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Bonus Joules: Gods of Energy

Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

Gods of Energy


(In which Chapter Bonus Joules explores how our current image of the nature of energy came to rule human consciousness and who made the rules.)
Bonus Joules asks the Minister of Energy the Big Scientific Question
Bonusjoules Blog
Chapter 4 No 1 Gods of Energy
Blog Dave McArthur published 5 May Feb 2006


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

Hope. Where do you and I find hope? It’s a good question to ask as we sit here in New Zealand in the growing dark and deepening chill of autumn eating chocolate eggs and bunnies to celebrate the arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and Easter (from Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of dawn.) We don’t celebrate our own spring. Funny eh.

Maybe there is method in the madness. Maybe as we watch our deciduous trees strip for winter, as we pull our curtains early at night to hide the arrival of condensation on our windows and as we smell the dank wet of new cooled ground it is helpful to celebrate spring and fill our minds with images of hope. Maybe it promotes the production of hormones to keep our cells strong through the long cold dark nights ahead?

It is undeniable that this New Zealand celebration reflects a basic disconnect with our natural world. Religions work best when they are in close harmony with nature and it does seem we are out of tune with many of the major energy systems that sustain us. National statistics reveal the scale of our waste of precious fossil fuels, forests, soils, fresh water and clean air. Those of us who follow the full fasting rituals surrounding the northern spring will weaken ourselves for winter and fail to purge ourselves in spring. Our “universities” still religiously base their long vacations around Christmas even though they are right out of kilter with the crops we grow now.

Thirty-five years ago when I was a student there was some sense to this. Slaughtering our lambs for the European Christmas market was large operation requiring the casual labour of thousands of students. I spent four seasons in the gut houses of the “freezing works”. Since then our sheep stocks are much diminished and marketing strategies have altered so that employment in the slaughterhouses is no longer available for students in their long vacation. It is now not uncommon for them to jet off by the planeload to work overseas in the long break.

Meanwhile fruit crops have replaced the sheep and they require harvesting after the students are back at university. So now we bring in planeloads of people from overseas to do the work. This is a needless waste of precious resources such as oil. It is also a great loss to our culture as our young fail to be linked to the earth of this nation and to develop strong bonds with the people who till it. Then our politicians and academics wring their hands about the “youth drain” and wonder how to stop it. When I was young 50% of us lived in rural areas, now only 13% of us do.

Yes, there are good reasons why I wrote “university”. A common meaning of university that many in academia will subscribe to is:

Meaning #3: a large and diverse institution of higher learning created to educate for life and for a profession and to grant degrees

To quote from dictionary reference.com

The word university is from Latin universitas, "the whole," from universus, "combined into one."

These definitions prompt the question: Do we have any universities in New Zealand? The small example I have just given suggesting how the institutions are basically out of kilter with our seasons and culture suggests a basic disconnect, a lack of oneness. However I have greater reason to suspect they are dysfunctional, exclusive entities. They may not be the best source of hope and science.

Longer term readers of my blogs will know my accounts of how a Victoria based university Environmental Education guru blocked my attempts to promote discussion on potential the conflicts between our National Energy Efficiency Strategy and our Kyoto strategy and my proposals for resolving the confusion.

It is our universities that have put into our schools the Enviroschool’s programme teaching our children how to care for the balances of the environment that sustain us. In their rarefied world carbon is not an issue, the atmosphere is not fundamental and the massive all powerful PR industry does not exist. They have deliberately ignored these great issues and challenges to sustainability. Not much oneness and hope is manifest here.

It is our local universities that provided the shock troops of shiny Business Administration graduates employed by the likes of Arthur Andersen and Co, KPMG etc to do the grunt work demolishing the intelligence of our electricity and telecommunication systems. Last year I finally got to hear one of Victoria University’s economics gurus explain how they trained these people. It was a joke come true.

Back in the mid 1990s as we watched the antics of these graduates restructuring, Wellingtons City Bulk-electricity/telecommunications network (Capital Power) we meter readers used to sit around making jokes about them. If you didn’t joke you would weep helplessly, endlessly.

I well recall one meter reader, a man of little formal education who emigrated here in the 1950s from the slums of one of those grimy industrial cities in Britain (Sheffield?), observing to the effect. “Bleedin Heck, these guys know the bleedin price of everything and the bleedin value of nothing…its like they make up some bleedin airy fairy pie in the sky company and say that its us…”

Well he might not have had much schooling beyond the age of thirteen but he was a much wiser man than those university graduates. Turns out he was bang on in with his comments.

The Victoria University economics guru explained that to work out the value of a (Bulk) electricity company you set up a hypothetical company based on estimates of what it would cost to create the real company from new.

Which is what these guys did. The problem was a lack of oneness, of inclusion. They did not know to include the value of the company in a post Cheap Oil-Gas era. They did not know about the coming confluence of “smart appliances”, small-scale distributed generation options and of broadband over utility wires mainly used for transmitting Bulk-electricity at present. Indeed they were even unaware that those wires had been already used for communication for fifty years. They did not know that earthquakes and hurricanes happen. They did not know that some people in society operate with criminal intent.

Not too much hope here either. As a result of their calculations and manipulations Wellington people got paid an airy fairy rock bottom price for Capital Power and now cannot even dream of having an intelligent grid to sustain the region in the future. It is no mistake the city slips ever deeper into debt, as was recently reported in the Capital Times.

Last week the council signed off the Annual Plan 2005-06 which forecasts debt to rise from its current level of $94 million to $361 million in the next eight years.

Servicing the debt this year will cost $12 million, or 4.3% of total council income. That will rise to $27 million, or 8.5% of income, in 10 years.

This council takes the stance that new assets should be paid for by borrowing, which is repaid by future generations, who benefit from the assets.

This last logic is a bit hopeless too. Our city council has given away the key infrastructure assets carefully accumulated by past generations that provide the essential wealth for the following generations. Much of that wealth resided in the intelligence potential that was inherent in having ownership and control of essential infrastructure such as transport and electricity systems. Our generation inherited those great assets freehold. So we should bequeath our children an equal or greater asset freehold because there are more of us. Some hope.


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

What will happen to the city when the city’s addictive use of oil translates into inflation, high interest rates and the withdrawal of the large subsidies from the national coffers that it at present enjoys?

The astonishing thing is that the city’s traditional university, Victoria University, gave Hon Fran Wilde, the mayor most responsible for this tragic loss of assets, an honorary degree in 2004. At the same time it gave an honorary degree to Hon Dave Caygill, the Minister of Finance when Telecom was sold for under $4NZ billion to US based interests. See my last blog for my brief reflections on the sad results of that sale.

As a footnote to those comments, there are now signs of hope. Today the Government announced it is going to legislate that Telecom must “unbundle” the local loop so that more service providers can access it. Naturally these firms are ecstatic. Our National and Act parties have immediately condemned the proposal, expressing their concern about property rights. Quite right. Pity they supported the original transfer of Telecom to a few individuals for a fraction of its value and against the will of up to 90% of the people back in 1990. We have paid the new Telecom owners many times over for the local loop since and in the process the nation has slipped from its traditional place as one of the top telecommunications companies in the world to near Third World status.

Back to this disconnect, this lack of oneness, this un- universitas of Victoria University. It was manifest in the Climate Change and Governance Conference it held in Wellington last month. Today’s Morning Report gave coverage to a new group of “scientists” set up to counter what it feels is the imbalance of the CC&G Conference. Within three hours Greenpeace has released a statement slagging the group, stating among other things:

“The scientific community is united, the debate is over,” says Ms Atkinson.

Ends

Maybe more than just the media release has ended with that statement. What in hell is “the scientific community”? Is it not the end of debate the kiss of death to science? Is it not the end of hope? Is not hell a lack of hope?

I actually find hope in the emergence of this new group, even if I find little hope in their use of symbols of the nature of energy. Its statements are equally as hopeless as all the utterances of the Conference speakers I heard interviewed on National Radio (Lord Oxburgh, Kevin Tremberth, Jim Salinger, David Vaughan etc.)

For some reason I feel I should pause this point and acknowledge that I am well aware this discussion does not interest some. Our broadsheet journalists have taken to trashing bloggers like me as “interminably boring”. Actually I am privileged. I rarely, if ever, know boredom. I cannot imagine being involved in a greater drama than being in the frontlines of the struggle for the survival of our civilisation. That is what this is about. And science with all its insights and uncertainties is immensely thrilling and I love the journey. I enjoy much hope.

If those journalists think this subject boring then they are going to find life interminably boring if our present military wars over remaining resources hit a flashpoint and engulf us. War and terror are very boring. Just read the accounts of our soldiers, trapped for months in diarrhea and stinking corpse drenched trenches, sucking mud or dust and stench and knowing only a meaningless mindless hell in maybe your last moments. Then you and your children will know true boredom.

Anyway, as mentioned in my last blog I stood in a cool southerly outside the citadels of the Climate Change and Governance Conference early one morning last month and put a leaflet into the hands of 150 delegates as they arrived. Most were intent on scurrying out of the climate for the calm and shelter of the large greenhouse, which is Te Papa, our national museum. I greeted most saying, “Just trying to put some science into the communication of climate issues.”

It was difficult to gauge their reaction. Only three stopped to talk for a moment. A couple of delegates snapped, “It’s happening!” It was clear they had such a fixed mindset that meant they could not hear that I was not necessarily questioning the science of climate issues. That is a common response, even to written emails to climate scientists.

There may have been a slight trend for younger delegates to respond positively. I found hope in comments such as “About time” and “Thanks – its needed”. Older delegates tended to look more affronted and impatient. However it may be that they were just feeling chilled by the brisk polar wind as I was.

The conference was very exclusive and designed for academics, students (they got a cut rate) and for those whose employer could fork out $325 plus costs for them. It would have been interesting how many would have attended if they had to pay their own way and in their own holiday time. I had tried to persuade the officials organising the event to make allowance for those folk who are passionate to learn about the issue, are low paid and could not attend full time because of work commitments. It was a hopeless crusade.


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

The second evening of the conference was the only event open to the public –films and a discussion at the Paramount theatre. I raced through my school cleaning chores at an exhausting pace and arrived to find the doors barred and many people being turned away. I slipped in with a group of caterers and managed to join a queue of about twenty people for any seats vacated in the latter part of the programme. We sat in the foyer for an hour listening to the distant murmur of voices and smatterings of applause. A couple of times younger people could not resist their curiosity and opened the doors into the theatre to listen. The theatre management immediately admonished, pulled them out and the doors firmly shut again.

For no apparent reason, just as the discussion was ending, a decision was made to sell us tickets. Yes, folks, despite our deprivation we had pay full theatre entry rates. I viewed most of the remaining three short films and concluded they contained little hope.

One film had some credibility. Its seems the Amazon rain forest may be absorbing a large portion of humanity’s current carbon emissions This could explain the phenomenal increase in forest growth this last three decades. However excess carbon dioxide fertilisation has its risks with trees over-reaching water and nutrient levels. They become less resilient to droughts and computer simulations suggest the region may become more prone to drought. With the increased risk of extensive die-off comes the increased risk of forest fires. If this occurs all that excess carbon dioxide could be returned to the atmosphere very suddenly.

I had to leave a couple of minutes early to catch the last bus and may have missed the thing we most need: hope. Maybe in those last minutes the film identified and addressed the real issue, which is the legislative framework that prevents the average person living sustainably. This legislation is the great blind spot and it is also something the average citizen can change. In this potential is the greatest hope. I doubt the film released that potential. The individual can make few intelligent responses until that legislation is replaced.

For your interes, here is the short statement I presented to delegates:

Statement to members of 2006 NZ Climate Change and Governance Conference Wellington

The communication of climate change issues is lacking of a science. There has been a significant investment in the development of a science of climate processes. We now require research in the impact of the popular climate symbols. This work will use techniques such as consumption analysis and fMRI to determine actual responses to the use of key climate symbols.

Interim Response

It is proposed that conference members adopt the following symbol uses until a science of climate communication is established.

Avoid Climate Change

Suggestion: use Thermal Build-up, Net WarmUp Human-Induced Climate Imbalance.

Qualify any use of the climate change symbol with principal driver eg seasonal, solar, tectonic, human, El Nino, La Nina, etc

Avoid Global Warming

Suggestion: use Human-Induced Climate Imbalance, Thermal Build-up, Net WarmUp

Avoid greenhouse symbols

Suggestion: use Atmospheric Effect, Atmospheric Balances, Human-Induced Climate Imbalance, Warmer Trace Gases, Thermal Balance, etc.

Reserve use of greenhouse symbol for communication of best insulation practice in buildings, food storage, clothing etc i.e. carbon emissions mitigation practice.

Avoid blanket symbols

Suggestion: use Atmospheric Effect, Thermal Flows, Air’s Thermal Capacity,

Reserve use of blanket symbol for communication of best insulation practice in buildings, food storage, clothing etc i.e. carbon emissions mitigation practice.

Avoid confusion of state: constant state/no temperature change = warming, cooling. Change state/ temperature change = warming UP, cooling DOWN

Additional proposals

Avoid calling forms of energy energy. Suggestion: Talking energy forms, carriers and fuels? State energy forms, carriers and fuels. E.g. Do not exclude air from the energy equation by calling fuels (oil, coal, Gas) energy. Fuel PLUS Atmosphere = Energy

Avoid calling forms of power power. Suggestion: talking power form or source? State form eg solar, wind, tidal, electricity (state type eg thermoelectricity, atmospheric electricity, geoelectricity, Bulk-electricity v DG-electricity, static electricity, bioelectricity etc)

Join the call for an international review of the symbols we use to portray the nature of energy, including climate processes. More at www.bonusjoules.co.nz

It seems pretty simple eh. And yes it is. It just asks that we say what we mean. I guess the problem is some people cannot afford to say what they mean for then they becoming walking lies. More on that next blog – since the conference I have pulled together an interesting psychological profile of the climate protagonists.

Also if this proposal is adopted it means that many of environmental education and science resources would have to be pulled from our schools. And agencies like our Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change would have to change even their names. This will be messy on the budgets and some academia careers but great for sign-writers, publishers and web-designers.

The scale of the resistance to the proposal was brought home to me when I wrote to a Victoria University Environmental Education guru after the conference. I had judged this person to be of clear, open and scientific mind.

I had analysed the other public face of the conference - the interviews on our National Radio with several of its keynote speakers. Almost every interview generated net nonsense when measured against my proposal. Energy was confused with forms and constant change states (energy in = energy out) were confused with altered change states.(energy in >energy out).

I had not spotted this person entering the conference and thought he might be interested in my proposal to the conference. I also though he might be interested in why a layperson and simple citizen might conclude the conference was counterproductive to the articulated objectives of its architects.

I had no idea that he was one of the architects. Indeed I had imagined for various reasons, including the conference design, that the Government and our Climate Change Office were the prime movers behind the event. The response from this person did not acknowledge my proposal and was not a large source of hope:

"… I was involved in organizing the whole thing from start to finish. You seem intent on being negative about just about everything and this of course is your choice. I do not share the same negative view."

It looks like I am back to the drawing board with this communication. How so I communicate the positive vision of energy I enjoy? My proposals are simple. And, yes, I am aware that in their simplicity are radical ideas such as a focus on teaching about our trace natures and our thermal beings. How do I express the hope to be found in them? Where do I find hope?

I was going to write about the hope I found in the ANZAC day ceremonies last week in Featherston. This can be another blog. I will just say I found much hope at commemorations as we remembered the legions of our young who died in the hell-holes of war fighting that the truth might prevail.

The comments of Commander Richard (Lance) Cook of the Royal New Zealand Navy Deeply were relevant to my appeal for a review of the symbols we use to portray the nature of energy so the truth may prevail. He spoke of a war going on now that is different to the one experienced by the soldiers that we were commemorating. He described it as an Internet based war in which the control of our minds and culture is being fought for, backed with the strategic use of bombs. I believe he is correct though we may see the war in terms of different protagonists.

I also found much hope walking in my neigbourhood in the Easter holidays. I met a few people I had not seen for a while and they asked what I am up to these days. Most of them had gotten to know me in the decade I read the Bulk-electricity meter in their homes. I replied “Oh I spend about forty hours a week trying to put a little more science into the communication of the nature of energy and climate issues and stuff when I am not janitor down the school.”

I find a lot of hope in the fact that every one expressed an interest in my work, especially when I explained in simple language how our experts are screwing us up. They expressed relief to learn that the confusion they feel when they hear experts talking is a common experience and can be explained. As someone said, “ I am relieved to learn it’s not me that is screwed up like I thought.” In particular they really lit up when I explained the role of trace gases in our lives. These were fun conversations.

Yes, I find relatively little hope in our “universities”, the leaders of our “environment” parties, agencies, journalists and other “experts” on “energy” and climate issues. If I am right then all these groups are their own worst enemy. However I know there is a real scientific mind alive out there on the street and it that I find much hope.

The general public know there is a something seriously awry in the debate of the issues. It was articulated a few weeks ago by Astar, a member of The Panel on National Radio’s Afternoons. At the end of a discussion about our “energy crisis” with an “energy consultant”, Brian Leyland, she declared she still felt very unsatisfied and concluded:

"There's a bit of fog around this......"

Similarly yesterday The Panel discussed climate issues with Vincent Gray, a member of the new group of scientists set up to “give balance” to the views propagated by those at the Victoria University conference. What strikes me is how identical the two groups are identical in their use of climate symbols. They are equally baffling.


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

At the end of the discussion a member of the panel, Christine Rankin, declared at the conclusion of the climate debate “I honestly don’t know… as I said about this before… I am a bit confused about this– something about this does not really ring true.”

I find great hope to be found in such declarations. Common sense prevails at large. The truth will be out.

These declarations reveal that the “little scientist” in each of us that has sustained us these hundreds of thousands of years is still alive in the layperson. People detect the flaws and inconsistencies inherent in the “expert’s” use of key symbols and rightly conclude science is lacking in their lives.

If my theory is right, there is a sound and unhelpful reason why our academics and scientists deliberately generate a fog of confusion. If it is correct, then in that very difficult truth there is much hope for greater humanity.

Next blog I hope to publish my letter to Greenpeace summarising where that theory is at. I am still searching to find the tools to express the humanity and compassion that generated it.

This blog marks a small milestone. We start chapter four of Bonus Joules in Search of the Knowledge Economy. I should explain to new readers that this cartoon was first published a couple of years ago now. However it is as relevant as ever. The deliberate confusion of our images of the nature of energy is greater than ever and in this chapter Bonus Joules sets out to meet the Minister of Energy, one of the great sources of the confusion.

And mention of the person who would deem themselves to be a god figure reminds me of other cause for hope. My last blog expressed my dismay at the shambles of New Zealand climate policy. The Minister of Energy and Climate Matters, David Parker, had just resigned after being accused of deliberate corruption. Even if he did the misdeed, it is incredibly minor in the great scheme of things. Evidence has turned up clearing him of the accusations and this week he has been returned to these portfolios.

Here’s hoping we can enjoy a more intelligent national response to the big issues now and become more at one with our climate and the nature of energy.

ENDS

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