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Dave McArthur: Heated Matters

Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

Heated Matters

Bonus Joules balances on the Trace Tightrope of Existence

Blog by Dave McArthur 7 Dec 2008

How do you communicate the nature of the environment to Environmental Educators? I find the enormity of the challenge is so great I find myself becoming quite inarticulate. Here is my story.

The Setting

Wellington harbour is a wondrous place. Words and photos fail to portray the moods, colours and sparkle of this near landlocked harbour. You can gain a sense of its geography here. Note the speck a little north of the centre of the harbour. This is Matiu Somes Island. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has photos and short videos of the history and biology of the island here.

I have known the island for 60 years now. It has always evoked a sense of mystery, awe and foreboding. As one sails past it on the ferries and looks down on it from aeroplanes the bleak buildings and concrete gun emplacements are like huge memorials. They form reminders that Maori tribes fought and died attacking and defending its cliffs. Then for a century the island was a quarantine centre. Sick people were offloaded from ships here and died of terrible diseases, including young soldiers who had survived the carnage of the trenches in the First World War and then perished in the Great Flu Epidemic. New Zealanders of Italian and German extraction were interned here for years during the World Wars of last century because of their names.

My first memories of it are of a barren, grassed world, razed drought-yellow in the summer, gale swept, rain-green in the winter. It was forbidden land. Its role as an animal quarantine station for the decades after World War Two gave it a quasi-religious status, for this was the place that epitomised our worship of money. The national consensus was that keeping our pastures and animal stock safe from any possibility of invasion by unwanted organisms was a sacred duty. At the same time the island, bereft of native plants and birds and straddled by an industrial complex was a reminder that wave on wave of human invaders had completely re-engineered New Zealand in their likeness, destroying other species on scale in the process.

Now, for this last two decades since the animal quarantine station was closed, I have witnessed the slow regeneration of the original habitat as volunteers have donated millions of hours to the propagating and planting over 100,000 plants - most native to the region. Each summer the covering of the island has incrementally transformed with the rich, green convolutions of emerging forests pervading the drought-yellow of the grasses.

And now with the introduction of rare and endangered species of lizards and birds the skies and bushes of the island are now alive with calls and rustles now rarely heard on the main islands of New Zealand. It is a time warp glimpse into what was and what might be.

It takes 45 minutes to walk around the island and every turn in the path provides glimpses of the world out there, reminders of humans foot prints on this planet.

There is the constant roar of jets accelerating overhead onto the winds of the Roaring Forties as an elite of human beings each single-handedly destroy whole barrels of our precious remaining reserves of mineral oil in a desperate few hours keeping themselves aloft. Ships glide by stacked high with motley coloured containers of non-recyclable goods or with gleaming white luxurious cabins inhabited by rich tourists.

Motorways ring much of the harbour, animated by a constant flow of cars and trucks, also destroying remaining mineral oil and gas reserves on scale. The flow is interspersed with occasional moments of sanity in the form of electrically driven trains trundling along the tracks by the motorway.

In one corner of the harbour glitzy office blocks gleam, reminders of the money traders and policy makers who dominate the transformations of our lands, oceans and skies. Carbon forms only have value for these folk if they can profit from their trades in them. Their activities influence the dynamics of societies and other ecosystems around the planet as they promote carbon trading, “free markets” and the investments in derivatives based on vast undervaluations of mineral oil.

Turn 180 degrees and the harbour is sliced with the long wharf for fuel tankers. It points towards a large cluster of gleaming white mushroom-like growths along the foreshore, which are the fuel storage tanks for feeding our insatiable desire for mineral oil.

The miles of bare grassed hills and dark monolithic blocks of pinus radiata forming much of the harbour skyline reflect the reality of much of New Zealand now.

Hidden in one of these dark pine forests areas on a nearby prominent headland is Wellington’s prison, a reminder of the murky underbelly of our shiny, glittering culture.

At night the lights surrounding the harbour dull the celestial pageant in the sky above. On the island we are too distant to hear the endless whine generated by the cars of the motorways. They form streams of light in the night defining the harbour perimeter. The eye is drawn to two powerful, glaring white stars above a glinting metal shape. On the island we are a faraway land, too distant even to hear the histrionics and alternating roars of elation and disappointment from the tens of thousands of human beings clustered striped cheek by painted jowl in the sport stadium, insulated within a world defined by the fortunes of their favourite foot ball team.

On the island it is quiet enough to hear the faint rustle of the ancient and rare tuatara in the undergrowth. The island is one of their last refuges from the activities of Homo sapiens, one of the only places where there is also refuge for vital elements of their diet in the form of our unique Cook Strait giant wetas. In their rustle we are linked to eons two hundred million years past. The trees they rustle through here are testimony of the power of humans to love, to conserve biodiversity.

Maybe this relatively still place at the centre of this swirling hurricane of human activity is where we can more easily observe the confluence of man-mind and matter-energy, where we can more fully experience being the environment, where we are one with all.

The Expedition

We depart from the Wellington wharf on the harbour ferry on a perfect November Friday morning. The skies are clear and blue, the waters are calm and the movement of the ferry generates most of the fresh balmy breeze we experience. On arrival on the island we are locked in a small, hot room on the wharf and instructed to search our luggage and clothing for seeds, mice, insects or any other unwelcome matter. It is a graphic reminder that we are a major threat to the balances of life on the island.

Our group is about 20 Environmental Educators, mainly members of the NZAEE, and several girls of about ten years of age from Thorndon Primary School. Throughout the day we are treated to the insights of people who are passionate students in the conservation of the flora, the birds, the weta, the Blue penguins, the lizards and the general history of the island. It is a particular privilege to meet the elders who first started volunteering to replant the island 28 years ago and to share their humility. It is a delight to see and hear the excitement of the children as they get to hold the scaly Cook Strait giant weta and fluffy Blue penguin chicks. I am glad these visionary elders lived to see their dream reflected in the glow on the faces of our young.

And in that glow I am strengthened. I am reminded of why I persist with this most difficult and thankless work that I do. We human beings have such a vast capacity to deny change and our roles as stewards. We construct incredibly sophisticated rationales for living in this denial and their scale is matched only by the irritation we feel when individuals dare to suggest our carefully manufactured rationales are fatally flawed - they are built on quicksands of misery. Always I am searching for compassionate ways to identify and communicate these flaws, even unto myself.

Perhaps all the contrasting sensations of this island will coalesce in this dreamy fine weather to enable the communication to happen?

On Saturday morning the Environmental Educators gather to share their education resources for communicating the value and need for biodiversity. In turn the Educators display their wares. The island is showcased as an example of biodiversity. Others showcase resources communicating the value of biodiversity in our gardens, our soils, our streams, our estuaries, our land cover…

All this is great. If only I can communicate the ultimate source of biodiversity and bring all this wisdom together. I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, for I know the worlds these folk live in. They are the products of schools, universities and other organisations that teach science is just a way of thinking, not a state of being. I know the family, peer group, career and other pressures that fracture their sensibilities. They have told me they consider driving cars, flying in jets around the world and other such unsustainable activities as their birthright, as essential for their work, as justified by their passions for “the care of the environment”, as rewards for all their hard work. Their experience and that of our wider society is that the “the environment” is something out there, beyond them, separate. The great irony is that they dedicate so much of their lives to attempting to communicate a sense of our interconnectedness and yet their lives are models in alienation. I decide not to say anything.

A breeze sends ripples of light shimmering through the leaves of the trees outside the window. A pair of kakariki flit past, two comets of iridescent red and green chasing each other. The tree dapple sunlight enlivens the softness and innocence of the faces of the two children leaning against their mother by the window. I am still mindful of the humility and generosity of the elders who bequeathed us this scene. I observe all this and in that moment everything comes together. My inhibitions dissolve. It does not matter that I appear a fool.

What I probably said

I cannot recall exactly what I said. It is possible I said something like, “ I am too interested in communicating about biodiversity… I know this will seem a long stretch…I consider our brains are biomass too and I have been looking at how to promote the biodiversity of our minds .. often areas of our mind are kind of barren ..why is this so? … and who destroys this biodiversity?…”

About this time I surface and look around. People are listening but I can see the lights in their eyes are rapidly dimming, the blinds are coming down. I know that compared to clutching a snapping lizard or bedding a plantling into the soil this must seem so esoteric. I try a new tack:

“…. I have been looking at what blinds us to so many forms of energy, so many options .. the Conservation Principle, ….its about where mind meets matter..

My audience is kind and people tolerate me. My attempt to communicate flounders to a halt and sinks with narry a bubble. No one asks questions of clarification. No one comments. Maybe there is one person present who is intrigued? I suggest that maybe the website be added to the list of resources.

What I was trying to say

So, in brief, just what was I trying to communicate? I am suggesting that the genesis of biodiversity is at the point of the interaction of human-mind and matter-energy. Each of us is biodiversity to some degree and determines the biodiversity of the planet. We each are stewards of all. Biodiversity cannot thrive unless we each are crystal clear in our minds of the Conservation Principle of Energy. And always elements in our being will deny its messages.

These elements are involved with our sense of separation and alienation, our fear of mortality, our capacity to cling and grasp to notions/materials as though we own them for eternity…

And the more these elements of denial dominate our beings the greater the misery we know and the less biodiversity there is. The less we are our environment. The compassion that links us to all is lessened as our ego grows. We cease to be the environment. Our experience of the intimate and vital relationship between mind and matter-energy diminishes and a chasm grows in our consciousness.

The environment becomes something out there, an academic notion, a mere thought system. It is no longer central in our every decision. Thus our capacity to act as stewards of all is diminished.

And what is the Conservation Principle of Energy? It is the nearest we have to a universal law in that it has never been faulted, despite our best endeavours to find flaws in it and so disprove its wisdom. It advises us that energy is so bounteous that it can be considered a constant i.e. energy cannot be created or destroyed and is by its very nature constantly conserved, completely sustained.

I symbolise the potential of the universe(s) as “energy”. Others including Environmental Educators variously symbolise fossil fuels, sugar drinks, Bulk-generated electricity, chocolate bars and other commodities as “energy”. In so doing they deny the other great message of the Conservation Principle and thus destroy biodiversity. How so?

The Conservation Principle suggests that energy is as bounteous as the potential of the universe(s) and that it is manifest in myriad forms, all of which is subject to continual transformation from one into the other. Implicit in this is the notion that there is a vast array of options, including abundant biodiversity.

I use the “manifest” symbol with care. I use it to communicate the belief that our minds are matter, are energy. I use the symbol in the sense of “ become apparent”, “become obvious” and “made clear” to mankind.

I am also evoking our sense of the existence of paradox in that two actions are occurring as one. In that spark of awareness when human-mind meets energy-matter then we are reflecting the universe even as the universe becomes apparent to us.

Words, spoken or written, rarely communicate paradox effectively and our brains soon tire of reading about it. I will simply suggest the mind-energy-matter experience is central to our existence and is as true as the teachings of ancient The Buddha and contemporary quantum physics. The reason I persist with word symbols is that they frame all our education resources and they do have the capacity to transcend our time-space experiences. Also physics suggests information is physical. The words framing our national education curriculum are as physical the piles, studs and rafters of our school buildings.

So biodiversity flourishes in the moment of acceptance of the Conservation Principle of Energy. Biodiversity is diminished in the moment of denial. For instance, as soon as we define any energy form, any resource, any element of the universe(s) as energy then biodiversity is reduced. Conversely the moment we realise that we have, for whatever reason, mistakenly associated an energy form with energy then in that moment of realisation enhanced possibilities emerge, among them biodiversity.

The Conservation Principle denied - an example.
(Barren minds v biodiverse minds)

Let us briefly explore a contemporary example – only the names are changed:

A corporation specialises in burning fossil fuels to generate Bulk-generated electrical products. It calls itself “Ultimate Energy” and it calls its products “energy”, for it knows the potency of the “energy” symbol. Its Public Relations consultants have advised that this use of the energy symbol will promote associations of the Bulk-generated electrical products with vitality, life, the essence of being.

The company works to protect this brand by embedding it into national legislation, media frameworks and education programmes. It works to sponsor environmental education programmes that teach that “energy = Bulk-generated electrical products”. It associates energy efficiency practice with “using less energy” and deprivation i.e. being deprived of its products i.e. “energy”. It teaches that humans can conserve energy and in doing so it denies and obscures the central messages of the Conservation Principle of Energy.

In order to protect its branding investment the Ultimate Energy Corporation actively stifles the development of education programmes that communicate the vision of diversity and bounty inherent in the Conservation Principle. At the same time it diverts public attention from the impacts of its activities by sponsoring a wildlife sanctuary in an attempt to promote the popular image that it is a corporation that believes in biodiversity.

If we explore the mind of a person made in the image of this psychopathic corporation we find it barren, populated by a few monolithic and monotonous mental forms. The general atmosphere is one on unease and fear. It is tinged with self-doubt, desperation and vague hopelessness. The deep shadows cast by notions of “energy crises”, “energy failures” and “energy shortages” persistently lurk and darken the mindscape.

This mind is like a forest stripped bare by herbicides or some genetic engineered mutation or other human technology. Dead plant forms remain, crumpling reminders of vibrant colours, variant shapes and multiple movements of trees gone. Only one or two selected species remain, dotted sparsely in the mindscape. Their name of “energy” and their massive size belies their vulnerability to some storm, some drought, some disease, some event that could kill them so easily in these weakened soils and exposed deserts.

If we explore the mind of a person made in the image of the Conservation Principle of Energy we find it rich, luxurious with all manner of colour and shape of mental forms. The sun shines, the wind blows, the tides surge and diverse carbon forms thrive. The general atmosphere is one of ease and awe. There is an ethos of self-respect, trust and hope. The more we examine each type of form in such a mind the more its diversity becomes apparent.

For instance, if we observe the electrical manifestations of the potential of the universes in the biodiverse mind we find Bulk-generated electricity, Micro-generated electricity and Dwelling-generated electricity. We find electrical forms as diverse as lightning, electrons flitting in and out of existence within the distances of the atoms, electrical plasma on galactic scale, electrical currents and electrical static. These electrical forms have contrasting qualities of every type. Each has its own name and none are called “energy” or “power” or even “electricity.” Each is a wellspring of hope as it provides options and opportunities.

And with the mind being the environment we find the barren mind generates a landscape made desolate by huge dams flooding valleys, large pylons and towers jarring the sweep of the plains, towering chimneys spewing pollution and darkening the skies, peopled by humans with the uneasy, desperate minds I described.

And we find the biodiverse mind generates a landscape of deep variant valleys, flowing and expansive plains and sparkling skies, peopled by human with the serene, fulfilled mind I described.

You may be wondering about the well meaning and dedicated Environmental Educators working in the wildlife sanctuary sponsored by Ultimate Energy.

Those that step outside the sanctuary experience great anguish and confusion for they find that the corporation has levered off its sponsorship of biodiversity in one small valley of the world to lay waste to the greater landscape, oceans and skies and to destroy on scale very finite carbon forms such as fossil fuels.

Their mindscapes are fractured by conflict, for human brains are complex biosystems of mirror neurons. The barren vision of Ultimate Energy is reflected within at a primal level of the brain. Thus their instinct for biodiversity is at war with their instinct for survival, beholden as they are to corporate funding and social acceptance. This dissonance is reflected back to the world in their use of symbols of all sorts.

The truth is always out. This is not a mind diverse in hope.

Those that do not step outside the sanctuary reside in a dream of biodiversity that does not include the world. They act simply as pure conduits for the Ultimate Energy Corporation and the visitor to such a mind encounters no clear vision of how humans need act to enable biodiversity to flourish around our planet. The tragedy is that the greater their reputation for “caring for the environment” the more Ultimate Energy can lever off their fine intentions to destroy our planetary environment.

The truth is we are our environment, and that includes all the socio-psychological, economic and political aspects, regardless of inconvenient we might find this fact.

My reflections can perhaps best be seen as an exploration of physics. It is the physics of sentience, of consciousness, of life. It is the physics of what happens at the quantum level of our neurons when mind, matter and energy coincide. Central is the physics of the Conservation Principle of Energy with its paradoxical message of mortality and hope – a paradox that cannot be resolved by intellectual effort. It can only be resolved when our spirit is one of acceptance of change/stewardship.

In our acceptance of our mortality we are more able to live in harmony with the flux and flow of change we reside in. We are Mirror Beings and we need act as stewards, whether we like it or not. We each are deep networks of mirror neurons. These pulsate with electrochemical reactions generated by our interaction with all. Our mirror neurons enable us to reflect the world and communicate with it, especially with our fellow human beings. The information we reflect, the information we are and the information we impart is physical. In other words the physics of our life is that we are what we model in all actions, including our choice of symbols such as words.

We ignore the physics of our situation at our peril. For instance many of us are now discovering this truth as our mineral oil/gas based wealth evaporates and our economies implode. Societies that have equated mineral oil/gas with energy grow increasingly bankrupt and desperate, their members stranded in the barren and hopeless mindscape I have described.

Those societies that have instead valued mineral oil as a very potent resource, a very finite and valuable energy form, and use it sparingly are tending to thrive. This is because their members tend to enjoy biodiverse minds and in embracing physics they discover stewardship generates greater joy and well-being.

Radical suggestion

I will conclude by making this radical suggestion. It may be that the notion of Environmental Education is unhelpful. It may be that it needlessly generates chasms in the interaction of the human mind and matter-energy and that it destroys our sense of harmony and connection with all.

This fragmentation is readily apparent in the framework of our National Curriculum. Science is defined as a way of thinking devoid of ethics, not a moral state of being that enables civilisation to exist. It is framed as an activity or discipline parallel to learning a language, creating art, keeping healthy and living civics rather than the state of being that enables us to learn, share and create. Arguably the NZ Education Curriculum is an active WOMD and produces a race of barbarians.

See it from our grandchildren’s point of view. They will look back and see that our generations destroyed vast mineral resources on an epic scale that will evident for eons. Our education system produced a people that destroyed 38 barrels of mineral oil a day per 1000 people, mainly in devices like cars, trucks, jets and other products specifically designed to maximise wasteful uses of this incredibly valuable resource. Over half of easily extracted mineral oil of our planet has been destroyed since 1980. Our education system produced a people that have destroyed the quality and quantity of our forests and soils at a massive rate. Our education system produced the profoundly amoral and brutal Emissions Trading Strategy now adopted by our nation.

Our children will conclude we were callous and uncaring generations who cared not who died needlessly because of our activities. We might refrain from actively gassing our fellow humans on scale or vaporising them with nuclear weapons but our daily activities have the same impact.

My radical suggestion is that though the concept of Environmental Education is a flawed product of the current flawed Education Curriculum there is a great role for those who are passionate about ensuring our children enjoy all the opportunities we inherited. Rather than expending our lives attempting to sustain a construct called Environmental Education we should found ourselves firmly within a spirit of compassion. It is not an easy way of living and it has great rewards. A prime reward is that it enables science to exist more fully and we are better able to be in harmony with the thermal, electrical, carbon and other flows and balances of the universe. We are better able to experience enhanced inclusiveness and a reduction of the current exclusiveness fostered by what our current curriculum defines as science.

So what might the aspirations of these passionate educators be manifest as? It might be described as a civics movement in which our use of knowledge is founded in morality and sharing. In the process we become more at one with all – which includes, of course, what we now describe as “the environment”. Our principle driver as educators is a constant awareness that we are our actions.

You can glimpse what a compassionate curriculum might look like here and how this might impact on our use of our key symbols here.

Footnotes to this blog.

My previous blogs predicted that in the USA Sarah Palin and in New Zealand John Key would ‘win’ our most critical ballots. These predictions have proven accurate so far. The teams of Barack Obama and John Key contains most of the people who promoted the vast credit explosion based on a vast undervaluation of mineral oil/gas. The resource grows scarcer by the day and credit systems continue to implode accordingly. No one but no one in our media seems able to confront uncomfortable reality generated by their promotion of SUVs, jet travel, McMansion suburbs and design-for-waste products in general.

The cartoon strip that accompanies this blog was published about 5 years ago. In this chapter Bonus Joules explores the trace nature of our atmosphere. Junk Joules, who represents our elements of denial of change and stewardship constantly derides and works to undermine our awareness of the trace nature of our existence. The strip was inspired by my experiences of our senior educators and “climate change” policy makers and activists. I had gradually realised that their refusal to use the “trace gas” symbol evidenced a profound denial of change/stewardship. This and their associated unsustainable lifestyles is why they clung to images of our atmosphere as a “greenhouse”. Some had told me the thermal processes of our atmosphere can only be communicated via such greenhouse images! Bonus Joules is attempting to see if alternative ways exist.


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