Where Are The Greens


It seems somehow appropriate to parody Sondheim at this time. For a number of years now I have been waiting to see what the Green Party would do in New Zealand, especially with an election coming up. I’ve blogged extensively on the poor state of our lakes and waterways, the apparent lack of management of dam capacity and maintenance and the continued practice of feeding Aucklanders water from the Waikato River.

Brown Waikato Water

I’ve complained about our eagerness to send money based on the Kyoto Protocol offshore instead of spending it on restoring New Zealand to the clean green country we like to tell the world it is. Above all I get really frustrated that we still don’t have a policy of interest free loans for solar power with feed in tarrifs allowing us to sell excess power generated back into the grid. So with the latest election coming up I don’t mind telling you I gave the Greens my Party Vote.

I have to be astounded that they didn’t take this opportunity, the best in their history to become part of the Government in this MMP environment. No, they said they would not back John Key on Supply and Demand. Sure they are strongly against asset sales, but that is only one policy albeit a huge one. They could have found imho a middle ground which would have National supporting some real green policies and sustainability and made a serious difference with their 11% vote and 14 seats! I have to wonder if their ideology is more important than their policies. Are they now going to focus on being a jeering opposition in the house, or will they fight for my feed in tarrifs, making the rivers drinkable again, encouraging green and sustainable urban development, enforcing emission control etc? Are they going to show respect for the people who voted them in by concerted positive action or be the jeering laughing annoying opposition party there to undermine our Government and hold us back until the next election.

So back to Sondheim:

Isn’t it rich

Is this a fair

You here at last on the ground

NZ in mid air

Send in the Greens

Isn’t it bliss

Don’t you approve

One who keeps tearing around

One who won’t move

Where are the Greens

Send in the Greens?

Just when I’d stopped

Writing my blogs

Finally knowing

The one that we wanted was you

Making your entrance again

With your usual flair

Sure of your lines

No one is there.

Don’t you love farce

My bad I fear

I thought you’d want what I want

Sorry my dear

But where are the Greens

There ought to be Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Isn’t it rich

Isn’t it queer

Losing their timing this late

In their career

And where are the Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Don’t bother – they’re here

Electricity, disasters and Feed In Tariffs


I’ve been itching to write more about FIT for ages as you will know if you have been reading my blogs. If you didn’t, my last blog was pretty much a summary of my thoughts which started with the Christchurch earthquake.

Prior to that for a few years I have been wondering why a ‘clean green’ country like New Zealand only went so far as to provide subsidies for roof insulation and clean heating. Where is the NZ Green Party on FIT, I asked 2 years ago. I’m not even sure where the party is on much at all at the moment and its election year, when National has launched its new policies on oil and gas and other efficient power sources like coal.

In fairness I do have to acknowledge that Environment Minister Nick Smith did through caution to the wind at the NZ Wind Energy Conference this month, but he also made the point that you need windy places and probably also noted the frequent opposition any time someone wants to set up a wind farm. Personally I like them and if they are silent, I wouldn’t have a problem looking up at them on a hill somewhere.

Dutch windfarm

I have 2 interests here, the first one is renewable energy in the form of solar panels, with the ability to feed power into the grid, but also the ability to make individual households and businesses more resilient in times of crisis.

The common thread anywhere in the world when there is a disaster is that the power goes off. In my recent posts this month I have discussed a whole range of issues where we are so reliant on electricity today that there are a variety of problems after the crisis is over.

I want to again acknowledge the heroism of electricity workers and supporters who risked life and limb to get things up and running as quickly as possible.

Anyway, back to my story. Imagine if we followed on from the subsidies to put insulation into our roofs, by offering subsidies and Feed In Tariffs for installing solar panels on the roofs. This is something we should be doing anyway, but imagine if a large number of people were still able to have at least some electricity when the grid is down. They would still potentially have phone communication, they would have lighting, heating, the ability to wash themselves and much more.

We could find ourselves with a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute, makes people much more aware of power consumption, involves the community and provides greater resilience while allowing us to get closer to meeting our commitments to reducing carbon waste that we so obligingly adopted with the Kyoto Protocol.

It has been said that I am wont to be verbose. I don’t necessarily want to change that because I am intensely interested in what I write about, however I don’t want to lose you dear reader (borrowed that from Stephen King). So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write an new series of shortish blogs on the benefits of FIT for New Zealand in the hope that more people will understand the massive potential benefits to New Zealand and put some pressure on the politicians and energy authorities to do something about it.

I’ve done some reading on the topic and found the paper by Miguel Mendonca of the Birkbeck Institute of Environment, Birkbeck College, University of London particularly helpful. He also wrote the book Feed-in-Tariffs Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy. You can find more information here. He discovered that FIT could work in the UK, that it had many positive benefits above and beyond the basics of a renewable energy source and I plan to discuss some of these from a New Zealand context. I also find it interesting that some people (who perhaps are the ones who wanted Henry Ford to breed faster horses instead of horseless carriages) say there is not enough sunlight in NZ to create an acceptable level of energy. Kiwis who go to UK for their OE’s don’t often come back recounting stories of endless sunny days.

So lets explore what FIT’s and solar power can do for NZ, for our resilience, for our GDP, for our commitment to the environment, for industry, for entrepreneurs and to generally show the world that we are in fact as green as we say we are. There are some amazing benefits to be had along the way.

Please come back and check out what I have learned.

Doesnt look that shabby

Electricity, Earthquakes and other Disasters


So in this series motivated by the Canterbury Earthquakes and particularly Christchurch, I have looked at how prepared we were and what personal lessons we could take away. I asked is it now business as usual, have we gone from maybe it could happen to me, to phew, glad that’s over and we’re good for my lifetime?

 

I don’t think the people of Dannevirke thought so this week when the 5.1 hit there. But then, were they planning on getting prepared before that? Possibly not. Are Wellington people still watching?

I talked about putting together an emergency kit and all the things that Civil Defence recommend you should have both for in the home as well as a kit that you can have ready to throw in the car last minute. This could be useful for so many things, not just earthquakes. In NZ and Australia fires, floods, volcanoes are just a few reasons for people to have to bail in a hurry. If you prepare a getaway kit and never ever need it, that’s great:)

I had a look at community issues and remembering or meeting your neighbors. This is really only a starting point and I want to come back to this in future because once we get over the physical wounds, the things we can see, we are going to have to deal with the psychological outcome. I believe we are going to be dealing with a whole city suffering from PTSS. We are starting to see small examples such as when people are visiting areas of Christchurch that have been closed to them. The tears are good and the visits will help with acknowledgement of the situation and belief in the recovery, but there are still people n0t able to get their cars back let alone go back to their places of work. There are still buildings being torn down.

There are kids who won’t sleep in their own rooms at night. There is an underlying emotional distress of an order that NZ has never had to deal with before. People will be saying I’m OK Jack, but many of them are not. I have some ideas on this, but it will be a separate blog.

I started on the insurance saga, this was before the EQC story and the AMI bailout.  I don’t know about you but I’m getting concerned about banks and insurance companies getting massive bailouts.

They are always talking about the risks they take in consumers, but it seems like perhaps it is the people taking the risks. Should we pay premiums to insurance companies, trusting that they will re-insure and spread their risk and spend a minimum of our premiums on sharing profit amongst employees and shareholder dividends, at least until after they know they have the necessary reserves for major disasters.

Insurance is like playing poker machines or lotto, it is about risk. If a gambler blows their rent money at the casino, does the Government bail them out? Rhetorical question. But when the banks get carried away and over commit themselves to loans that don’t stack up, when insurance companies commit themselves to risk they can’t cover and the government bails them out, it isn’t some nice friendly uncle we’re talking about. You and I are the Government. That money comes from our taxes. It means more pressure on minor things in our community such as education, health, taxes.

So I was wondering, if an insurance company has failed in managing its risk, is it in fact guilty of trading while insolvent? Should the $500 million bailout go to them, or should it go to a liquidator to share amongst the people who bought policies from them in good faith? How much of the bailout goes to the people waiting on insurance payouts? Would you like an answer?

I wrote about the lessons we learned about the telecommunications companies and I have to say I think the telcos did a great job. There are things you can do as well to be able to continue to communicate without power to run or charge your phones. Have you changed anything since then?

Today I wanted to write about electricity, but I’m at 681 words already and there is a fair bit I’d like to stay, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on electricity and emergencies, you could subscribe to my RSS feed or bookmark this page. I think you might find what I have learned interesting.

I also want to write about green power and particularly about solar power schemes, following on from my blog a couple of years ago on Feed-in Tariffs. I’ve learned a little since then and I’m not sure the Government has. It was great to see Bunny McDiarmid from Greenpeace on TV1’s Close Up last night talking about the Petrobas oil exploration and the tension between that and our ‘renewable energy policies’. But I have to wonder where the Green Party is right now. This is a huge opportunity for them in election year to discuss solar power opportunities which are really starting to prove effective in many countries around the world through FIT programs. More on this in one of my next blogs…………….

In the meantime, here’s a video that explains the installation of a PV system on a house in Puget Sound.

The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management:

Low Carbon Future


I’ve just finished reading an excellent story by Chris Barton in the NZ Herald, which is a good primer for the Copenhagen conference that John Key is going to? The cricket on TV is on in the background and apparently Key is in Wellington watching New Zealand vs Pakistan, so he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the airport.

He quotes Phil Scadden, a geo-scientist from Dunedin, as saying that by 2025 we could cover all our energy needs using wind, hydro, geothermal and other relatively green sources if we were prepared to spend a great deal of money.

I find it hard to believe that NZ will spend the money, especially if we are insistent on Kyoto and other deals which would require us to pay other countries who have less carbon emissions than us. For my money I think that we should invest the same amount of money on cleaning up our own act.

I ask myself if we can afford to be prissy about seeing lots of wind turbines on hilltops. Personally I think they look really good. I was in the Netherlands earlier this year and the site of hundreds of wind turbines was quite inspiring. I don’t have a problem with having them far enough away so they don’t cause noise polution. We have plenty of great spots in the country that are almost always windy, such as Ohakea, which I believe from memory means place where four winds meet. It certainly never disappointed when I used to go down to the Ohakea Air Base to race land yachts, a very green speed sport:)

Something that annoys me when we talk about clean and green in this country is the lack of emission controls for diesel vehicles. If I was given a dollar for each diesel soot sprewing truck, with black soot backs delivering frozen meat, I would be able to retire today.

I’d also like to know why NZ is following other countries, with Feed-in Tarriffs, which I have previously blogged about. The concept was raised a long time ago by the Green Party, where there would be subsidies and incentives for people to put solar panels on their rooves and allowed them to sell surplus power into the grid.

Anyway, this whole situation disturbs me. Instead of fixing our problem at home, we want to pay other countries who are more fortunate than us, in having more trees etc. NZ has the ability to be self sustainable if we put our brilliant scientists and inventers on the job. We could be isolated from a lot of the problems of climate change in other parts of the world. Once we have it licked, then we can give them access to our know how. That might make a great new export for us.

For now, I’ve been for a 9 1/2 km bush walk/jog, finished my blog and am going to go and by an electric lawn mower. It is plastic, doesn’t need oil or petrol, won’t rust and will therefore last much longer.