Wise Response Submission to the Infrastructure Commission of New Zealand

Wise Response has submitted on the Infrastructure Strategy to the Infrastructure Commission.

The Submission is available as a PDF here.

An excerpt is reproduced below:

  1. Worldview sets the context for this Strategy
    1.1. Our Society is heartened that key findings from “Our Aotearoa 2050” survey were “Our environment is the top priority when it comes to making infrastructure decisions” and “New Zealanders placed a higher priority on the “planet” in future decision making than “jobs” and “people””.

1.2. This is a most encouraging revelation, as it is now generally accepted that the economy ultimately depends on a healthy functioning environment. And if the environment is to be the “top priority” for infrastructure selection, then it provides the guiding principle for the Strategy. That is to plan infrastructure in such a way that it does not facilitate or promote a continuation of degradation in environmental quality so marked over the last few decades.

1.3. The challenge is that the scientific consensus is now that the growth – dependent, fossil – fuel based economy is on a collision course with the environmental and resource flow limits in the closed system that is our planet. Climate change is the most pressing example that this is occurring, but there are many other examples where trends indicate an overshooting of sustainable practice. It is the combination of multiple factors that now has our global footprint exceeding the earth’s biocapacity by over 50%.

1.4. This is the advancing environmental crisis that the Commission’s survey discovered. Many New Zealanders are concerned about the crisis and they wish to see infrastructure decisions addressed by the Commission. Yet this stated priority is not convincingly represented in the outcome and decision-making principles set out in the consultation document.

1.5. Voluntarily achieving the safe targets seems increasingly improbable given our abysmal failure to contain fossil fuel use and the associated emissions over the last 3 decades and the now very steep emissions reduction required to retain a safe climate.

1.6. In this context, it is critical to consider diminishing net energy return to fossil fuel. Inevitably, the cheap and freely available energy that we have enjoyed for so long in the past will no longer continue into the future with the result that the economy will be forced into contraction.

1.7. Similarly, GDP is created by energy expenditure, and diminishing energy resource quality can only be masked by monetary policy for a finite period. Increasing debt per unit of GDP demonstrates this trend. It is therefore critical to try and analyse the limits of this trajectory.

1.8. From the above observations, it follows ironically and tragically that the global economic collapse scenario predicted to occur in the first half of this century by the Limits to Growth analysis, may be our best chance at retaining a habitable climate.

The implication of this contracting energy supply worldview is much broader than just energy issues described above. We will need to also organise our economic system to live within the biophysical limits of natural systems.
Doing so will require a different set of guiding principles for infrastructure after peak energy consumption.