Book review: The Big Questions. What is New Zealand’s Future?

The Big Questions pic

The Big Questions picWhat will the future hold for our children and grandchildren and generations still to come? Is it possible to solve some of the big social and environmental problems we face today so they will be able to look forward to a good and healthy life?

In The Big Questions a group of prominent New Zealanders, all experts in their field, were asked to share their thoughts about what is happening in New Zealand right now and what needs to change so we can move forward.

The topics are wide-ranging and include climate change, health, housing, traffic, race relations, prisons, health, refugees, our digital future and women’s rights.

As I read it I thought back to the good old days of the sixties and seventies. Life was simpler then. There was a much smaller gap between rich and poor. Home ownership was the norm. There was almost full employment. New Zealand was clean and green. And global warming was virtually unheard of. Our country has certainly changed dramatically since then and sadly in many ways not for the better.

At the top of the list of what is worrying New Zealanders is housing. Living in a home of our own was something our generation took for granted.  Sadly inflated house prices have put this out of reach of many families. They struggle to pay high rents and there are increasing numbers of homeless people. In Can we Solve the Housing Crisis? Leonie Freeman explores possible solutions and says that as a minimum we must commit to the goal of adequately housing the population by 2030.

In Is New Zealand the Best Place to Bring up a Child? Andrew Becroft makes the point that if people deny child poverty, it is perhaps because, in their minds, New Zealand is still the idyllic place of their childhood. The reality is far from rosy and a much greater effort must be made to eradicate it. A hopeful sign is that child poverty reduction legislation is before Parliament and the Prime Minister has taken Child Poverty on as her portfolio.

In Can the Healthcare System be Mended? Felicity Goodyear-Smith provides an analysis of the complex issues which need addressing in this area. One thing which concerns her is that is that those who have an accident are covered by ACC while those who are sick are not. It doesn’t seem fair for instance that if you break a hip you are entitled to ACC which can include Private orthopaedic surgery and a higher wage-replacement. But if your joint damage is caused by ‘wear and tear’ you won’t be entitled to these benefits. In her view, there is a strong argument for addressing this injustice and have ACC cover disability regardless of its origin.

Faced with a rapidly ageing population it will also be important to keep our older generation fit and healthy. This will be good not just for their quality of life but also for reducing the burden of healthcare in our society.

In Are the Arts Fundamental to our Society? Peter O’Connor shares an incredibly moving story about how he worked on an art project with children traumatised by the Christchurch earthquake and also in Mexico after a similar disaster.

He reminds us that John Dewey wrote over 100 years ago that the arts are the practical tools by which we train our imagination. “And imagination is the beginning of hope, for without imagining that the world might be different, better than it is now, the world can only remain how it is.”

The last chapter Can we Learn to Live with our World? is by Ann Salmond. She eloquently traces our history from the earliest times, perhaps 80 million years ago, when New Zealand floated away from Gondwana, to the present day. She too finishes on a hopeful note:

“Our ancestors were bold and brave and feisty and independent. They came here to create a better life for themselves and their families. We can do the same.”

I found The Big Questions an absorbing and very thought-provoking read. It was reassuring that the contributors, while not in any way minimising the size and complexity of the problems we are facing today, were able to suggest a way ahead and to provide some positive solutions.

The Big Questions is by various authors. Imprint Penguin. RRP $38

This book is one of the titles in our August Book Club. If you want to win a copy of this book, and share your own (brief) review with other members, enter the competition here

Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveller, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.