“The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.”
The Parliamentary Commission for the Environment (PCE) report Farms, Forests and Fossil Fuels: The next Great Landscape Transformation was released 26th March 2019. Amidst all the calls for clarity and angst over change, or even civil dialogue, a number of key ideas lay buried, or tossed aside, or even stomped to death. We do need to think differently. And that involves paradigm shifts in framing. A point made by the PCE in this report, as it was made by ex PCE Commissioner Morgan Williams in the 2004 PCE report Growing for Good.
That – 15 long years ago – was a response against the rising energy intensification of increasingly industrialised, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitting, high energy input, irrigated and monocultural dairy. And a parallel shift from often moderately irrigated (or not at all) rotational mixed cropping to heavy nitrogenous fertiliser continuous cropping. No need to restore the soil with a rotation of legumes and pasture, just add more N. What soil & water degradation? What GHG? What climate change? What increasing corporatisation, shelterbelt removal, migrant labour, indebtedness? What continuing decline in real commodity prices? What technology treadmill?
Why the relatively low input hill country sheep and beef sector doesn’t differentiate itself from the polluting, energy hungry and increasingly corporate intensive dairy and cropping I cannot fathom. If the PCE could have done anything better, it might have been to make some qualitative differentiations between the various agricultural sub-sectors.
That is one point that needs to be acknowledged. The need to think differently about land. Forestry has a ‘keystone’ role in that paradigm shift from the nonsense colonial paradigm of ‘produce more to feed the world’ by producing bulk commodities that don’t use adjectives in their marketing. Landscapes need to be considered as agro-ecological systems (and socio-ecological systems) that include woodlands, wetlands, and healthy functioning soils.
Contrary to the current industrial paradigm that cannot think beyond one thing (the Hedgehog mode), such systems lead to synergies across environmental, social and economic outcomes. But you need to be able to think like a Fox. Think in systems, not machines, in multiple functions and shifting dynamics, not the single and the static. Think in adaptability, not in any stubborn Vogon mode. Think in Post-Industrial Economies of Scope of patterns designed into being, not Fordist Economies of Scale of the one, big, unthinking thing.
There can also be no doubt that much more needs to be done by the major GHG emitters of fossil transport fuel. The PCE is trying to create that wake up moment. And there can be no doubt that New Zealand having forestry as an offset has done very little to encourage … why weasel the words – it has discouraged – either of the emitting sectors to fundamentally change, for the moment.
They haven’t had to. Business as usual. Motorways, irrigation, de-electrifying and discouraging rail, public transport the poor cousin still, Auckland trying to emulate the radial multilane structure of Los Angeles with Treasury urging ‘more land supply’ because they cannot think beyond their two-dimensional charts to anything as complex as urban design. Car-motorway suburbs as a nonsense faith in “land and energy are infinite, and technology will save us” are being replaced around the world by decentralised multiple village structures linked by walking, cycling and public transport. Yet we stick to our usual “this is what we do” Hedgehog mode – don’t adapt, think or dialogue, just roll into a ball and hunker down.
But Simon Upton also has another message. Historically, he has argued that forestry should not define or promote itself through the few simplistic lens – all money measures, including carbon.
And that message is what a number of us tried to get across to the hedgehog thinkers in MPI when the ETS was first being developed as the market mechanism for encouraging tree planting 15 odd years ago. There are multiple benefits from planting trees in landscapes, multiple reasons all beneficial to land owners, landscapes, communities and local economies, multiple dynamics and patterns and potentials in multiple contexts, multiple connections to hold in our heads at any one time – and they don’t have to be blanket forestry blocks of bland non-adaptive single function – the Hedgehog ideal.
The scope of potential in having woodlands as part of the patchwork quilt mix within predominately pastoral hill country systems is right there waiting for the Fox to come along – see the connections and possibilities, happy to extend into any domain, observing of patterns and place, changing with conditions – and replace the Hedgehog.
And that’s the biggest change we need, away from the narrow and mechanical thinking and toward the integration of many things by design to create something new. Something that actually works. It’s also why we need to shift from our current belief that any strict STEM specialist is in any way a thought leader within complex contexts. They’re not. We need something more. Synthesis is vital as a context for analysis. Without the former, there is zero wisdom as a base for the latter.
I’ll leave the last word to Richard Lewontin, one of the most brilliant integrative thinking scientists you could ever read.
“The problem is to construct a third view. One that sees the whole world neither as an indissoluble whole, nor with the equally incorrect, but presently dominant view, that at every level the world is made up of bits and pieces that can be isolated and that have properties that can be studied in isolation. Both of these ideologies, one that mirrors the pre-modern feudal social world, and the other that mirrors the modern, competitive, individualistic entrepreneurial world, prevent us from seeing the full richness of interaction in nature. In the end, they prevent a real understanding of nature and prevent us from solving the problems to which science is supposed to apply itself.”
Richard Lewontin, Massey Lecture 1: Biology as Ideology
Biblio on Hedgehogs & Foxes
- Isaiah Berlin’s long essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, and associated commentaries on its significance
- Philip Tetlock’s analysis of why foxes make better forecasters, and associated commentaries, and here, and here.
The Concept of Hedgehogs & Foxes in the Post-Industrial Thought
The same argument of accepting complexity and connection when making judgments, managing, etc. is highlighted by research and practice in:
- Complex adaptive systems thinking,
- Integrative Socio-ecological thinking, and associated Culture:Nature integrated indigenous and eco-feminine thought, none of which (individual, culture or nature) can be understood by Modern reductionist approaches;
- Sustainability as building ‘functional integrity’ as contrasted with mechanical ‘resource sufficiency’;
- Journals such as Ecology & Society;
- Papers critiquing “The Pathology of Resource Management.”
- Aldo Leopold’s essay ‘Thinking like a Mountain’;
- Vandana Shiva’s concept of the fragmentation and “disappearing” of knowledge Monocultures of the Mind, and here, and expanded in her book (Shiva 1993), making specific reference to “the one dimension forestry paradigm.”
- Work on shifts from industrial to post industrial thought, such as Economies-of-Scope (many things brought together to create synergies) replacing Economies-of-Scale trade-off ideas (the ‘efficiency’ of one thing trading-off the loss or degradation of other unseen or unrecognised values, destroying potential synergies). E.g. Kumar 2004;
- Herbert Marcuse (1964) and The One Dimensional Man reduced to an instrument within an increasingly ordered (trending to Totalitarian) society, with “the pacification of resistance”;
- The kick back against mechanical codified and hierarchical managerialism of human ‘units’ with reference to such knowledge-intensive and social capital organisations as the code-breaking Bletchley Park, and the failure of public sector mechanical corporatisation demanding a post-industrial systems approach.
Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a philosophy, governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and natural systems.
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