Memia 2020.20: *Real* house prices?🏘️// belief scarring🗯️// farmers vs forests vs future🌳// walkies🐕
Golden Brown Brubeck🎹
Hi / Kia ora,
Ben Reid here with the 20th(🥳!) Memia scan across unfolding futures and emerging tech viewed from my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand. Please feel free to forward this email - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.
🤦And just to clear matters up, the diagram below from last week’s Axis of Kindness article was not a subtle kite-flying exercise ahead of the launch of the new Memia Party (slogan “WE JUST DON’T CARE”). I will not be moving to Epsom. Thanks to several readers who pointed out that I should sack the graphic designer…😅.
*Real* house prices?🏘️
A lot of Kiwis have made a lot of money selling houses to each other since 1980:
Who’s expecting this to continue after Covid-19?🤔
A while ago I spotted a paper in my feed by writers at the Federal Bank of St Louis in the US: Scarring Body and Mind: The Long-Term Belief-Scarring Effects of COVID-19. From the abstract (my emphasis):
“The largest economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic could arise if it changed behavior long after the immediate health crisis is resolved. A common explanation for such a long-lived effect is the scarring of beliefs…We find that the long-run effect of the COVID crisis depends crucially on whether bankruptcies and changes in habit make existing capital obsolete.”
Belief Scarring (👍that term) is defined as:
“a persistent change in beliefs about the probability of an extreme, negative shock to the economy.”
It’s a dry read but my takeaways:
The global economic shock from the pandemic is partly driven by the “separation of labour from capital” - for example in the tourism sector during lockdown some staff were unable to work from home so the hotel rooms / restaurant / bungee jump assets were unproductive: “it is as if a fraction of the productive capital stock has disappeared”.
The Covid-19 pandemic may well increase the perceived likelihood of extreme negative economic shocks happening in future.
Policy which seeks to avoid mass bankruptcies during the pandemic may be advisable for the long term recovery: otherwise firms may be so scarred by seeing how fragile the world economy is in a pandemic, while adjusting their estimates of extreme negative shock frequency upwards, that they may take decades to return to previous investment habits. If ever.
Farmers vs forests vs future🌳
It’s election season. “Farmers vs forests” has bounced around my personal echo chamber this week. I did some reading. Here are some links:
Images below of Deforestation in New Zealand 1000AD-2000AD: (source Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand).
The Ministry for Environment has a number of downloadable land use map layers dated up to 2016 based upon LUCAS (Land-use and Carbon Analysis System) satellite imagery interpretation.
The latest official forestry stats I could find are from 2005 (if there are more up to date numbers / aerial maps, please point me to them?):
“New Zealand’s forest resource covers over 8 million hectares, or 29 percent of New Zealand’s total land area. Indigenous forests make up the majority of this with 6.3 million hectares, planted production forest accounts for the remaining 1.7 million hectares…Radiata pine…makes up ninety percent of the total exotic forests. Douglas fir makes up five percent, eucalyptus two percent and the remainder is a variety of special purpose species...” - StatsNZ archive, 2005
Deforestation results in loss of habitat, extinction of wildlife, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and waterway pollution.
The Zero Carbon Act was passed in 2019 and commits New Zealand to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050.
Last year the Productivity Commission estimated that between 1.3 million and 2.8 million hectares of increased forest planting, mostly converted from marginally profitable beef and sheep land, will be necessary to get to carbon zero by 2050. Divide by 30 years:
"The simple maths is that at least an extra 70,000 hectares a year on average needs to be planted over the next 30 years" - Grant Dodson, Forest Owners Association (not exactly neutral on the subject but at least he can do long division➗).
…and that’s assuming there are no forest->farm or forest->urban conversions along the way. So, more than 70,000 hectares per year.
According to the responsible minister, conversions from farming to forestry went from 2000 hectares in 2016 to around 22,000 hectares in 2019.
But the government said this week that it may review land conversions from farming to forestry if they reach 40,000 hectares a year, after lobbying by Federated Farmers, among those blaming forestry conversions for undermining rural communities by removing local jobs and replacing them with a “green desert”.
Meanwhile wilding conifers, often seeded from exotic pine forests, continue to spread rapidly (spot any conundrum?):
“It's estimated 20% of New Zealand will be covered in unwanted wilding conifers within 20 years if their spread isn't stopped. Wilding conifers already cover more than 1.8 million hectares of New Zealand. Despite control efforts, they have been spreading at about 5% a year. That's about 90,000 more hectares a year….It's estimated about $11 million is spent each year on wilding conifer control nationwide.” - Biosecurity New Zealand
Trees That Count / Te Rahi O Tāne aims to “inspire kiwis to increase the number of native trees planted in New Zealand”. Their paper Technical information about native trees and carbon sequestration contains the graph below. Basically: Radiata pine stands sequester more carbon than native forests - but are usually felled before 30 years of age (at 800 t/ha CO2 equivalents). Native forest on the other hand can be managed as permanent carbon sinks.
In March 2019, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment proposed stopping AoNZ’s CO2 emitters (eg AirNZ) from using forestry planting for carbon offsets, suggesting instead to ring-fence the nation’s forest sinks for the exclusive use of farmers. (Eh?)
Having read all this, I find myself nodding in general agreement with the affable Geoff Simmons of TOP (where are they now?):
Tech signals from near and far future:
Microsoft’s experimental subsea, renewable energy data centre Natick has been operating off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands since 2018 (see video below). Recently it proved its use as part of the Folding@home distributed computing project to crunch COVID-related protein-folding problems looking for antibodies and figuring out ways they could create immunizations. Nice PR opportunity - but unclear whether this will replace standard on-land DCs any time soon. (…And what would the Azure region be called? “Pacific-Trench North?”)
SpaceX’s Starlink keeps launching satellites into orbit (much to the consternation of night-sky watchers). Broadband internet anywhere soon.
Projected changes in the world’s energy mix to 2040. Oh no.😱
Does the balance of censorship self-regulate…? Russia reversed its 2-year ban on the messaging app Telegram after the app successfully decentralised its infrastructure making it impossible to block. According to the Telegram CEO there are now twice the number of Russian users since the ban and he urges the “Digital Resistance Movement” to focus their anti censorship resources in other places where Telegram is banned: eg Iran and China.
Walkies🐕: not long after Boston Dynamics announced the general availability of US75K “Spot” robots…
(Side observation: Spot would have been a better option than the military robots used for Pike River re-entry.)
Around AoNZ this week:
Martyn Rivett and Stuart Charters from SIGNAL ICT Graduate school published a comprehensive report: Horizons 2020, Trends in Technology Education.
Kiwi founder Ben Gleisner launched the CoGo carbon calculator app in the UK in May - the AoNZ version is slated for mid-August, using local emissions estimates from independent researchers. (Shout out to Memia reader @meCatarina who joins Cogo as head of community growth.🍾)
Moving to New Zealand to work for a startup: The Good, The Tough and The Unexpected - tales from the crew at IMAGR (who are hiring). 🤭
Fox News got played real good:
Aotearoa is sandwiched between Western Sahara and Gabon in this infographic of the world’s land surface :
And finally this video from musician Lawrence Mason is sublime: so convincing it had me Googling to see if The Stranglers covered Dave Brubeck with their song Golden Brown (they didn’t*). A beautiful tribute to both groups.
As always big 🙏 to readers who take the time to get in touch with links and feedback!
…And if you enjoy these Memia posts, please take the time to share with a friend in AoNZ or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
More again next week.
Regards / Ngā mihi