Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy
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Blog by Dave McArthur 25 March 2010
Tonight I have joined over 2000 of our Capital City’s most educated folk in the Wellington Town Hall to experience the most sophisticated advertisement for jet travel I have experienced since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. The promoter this time is to be Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, OM, PRS, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College at Cambridge and president of the Royal Society in London.
Martin Lord Rees,
as the ticket describes him, is materialising here in Wellington at the
behest of the NZ Royal Society. Tonight he is going to talk about the
world in 2050. Last night (Monday 22 March) he addressed a packed venue
in Christchurch and no doubt the educated elite there sat in similarly
reverent way awaiting the performance. I am reminded for some reason of
those free lectures promoting religions and courses that will provide
you with the meaning in life and make you immensely wealthy (if you pay
for the secrets).
As we file in we
pass tables groaning under stacks of Bill Bryson’s new book “Seeing
further: the story of science and the Royal Society London”.
extolling the Royal Society and the McDiarmid Institute scroll by on a
huge screen above the lectern.
The lights dim
and a series of very important New Zealand “scientists” provide
introductory testimony to the venerable history and role of the Royal
Society. These strong men speak of how they trembled in fear and awe as
they signed their names using the quill and ink on the ancient parchment
when they were admitted as Fellows of this most august of institutions.
They expound on its great history in promoting science and Martin Lord
Rees arrives at the lectern to affirm their claims, stating the Royal
Society of London has been for three and a half centuries the foremost
agent of science in the world. There is no hint that the Society has
also been at the heart of the British Empire, one of the most
destructive and brutal empires in history.
his or her appreciation of the Royal Society. When a speaker observes
that the full house shows science is alive and well in Wellington
everyone applauds in self-congratulation.
There are many
women in the audience and the row in front of me consists entirely of
women. I wonder how many observe the fact that only men cross the stage
to speak at this ceremony and Free
Masonry, from which the Royal Society was born, tends
to be exclusive of them?
Martin is precise and articulate in his delivery. I watch him on the large screen and have to remind myself on occasion that he is actually present in the room, albeit as a diminutive figure behind the lectern. He could easily be in Britain speaking to us. His alter-presence on the screen is characterised by his sharp, keen eyes and the side of his mouth continually tugs and plays in a way suggesting a constant quirky humour.
Afterwards I ask
the person seated beside me, one of NZ’s most prominent “science
educators” if he learned anything. He replies, “ I learned he is a
nice man who cares very much about people”. He does not respond
further than that. That, in many ways, sums up my experience. Martin
Lord Rees is described as the most “eminent scientist” of our time
and I know many self-described “scientists” revere him. In
retrospect I cannot think of a single new insight I have gained from him
into the human condition and how humanity might survive to 2050.
You may have
gathered by now I am not the most ardent adherent of the Royal Society
religion. I am mainly here to observe a social phenomenon. This said I
am also here because I am open to any chance to gain new insights into
how we can survive the passing of the Cheap Mineral Oil/Gas Era. I am
little disappointed and not surprised that my notebook ends up with not
a single record of a novel insight or revealing statistic.
Martin Lord Rees
speaks of the great challenge energy is but does not define his use of
the “energy” symbol. Perhaps he assumes his learned audience all
know what energy is. He alludes to but does not really spell out the
implications of our depletion of cheaply extracted mineral oil. Perhaps
again he assumes and respects our deep knowledge of the potentially
Then again, a
little psychoanalysis of his language suggests the possibility he might
be in deep denial of the implications of his destruction of 300-500
gallons on high quality mineral oil flying to and from New Zealand.
That’s wealth with the energy equivalent of a quarter of a million
man-hours of labour. I wonder how many in this highly educated audience
register this possibility? The group walking with me to the venue had
spent their whole time discussing which airline automatically gives you
air points and the great deals they get.
Martin Lord Rees
broaches the thorny subject of what constitutes a sustainable
population. The graphs illustrating our exploding numbers of being speak
for themselves. As he points out, perhaps Earth can sustain 20 billion
humans all living in high-rise shoebox apartments, eating rice and
living in virtual reality. He makes it clear this is not the life for
him and probably not for the audience. He is clear that unsustainable
use of resources of those assembled requires a drastic cut in population
numbers but does not suggest how this will be done.
Martin Lord Rees
spends some time talking of how we must “solve climate change”,
which is very different from talking of the value of “living in
harmony with climate balances”. He presents graphs of historic carbon
concentrations in the atmosphere and speaks of a probable anthropogenic
factor. I wait with pen poised to jot down his insights into how we
might mitigate perceived negative impacts of our carbon emissions on
climate balances. Greater democracy at the community level?
The identification and elimination of psychopathy in our
corporations? A revision of our notion of science? My pen hangs poised,
On at least three
occasions Martin Lord Rees refers to “global warming” and the
warming of the planet, intimating these are unhealthy processes. The
only way to make sense of what he is saying is to assume he equates
warming with warming up, which of course is a gross denial of the
fundamentals of thermodynamics.
He then compounds
this denial by repeatedly speaking of the need to “save energy” and
develop “sustainable energy”. Both these notions evidence a vast
denial of the Conservation Principle of Energy. His framing language
reveals major dissonance and denial, reflecting a lack of science.
This is manifest
in his worldview in which he talks about “the developing” nations,
as distinct from the “developed” nations. It is possible to presume
he includes Great Britain in the latter group. For instance he sees a
vital role for the use of nuclear fission plant to manufacture
electrical products. He acknowledges the risks of this technology but
believes it has a rightful place in Britain, which already has the
technology. He sees no need for it in countries like New Zealand, and
probably by implication in countries that are not as “developed” as
I wait in vain
for Martin Lord Rees to speak out as an esteemed “scientist” against
the dangers of Carbon Trading. Instead he talks of carbon sequestering
and I remain unclear of his attitude to some of the other engineering
solutions he alludes to. He does warn of “the widening gulf between
what science can do and what is prudent” and suggests that
“..choices should not just be made by scientists”. He is insistent
that “science is part of our culture”.
Now this is where
he and the Royal Society Fellows really lose me. All through the evening
they talk up the importance of science and the value of this rare group
of people they call “scientists”. (See Google
Images of "scientists" Is this you?) They all
consistently expound the need of working to get science to the people.
However there is an unspoken assumption implicit in everything they say.
Martin Lord Rees and the other speakers never come out directly and say,
“ I am a scientist and you, my dear rabble, are not a scientist”.
They completely deny our reality. For instance, our reality is that
almost every human being learns a language and we do this amazing
endeavour within a few years of birth. It is a process that involves
open inquiry, rigorous experimentation, profound reflection, constant
sharing and continual refinement of hypotheses that dwarfs the process
required to gain, for instance, a PhD in astronomy.
something peculiarly hopeless in this attitude of self-styled
“scientists” such as Martin Lord Rees. They can clearly articulate
our problems and, to their credit, admit they can offer few solutions.
However they don’t tend to admit the possibility that they may
be a significant part of the problems. Having defined “science” as a
body of knowledge essentially lacking morality (prudence) that is the
domain of an elite called “scientists” and having also touted their
vision of science as the way to a sustainable future they then speak of
the need for decisions to be made by us “non-scientists”. It’s an
impossible self-defeating cycle.
I could delve
deeper into the dissonance and denial that generates this hopelessness.
However it is more important in the short time I am giving to this blog
to identify a probable positive psychology the Royal Society might like
In brief I
suggest Martin Lord Rees and all the Royal Societies of the world allow
the possibility that every human being is born into the state of science
and this enables language, arts, civics and all we know as civilisation
to exist. Science is not just “a part of culture”. Science enables
culture to exist. Could it be that every man and every woman is born into and
enjoys the state of science to some degree, even as we are
non-scientists to some degree? In this context it is exclusive and thus
necessarily non-science for any human being to call his or herself a
“scientist”. This denies the possibility that all and each of us is
a scientist to some degree.
I also suggest
they consider the possibility that the state of science is necessarily
moral. It is prudence in action. Knowledge and technology used without
prudence occurs in the state of non-science. In this latter state we
experience the elements of psychopathy and psychosis latent in each of
I am sure if
Martin Lord Rees were to be speaking of his insights into astronomy my
notebook would be busy with quotes born of science. Instead it contains
only references to a lack of science, as I have detailed. Indeed my
conclusion is that his lecture actively destroys the state of science in
our community, though it may not affect the state much in his audience
in the Town Hall. The prominent “science educator” seated beside me
comments as we leave the auditorium that he had observed me analysing
the language of the presentation. I tell him the analysis indicates
Martin Lord Rees is unsustainable, judging by his use of our key symbols
such as Global Warming. He replies to the effect, “I guess he was
using language he knows his audience understands”.
This is probably
correct. I suspect most of the audience is here to pay homage to this
“great scientist” and to be reaffirmed in what they believe. Every
time any of the speakers mentions Britain each of our brains defaults
for a subliminal microsecond to an image of the dapper little figure of
Martin Lord Rees seated in a jet powering through the atmosphere to us.
That’s how our brain works and makes sense of myriad data. The act of
flying becomes associated with his smiling, assured, caring and
articulate presence. He forms the perfect ad for air travel, facilitated
by Government funds to the Royal Society, our universities and other
“scientific” institutes. If I were the PR for the Carbon Traders and
the jet industry I would be cracking the champagne as I watched Martin
Lord Rees board at Heathrow or wherever.
This audience of
2000 is probably in the elite 5% of resource destroyers on the planet
and, for instance, as a group probably destroy over 100 barrels of
mineral oil each day of the year. He is exactly what this audience
needs, for he talks their language of denial of this reality.
Non-science breeds non-science. Most will probably go home sated. The
fact that he offered no real prognosis or predictions will not be of
concern as early on in his presentation Martin Lord Rees illustrated
that “scientists” are poor at predictions. An example in the series
he gave was Ernest Rutherford’s prediction that there would be no
practical applications for nuclear fission.
As we stroll away
from the meeting I mention to my companion I have just written another
essay explaining the Sustainability Principle of Energy and if correct
it means we will have to radically revise the new NZ National Education
Curriculum Framework and toss out or put major caveats in many of the
books bought for our schools this last decade or so. He looks a bit
gloomy for a moment and then says things are so busy at the moment he
will struggle to find time to read it. Which is exactly why I argue the
quality of generosity of time and reflection is one of the several
requisites for the state of science to exist.
occurs as I write. At the end of his presentation Martin Lord Rees
stated, “ We all need to debate energy”.
I will send the essay to the NZ Royal Society to test their
reaction. Its implications will be extremely inconvenient for them as
they challenge some of the core beliefs of members. Judging by past
responses when I attempted to alert them to how the Society destroys
science in our schools my essay will be greeted with a profound silence.
I have just visited their website and see it is profoundly woven through with links to CarboNZero.
This is arguably
one of the most dangerous and psychopathic institutions on the planet.
And the notion of zero carbon evidences profound psychosis too – it is
a delusion to think human beings can ever have a neutral or nil role in
the great carbon flux.
I note links also abound to Genesis Energy, one of New Zealand’s biggest polluters. For example:
And as I
show in my video on the nature of energy The
Grand Denial, the NZ Royal Society is a prime agent of
denial of the Conservation Principle, confusing energy with power with
electricity with Bulk-generated electrical products.
The Royal Society
has a long tradition of being a reactionary force. I often wonder the
reception our NZ Royal Society would now give someone like Luke
Howard, “Father of the Clouds”, if he came along with his
brilliant essay On The Modification of Clouds.
dismiss him because he is not a “scientist” and is just a chemist?
At least Luke had a bunch of enthusiastic Free Thinkers in the form of
the Askesian Society to debate with. Will they dismiss my essay Enjoying
the Bliss, which is Energy because I am not a
“scientist” and am just a school janitor? Time will tell. Read my
Radio New Zealand
is broadcasting Martin Lord Rees’s address on Easter Sunday morning. I
hope this blog allows you an extra perspective if you listen to it. Do
not be alarmed if you experience sensations of diminishing hope. Do not
despair. Simply remain mindful of the state of science you were born
into. Embrace the scientist within and hope will be sustained.