Submission to the

Science System Advisory Group (MBIE)

By Dr. Jack Santa Barbara

Jack Santa Barbara, Ph.D Submission questions: Phase 1

Question set 1 – The Science, Innovation and Technology System.

1. What future should be envisaged for a publicly supported science, innovation and technology systems?

These systems should first and foremost be put in the service of meeting universal basic human needs, rather than economic growth. Basic needs are both material and non
material; they are satiable and independent of time and place, hence their universality. Given the current unmet basic needs of many New Zealanders (think food security, water quality,
adequate shelter, etc), this should be a priority. It is a gross misunderstanding to conflate economic growth with meeting basic human needs, hence the urgency of refocusing
priorities. At best, economic growth makes an indirect contribution to some people’s basic needs. Basic needs deserve a more direct, and inclusive focus from science and technology.


So much technical innovation has a detrimental effect on natural systems that we need a significant rethink about our science and tech policies and priorities. Tech priorities over
the past half century have contributed significantly to advanced ecological overshoot, imperilling our safety and security. Too many people are making too many demands on
natural sources and sinks – that is what advanced ecological overshoot is; the evidence is clear. Climate change, biodiversity loss and ubiquitous pollution are all symptoms of advanced ecological overshoot. Redirection of focus is critical.

2. What are the opportunities, challenges and barriers that need to be addressed to build a more thriving research, science, innovation, and technology system that delivers positive sustainable growth and prosperity for New Zealand?


This is the wrong question to begin with. “Sustainable growth” is an oxymoron and it couldn’t possibly be “positive.” “Prosperity” implies what people would like rather than what they need.

Given the nature of the polycrisis humanity faces from advanced ecological overshoot, there is an urgency to reducing humanity’s demands on natural systems by at least 70 to 80%. Therefore, any additional demands we place on natural systems should first and foremost be used to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met as a priority – basic needs imply basic rights; these should not be ignored, but prioritized by our science and technology efforts.

Part of this essential reduction in demand on natural systems must also include consideration of human population levels. Given there is a finite amount of natural sources and sinks for
humanity to share (among its own members as well as with other species), and the imperative of significantly reducing such demands, we have to strike a balance between population levels and per capita consumption. The lower the population, the higher the per capita consumption to live within biophysical limits, and vice versa.

How we think of energy provides a good example of the need to refocus our priorities. Cheap abundant energy has allowed humanity to exceed biophysical limits in many areas,
contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss and ubiquitous pollution. Replacing fossil fuels (a necessity) with other forms of energy does not address the issue that any use of energy disrupts ecosystem functioning. The more energy we use, regardless of source, the more environmental damage we do. So minimizing our energy use, rather than replacing the amount of energy provided by fossil fuels, becomes a priority if we are to move toward an ecologically
sustainable lifestyle.

Research is available that demonstrates we could meet basic needs with the current level of alternative (to fossil fuels) energy sources we now consume (and often waste).

It is also important to appreciate that alternatives to fossil fuels are unlikely to provide the levels of energy demand we are anticipating. Nathan Surendran has made a submission
on behalf of Degrowth Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighting the limitations we face with respect to future energy dynamics. I agree with his analysis and recommendations.

Facing the reality of lower energy future should be fundamental principle of any science, innovation and technology strategy for NZ. Innovative technologies that allow us to meet our basic needs with less energy and material throughput should be the priority.


This might include specific comment on the following topics:

a. How can they drive innovation and accelerate the shift towards a knowledge-based, diversified economy?

Again, wrong question. It’s not the economy we should be focusing on but ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met. We can start doing that by clarifying what basic needs are currently being met, or not being met in NZ. Food security and adequate shelter are obvious areas for research and innovation. Data indicate many New Zealanders do not have food security or adequate shelter. How do we ensure they do, using regenerative approaches and ones that embrace low tech solutions that are nature based?

b. How can they contribute to developing innovative solutions to emerging challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and societal health?

The essential first step is to recognize the advanced state of ecological overshoot we are in from the multiple independent studies available, including the Ecological Footprint, the
Material Footprint, the Planetary Boundaries data, the data regarding Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production, and the volumes of data regarding the ubiquity of pollution in
our air, water and soil, as well as within our bodies.

Advanced ecological overshoot is the root cause of all these existential threats. Dealing with causes is more effective and efficient than dealing with symptoms. Our current research
and tech approaches focus on the symptoms.

c. How should they adapt to, and make good of opportunities provided by, a rapidly evolving global research landscape?

See above.

d. How can the Government’s effectiveness be enhanced using scientific data, knowledge, and new technologies?

See above.

3. What principles should underpin the design of a science, innovation, and technology system for New Zealand, given its demographic composition and distinctive cultural makeup, its geographical position, and its social, environmental and economic futures?

The basic principles to underpin our science, innovation and technology are:

• Strong Sustainability - reduced energy and material throughput to within biophysical limits
• Quality of life focus rather than material living standards
• Equity and Inclusivity – everyone has all their basic needs adequately met
• A “wellbeing per joule” lens, whereby every unit of energy and material resource is valued based on its contribution to meeting basic needs (rather than generating financial

This might include specific comment on the following:

a. Where are the major structural barriers to greater efficiency, effectiveness, and impact?

The most significant barrier is the dominance of economic growth as a national priority. The priority should be meeting basic human needs within biophysical limits. Given that we
are already grossly exceeding these biophysical limits, it is urgent we recognize this and apply our scientific and technical talents to address this issue as a priority. Unless we get this right, little else matters, as we are rapidly approaching irreversible ecological tipping points that will
challenge our capacities to maintain a complex society. Science and technology must first and foremost be in the service of meeting basic needs sustainably. This is a much more direct approach that attempting to improve the human condition by increasing economic growth, which disproportionately contributes to the financial wealth of the already financially wealthy.


NZ’s developed standard of living has resulted in a gradual reduction in the capacity of our ecosystems to function. Our biocapacity (ability to regenerate natural systems and sinks)
has declined approximately 50% per capita since 1970. While we still enjoy a biocapacity excess (our natural systems produce more than we consume), the continued decline of
that excess means we are heading for a biocapacity deficit before the end of this century. This is not a desirable trajectory for a small nation in our geographic position.


Another barrier is the apparent lower status assigned to ecological research compared to hi-tech innovations (which generally contribute significantly to ecological degradation). Understanding natural systems and our utter dependence on them for our wellbeing and survival is essential to reframing our priorities. Ecological research may not contribute directly
to economic growth, but a deeper understanding of our relations with the natural world gives us a much greater chance of survival.

b. What are the barriers between publicly funded research entities (especially universities and Crown Research Institutes (CRI)), and in turn how can we facilitate closer partnerships between them, the private sector, government agencies and communities including hāpori Māori?

The emphasis on product development with economic potential radically distorts both basic science, and the capacity of the system to support basic human needs within biophysical limits. Science and technology should be in the service of the common good, not private for-profit operations – the current priority.

c. How should the science, innovation, and technology system embrace and reflect the growing diversity of culture and peoples in New Zealand and the contributions of Māori as reflected in the Treaty/te Tiriti?

Consider traditional Maori relations with natural systems.

d. What are some important factors for the government to consider as criteria when prioritising investment in research appropriate for New Zealand’s size and characteristics?

As above.

e. How can New Zealand better leverage its small domestic, science, innovation, and technology system to be more effective?

As above.

f. What future are we envisaging for the science, innovation, and technology system in New Zealand?

As above.

Question set 2 – Public Research Organisations.

4. What is the role of public research organisations such as Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) in the New Zealand context?

In answering this question, you might consider:

a. How should the functions of government research organisations including the current CRIs be organised, governed, and managed into the future?

They need to be more connected to organizations focusing on basic human needs and ecological overshoot, rather than business and technology firms.

b. Are public research organisations too isolated from higher education?

They are too isolated from what citizens require to meet their basic needs. This is true for academic research as well, which is unduly influenced by private sector priorities.

c. To what extent should public research organisations be public good facing versus private good facing? Should these roles be separate?

The focus should be on public good – the common good, not private good at all. Public good should not be construed as economic growth, but in terms of basic needs – both material
and non-material.

d. How should public research organisations manage intellectual property?

Intellectual property rights are a barrier to innovation and the qualitative improvement of the common good. All research publicly funded should be open access.

5. Does New Zealand need an advanced technology organisation doing applied and developmental research? If so, how would it be structured, governed, and organised? How would the private sector be engaged?

No, just the opposite. It needs a low tech approach to meeting basic human needs. It should be organized so that it is managed by parties focused on basic needs and biophysical limits. A Transition Engineering approach should be considered for technological improvements.
Any private sector involvement should be determined by the above mentioned executive group.

Question set 3 – The Innovation System

6. Does New Zealand have appropriate mechanisms to develop the innovation pipeline, attract global partners and funding?

a. Does New Zealand need a revised approach to promote innovation?

As above – promote the right thing – the common good, not private intersts.

b. How can we use innovation and technology to make New Zealand’s economy more competitive?

Wrong question. Focus innovation and tech on meeting the common good basic needs.

c. If an innovation-focused policy and promotional organisation is needed, what would its core functions be?

Using science and technology to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met within biophysical limits. Innovation should focus on improving quality of life with minimal or no use of material resources. It’s focus should not be product development.

d. How should Callaghan Innovation and other publicly funded industrial and commercial innovation support mechanisms evolve? For example, New Zealand Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), incubators, accelerators and similar (excluding tax incentives).

As above – it’s a matter of refocusing our priorities and using the skills and talents we have to a different end – the common good. If clear priorities were set in this new direction, it would unleash considerable creativity and ingenuity in a much more productive (and sustainable)

Question set 4 – Contestable Research

7. What is an optimal structure for managing mission-led and contestable research?

In answering this question consider:

a. Should the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and its policy functions be more clearly separated from contestable funding decisions?

Yes, given the need to prioritize basic human need satisfaction as the empirical basis of wellbeing, business and economic considerations should not dominate or control decisions.

b. Does New Zealand need to rationalise its research funding mechanisms?

Yes, in terms of setting clear priorities to meet basic needs within biophysical limits. We must appreciate that our current trajectory will lead to societal collapse.

c. At what levels should prioritisation of research and research investment occur and on what basis?

Government is responsible for setting priorities, but this should be done with much broader consultation with parties concerned about meeting basic needs within planetary boundaries, and considerably less influence of private sector interests.

d. How should investment into Māori research priorities be determined?

e. How should research involving the study of or the application of mātauranga Māori be managed and funded?

f. What should a Pacific research strategy consist of?

g. In what areas should New Zealand develop in depth research expertise over the next two decades?

As above – basic ecology regarding human impacts on natural systems, and how to improve quality of life from a basic needs perspective. This should include research into how we are currently using energy and material throughput in ways that do not contribute to ensuring basic needs, and that are therefore wasteful.

h. How could the system better coordinate research across priority areas?

By ensuring advice is available from those familiar with advanced ecological overshoot and the current conditions with respect to meeting basic needs for all New Zealanders.

i. How should high intellectual risk, high innovation research applications be identified and supported?

Not sure these initiatives should be supported when there is so much work needed on the basics; get the basic common good right first, then consider more risky options – as above.

j. How should the balance of research investment extend across from the humanities, social sciences, health sciences life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences?

Some mechanism is needed to bring all of these perspectives together, along with NGO inputs, to set priorities regarding topics and levels of investment. Again, ecological research should be prioritized, along with the interplay between human activities and the ecosystem. Avoid the narrow business and economic focus of the current system.

k. What checks and balances should be in place to ensure effective and efficient science?

Something like a Citizens’ Assembly to periodically review research priorities and suggest adjustments to the program.

Question set 5 – Governments Research Needs.

8. How should the government’s own research needs be identified and addressed? How should such research be quality assured?

As above.