By Gareth Vaughan
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has shown people "what this crazy woman has been talking about," Susan Krumdieck says. The crazy woman she's referring to, jokingly I think, is Krumdieck herself.
Krumdieck is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury. She has a particular focus on transition engineering. What's transition engineering? Broadly speaking it's the engineering of change.
"Instead of just asking 'how do we' all the time and there being a gap between what we're doing full blast, and what we know we should do and we could do, and we need to do, how do we [change]?"
"That big gap has to be filled by engineering work. You can't change the systems that need to be changed without the engineers who built them changing them," Krumdieck says.
"It has to be done in the context of the science, the business and the policies. We're really busy chomping up the planet and you couldn't do that without the engineers. The transition is about changing what we are doing to gift our kids a future."
"So bottom trawlers, 2120, are we still doing that? Are we still trawling up the last little scraps off the bottom of the ocean? No. Why not? Because the engineers don't build bottom trawlers anymore, that's why," says Krumdieck.
Asked what she was thinking as COVID-19 swept the world Krumdieck says; "now the rest of the world knows what this crazy woman has been talking about."
"Because the effect of changing the things we're doing, even if we know we need to change, that effect, it's a step. It's like just stop and then we'll figure out what we're going to do next."
"During this time we have discovered that there's a different world than what we knew about before. And that the whole assumptions that everything we were doing are based on can be questioned now," says Krumdieck.
An industry she points to that has been turned upside-down by COVID-19 is tourism. The rate at which tourists were coming to New Zealand was "flooding" us, she says.
" And those of us who've been here for 20 years were seeing what it was doing, and really not going out as much anymore because it was such a mess and so crowded and manic," says Krumdieck.
"The jobs that created to serve these people who were consuming the commodity of travel, really, that's who we want to be? If you lose those jobs, what do you want to do? Were you changing peoples' beds because that's what you wanted to do or because you had to pay the rent?"
"What I would like to build is a creative way for people to get together and co-create the jobs that they are going to do. And I don't think we'll be calling them jobs anymore. I think we'll be calling them enterprises. I think we'll be calling them services. I think we'll be calling them really good stuff that we're doing. And in 20 years I think we'll look back on this, kind of glad that [it] happened. Because there wasn't a future for just an ever growing number of these tourist folks."
She acknowledges, however, that tourism will always exist. It's just that it shouldn't be, or won't be, what she calls commodity tourism.
"The commodity tourism of people doing a long haul flight to spend a week, to drive around, it's not essential. It was a weird blip in a way of thinking that didn't make sense and it never will make sense," says Krumdieck.
"We can definitely do new kinds of products for the rest of the world and maybe those products aren't just 'look at this.' They're 'look at what we've done.' And sharing knowledge of how we have come up with ways to regenerate things, and learning from other people."
"Commodity tourism has been defeated by the virus," Krumdieck says.
"There's going to be some travel. But commodity tourism no, I think we're done with that. On the receiving end of it, was it actually good for us? The last 20 years, I don't think so."
"If the creative, do-it-yourself people of New Zealand were unleashed from thinking 'I've got have a job to pay rent,' to 'ok, what do I want to do,' and knowing there's this period of time where you get to figure that out and you get to give it a go, I think we're going to turn a corner. And the rest of the world will be looking to us for - how did we do that as well as how did we get the virus under control. And that's a pretty good story," says Krumdieck.
*This is the ninth interview in a series looking at reactions to and potential policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic and evolving economic downturn.
The first interview, with staunch critic of the economic mainstream Steve Keen, is here.
The second interview, with director at economic advisory firm Landfall Strategy Group David Skilling, is here.
The third interview, with Motu and Victoria University's Arthur Grimes, is here.
The fourth interview, with Patrick Watson, senor economic analyst at Mauldin Economics, is here.
The fifth interview, with Climate Change Commission Chairman Rod Carr, is here.
The sixth interview, with Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago Janet Stephenson, is here.
The seventh interview, with Frank Jasper, chief investment officer at Fisher Funds, is here.
The eighth interview, with strategy and risk consultant Raf Manji, is here.