Two strategic directions for Land Use in New Zealand: Where do we stand?

I wrote this what seems light years ago.  I think it was 2007 or 2008.

This is very rough, a mind dump.  It was done quickly, and is more to do with me getting thoughts out of my mind and into some more coherent structure. There are some opening remarks, an attempt at fleshing out the differences between the paradigms that can guide us, and some closing comments. I’ve only included a few references. I’ve said and written about bits of it before, some in much greater depth than here. But it presents an argument, my argument, for what is the essence of ‘the problem’ associated with land use in New Zealand. Forgive the language. I’ve used Late-Modern rather than Post-Modern because the latter conjures up ideas that there is no ‘real’ world, so it’s all just narrative. I’d argue there is, in fact, a real world, just not the one envisaged by the Modern mechanical mind.

Introduction – Modern or Late-Modern?

This started as an analytical exercise in defining options for forestry strategy, and, with that, forest policy. Not everyone within forestry is happy with the shift to an ever narrower and ever more short-term view of forests. Breadth and a long-term view were both once considered integral to an appreciation of forests, and, it follows, from their management. But the narrower agendas have progressively built their power bases; particularly those that define forestry, and for that matter, all land use, through ‘resourcist’ ideas that forests, farms and fisheries represent agronomic crops, or, worse, manifestations of capital. The antithesis is the power base of peopleless preservation, where people and wider values are again marginalised in pursuit of a purity that is not real. Agricultural trends continue in the same direction as forestry. I would strongly argue that both preservation and what amounts to an industrial view of land are very much part of the same structuralist, modern view of the world. These modern trends are general, and there are particular examples where individuals and communities have argued for an alternative approach, even in New Zealand, where the capacity for the simplification of land is far greater than in older societies in Asia and Europe. There, people cannot be marginalised so readily, at least in a sense of challenging their right to belong within the land (notwithstanding the existence of military/authoritarian regimes and their removal of people through various modes of ‘cleansings’); something that both industrialists do, and preservationists like John Muir have advocated.

The questions that relate to land use strategy and policy cannot be differentiated from wider land use policy. Hence, this wee piece suggests we take a look at all land use, and the underlying assumptions and trends that do, I think along with Wendell Berry, represent “a crisis of culture” (Berry 1977). It is not ‘fact’ that limits us, and prevents us from a form of mutually assured destruction, so much as wider aspects of knowledge (knowledge is not just about ‘fact’, challenging as that heretical idea may be), a philosophical sense of how things relate, and what are likely consequences. Thinking our way out of it requires us to dig deeper than just the biophysical, yet the disciplines that deal in the biophysical and the financial still largely dictate the policy path, whether that be in a socially-segregated ecology, or a socially- and environmentally-segregated agronomy and economics. They all subscribe to a modern view of the world, and that is the view that, at least in the ‘West’, predominates. Albert Schweitzer (Schweitzer 1957) argued that any lasting civilisation requires a worldview (Weltanschauung) that encompasses a wider philosophy than mere fact and faith in universal mechanical law. We all have a worldview, and the one that currently predominates may be the problem.

Figure 1 below gives a particular perspective on where our landscape may be, and where it is heading. The left hand status represents land uses administered within narrow objectives, emphasising output of biophysical resource and area of reserve, many presuming that focusing on increasing the number of whatever narrow item you treat in isolation from the function of the whole will correspond to a measure of ‘success’. Yet the actual functionality of such a landscape where homogeneity is increased, and landscape hydrology and soil quality is compromised, may be lost. Landscape quality matters, and seeing the world through a narrow lens where proponents visualise the land they administer as all of one thing or another does nothing to maintain the functionality upon which society and economy depend.

Figure 1: Where does New Zealand sit? Which way are we trending?

Post-Modern turn

Modified from Angelstan et al. 2005

On the right hand side is an integrated landscape. It does not mean that there are no patches of forest, pasture or reserve. There is always, in a structural or compositional sense, an ‘allocation’ of land to one type of patch relative to another. The properties of land and the processes that flow across land do, if not determine, at least greatly influence the position of a wetland, or a shrubland dominated by cold-tolerant fuchsia, or wet-tolerant manuka, or disturbance-tolerant pasture.

The point is that such an integrated landscape is not functionally-bounded. You don’t have a situation where an artificial boundary defines where the processes associated with people suddenly cease; any more than we can reign in hydrology, or soil building, shifting, and ‘gift’ (not utilitarian ‘service’)  functions, or the flights of birds, or carbon flux and flows, or even economic functions. Yet thinking as though landscape function is delineated by landscape structure is something we so often do. As if only the within-patch centripetal processes matter, so we ignore the centrifugal processes that come back in the form of feedbacks to influence any patch. But such a functionally allocative process gives the illusion (delusion?) of being ‘tidy’. It simplifies the issues. And it leads to problems, many of which the filing clerk minds cannot visualise. Most important of all, it is anti-real; that is, it is something in our minds rather than how things actually are.

There are a number of examples indicating that this left-side modern segregationist approach is predominant in New Zealand, whether that be the rise in intensive land use with increasingly large-scale ownership structures, or the focus on reserves as “where the environment is dealt with”; over there, outside, the other, dichotomous, bounded, separate, a place of which we are not a part.

Synthesising the evidence in the Ministry for the Environment’s State of the Environment report (an excellent series since stopped by the present 2008-2017 government) should not simply be a repository of quantitative ‘fact’; it represents the opportunity for a higher form of knowledge; the ability to answer questions like “What is important?”, “What is happening?”, “Why is it happening?”, “What are the likely consequences?”, and “What should be done about it?”; all of which requires the ability to connect, interpret, and judge. If we limit ourselves to ‘facts’, as if they are independent of meaning and value, we might as well spend our lives measuring the grains of sand on 90 mile beach.  Ministry thinkers need the ability and courage to connect, because if we cannot connect, then you cannot think.

Our Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry tends to treat land and policy issues in isolation, without any broad sweeping framework, certainly not an integrated one (MAF has been renamed the Ministry of Primary Industries – defining a whole environmental & economic landscape and socialscape as an ‘industry’ is indicative of the values and bounded thinking we are facing).  The forestry policy relating to carbon is an obvious a case in point. If ever there was one policy that could achieve a number of positives in the wider landscape, it is the active encouragement of integrated land covers (woodlands, wetlands, pastures, etc.) as patches within the landscape, building the soil and diversity within those patches. The beneficial functions are not just environmental, but economic and social.  Agro-ecological thinking is well developed, though the productivist paradigm is still the research programme that is funded in New Zealand.  Better profit, risk, diversity, high-value opportunity, business and social resilience, productivity (input/output, energy demand, less contribution to climate change, better soil function, drought & flood resilience, water quality, terrestrial & aquatic biodiversity, aesthetics, recreation & mahinga kai (food gathering), and ……. gross production.

But if our Ministry is only thinking about gross production within what is essentially a mechanical hydroponic concept of land use, then I fear they can only ‘see’ a segregated, competitive concept of land use, where homogeneous agriculture, blanket single species forestry, and peopleless preserves compete over where to place the fence.

The promise is in doing away with the fences, especially the fences in the minds. That would represent a late-modern policy turn, a change in focus to integration and maintaining qualitative capacity and function rather than quantitative output or area. Aspects of this challenge are presented below.

Paradigm’s Lost & Found

When we start digging deep into why we choose a particular path, or how you choose to define and bound the object of any analysis, then we are faced with two choices. We can either agree with and succumb to the modern appeal to segregate and view individual parts of a wider whole through some increasingly narrow lens, until, in Galileo’s creed, you get to things that are irreducible; or we can do what Dewey argued, and seek a late-modern path to reintegrate whatever part we seek to examine with the wider influences and meanings that it itself affects, and that affects it in turn.

To make that choice is to delve into the philosophical; beyond the physics, into the metaphysics. It is a place where science cannot go, and because that is the case, these deep questions are often ignored in a society that for whatever reason has given ‘science’ a position on a pedestal, as representing our currently fashionable view of higher ‘reason’, as if it, and its companion technology, can indicate where we ought to go, and what we ought to do. I would argue that allowing the ‘facts’ – disputable as most of them are because they are derived from interpretations, questions, and methods defined by a context – to define strategic & policy direction is to put the cart before the horse. In the words of Sylvio Funtowitz:

“To use the traditional scientific method to deal with issues where facts are uncertain, stakes are high, values in dispute and decisions urgent is to be like the drunkard who lost his keys. Although he had misplaced them elsewhere, he looked for them under the street light because it was the only place where he was able to see. The problem is that the key is not there, we don’t even know if there is a key, and the light of the lamppost is getting weaker” (Silvio O. Funtowicz, quoted in Tognetti, S. S. 1999)

Since modern science, technology and commerce almost by definition look at the world through a narrow lens, then the policies and practices that replicate that approach become self fulfilling; that is, the solution is to segregate and marginalise and consider only the apparently regular and quantitative. The numbers on a spreadsheet are assumed the status of a latter-day objective oracle, as is often the case with forest policy controlled by both corporate financiers and Treasury economists. If there is any ‘fact’ it is that such an approach can delude because the quality of the data is dependent upon the ideas and the questions that are asked. It may be a fact that a given increase in fertiliser under given conditions produces a given change in production. But if the additional effects and corollaries are ignored, whether because they are qualitative, or because they behave too variably for statistics, then any decision based on a selected narrow fact is as, or more, value-laden than a decision based on an inside observer’s long-term observation.

Often the relevance of questions asked by technocrats is determined by what can be counted, rather than what really counts. The irregular, the contingent, the complex, the qualitative, the particulars of time and place, wider corollaries and feedbacks, are all so often ignored because they fall outside the mechanical ideal. Yet this focus on brute fact, what Alfred North Whitehead (Whitehead 1925) referred to as “anti-intellectual”, is given the status of ‘professionalism’ and technical excellence, when it is neither. It is either incapable of, or fears, asking the deeper questions. It is a mindset that seeks to find solutions using the same methods and assumptions that created them. In that it makes no reference to these underlying ideas that drive our assumptions, our questions, our interpretations, our policies, and our practices, it is, ultimately, shallow.

We can continue to ride this runaway train, or we can do what is inherently wiser, and saner. First, allow a wider judgment to direct a strategic path, and only then allow that context to define the questions and methods of what people mistakenly assume are the more ‘objective’ disciplines of science, technology and commerce. The process is adaptive, so information creates continual strategic adjustment, but the moment ascendancy is given to the narrow and the quantitative, the art essential to effective outcomes is reduced. Like John Ralston Saul and Val Plumwood (Ralston Saul 1992, Plumwood 2002), I’d argue that the left-side modernity in the graph above has lost the art, and with it the wisdom, to define workable strategies for complex things like land and communities.

That deeper examination of the roots of our position is relevant because each of the two paradigmatic choices is based on one of two distinct philosophical traditions;

  • one defined with the paradigm of modernity where the brute facts associated with supposedly discrete parts together with regular, structured, mechanical processes (laws) determine what ‘is’ in the ascending scales above (physics explains chemistry, which explains DNA, which explains life, consciousness & individuals, which explains behaviour, which explains culture and society [unless you deny their existence of course], which explains history, and the predictable future. This obsession with a mechanically-structural, deterministic, reducible ontology is the basic premise to ‘positivist’ scientism); and
  • the other late-modern emerging tradition that challenges what they think is an oversimplified mechanical and hierarchical approach, and hold instead to a more complex and irregular ontology where wholes confer properties to parts as much as the other way around (individual people influencing society, and society influencing individuals), where highly localised complexity, emergence (like ‘life’ or consciousness, or a ‘new’ biophysical system), adaptation, indeterminism, and thresholds mean that the mechanical certainty is a myth shrouded in desires for certainty, authority and control. Many of these effects are via feedbacks through domains that are actually interconnected, even though the modernists might work within their cells and presume – in their ironic search for ‘objectivity’ whilst marinating in unexamined values and beliefs – that they can be treated in isolation.

The debate is particularly relevant where we are dealing with policies and practices that have the ability to generate considerable harm or benefit to people, and to the environment within which society (and its subset, economy) is embedded. We live, after all, on a planet whose environmental history is both highly influenced by humans, and notoriously irregular when considered in evolutionary or geological, or even cultural, time. The debate is therefore nothing less than a debate concerning ‘sustainability’; of environment, of society, of economy. We have the power to destroy, and it these ideas of how things are organised, how they relate, what is relevant, and who ‘knows’, that are most influential.

The former modern analytical view seeks to understand the world through incommunicative compartmentalisation and a narrow lens. One of its corollaries is a dysfunctional, segregated landscape (left hand side of Figure 1). The latter late-modern view believes that the modern approach is fine where something is largely simple and mechanical (the physics of a billiard table), but where something is complex, such as landscapes and societies (which are themselves unable to be segregated, and which economies sit within, rather than outside as some governing force), then it leads to more problems than solutions. One of the corollaries of shifting to a late-modern view is the building of social and ecological capacities and qualities within a more integrated landscape (right hand side of Figure 1).

The table below is an attempt to look at the particular assumptions and approaches of the Modern and Late-Modern paradigms, aligned as left=modern and right=late-modern to give some symmetry to Figure 1 above.

Modern Late-Modern
Enlightenment (Question or defend dogma) Accept new Dogmas of mechanical determinism as a replacement for scholasticism and religion. Newton provided the new mechanical model. This became the basis for the new dogma – that universal, quantitative formulae (mathematical laws) could be developed for all phenomena, including those relating to complex social, normative, conscious, and highly adaptive systems whose complexity is beyond the gravitational relationship of planets. Believes that such systems can be visualised as complicated mechanical systems (see contrast with complex adaptive system to right). Questions all dogmas, and looks upon belief in a Newtonian mechanical world as inherently questionable. Social and biological systems are especially complex and adaptive, particularly if you include the realm of consciousness, mind, motivation, purpose, and ‘indigenous’ cosmology. A ‘complicated mechanical system’ is producing a spacecraft and getting it into space and back – Newton dominates. A ‘Complex Adaptive System’ is raising a child. Judgment of particulars dominates. A deterministic formulaic approach is likely to lead to unforeseen consequences, even thresholds over which the system cascades to undesirable states.
Gradually the new Dogmas of the Enlightenment swamp the Ethos of the Enlightenment – to question all assumptions, few if any of which can be considered axiomatic. The Ethos of the Enlightenment is maintained – question & doubt dogma – without a reference point of Newtonian Dogmas.
Ontology (what things there are; how they relate) Modern, mechanical, deterministic, knowable analytically Late-modern, complex adaptive system, indeterministic, unknowable through just analysis
Forestry & farming are ‘industries’, bounded by, usually, commercial consideration, focusing on the gross production of wood, crop. Forestry & farming are ‘sectors’ (a holon), inclusive of environmental, community, and economic considerations including productivity, risk, and profit.
Environmental, social, and economic functions are visualised as bounded by structures of fields, forests, conservation areas. Environmental, social, and economic functions are not bounded by human boundaries on land, but flow across them, and are impacted by all land ‘uses’, including conservation.
Conservation is dealt with ‘over the fence’, not within the ‘industrial’ lands. It is the analytical antithesis of industry, representing different emphases within the same framework of belief. ‘Conservation’ is integral to long-term social and economic function. It is included in the synthesis of land and rural community. It is not something apart from land use practice, but encompassed by it.
Land can be conceptualised simplistically, and can therefore be run by people who think short term (months or years) and narrowly. Land is highly complex, and can only be appreciated and managed well in the long term (decades) by those who can see linkages – e.g. between a management practice geared to economic return, and a social or environmental effect that can feed back to in turn affect the original goal of economic return. Such feedbacks represent consequences, often qualitative, variable, and conditional, predictable by experience and with an awareness of how ‘soft’ complex adaptive systems can shift.
Single Function = ‘efficient’: Trees/farming/conservation are all managed with narrow objectives. The prime function of forests is production of wood, or capital. Potential synergies with environment and community not relevant unless markets affected, even though such synergies can provide opportunities. You only see what you’re looking for. Potentials not envisaged, let alone realised. Single Function = ‘inefficient’ – not realising potential of place: Trees/farming/conservation all provide multiple functions, with potential positives & negatives relating to soil, biodiversity, hydrology, energy substitution, climate amelioration, atmospheric carbon, recreation, aesthetics, and economy. Potential synergies exist with environment, rural community, and rural economy.
Dichotomies galore: culture–nature, subject–object, fact–value, environment–economy, indigenous–exotic. Assumed mutually exclusive. Dichotomies highly questioned: culture-nature, fact-value etc. not necessarily mutually exclusive. If you think they are, so policy will determine them to be. Often best outcomes and capacities achieved by thinking of connected system (e.g. a fact-value holon) as the relevant unit of consideration, rather than their separation.
Future can be predicted once we get the laws sorted. Assume people act mechanically (behaviourism), based upon simple motivations like selfishness etc. (Homo economicus). Assume that regularities predominate and override irregularities. Building predictability and certainty is the ruling paradigm upon which we 1. identify relevant & important issues; (I.e. ontological and epistemological views on the world underpin all considerations of choice of questions, methods, and interpretation of all disciplines, especially those that are least likely to acknowledge them – those that tend to the positive and the quantitative,with prescribed methods.); 2. develop goals; 3. develop policies; & 4. choose & implement management practices. Uncertainty and surprise events are inevitable because of: complexity; the irregularity of conditional and contingent localised effects; normative responses from sentient beings (i.e. animals & humans respond to their environment in different ways from machines – they have emotion, likes, dislikes, and a moral sense – so one experience can lead to new reactions when the experiment is repeated – contrary to the tenets of positivist science); emergent properties, and; thresholds over which the system can cascade through positive reinforcing feedbacks. There is complexity and unpredictability even associated with deterministic systems (cf Lorenz’s experiment with limited variables and changes in initial conditions). Add the indeterminism of consciousness (especially people) and effects that are not necessarily dependent on any one ‘cause’, then unpredictability and uncertainty is the ruling paradigm upon which we base the 1. identification of relevant & important issues; 2. goals; 3. policies; & 4. management practices.
Therefore, policy and management focuses on analytical approaches that break the ‘machine’ up, with the aim of optimising performance of a single goal under conditions that are considered to be stable. E.g. production of yield, often even emphasised beyond the point where the effects on profit and risk are adverse, let alone the negative effects on environment and community. The narrowest and most short-sighted of foci can even lead to mining the future viability of an enterprise simply to keep afloat in the short term (e.g. some failed forestry corporates run by financial interests, some farms ever more dependent on inputs to substitute for soil quality loss, etc.). Failure is reinforced by public relief without questioning the root philosophical causes. Therefore, policy & management focuses on goals of maintaining the ability of a socio-ecological system to continue providing values and functions (i.e. functional integrity) in the face of uncertain (‘what ifs’). E.g. What if energy prices rise? What if there is no longer access to funds? What if trade relationships change? Can we (a farming enterprise, a forest grower, a processor, a conservation department) 1. Foresee, 2. Buffer, 3. Adapt, 4. Shape a functional future.
Epistemology & Decision criteria Dominance of Science & Technology Dominance of Judgment & Philosophical enquiry
Those who best ‘know’ and can make ‘good’ policy are those that are divorced from broader issues, or local particulars and operational matters (and can therefore be ‘unbiased’ and outside a thing – ‘objectivity’). Those who best ‘know’ and can make ‘good’ policy are those that are not divorced from broader issues, or local particulars and operational matters (and are therefore influenced by and appreciate the connections that come only from being inside a thing – ‘subjectivity’).
‘Judgment’ is objective and technical, as the world is ordered mechanically from a few relevant laws. It can therefore be taught in a classroom as a set of relevant facts, formulae, & methods (to ‘test’ and ‘discover’ new descriptive deterministic laws). Judgment comes from personal knowledge of complexity and the contingency of pattern over space and time. It cannot be taught, but requires experience. Judgment goes beyond the biophysical to the ethical and the philosophical; corollary: contingency, consequence, causation, complexity all require a focus on the particulars of place and time, and a continual adaptive learning.
Quantitative finance & yield calculations using fashionably high (and irrational) discount rates direct decisions. Focus on the now, short term and narrow; make no connection & deny responsibility for unforeseen consequences which are treated as force majeure. Cost Benefit Analysis is seen as ‘objective’ and nature is defined as a set of resources and ‘services’ which can be quantified. Qualitative strategic focus directs decisions, before quantitative finance & yield, using discount rates that don’t make it rational to bankrupt the next generations. Focus on the future, and on the breadth of connections through which occur the feedbacks and unforeseen consequences – including the social, the environmental, the variable, the conditional, the particular.  Unforeseen consequences are buffered by recognition of uncertainty.  CBA is seen as ‘subjective’ and natural systems cannot be defined as sets of ‘resources’ which can all be quantified.
Sustainability Sustainability is defined as ‘Resource Sufficiency’ (Paul B. Thompson). Cult of ‘efficiency of input/output’ and analytical allocation. Quantitative focus on biophysical yields, areas & outputs, assumed to be produced by building a rigid perpetual motion machine without consideration of surprise and uncertainty. Faith in predictability & certainty; therefore structural configuration & control. Peterson’s Schema located on the axes closest to the most certain & controllable position.  Quantitative indicators such as units/ha, areas in reserve, maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Corollary of structural landscape allocation/segregation, simplification, homogeneity, energy-intensification, specialisation & narrow focus. Corollary of biodiversity loss, opportunity and option loss, increased risk and increased reliance on external inputs to maintain outputs, environmental & social loss etc.  Lose-lose-lose. Defined as ‘Functional Integrity’ (incorporating such frameworks as ‘resilience theory’ because the imperative is to be resilient to surprise, not engineer a delusion of ‘certainty’). Cult of ‘effective outcomes’ and synthetic integration. Focus on biophysical, and social and economic functional integrity; capacities to foresee, absorb shock (resilience), adapt, and shape a new future. Collapse is possible, and short-term analytical narrowness increases its probability. Social aspects are as, or more, important than the biophysical. You cannot differentiate between nature, culture and economy.  Productive output is a subset and consequence of maintaining functionality. A focus on resource output alone can harm its functional underpinnings in the long-term, and across space.
Maxims Analyse: Think of a very few quantitative things in isolation, and maximise it. Synthesise: Think of many qualitative and quantitative things, connect them, and optimise.
No meaning without measurement. Measurement can obscure meaning and value.
Think numbers first. Think values first.
Judgment is inferior to quantitative analysis. Judgment is superior to quantitative analysis.
Ignore the qualitative. Ignore the qualitative at your peril.
Reduce land and people to ‘resources’; minimise resource costs. Land and people have hidden values; make them flourish.
Everything involves a tradeoff – more environment means less money. Not everything involves trade-offs; you can have better environment, community and economy by seeing connections and qualitative potentials.
The opportunity is in the accounts and the quantitative decision support systems. The opportunities are in realising the values
Think like an bookkeeper or filing clerk – fixed, regular, determined prediction, ‘accountable’. Think like a mountain (Aldo Leopold) – interconnected, irregular, understand relationships, threshold surprise.
Governance/Management Structures Top down – Totalitarian/Aristocratic (those at the top are best equipped to ‘lead’) – PRESCRIPTIVE Combines top down with bottom up – democratic (requires many skill sets, with local knowledge and capacities such as very quick learning and adaptive key qualities for effectiveness) – ADAPTIVE.
Analogy: General Haig predetermining the battle from well before and outside (nice and objective, and nicely mechanically determined). Analogy: the German storm troopers of 1918; motivated, devolved responsibility, expert, probing, adapting, cooperating, constantly observing, connecting, synthesising & changing – influenced by central policy and in turn influencing central policy.
Goals, policies, standards, indicators, methods/practices are all relatively immutable, as befits the predetermined machine. Focus is on prescription of methods/practices. Goals, policies, standards, indicators, & methods/practices are more and more flexible and adaptive as we move from the goals to the operational end. Focus is on adaptive practices geared to the particulars of place and time, with monitoring and continual learning and questioning.
Monitoring of ‘outputs’ (short term achievements/tasks) and hard quantitative system components.  Monitoring of outcomes & soft systems qualitative capacities such as social participation less emphasised because those in power ‘know’ that their machine will work. Social often marginalised or excluded, as is economy & environment for the single focus ‘conservation’ & ‘commerce’ organisations. Monitoring ‘outcomes’ (desired ends) and soft system capacities essential to learning & adapting. Connecting across breadth of issues essential to foreseeing opportunities and threats, as well as adapting and shaping response. You marginalise wider social, environmental or economic issues at your peril, because that’s from where the ‘unforeseen’ consequences come.
If knowledge is considered within a mechanical construct, then technical tasks or activity-based rules are emphasised, with instruction and obedience down the hierarchy.  Those that ‘know’ are assumed to be in central positions up the hierarchy, and with the ‘objectivity’ of living in a central location. Encourages authoritative bureaucracy, inflexibility, superciliousness, and hubris. ‘Knowledge’ is contingent on particulars and complexities of time and place, so those that ‘know’ require and understanding of the local level in immediate time (not tomorrow, or next year). Encouraging participation, partnership, and humility.
Planning, organisation & control are key functions of ‘management’. I.e. ‘administration’, ‘authority and bureaucratic ethos (whose natural tendency is to say “no”) dominates over leadership. ‘Consultation’ tends to the ‘non-participation’ and ‘tokenism’ categories in Arnstein’s ladder of participation. Planning, organisation & control are secondary to leadership, responsibility and initiative demonstrated throughout the ‘levels’ (or perhaps ‘holons’) of any ‘organisation’. Leadership is humble and participatory, not dictatorial (dictatorship is ‘authority’ not ‘leadership’). The focus on such social capacities requires trust, esprit de corps, genuine partnership (cf Arnstein’s ladder of participation), and effective two-way communication & learning.
Land Use & Landscape Factory & hydroponics is the model.  Continued input to maintain organisation.  Homogeneous vegetative land covers; segregated areas of relatively pure plantation, pasture, and conservation areas. Agro-ecology and mutually supporting low artificial energy inputs is the model.  Self-organisation.  Patterned and integrated landscape and a land use that utilises the varying qualities of sites down to very small areas – e.g. farm gullies, natural wetland and stream margin, silva-pastoral, single trees, hedgerows.
Processing & Supply Chain Relationships Low value primary commodity leads to short or non-existent local supply chains.  Focus on cost efficiency, necessitating scale, uniformity, continuous production, centralisation, trend to outside conglomerate and corporate ownership and the treatment of people as ‘resources’ defined in dollar terms. All resources, suppliers, distributors and customers are defined quantitatively as aspects of this ‘industry’ enterprise to exploit. Higher value primary produce leads to longer, local scale, more locally-owned processing. Increased scope for secondary processing and development of models where creativity and design sophistication is included.  Focus on value realisation (getting more out of less by releasing the hidden potential) by appreciating the qualities, properties, and especially connections of all things making up an enterprise (from suppliers, through the processing sites, to markets). People are defined by their qualities, not their dollar ‘cost’. Product inputs are defined by qualitative potential as much as quantity. Gaining value requires realising the potential mutual gains with suppliers, distributors, staff, and customers. To achieve that requires the building of relationships and ‘social capital’ since those that can best see potential are those close to various parts of the network/system (cf Edward Deming’s ideas he transported to Japan from the 1950s – soft qualities associated with hard quantities and productivity). Cooperation requires trust, engagement/participation, a learning culture, the ability to connect and understand the whole supply chain, responsiveness, morale, flair, initiative, esprit de corps, etc. – all qualities that cannot be reduced to a dollar. And even if they could, they cannot be analysed using those quantitative units.
Overall Effect Continued marginalisation of returns leading to a continued desire to cut costs further, to exploit people and land more, to demand the right to pollute, to politicise for ‘development’ rather than sustainability.  Ever shorter-term and narrower thinking emphasised and rewarded, thereby reducing the capacities for resilience – foresight, buffering through capacities, adaptability, cooperative actions, visioning.  Leading to a vicious cycle of decline leading to the degradation of essential resilience capacities leading to more decline.  A poorer economy, society and environment, with a few ‘winners’. Maintained margins and distribution through the local economy leading to the realisation of the value of local scale, of a healthy community and an environment that provides ‘gifts’ for free, increasing differentiation of economy and society.  The politicisation of values that emphasise the long-term wellbeing of community, and breadth of thought.  Consequentially the increase in those social capacities vital to building resilience – foresight, buffering through capacities, adaptability, cooperative actions, visioning. Leading to a virtuous cycle of capacity building creating more capacities.  A stronger economy, society and environment, with many ‘winners’.

Where are we heading?

New Zealand took a strong directional shift in the left-hand (Figure 1) direction of modernity with the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980s. Accountability was emphasised, so the soft, variable parts of the system were discounted against quantitative reports. Complexity and multiple functions make quantitative reporting difficult since the act of one person can lead to multiple reporting columns. Imprecision is a fact of life when one act can have many outcomes.

The basic assumption of a systems view (late-modern ontology) is that you never do just one thing. There are always other effects beyond the one considered. For the bookkeepers’ mind such complexity is given the effect of being overcome by simply measuring just one thing; a singular focus. An ostrich thinks the same thing when they put their head in the sand – the predator has gone.  There is an assumption that ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’  will follow from ‘accountability’ (accountability being focused on short-term internal process & ‘outputs’ rather than desired long-term ‘outcomes’). However, focus on accounting one thing can actually lead to inefficiency (three people in three separate organisations going around each doing one thing, where historically one went around doing three things), and to ineffectiveness because the conditions that really underpinned effectiveness were the soft and qualitative processes that were marginalised in pursuit of the fallacy of quantitative precision of one thing. Leaders with an intuitive feel for broader issues are replaced by administrators and bureaucrats that produce and rigidly follow procedures manuals.

Combine loss of effectiveness with the loss of foresight of both potential opportunity and threat that can result from a singular focus, as well as the lack of flexibility to adapt, and you have a recipe for organisations walking blithely over cliffs they never see.

Indications of a Turn?

There are some indications of a post-positivist turn in New Zealand. However, many are marginal ideas without a large constituency in policy, science or practice. The Parliamentary Commission for the Environment’s Growing for Good report suggested a new framework was needed to avoid continual unsustainable subsidisation of intensive agriculture, but energy intensification is increasing apace, and since 2008 the current government has set its sights on trebling value by trebling production.  Productivist research programmes are funded, and research programmes such as Agro-ecology starved.  This is in direct contrast with the growing realisation of the need to change our land use, and hence research focus since Olivier de Schutter’s report to the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.  He argues that the combined effects of climate change, energy scarcity, and water paucity require that we radically rethink our agricultural systems (de Schutter & Vanloqueren 2011).

The attitudes of some land owners as well as consumers has lead to examples of well integrated land use systems. Bay of Plenty kiwifruit is one example; some farmers (both certified organic and conventional), and some small holders.  Certification within forestry is an example of consumers demanding a broader focus that just the commercial, though it could be argued that compliance has not generally resulted in a change in attitude, just an acknowledgement of necessity for market access.

Internationally, things are in better heart. There are many indications of a late-modern turn:

  • The rise in consideration of people as part of land, opposed by both industrialists and the preservationists who would see local people marginalised to suit their own narrow agendas, even when there is evidence that the values they seek to protect are often there because of the historical and current presence and actions of people rather than in spite of them (Cf India’s Joint Forest Management initiatives)
  • Ecosystem management, Integrated Catchment management, and public participation have challenged modern ideas by specifically including values and the adaptive management processes that assume a lack of certainty in complex systems. There is still opposition from modern technocrats who protest the lack of regularity and mechanism.
  • Landscape ecology and other academic disciplines including research into comanagement, alternative policy frameworks, traditional ecological knowledge, resilience theory, and socio-ecological systems provide a theoretical basis for late-modernity.
  • The CBD’s emphasis on the ecosystem approach recognises that people are very much part of ecological systems, with extractive use and disturbance often fundamental to environmental protection, and preserves but one means of achieving biodiversity conservation.
  • Non-wood forest product demand is continuing to rise, if not within local communities that have always relied on forests in complex ways, at least now in the eyes of policy agents.
  • The work of alternative agricultural researchers such as Pretty, McNeely and Scheer working on integrated systems that replace reliance on energy inputs with multiple functioning elements, practices and policies, also involving learning systems and the building of social capital.
  • In Europe the changing values placed on mixed landscapes and forests that would be called ‘inefficient’ by agricultural industrialists in New Zealand, has resulted in changes in policy emphasis away from just product output (Cf Angelstam et al. 2006)
  • The rise in awareness of agro-ecological methods as a means of providing multiple positives: better rural social equity, better environmental outcomes, less energy demand, lower greenhouse gas contributions, and more gross production.  In direct contrast to agri-business commodity systems.

Will New Zealand realise the change? The industrial neo-liberal mindset and its antithesis of people-less preservation is still the dominant. Scientism remains their powerful ally, with the commercial focus unlikely to generate much resistance, at least from New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes, whose interest are strongly tied to the desires of commercial funders and industrial-minded policy makers, rather than to community and clearly articulated future economic, social and environmental imperatives. The change of government in 2008 more entrenched the narrow and short-term agri-business approach.

Chris Perley

22 February 2008 (with edits March 2015)

Angelstam, P., E. Kapylova, H. Korn, M. Lazdinis, J. A. Sayer, V. Teplyakov & J. Tornblom. 2006. Changing forest values in Europe. In Forests in landscapes: ecosystem approaches to sustainability, eds. J. A. Sayer & S. Maginnis, 59-74. London: Earthscan.

Berry, W. 1977. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

De Schutter, O. & G. Vanloqueren 2011. The New Green Revolution: How Twenty-First-Century Science Can Feed the World. Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future 2(4): Aug 18, 2011. Accessed 4 March 2015

Plumwood, V. 2002. Environmental Culture: the ecological crisis of reason. Routledge.

Ralston Saul, J. 1992. Voltaire’s Bastards: The dictatorship of reason in the west. London: Sinclair Stevenson.

Schweitzer, A. 1957. The philosophy of civilisation. New York: Macmillan company.

Tognetti, S. S. 1999. Science in a double-bind:: Gregory Bateson and the origins of post-normal science. Futures, 31, 689-703.

Whitehead, A. N. 1925. Science and the modern world. London: Free Association Books.

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