Joules and the Knowledge Economy
We go back through the mists of time to great early thinkers and innovators.
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All images on this site are copyright 2001.
BLOG March 1 2005
What’s genius? I have flatted and worked with artists who have gone on to be acknowledged as world leaders in their fields. I have observed with great interest their creative processes. I have enjoyed books retelling the stories of the great scientific discoveries. In Grant Dunford I struck my first real acquaintance with raw genius.
This guy had managed to pull together a staggering range of ideas into a realisable vision that could truly enhance society. Flawed and difficult like many of us, warm, kind, generous, frustrated to hell when tangled with the small print of daily life, happiest when linking and spinning ideas, ahead of his time, unrecognised by the generals of the New Economic Order and so often near broke, Grant had created a masterpiece.
“You never know what good comes from bad”. The words resonate in me always now. I hear them as I write predicting that if our children have a future they will look at this period in New Zealand and judge it harshly. They will see my generation as greedy, uncaring and ignorant. They will liken it to the ages when the barbarians suppressed enlightened uses of solar energy and threatened the viability of civilisation. Such is the age in which Grant created Energy Action. Such is the age that scorned and dismissed the resource.
Many years ago I saw a movie about a great Jazz musician. In one memorable scene in his boyhood his grandfather took him out into the fields, scooped up a handful of soil, let it rain back down and said “Don’t ever, ever forget that all creativity comes from the soil.” The musician did not forget and that is why he touched so many hearts. Our education institutions could never have created Energy Action. They simply are not there out in the fields, out where the most fertile sources of ideas occur, out at the interface where our images of energy meet our uses of energy.
It’s not their fault our teachers are not there. They are bound up by curriculum dictates, bogged down in assessment schedules, derided by the public and politicians and if they had the experience out in the field they have little opportunity to reflect on it. It was only when I graduated in 1999 from Wellington College of Education and had time to reflect that I realised that not once was the communication of concepts of energy, efficient uses of energy and climate processes mentioned in my whole time there. Such a world is barren ground for sustaining life.
Grant lived out in the fields. We are talking early 1990s. He was immersed all hours in communities, schools, homes, tradespeople, and businesses attempting to create a more sustainable civilisation. He saw that without quality products this could not happen and scoured the world for them – solar hot-water systems, durable insulations, lighting, heat exchanges, draft stops. Everywhere he turned he struck a wall of ignorance of how energy works and how our use impacts on the environment. Thermal ignorance reigned. He saw far more. He saw the power of communities, the unrealised potential of our schools and above all he saw the future in our children.
His genius was to see all this and distil the vision into a simple education resource that spoke through ten year-old children with all their idealism and enthusiasm for life. It spoke through them to their teachers, their parents and their communities. He saw the potential in community-owned gas and electricity distributors to enhance the service they offered their people. He brought these community institutions together to fund the resource into over half of our nation’s schools in various forms.
In 1995 he had our children teaching us how to calculate the impact of the flicking an electricity or gas switch on the carbon balances of the atmosphere. A large poster linking electricity/gas use with its carbon dioxide emissions greeted you when you walked into the entrance foyer of a school.
I have not the space to describe the magnitude of this simple resource. I have only time to say that the “gurus” that govern our education policy were incapable of perceiving the work of genius gifted to our nation for the world to use. They could not see beyond their own pet projects and career-driven egos. They could not act beyond the whims of their political masters and funders. They were not there. Soon the community institutions would not be there either. The Electricity Reforms disenfranchised the peoples of New Zealand and forced them to give away their service-driven electricity systems. The New Economic Order looks only to short-term profits and cares not for the welfare of our children. Funding died with the demise of the community-based systems. By 2000 Energy Action has ceased as a facilitated resource in our schools. And (coincidentally?) New Zealand set off on an even more unsustainable path. Beneath all the Spin and Greenwash, Energy Efficiency had now become a dirty word.
March 2000. Funds gone, Grant dreams on. Often he crawls among the mouldy rubble and animal skeletons under homes and sweats and coughs in their attics, insulating families from the cold and damp. Often he works till dawn with proposals and submissions. His is only a tiny firm and he lives on a pittance. Somehow he finds funds to take me on. In an enormous act of trust, for I come from nowhere, he gives me a free hand to revise and enhance Energy Action. In that act I catch a glimpse of the faith and trust that is at the heart of true genius.
I am overwhelmed by the resource. Its breadth of vision only becomes apparent as I watch Grant working with a huge range of tradespeople, homebuilders, Maori trusts, architects, schools, councils, corporations, Government agencies and communities and I am able to see the breadth of experience and wisdom he has distilled into the resource. He learns from them all and he knows more than any of them. But here is where his genius is most revealed. I come to the conclusion the resource though brilliant is fundamentally flawed.
Now understand Energy Action has been designed by very experienced teachers and reviewed and approved by top Science education experts in Colleges of Education and the Royal Society. How could they miss such a major flaw? Well, actually very easily. Our premier “energy” agency, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is based on the premise. Our popular and industry media are full of it. Political parties like the Green Party are founded in the flaw. For twenty years I went through thousands of homes preaching the concept. They all, like me, promoted the flawed, even violent, image that “humans can conserve energy”.
Gradually the implications of what I had been doing dawns on me as I begin a serious search to understand the nature of energy and how to communicate it. All those years I have been obscuring and despoiling the majesty and splendour of the Principal of the Conservation of Energy. Energy, by its very nature, is conserved and it is a perversion to imagine humans can alter this. This principle is as near as we can get to a universal law. The loss of our vision of the bounteous forms energy takes compounds the perversion.
I have been an agent of ignorance and Greenwash for the spin-doctors of the Bulk-electricity industry.
I had long sensed that something was seriously screwed as I walked through those thousands of homes and saw what really was learned in our schools. The discrepancy between what was taught and was learned created a chasm large enough for a civilisation to fall into. I find my insight of my failure difficult enough to confront. I cannot imagine how difficult Grant finds it. His knowledge of public relations enables him to sense the bleak truth in my insight. His knowledge of the nature of EECA and the new “energy” companies means, founded in the perversion of the New Order, means he is intensely aware that these funding sources will dry up if we teach the Principle of Conservation of Energy. For me it only means the loss of my job. For him it is worse -additional debt. And yet he says, “Do what you have to do”. He would rather not teach than teach a lie.
I have worse news for him. I am confronted with the probability that key images of how our climate works are deeply flawed. In accepting this possibility I am challenging belief systems and doctrines deeply adhered to by Western scientists, Environmental Educators and America Incorp. Already people like Grant are treated as weirdos by our media for their belief in community power and the economics of energy efficiency. I am asking him to be seen as a weirdo of the wackiest order. Still he supports me.
Even worse. I confront the possibility that the very concept of negawatts is fatally flawed. Now understand the concept of negawatts is the work of a man many call the greatest environmental educator and “energy efficiency” thinker of our times. The concept behind a negawatt has been around since the dawn of human consciousness. Simply put, it is measure of energy efficiency or “a better use of energy”. The man who gave it this new form is Amory Lovens, cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute. In 1999 it is reported US President Clinton is going around thumping his latest book called “Natural Capitalism” down on the desks of some of the executives of the most powerful corporations in the world and telling them, “This is the future. You ignore this at your peril.”
Grant sits surrounded with letterheads, posters, billboards, legal documents, telephone books, stamps, computer programmes and the work of a decade in creating a business. Everywhere is the name and logo Negawatts. Amory personally gave him permission to use it on a visit to New Zealand a decade previous. I offer Grant permission the use of Bonus Joules as a less flawed alternative. He is grateful. “Thanks, mate. Its just… I am bogged down just surviving at present and just don’t have the mental energy to even contemplate the change.” I understand. Entirely. NGC has just reneged on commitments to sponsor Energy Action 2008 and near ripped the rug right out from under his small firm. Debt has to be covered. I don’t know where he finds bread to eat. I still cannot define genius but I know when I meet it. Above all it is precious, precarious and, its seems, much abused.
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