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When my children were growing up, we measured their height on a regular basis on our kitchen door. Looking at the chart now, the years have passed quickly. With every mark made, I have memories of fierce debate: ‘‘you’re cheating, you’re on your tippy toes’’ - mega-growth was the ultimate prize.
Biologically, I can get my head around degrowth, as much as I might not enjoy the thought - economically and socially, I am less sure.
The concept of economic degrowth relates to slowing consumption and reducing GDP. With this in mind, people have said to me ‘‘we need fewer dairy cows, only enough for our own population and then we can grow other stuff’’. ‘‘Buy local’’ in other words, the panacea to our food system woes.
So, if we stop producing dairy products for the world, then where does the money come from to buy pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electronic devices, transport devices - none of which we manufacture here? Can we really survive in a utopia of ‘‘buy local’’, or would we see a consequential reduction in quality of life? Are we willing to reduce our health and education systems to their bare bones to place restrictions on agricultural production? It seems to me that it’s often the Prius drivers, who own multiple houses and have an overseas holiday every year, who are the ones lecturing me on the perils of agriculture.
To me, degrowth means we have given up, we have lost our will to strive to be better. I would prefer to reframe the term to be smart growth, green growth or value-driven growth. Can we do this? Can we strive for greater growth but in a dematerialised way?
New Zealand has assets that are the envy of many countries in the world - our land and water. In two decades, dairying will probably not be our largest form of income. There will be disruption of the dairy nutrient market that will hollow out the industry. If we are smart and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, we would immediately start seriously investing into the new industries to drive our economy - new forms of food, fibre and associated biotechnology, in the form of biofuels, bio-packaging, green-chemicals, functional foods, regenerative foods, nutraceuticals and biomaterials (bioplastics) and all the associated know-how.
The types of businesses we would build would be innovative, inclusive and growth-driven - that growth would be more widely shared, not as a social enterprise, where one partner is the commercial and the other a charity, but in enterprises where community and local infrastructure form part of the company’s DNA.
Real change needs to combine aspiration with pragmatism. Innovative thinking and disruption happen when people and companies are trying to grow, not ‘‘degrow’’. Instead of buying second houses, people could invest in the types of companies they would like to see in our future, those representing new food, new agricultural production, new fibre and fuel. There are many bright entrepreneurs out there, some with astounding visions and ideas, and many looking for capital. There are also incredible opportunities to partner with those in developing economies to assist with greater distribution of wealth - globalisation in the true sense of the word.
I have just come from a meeting with a Taiwanese scientist and businessman. He said to me, ‘‘It’s not about thinking outside the box, because there is no box. Even thinking we have a box is limiting.’’ We need to grow and we need to grow fast - and differently. I like to think of this time as our mega-growth opportunity. Holy heck, that’s more exciting than degrowth!
• Anna Campbell is a co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company. She also holds various directorships.