Memia 2021.31: 🛑Too.🐄Many.🐄Cows.🐄// axis of peace🕊️// plummeting fertility rates👶📉// doomsday Covid variant scenario?🦠⚰️// DNA data storage🧬// the metaverse state👓
Getting mindful on the Old Ghost Road🥾🧘
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - a regular scan across new technology and thinking about the future, with one eye on my corner of the world — Aotearoa New Zealand.
The most clicked link in the last issue (10% of openers) was the Spinoff’s article about AoNZ being the likeliest country to survive global collapse of civilisation.
Also in follow up to last week’s discussion on the Aotearoa supermarket duopoly thanks to Ben Kepes’1 latest Diversity newsletter for bringing Supie to my attention: a new homegrown delivery-only grocery chain startup.
A slightly briefer newsletter than usual this week: I have been totally off-grid for 4 of the last 7 days, taking some much needed restorarative time out on the Old Ghost Road trail. Highly recommended.
After spending 4 days in the beautiful Te Waipounamu wilderness, the first tweet I saw in my feed was this: Four of the top ten most nitrate-polluted rivers IN THE WORLD are in Aotearoa, according to Te Herenga Waka / Vic Uni freshwater ecology scientist Mike Joy (pictured presenting last week at the Environmental Defence Society conference in Ōtautahi). He outlined stark figures showing (fossil-fuel derived) synthetic nitrogen use on farms has increased by 1361% since 1990. Things have become so desperate, Joy is going so far as advocating for a NZ$12 billion payout to farmers to stop dairying.
Couple this with the IPCC’s 6th, alarm-raising report on climate change just out yesterday:
“Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report…Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years…
Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate”
The combined climate- and ecological- crises continue to highlight the need for urgent, radical, systemic global actions across multiple fronts simultaneously.
The whole smorgasbord of possible climate change solutions is explored in Kim Stanley Robinson’s must-read cli-fi2 novel Ministry for the Future from last year. Of these, almost certainly the most important will be to fundamentally re-design the global financial system which currently continues to incentivise environmentally-damaging activity.
For this, the world’s central banks need to be brought around the table as early as possible. Reuters has a recent run-down of how some of the world’s central banks are starting to respond, including this entry for Te Pūtea Matua/RBNZ:
“RESERVE BANK OF NEW ZEALAND - The New Zealand central bank put $100 million into the Bank for International Settlements' U.S. dollar Green Bond Fund in 2019 and wants to use its balance sheet to meet climate change and sustainable finance goals.
It has said it will consider what adjustments it can make to its liquidity operations – including eligible collateral and pricing – to mitigate its own financial risks and to contribute to the development of the sustainable finance market.”
Not exactly radical action, then. Te Pūtea Matua’s Climate Change Strategy takes a similarly passive voice:
“Furthermore, it is not for financial policymakers to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy, nor is it our role to advocate one policy response over another. That is the role of government.”
Well therein lies the problem…
Their recent response to the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice admits that their current modelling is short-termist:
“While much of our own analysis of the New Zealand economy is aimed at understanding how Reserve Bank policy instruments can best serve our mandate over the short to medium term, we are currently also engaged with longer term scenarios produced by the NGFS. The NGFS is developing four scenarios:
• Orderly: Early, ambitious action to a net zero CO2 emissions economy.
• Disorderly: Action that is late, disruptive, sudden and/or unanticipated.
• Hot house world: Limited action leads to a hot house world with significant global warming and, as a result, strongly increased exposure to physical risks.
• Too little, too late: with both high transition and physical risk.”
The IPCC advice seems to make the “Orderly” scenario less and less likely.
*Now* feels like urgent action time for Te Pūtea Matua to step up on at least two fronts domestically and help force the pace of the political debate:
Model the “national-wellbeing-based” case for an early QE programme to support policy for reducing the dairy industry to environmentally sustainable levels (eg pay them to stop farming as Mike Joy suggests).
Likewise model the case for a QE programme to accelerate the current policy of full carbon-neutrality by 2050. What if this could be brought forward to 2040? 2035?!
If they don’t do it, will they fully open-source their models so that others can?
🕊️Axis of peace
Thanks to regular tipster Saya Wahrlich for sharing The 2021 Global Peace Index from Sydney-HQ’ed Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP):
A fascinating look at modern geopolitics - with Aotearoa being among a lucky few nations to enjoy measurable “peacefulness” in 2021. Looking at the other (mostly smaller) countries in the top 12: Iceland, Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Czech Republic, Canada, Singapore and Japan - all wealthy and liberal democracies - this feels in some way like the most aligned international political grouping for Aotearoa: a new “Axis of Peace” to counter other more bellicose players internationally?
The IEP’s other global index analyses on Ecological Threats and Terrorism are worth perusing too - lack of resilience to various ecological threats (particularly water shortages) is likely a close indicator of future global trouble hotspots.
(IEP is founded by Australian philanthropist Steve Killelea whose book Peace in the Age of Chaos came out at the end of last year and is on my ever-lengthening reading list).
Thanks to regular Memia tipsters for spotting most of this week’s links signalling the future:
Plummeting fertility rates
👶📉The BBC reports on how the world’s birthrate is plummeting (🎩Sam Ragnarsson):
…particularly in China:
Researchers now expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century:
"That's a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline…I think it's incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is; it's extraordinary, we'll have to reorganise societies."
- Population researcher Prof Christopher Murray, speaking with BBC.
🦠⚰️Doomsday Covid variant scenario?
Governments still need to prepare for a Doomsday Covid variant scenario (🎩Roger Dennis):
🧬DNA data storage
The new “Adaptive DNA Storage Codec (ADS Codex)” translates data from binary to DNA code, with reliable error correction (🎩Andrew Leckie):
The Economist on Open-source intelligene (OSINT) as the “People’s Panopticon”:
”Open-source intelligence is a welcome threat to malefactors and governments with something to hide”
🌾🤖Dystopian Farm Robots?
“No longer science fiction, farm robots are already here — and they have created two possible extremes for the future of agriculture and its impacts on the environment…One is a utopia, where fleets of small, intelligent robots farm in harmony with nature to produce diverse, organic crops. The other is a dystopia in which large, tractor-like robots subdue the landscape through heavy machinery and artificial chemicals.“
Being on the trail for 6-8 hours per day is actually the closest to “mindfulness” I ever get… mind expanding but not in the “mind stretching” sense🥾🧘. As such, this week has been mostly an exercise in mind clearing! Nevertheless…
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.
👓The Metaverse State
I enjoyed this future scenario piece, Progress 2032 from Chris Yiu as he (rather breathlessly!) imagines outcomes of a new generation of technocratic leaders taking power:
“It was hope that turned the [electoral] tide in 2028, but it was competence and sheer determination that kept the dream alive today.
That first term had been a frenzy of activity. Public service reform is brutally difficult even under the most benign circumstances, let alone accelerated a hundredfold to catch up with a world racing away over the horizon. Nevertheless, the strategy was simple: execute fast, and deliver for the public.
The key had been to play the game on an entirely new dimension: taking advantage of technology to make a fresh start rather than trying to reform the old bureaucracy in situ. The metaverse state threw everything it had at building out new civic infrastructure – from 6G and sensor networks, data registers, design patterns and identity standards, through to new marketplaces, tokens and protocols for public service delivery.
An entire fleet of next-generation, user-centric services launched online, and rapidly eclipsed the old ways of doing things. As their success grew, they absorbed and modernised their industrial-era ancestors. Change on this scale was far from easy, but the administration pushed through – fusing political will and public purpose with entrepreneurs and technologists in a modern-day Apollo programme to remake the state.”
(It goes on like this for a while…).😅
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury is hosting the Sustainable Development Goals Summit 2021, on 2-3 September. Given all of the above, worth attending…!
The best Venn diagram ever. (More about the hilarious — if you have a British sense of humour, anyway — Alternative Heritage here).
And…please indulge me with my holiday snaps, they don’t quite do the incredible variety of natural scenery justice but you get the picture:
Thanks as always for getting in touch with thoughts, feedback, links - appreciated!
And if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
More again next week.
“Cli-Fi” - Climate Fiction (of course)