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Bonus Joules: Holey Leaks!

Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

Holey Leaks!

Bonus Joules looks local and discovers the cartoon is a bleedin' thermal shack.
Bonusjoules Blog - 31 October 2005
Chapter 3 No 8: Flow or Fight with the Universe

Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

This blog nearly wasn’t. I just about lost hope, cashed up, bought a passport, jumped on a plane and spent the rest of my days lazing on some (raised, sheltered) Pacific atoll that you see in the travel ads. The flame of hope did flicker low in me for a moment but here I am again. Just don’t fart near me.

Normally I face with relative equanimity the possibility of meteors slamming into Earth or seismic events dis-embowelling its volcanic innards all over us or gigantic sunspots x-raying us or humans blowing up each other in humongous nuclear warfare or creating pandemics that wipe most of us out. I can accept the risks and carry on in the knowledge that my choice of activities can sustain our children and their children and their children... But the news that the Siberian tundra is melting really hauled me up in my tracks. It almost derailed my sense of positive activism.

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Before I refer you to the articles on this possibly momentous event I will point out the obvious: I am still writing this. I regained my sense of balance and continue to believe that we humans can alter our habits, enjoy meaningful, fun-filled lives and not destroy our species. Sure some of the more power-addicted of us will have difficulty changing our ways but as with all addictions, I am sure people will find freedom from addiction is an almighty release, a real buzz.

I sent the reports of the Big Melt off to a person who I know is profoundly sceptical of the concept that human activities can have such a major impact on the thermal flows and balances of Earth’s ecosystem. He wrote back:

Dear Dave

They certainly get more and more extreme.

My only comment is that the temperature records from Siberia are notoriously unreliable. The Russians shut down half their Met stations in 1987, and as these would have been the more rural ones it gave a big boost to the averages. The McKitrick and Michaels paper shows that it also caused an increase in missing records. Apparently they stopped paying the meteorologists, so they probably did not feel like getting up on cold mornings to take the measurements.

As for the permafrost, I wonder whether they really cover such a large area, or have records that far back. But do the "peer reviewers" check on these things?

1987. Hmmm… This date rings bells for me. It was about that year I recall arguing with policy makers that it was unwise to sack our local meteorologists and rely on vertical pictures gained from satellites. I argued the next major storm that was unpredicted because of the reforms would more than wipe out any Treasury gains. The Rogergnomes (the NZ Chicago School economists or Neocoms of those times) prevailed. Soon after the sackings, a severe “unpredicted” snowstorm hit the Canterbury region killing, from memory, $39 million of lambs. My understanding is that within a short period a meteorologist was quietly reinstated in Christchurch to “interpret local forecasts”.

The rot had set in earlier. My father voluntarily ran a small met station for about 4 decades and fed the results to the Met Office, as did many people living in our rural areas. Then the Bean Counters at the Met Office decided it was too expensive to process this data and canned the scheme. A few years later when the data was needed for planning wind farms it was no longer there.

It is hard to know what to make of the reports of the Siberia melt. Take your choice of links:

The Guardian Warming hits 'tipping point'
The New Scientist
Or the Alternet.

I quote from the latter:

A paper by British scientists Michael J. Benton and Richard J. Twitchett, published in the July 2003 issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution, shows how this (The melt of the Arctic icecap, methane release etc) could happen. 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian era, a release of carbon dioxide from volcanic eruptions apparently heated the Earth's atmosphere by about 6 degrees Celsius.

This initial increase in temperature triggered, in turn, a massive release of methane from Arctic tundra and the oceans. Research by Jeffrey Kiehl and others at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at University of Colorado, Boulder, tells us what happened next. According to their paper in the September 2005 issue of the journal Geology, the Earth's annual mean surface temperature rose by an additional 10 to 30 degrees Celsius.

The result of this runaway global warming was the greatest mass extinction since life emerged from the sea -- 95 percent of all species in existence died.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) is commonly charged with scaremongering and flawed science. They certainly don’t exhibit much science in their communication and generate considerable confusion about climate issues. In this case though it seems they may have underestimated the speed of warming up of the tundra. The article points out IPCC models didn’t account for methane releases from the Arctic, judging them a “real but remote possibility”, not likely to emerge for decades. Well, it seems methane is fair bubbling up out of the newly formed kilometre-wide pools of water. It bubbles up with such force it prevents the surface freezing over in winter even.

Note: A molecule of methane is over 21 times as powerful in its impact on the thermal balances of the atmosphere as a molecule of carbon dioxide. That’s why I made the crack about not farting near me.

Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

Perhaps we should be taking this news seriously in New Zealand.

Our Government promotes images in the primary schools of our country as a tranquil blue and green oasis on a feverish red Earth. As one Government official said to me, ”This picture shows how lucky NZ is because it won’t be affected as badly as other areas”. This insular outlook is manifest in all the relevant national stats. And only this week a teacher was showing me this illustration telling me how wonderful the education resource is and what a marvellous “starter” it is for our children.

Such an illustration is a dangerous and sick starter for any child on this globe for multiple reasons. We few million people living on the isles of New Zealand have altered global thermal balances as much as any comparable group in the world. Our industries make us the highest methane emitters in the world. At the same time we have destroyed over 90% of our forests this last 150 years and have dramatically reduced the ability of own landscape to respond to major changes in our climate. And we sure are not immune to the fate of the other 99.9305% of humanity.

But who believes these scientists anyway? They have all got barrows to push. What are the business wallahs saying? Do they believe an Artic Melt is on? Well it seems they do. Last week the New York Times had a six-page article discussing the commercial possibilities arising from an ice-free Arctic.

“Still, the newest study of the Arctic ice cap - finding that it faded this summer to its smallest size ever recorded - is beginning to make Mr. Broe look like a visionary for buying this derelict Hudson Bay port from the Canadian government in 1997. Especially at the price he paid: about $7.

By Mr. Broe's calculations, Churchill could bring in as much as $100 million a year as a port on Arctic shipping lanes shorter by thousands of miles than routes to the south, and traffic would only increase as the retreat of ice in the region clears the way for a longer shipping season.

With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars.”

It seems the scramble is on as the five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States, jockey for ownership of newly “ice-feed” resources. Other countries like India and China are maintaining an interest in developments too. This State Department meeting possibly sums up the situation:

“In January, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research held a closed two-day meeting to hear from experts on the implications of a warming, opening Arctic.

There are likely to be a number of foreign-policy issues that must be addressed by the United States and other nations" if the climate trends persist, said a summary of the meeting. "These issues include the availability and potential for exploitation of energy, fisheries and other resources; access to new sea routes; new claims under Law of the Sea; national security; and others."

It is the oil and Gas reserves that people are salivating for the most. Current economic logic argues that it is best to extract and burn them as quickly as possible so their gas emissions speed up the melting of the Arctic so new resources can be extracted… This is why I could never be an editorial cartoonist. Modern Economics is funny, disconnected and tragic beyond belief and I would struggle to be more absurd.

Of course there is the possibility this thermal tipping point might trip another tipping point such as closing down the Gulf stream that warms the European coast. Either way the impact will be devastating. None of this featured much in the headlines this week but then this was the week the new coalition Government for New Zealand Government was announced.

It is a litmus test of the Government’s awareness of the advent and impact of the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age on our profoundly oil-addicted country and how this combines with the increased risk of epic climatic “events”. What does the line-up of the new cabinet reveal?

Scrolling down the cabinet pecking order. Scrolling. Scrolling… Ah there are the previous ministers of “energy” and climate issues, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, at 7 and 8. That’s interesting. The Minister of SOEs is now separate from the Minister of Energy…scrolling… scrolling… at number 18 we find an unknown person, David Parker: the new Minister of Energy, Minister of Transport, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Climate Change Issues.

On the surface of it this would seem a screaming indictment of Government awareness of the threat to our economy from our oil-Gas addiction and extreme climate changes. It could well be.

The stats from the last two terms under a Labour-led government revealed that investment policy, on balance, ran seriously counter to all the talk of environmental care. And my concerns and analyses in my last two blogs that we are back in the Think Big/anti-community mode of the 1980s seem well founded. The election confirmed the hypothesis that oil price shocks generated similar behaviour in 1975 and 2005 elections. A post-election example of Think Big this time is the renewed support for the billion-dollar proposal to build a couple of dozen miles of motorway (Transmission Gully) just north of the capital city, Wellington.

But lets take a positive interpretation. Lets assume that the Labour Party has realised that the concept of a “Minister of Energy” is plain nonsense. They have realised it is pure Energy Gobbledygook and there is no way a human can be responsible for energy. At best a cabinet post can administer a few uses of energy forms that are important to humans. Lets assume this is Labour’s way of acknowledging that the Ministers of Agriculture, of Forests, of Housing etc can have a far greater impact on our choice and use of valuable energy forms than the typical “Minister of Energy”.

Similarly the last 6 years showed us the “Minister Responsible for Climate Change Issues” has been powerless to alter Government policies that promote unsustainable consumption, the destruction of forests for dairy farms and fine agricultural land for housing expansion and in general promote the spiralling emission of Warmer Trace Gases. The Minister (Pete Hodgson) has been unable to even communicate how the climate works. This latter failure is in large part because the Education industry, including the Government Education Ministry, generates obscuring and confusing images of energy and how our climate works.

So lets look at the pecking order.

No 1
Helen Clark: Prime Minister. I have no idea how she thinks. She is surrounded by an impenetrable group of minders. The stats of her administration of the last six years don’t look good. The benefits of every windmill built have been far outweighed by shonky construction and urban development, destroyed solar generation capacity and SUV/truck imports.

Michael Cullen: Minister of Finance. Under his administration our oil use addiction has deepened and he seems oblivious to it. See his admission in Parliament early last year that he had not heard of the concept of “Peak Oil”. Car and truck imports have surged even as the price of importing oil and Gas has rocketed. Last month’s trade figures showing New Zealanders imported $1.47 of goods for every $1 we exported. Oil related uses were significant contributors to this serious collapse of our economic system.

Similarly our self-imposed dependence on oil is creating inflationary pressures, which will increase as quality oil becomes more difficult to obtain. No amount of fudging on the part of bankers, “economic experts” and “finance commentators” can avoid this fact of life. I cannot help wondering if Michael is affected by the same fuddled thinking of Radio New Zealand’s “Business Reporters”. A while ago (3 June) Eric described Contact Energy as “NZ’s largest energy institution”. Last week (17 Oct) Brent, in discussing Reserve Bank predictions its 3% barrier would be breached by 0.4%) said to the effect, “Stripping oil prices out of the figures would mean inflation would only be 2.7%…. we cannot do much about oil prices.”

Sorry, Brent and others, but as the good book on the subject of oil use makes clear: The Party is Over. We have to confront our insane use of oil and reshape our civilisation and our concepts of a healthy economy.

I don’t mind paying taxes but such ill-informed commentary is not a good use of them. Of course we can do something about oil prices. I have reduced my personal use of oil by at least 90% since 2001. (I don’t need a medal for my efforts – life is heaps more fun these days too.)

I suspect increased oil-Gas prices had a larger inflationary impact than Brent calculates, especially on below medium income workers in suburban and rural areas. Stripping the figures out can be a valuable exercise but only in the context of exposing the costs of our oil use addiction compared to some of the options we have.

I suspect Dr Cullen agrees we cannot do much about oil prices. He refused to invest in the sunrise industries of rail and local utility grids. He refused to invest the mere $200million required to buy TranzRail’s rolling stock. He would not even countenance lending $500 million to the Vector Trust would have ensured ownership of 1.6 million line terminals would have stayed in community hands and not be transferred to a couple of overseas bankers. Check out The Minister of Finance’s correspondence on these issues.

At the same time he poured billion(s) into propping up a sunset industry. The bulk-travel airline industry is now a very high risk investment and his subsidy severely undermines surface modes of travel that are 100s of times more energy efficient. This is resulting in unnecessary oil imports as well enhancing the risk from pandemics. This week we saw Air New Zealand announce the axing of 600 engineering jobs as rising oil costs impacted. Support for the engineering division was a prime reason given for the huge Government investment. The sane Government response to the collapse of the privately owned Air New Zealand would have been to let the sun set on it and lease a few planes to provide a no-frills service like Virgin while we reshaped our economy

Here I differ with the Green Party. It is pushing to meet the Finance Minister to request that he maintain the engineering jobs by reducing the dividends demanded of the Government- it owns the majority of shares in the airline now. I have been through redundancy twice and lost my income, career, home and family in the process. I wish it upon no one. This said I do not believe it wise for the Government to throw more good money after bad by propping up the bulk air-travel industry. It is not the future.

All effort should be made to transfer those jet-turbine maintenance skills into sustainable industries such as wind-turbine skills and those electrical grid skills into developing “smart”, resilient, community based electricity uses and clever uses of heat exchanges. Propping up bulk-air travel only props up those unsustainable industries that depend on it for exporting such things as flowers and chilled fish to luxury markets around the world. Such trades provide no prospects for the vast majority of humans. The Greens should know this.

Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

This said, the joke of the month was surely this 14 October media release:

Bollard comments welcomed

Finance Minister Michael Cullen today welcomed the speech by the Reserve Bank Governor Dr Alan Bollard, and its strong warnings about the levels of borrowing and spending.

You can read the RB Gov’s concerns (14 Oct) at

Imbalances in the New Zealand economy

In a speech to the New Zealand Credit and Finance Institute today, Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said very strong household spending was a common factor in the widening current account deficit and the inflationary pressures facing the New Zealand economy.

Michael Cullen made this release and announced to the nation that he was informing the Green Party of the Reserve Bank’s concerns about inflationary pressures. It is most helpful to have a superb sense of the absurd and surreal to appreciate this joke fully. The Green Party is the only party that has consistently warned of the inflationary impact of our addiction to oil-Gas used and proposed any systematic alternative solutions. By contrast the Government has actively stoked the addictive behaviour.

Oh and I mentioned Michael Cullen’s lack of investment in local utility grids. The float of Vector Ltd had vast negative implications for New Zealand energy efficiency. When asked to, Michael refused to even intervene and warn community-shareholders in Vector Ltd that the sale would be severely undervalued because it took no account of the potential conjunction of three great new technologies – PLC (broadband through electricity wires and sockets) DG (small scale electricity generation at point of use) and “smart” metering/response systems (Computer-based switchboards in your home.)

To give you an idea what New Zealand has just lost control of, this week’s New York Times featured an editorial entitled a Web on the Grid.

“The potential of this technology is drawing serious investment from companies like Google and leading to a reimagining of the uses of the power grid both here and in Europe…Once you get used to a high-speed connection to the Internet, it's easy to believe that you've already entered the future. But we may soon look back at the broadband access we enjoy now and realize that it was slow, balky and geographically limited.”

The Energy Vortex site in the US reports:

“Research firm Chartwell has looked at the issue. It reports that utilities are interested in BPL, with 6 percent considering such investments in 2000, 20 percent in 2003 and about 33 percent in 2004. Why? Telecom Trends International estimates that the global revenues associated with the technology will rise from $57 million in 2004 to $4.4 billion by 2011. All told, there are four commercial offerings nationally with 36 field trials now taking place.”

It is ridiculous to say the sale of New Zealand’s Telecom was a catastrophic act. The potential disaster from the melt of Siberia’s tundra, which I have just learned covers an area of Germany and France, gives the word real meaning. However it is becoming apparent that sale has cost the country many billions of dollars and its negative effect is becoming exponential. Sure the system has not fallen over completely but it nearly has in places.

In my area we are paying a small fortune to replace and reinforce the local grid as the duplicated telecom cables drag the poles over, putting electricity use at risk. Figures released this week show that from being nearly the highest user of dial-up a decade ago, New Zealand is now near the bottom

"At June 2005, New Zealand’s DSL subscriber rate was 6.4 per 100 inhabitants. Total broadband connections were 6.9 per 100 inhabitants.

"This is 22nd out of 30 countries in the OECD, and is below the OECD average of 7.2 per 100 for DSL, and 11.8 for all types of broadband. We are far behind world leaders like Korea, the Netherlands and Denmark, all of whom have reached over 20 subscribers per 100 inhabitants for all forms of broadband subscription."

Translate this into lost opportunities to reduce oil and Gas consumption by smarter work practices, by smarter design and use of dwellings and by developing greater educational potential. It is no wonder New Zealand is going broke. Suddenly the flog-off of Vector just to keep a couple of (US-Aussie) merchant bankers wealthy and to save the unproductive Stock Exchange from immediate collapse takes on a vast significance. It was our chance to create access to intelligent, affordable broadband that the unwieldly and inefficient privatised Telecom system can never deliver.

It is clear that David Parker has much work to do to bring Michael Cullen up to speed on a range of issues. This is especially true regarding his views on climate processes. As the Finance Minister’s Letter reveals, he retains the antique belief that the atmosphere is a greenhouse.

No 3
Jim Anderton: Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests and Biosecurity, among other portfolios. Now here is a guy in a position to put New Zealand in the lead in sustainable uses of resources that can impact heavily on climate balances. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests are also sectors that are highly vulnerable to even moderate climate changes. Administration of these resources can make or destroy civilisations in double quick time. These portfolios make Jim as eligible as anyone to being called a Minister of Energy.

Jim has consistently fought to keep resources such as electricity- telecommunications and rail in community hands. He even left the Labour Party and set up a separate party to achieve these ends. Against all odds, including No 1 and 2, he re-established a national community-based bank (Kiwi Bank) that has consistently set standards for service delivery to the average citizen in New Zealand. I have no doubt that if Jim had been successful in his efforts to retain Telecom for New Zealand benefit, most of us would have affordable, reasonably intelligent access to broadband now.

However I am still not sure what Jim’s vision is. He has been a successful businessman and understands the financial bottom-line. He certainly has promoted research into community development and the social impact of Government policies. I am not sure how truly he values all three bottom-lines i.e. includes environmental considerations.

Back about 1980 when he was president of the NZ Labour Party I shared a dinner with Jim. At that time, with the first two oil-use shocks still reverberating in our consciousness and the potential implications of the electronic age were also dawning on some of us. We saw the new technology releasing us into new definitions of work that included poets, dreamers, researchers, learners, educators, musicians, artists, scientists, parents and all those unpaid activities that underpin civilisation. Each citizen would receive a dividend from the benefits of the new technology. This would supplement these other “unpaid” activities beyond the 20-25 hours a week of paid “formal work” required of each citizen.

We saw the current trends as unsustainable, leading to a grey, miserable world in which industrial-military complexes generated terror to enable the wealthy few to exploit technological advances and gut remaining resources for their personal benefit. So I suggested to Jim that new technology could allow a great new definition of work and give people an extra day or two a week for people to enjoy their families and interests.

His eyes glazed over and I knew this was not just caused by the cold/flu he was suffering from. He then dismissed my proposals out of hand, saying, ”I don’t think so. People just do not realise how much wealth we have in these (Think Big) projects.” Well, I never forgot the disappointment I felt in that moment. Clearly he saw no need to change from the status quo and now a generation later our people are indebted on a scale unimaginable in 1980, the Maui Gas field is gutted; an international aluminium smelting corporation, Comalco has been the enormous beneficiary of the $2 billion, 12-14cents a unit, Clyde hydro-dam; home ownership is plummeting; people are locked into narrow work routines of 50 to 70 hours a weeks and have little or no time for their families and other interests; and the latest trade figures suggest the country is haemorrhaging. Still I maintain hope Jim will kick the Think Big–more highway-oil consumption mode and work to unlock the wonderful community potential that I am sure can see us through the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age.

No 4
Steve Maharey: Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Broadcasting etc. The Education portfolio must be another frontrunner for the impossible title of “Minister of Energy”. It is education and our images of the nature of energy that sustain us, not technology.

If you still need proof that technology does not drive sustainable change then check out the impact of SUV technology or Telecom sale or the Vector sale. The widespread use of SUVs means the US and NZ national vehicle fleets are less energy efficient than they were a generation ago – probably well under 20 mpg. Broadband cables run into our homes but they are such crap deals we don’t use them. Our grandparents made more effective use of electricity than we do.

The technology to provide universal, cheap, sustainable transport, communications and electricity use options has been with us for generations now. The obstacle to the use of that technology has been ignorance and lack of education. Technology is only as good as the wisdom with which it is used. One problem is that at present our images of how energy works are largely generated by the PR industry. This means the Minster of Education is in a powerful position to promote the use of sustainable images that enable us to protect and enjoy resources such as solar energy and the air we breathe. Sadly I must disagree with the Green Party again.

Green-Govt deal good news for environmental education

The renewed commitment to environmental education contained in the Green Party's deal with the new Government will do much to advance the cause of sustainability in coming years, Green Party Environmental Education Spokesperson Metiria Turei says.

My experience is that the Environmental Education industry is a major obstacle to knowledge. Steve, with all his experience in communications, may be able to cut his way through the jungle of PR spin, Greenwash and Energy Gobbledygook that now blights our formal education system. Hopefully he can reinstate the scientific uses of symbols that are key to the communication of effective energy use in general and our impact on the climate in particular. This will provide No 2, maybe No1 and most of us with a far more dynamic and organic vision of how the atmosphere works and how we can make best use of it in our daily lives.

Here’s hoping Steve can also wise up No 12 to the power of symbols and the dangers of sponsorship in education.

No 12
Chris Carter, the Minister of Conservation and Housing. Both these portfolios have profound links to major resource use. The Government agencies associated with them have considerable clout in defining our images of energy. The promotion of best uses of air and electricity have a direct impact on dwelling use and this in turn impacts on the quality of our forests, rivers and oceans. At present agencies like BRANZ are fundamentally just the mouthpieces of the powerful Bulk-electricity and construction sectors.

At the NZAEE AGM just pre-election a person expressed their concern about the impact of sponsorship on education to Chris Carter. He replied blithely to the effect:

"I will take anyone’s money- its no deal…I am quite shameless – I will always agree to take cash as long as there is no cost.”

Steve should alert him to the fact that (a) corporations are bound only to serve the (short term) interests of their principal shareholders (b) it is congenital that they never do anything that does not work for those narrow interests and (c) they have very sophisticated understandings and subtle uses of the primal response. In short: there is always a price to pay with sponsorship – especially a political price. We saw that with the Leaky Homes, Fart Tax and Carbon Trading fiascos.

There is another very powerful minister that is not in the list – he is one of the “Ministers outside Cabinet from Other Parties with Supply and Confidence Agreements.” Winston Peters of the NZ First Party is Minister of Foreign Affairs and Associate Minister for Senior Citizens.

Winston is an extraordinary politician and was the only one who seriously questioned how a Government paid a couple of merchant bankers, Fay and Richwhite, hundreds of millions of dollars to take ownership of an asset with tens of billions of dollars and gut it. I refer to the whole of the New Zealand Rail system. Even more extraordinary is that the Government initially contracted Fay Richwhite to advise it on how to sell the system. Naturally they said give it to us.

Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

There is nothing new in such processes. The bankers of the oil sector have long indulged in the process of co-opting local politicians and editors to serve their interests. One way or another they gain control of the transport system and close down the rail system, tear up the tramway tracks or rip down the trolley bus wires. New Zealand is not exempt from such attentions and within a decade of the NZRail “sale”, the rail system was gutted and our roads crammed with trucks, private cars and diesel buses.

Winston alone and at great personal risk attempted to expose the shady dealings that enabled the destruction of this highly energy efficient service. The odds were stacked heavily against him as politicians from both the National and Labour parties as well as bankers and media had much to lose if all the financial and political dealings were exposed. He was subject to constant derision by them all, even when he exposed the fact that a NZRail ferry grounded in Queen Charlotte Sounds.

Last year it looked as though some of those corporate dealings were to at last be exposed when insider-trading charges were laid against NZRail managers. At last the country might learn how the rail system was gutted and the scale of its negative impact on our economy and the environment. It surely ranks with Enron in its proportionate impact. The resultant road carnage has alone brought great heart ache to so many New Zealand families.

The “sale” is beyond ideological debate now. There is a decade of solid, historical fact showing the systematic rundown of the national rail system achieved the oil sector’s objectives. What happened when this recent grand opportunity to reveal the murky deals occurred?

About that time the ACT party, whose long time leader, Richard Prebble, had set up the system for sale in his time as Minister of Rail in the Labour Party, “suddenly found” five year old material on a Maori cabinet minister, John Tamahere, and accused him of corruption. Our media, ever susceptible to racism, tore off down a blind alley after ACT and devoted countless headlines to John’s supposed misdealing. Against the scale of the NZRail deals, the accusations against John were miniscule to the point of being puerile. Last I heard ACT’s accusations were proven unfounded. Coincidence or not, our main media have never supported any endeavour to expose the impact of the “sale” of our rail system. Winston stands out as the only person prepared and able to. He also was alone in Parliament in condemning the recent PowerCo sale deals.

My point is Winston has extraordinary abilities that can help New Zealand survive the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age. Sure his statements concerning his ability to control inflation by fiscal practice in the 1990s suggests a serious disconnect with the nasty reality that low inflation stemmed from cheap oil, Gas and steel through that period, not his administrative skills. Similarly his call for a reduction in petrol taxes plus his party’s calls for “subsidies” for domestic Bulk-electricity users are unhelpful in this new age.

What the elderly and other poorer sections of our nation require is cheap accessible transport. This can be supplied using energy efficiency practice. The private vehicle and the infrastructure that supports it are incredibly inefficient and were designed to be so. As I shall point out later we need increased taxes on petrol and diesel.

Also New Zealanders need dwellings with decent moisture and thermal barriers and the ability to generate their own thermal and electrical needs. Here Winston will encounter shonky dealings and shady politics that will challenge his very considerable investigative skills. We need proper insulation and the right to reversible metering so we can be released from the grip of the Bulk-electricity sector. Present NZ Party proposals only cement in the hold of this sector over our lives and impoverish us.

Not mentioned on the list is Jeanette Fitzsimons, co-leader of the Green Party who has been made spokesperson on Energy Efficiency. Here’s hoping she can teach agencies like EECA, CCO, BRANZ etc a few fundamentals starting with the fact that energy cannot be conserved and that energy efficiency enhances, not reduces life styles.

So at No 18 we have the new “Energy”, Transport and Climate portfolios under a relative unknown, David Parker. The first thing he will be presented with is something called the Climate change Policy Review

No, the policy is not about swapping spring with autumn or the West Coast with Canterbury or stopping solar flares or other such climate changes we experience. Its all about ensuring New Zealanders can trade our way out of any responsibility for our emissions of the Warmer Trace Gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. That’s the rude truth of the psychology of Carbon Trading mechanisms. It’s a rationalising mechanism, not an expression of love and care. It is unsustainable.

If David is concerned to reduce our emissions and promote energy efficient practice then he is best to bin the concept of carbon trading altogether and work with the ministers primarily responsible for our impact on climate balances –No 3 and No 4 in particular, unrated, out-of-party Winston, Jeanette and also no 12.

As mentioned, No 12 is Housing. The cartoon journey that accompanies this blog was written three years ago now and I find it uncanny how it somehow seems relevant to current affairs each week.

Bonus Joules has explored the great Holey myths of space and now is set to explore the holes in our energy efficiency practice in our dwellings. Such focus is timely as new bods have just been appointed to head the Building Research Board, we are designing a new Building Code, class actions are hitting the court as a result of the Leaky (moisture) Homes Investment Policy and the “Faulty House’s Report” is just out. Inspectors rate half the houses in the sample as below “good”. If they had rated them on thermal standards I am sure over 90% of our homes would be condemned for leaking like sieves.

I will finish with a point that may interest the Automobile Association, Grey Power?, Winston, Don Brash (Leader of the National Party) and others who have suggested reducing taxes on petrol.

In my last blog I proposed the unorthodox economic theory that if we put a high value on oil and Gas then we would retail them at a high price to ensure they are sustained in an affordable way for the next generations to maintain their food and health systems. Then the price would go down and the resource would be retained for our children’s use too.

This weekend’s New York Times had an interesting editorial entitled:

Gas Taxes: Lesser Evil, Greater Good

Published: October 24, 2005

There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming. And there's no disputing that America's oil consumption fosters both. Oil profits that flow to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries finance both terrorist acts and the spread of dangerously fanatical forms of Islam. The burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse emissions that provoke climate change. All the while, oil dependency increases the likelihood of further military entanglements, and threatens the economy with inflation, high interest rates and risky foreign indebtedness. Until now, the government has failed to connect our crises and our consumption in a coherent way….

Cheap gas is no longer compatible with a secure nation, a healthy environment or a healthy economy - if ever it was. The real question is whether we should continue paying the extra dollar or two per gallon in the form of profits to the Saudis and other producers, or in the form of taxes to the United States Treasury, where the money could be used to build true energy independence.”

Be alert to all the Energy Gobbledygook. For instance what the editorial is talking about is building independence. That’s all and that’s enough. This said, the idea is an interesting variation on my proposal. Our Reserve Bank has just raised interest rates to 7% (27 Oct) to fund the habits of our oil use addicts. This means:
More money for the overseas money-movers.
More money for the oil bankers.
More money for Bulk-electricity bankers.

Far better that petrol be taxed and the Government use the funds to enable serious home insulation and smart electricity use in New Zealand. I, and probably you too, would be richer three ways. Think about it. And yes, the NYT editorial is mindful of the need to mitigate the impact of oil taxes on the poor too.

This week's Junk Joules Award for Energy Gobbledygook and services to the Bulk-electricity sector goes to jointly to Stuff and M-Co

“Energy prices down as temperatures rise

26 October 2005

New Zealand spot power prices fell over the past week, notably in the North Island, as warmer weather reduced demand and negated the effects of reduced flows into the nation's hydro-electricity catchments.

Market operator M-Co said New Zealand's stored energy fell 3 percent over the past seven days to 78 percent of normal levels.”

Citation: Superb confusion of energy with energy forms. First class obscurification of the fact that there are many forms of energy. (Bulk-electricity is just one form and it is best thought of as a carrier of energy. And this month has seen grass growth alone go from ankle height to fence height around much of New Zealand. Some areas will see record silage stores. The equinoxial gales are blowing outside as I write. I am sure their increased store of energy more than offset any fall in lake levels.)

And the Bonus Joules Award for Smart Uses of Technology goes jointly to Radio New Zealand and SCOOP Independent News for their new websites.

Citation: For too long wonderful interviews with people of great knowledge and wisdom have disappeared into the ether with the initial broadcast. Now all this energy is stored for our use and we have increased chance of developing the legendary Knowledge Economy. All we have to do now is get all our special interest networks to flick the links around all their people. I AM ELATED. SO GREAT!


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