ON the day it was announced that Scottish exports to the US were up by an impressive seven per cent (or were in 2016, at least), I decided to spend two hours pondering a future in which that nation decided maybe growth wasn’t so good after all.

The title of Alexander Payne’s wildly ambitious new sci-fi satire, Downsizing, is a wee joke in itself. It refers not to people moving to smaller, more modest homes, but rather opting to be physically shrunk so they can afford to live in what are effectively gigantic luxury doll’s houses. With tiny bodies requiring only tiny portions, they can easily afford to dine like kings and queens for the rest of their lives. The potential hit to the Scottish whisky industry doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course it’s a crazy premise, but it’s one that allows the film to touch on a catalogue of hot-button issues – from work-life balance and inequality to climate change and sustainability – while delivering visual treats, laughs, and the odd tug at the heart-strings.

Though at first it seems unlikely that any normal person would sign up for such a radical reduction in size, slick marketing teams get to work on the just-about-managing suburbanites whose American dreams have stalled. Faced with the choice between grafting and struggling as a full-size human or living a life of leisure as a small one, more and more people start choosing the latter.

And who can blame them? Certainly not the Norwegian environmentalists who cooked up the idea as a drastic solution to the problems of global warming and overpopulation. Sure, the version implemented as Leisureland, US is less about tree-hugging and more about luxury travel and health spas, but this vast miniature playground does operate car-sharing and slick public transport, and the miniature diamond necklaces marketed to its residents are proudly “conflict-free”.

So what lessons does the film have for us about ethical living in a dangerously warming world? In an interview with The Guardian, Payne noted that “Chekhov said the role of the artist isn’t to answer the questions but just to formulate the questions” and he certainly tosses out plenty of these, about everything from voting rights to privatised healthcare to black-market trade. But perhaps the biggest ones he’s posing with this film have been tackled recently by my fellow columnist Michael Fry. Firstly, how do we persuade the well-off among us to vote in favour of a change to the status quo, and secondly, how can we square celebrating increased growth with ambitions to reduce emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change?

The answer to the first is simple: open their eyes to the reality of life for those who don’t have big houses, perfect health and his-and-hers matching bathrobes, and wake them up to the fact that life isn’t actually fair. Challenge right-wingers when they assert that hard work and the right attitude – rather than a comfortable upbringing, endless encouragement, and a bit of luck – accounts for their privileged position in society. Counter the “scroungers and skivers” rhetoric with reminders that turning a bling eye won’t make poverty history, and society should be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable, not how it panders to its most well-off.

On the question of growth, the answer perhaps lies in the detail of this week’s exports figures. Stories like this always pose a bit of a challenge to newspaper picture editors and the producers of TV news bulletins: how to provide visual shorthand for a concept such as “exports”, which covers all manner of goods and services? The Scotsman, somewhat confusingly, illustrated their story – “Scotland suffers £4bn exports fall” – with a picture of an oil rig, despite the fact that oil and gas exports are not included in the figures. The BBC used a clip of whisky bottles moving along a conveyor belt. Other media outlets showed stacks of pallets ready for shipping.

But the international exports increase for 2016 was driven by the service sector, rather than manufacturing. “Services” – which account for 39 per cent of all international exports – are much harder to illustrate than actual “stuff” like bottles of whisky, the import and export of which is easy for the average person to visualise and understand. What’s glossed over in Downsizing is the fact that many tiny products would not necessarily be cheaper at all, since the cost of making anything is determined by economies of scale and manufacturing complexity. But what’s made clear is that societies of any size will always need innovators and entrepreneurs as well as doctors, cleaners and carers. And they will continue to need the kind of services that Scotland is exporting worldwide.

Reducing consumption need not involve drastic lifestyle changes or the use of sci-fi technology. Car-sharing schemes already exist and could become the norm in Scottish cities with a bit of joined-up thinking and a decent marketing push, and there’s plenty of scope for businesses to reduce their use of plastic and minimise packaging.

Economic growth need not involve littering the planet with yet more stuff we don’t need, or widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots. In Scotland we have the technology – and the know-how – to find creative solutions to environmental problems and sell them to the rest of the world. The time has come to think big.