnection. Local production, or alternative infrastructure would be better (think Southland green hydrogen, increased production of biofuels – it is disappointing to see Marsden Refinery closed and Z-Energy pulling back from biofuel production at the same time).
But I don’t want to prejudge solutions, our project is taking some initial steps to start extracting them, and hopefully generate some interesting leads which the funder might want to pursue via think tank in a Public/Private/longtermist-NGO collaboration. I welcome anyone interested to get in touch.