Return to the
Welcome Page

  Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

Return to  Update Page


Return to Cartoon Journey



Heated Ups and Downs
Bonus joules is hit by a storm in a tea cup.


  Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy: All cartoons on this site are copyright 2001 and you are free to use them with care. 

Chapter 3 No 12 Connecting to our Thermal Beings.

Blog Dave McArthur published 13 Feb 2006

 I did find it a strange experience becoming a cartoon; even if it is a cartoon I drew myself some years ago. However there I was, living, being the cartoon. It felt a bit spooky and rather hilarious. The occasion: The NZ Association for Environmental Education national conference in Auckland in New Zealand. Here is the cartoon:

The conference organiser’s call is loud and clear, “Bonus Joules! Bonus Joules! Anyone for Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy.” The venue for my seminar has suddenly been altered and now I stand watching as 280 delegates representing the most powerful in New Zealand’s Environmental Education industry file past. There are… top policy makers in the Ministry of Education…teachers and lecturers from preschool groups through primary through secondary through university…educators from Government agencies, city and regional councils, NGOs, “sustainable business” companies, conservation trusts…and then there are a half a dozen bods like me who come from nowhere. The conference list records us as a blank.

Filing past are the representatives of a fast growing multi-million dollar industry who have an enormous impact on how we perceive the world and act. Indeed by the time various industrial and merchant banking sectors leverage off the activities of these people they can be said to be part of a multi-billion dollar industry in New Zealand. And still they file past. Finally one person steps aside and joins me. Bonus Joules may have an audience.

My companion is tall, sort of languid fellow from the WWF and his face moves with a wry humour. Together we walk with the organiser to the new venue. “ This guy is right out of left field,” he tells me with great enthusiasm, “ right out of left field and I have just gotta see this guy.”  I mention I am the guy concerned and ask how he got to see about Bonus Joules. “…read his stuff on the web and thought wow this is so out of left field. Just where is it coming from?” 

It takes a few moments for him to connect that I am the author of the website and he seems a little nonplussed, as is usual. I have a nondescript, inarticulate presence and do not exude charisma and mana. I am finding my stereotype is deepening as I fade white and bald. That’s OK as I am more interested in ensuring good ideas happen than in pushing ideas for their own sake. Let them do the work when people are ready for them.

At the venue the organiser realises my Power Point is not loaded and disappears to find someone.  Now I am a very poor public speaker and, after many practices, I have carefully pared my script down to 37 minutes so I am safely within the strictly regimented 40-minute time limit. I built the Power Point that accompanies the presentation on the computer of kind neighbours. As a result I have had little chance to review my creation but have practiced tapping out the time for each slide, as my good neighbour mate taught me. The organiser arrives with tech help and three other people, one of who promptly realises she is at the wrong session and departs. 

I have no idea what to do with the remaining time. I decide to scrap the script for the extended introduction and just rip through the slides until I get to the main discussion. I never did get to open my folder of notes and I fail to get through the slides in the remaining time. At one point I notice one of my audience has slipped away and see my time has expired – or has it? I have a vague recall that the conference is running 20 minutes behind. Rather than strain the loyalty of my two audience members we wrap up as other people have arrived to prepare their presentation.

It so happens my next session is in the same room - the computer room - and I have time to reflect. It sure seems like I have hit a dead end here. Unlike almost all the other delegates I pay my own fees and costs. These are over $680 – well over two weeks of my income (I take home about $290 a week as a school janitor). Many of the delegates are paid to attend. I am using one week of my annual holiday entitlement of three weeks. A large number of New Zealanders people could not afford to attend if they wanted to. How on Earth are these educators going to draw on the strengths of our communities if they restrict conferences to the money making factories we call universities? 

The trip up here had been tough on me. I no longer travel by air for a range of reasons. The industry is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. The vast energy inefficiency of flying is a needless destruction of our dwindling oil reserves. The little research that has been done suggests the impact of jets on the stratosphere may be excessive. I read somewhere that after airlines were grounded in the aftermath of 9/11, a survey indicated temperatures averaged 1°F cooler at key points across the US continent than they would now normally be. And as health systems break down as oil/Gas become more expensive, airlines will put us all at much greater risk from pandemics. I figure that perhaps it is better to promote a more fun, energy efficient global economy by promoting alternative means of travel.

As I sat at home searching the web for maps of Auckland I was constantly confronted by pop ups telling me I could get flights from Wellington to Auckland for $NZ69. Outside my window, planes land and take-off at the Wellington airport and I know they will be in Auckland within an hour. My bus fare is $70 and I am splashing out for a return trip on the train (minimum fare $119 but it was to eventually cost $145). I did ask for the “backpacker’s carriage” as these traditionally are half price. I am informed they have been taken off and are being refurbished for the Wairarapa line. When I ask why Toll Holdings does not just import another couple of old carriages I am told if it is money that is required Toll does not have it. Sorry.

The bus trip up is 11 hours long and by four hours of road travel my damaged neck is locking up. With that comes ringing in my ears, painful spasms of the neck muscles, intolerance of light and growing nausea. I am unable to relieve the nausea by spewing as I normally can and the last three or four hours are spent in a twilight existence. Great ripples graunch through my stomach. I work to suppress their full expression by bringing up my breakfast and lunch.  At times I get chest pains and wonder if my heart can take the strain.

It does and a taxi whisks me to the Baptist Youth Hostel near the conference centre in Epsom. The wonderful kind people there welcome me and I fall into a blessed 11-hour sleep in a beautifully made bed in a sparkling clean room. (Now I am a school janitor I notice these things more.)

I awake refreshed next morning though my body is fragile in the aftermath. I wend my way down to Newmarket. There I am invited to have a free stress test at a stall promoting Dianetics. It’s a simple Galvanic skin response test that detects variations in our conductivity. I am asked if anything stresses me and mention my recent bus trip. The needle shoots to the top of the dial. I also mention that I am not enjoying the prospect of delivering my seminar. The needle shoots right off the dial and the gadget requires several adjustments before it can register me on the dial. The man asks what lies behind this reaction.

I explain that I come with a message of hope to the NZAEE conference but most people will not hear it. For years these educators have cultivated flawed symbol uses and images of the nature of energy and of how our climate works. I tell him how passionate and caring for the environment these people are and how devastated they can become when they realise whose interests they really serve. Part of my message is that their symbol use is riddled with Greenwash and Spin generated by the bankers of the Bulk-electricity and fossil fuel sectors. I tell him I bring simple proposals to ameliorate the unsustainable situation humanity has gotten itself into and I understand the barriers in these good folk that prevent them seeing and believing the hope in the proposals. 

Often the needle swings to high stress levels as I talk of their pain and drops to new lows as I talk of the hope I know. We talk a while of how sustainable change can occur and how we can tap the immense power and wisdom that resides within each of us.

That image of the oscillating needle stays with me as I walk away and suddenly I am released by the conversation. It occurs to me with some force that “These people are my friends”. What does it matter how people react at the conference. They are my friends, no matter their moments of hostility and anger. From that moment I am at much greater ease with the challenges I face. 

I take a ferry to Devonport and climb Mt Victoria. I breast the brow of the hill and am overwhelmed by the beauty of this volcanic land-sea scape. It is so benign and bounteous and yet is so transparently sculptured by some of the most violent and transforming forces on our planet. I am aware of the glorious bounty of energy.

Sunday afternoon the conference opens with a long powhiri or Maori welcome ceremony at the University marae. A tui talks away in the trees that shade us, a cascade of bell tones. The air is balmy on the skin and it does not matter that I do not understand the long welcome speeches in Maori. I know maybe only two hundred words of the language and for all I know the speakers may be taking the micky out of us by reading out their shopping list. Fair enough if they are. One of the inaugural speakers later that day did talk of the unsustainable nature of biculturalism and the Cook Island delegates I shared the hostel dining room with commented to me that back home they considered it a matter of great courtesy to interpret all speeches into the tongues of the visitors.

Dick Hubbard, Mayor of Auckland, opens the conference. His is a thoughtful speech. He is prominent in the movement promoting triple bottom line accounting (environment, social and economic) and speaks of the tensions in our current culture. He is a breakfast cereal manufacturer and speaks of exporting rolled oats (20,000 kilometers/12,000 miles) right around the planet to Scotland, home of the rolled oats technology. He knows it is bad for the environment and such trade practices are unsustainable yet the Government pats him on the back for improving our trade balance with his exports. He offers it as a graphic example of how in our current culture a benefit to one bottom line comes at a cost to another bottom line.

I am reminded of when I opened one of his cereal packets one breakfast a couple of years ago. It contained his usual folksy newsletter. In it he wrote of having his firm audited for carbon emissions.  He had never thought of things like the impact of all his air travel around the globe. I contemplated the packet and realised that his firm could reduce its impact by doubling the volume of the packet. The surface area would stay the same so it would still fit the same shop shelves. So I wrote to him suggesting that by doubling the depth of the packet he could reduce all the carbon emissions from logging, cardboard manufacture, aluminium smelting, transport, waste disposal by 17% and increase carbon sinks by the same percentage. A double positive whammy.

I received a most kind letter back explaining that the UK is their major market and British consumers do not like large packets. Also New Zealanders have a “$5” mind-barrier in supermarket purchases.  So I wrote back saying I am sure people will respond to education and I would provide Hubbards with graphics illustrating the awesome nature of the atmosphere and the balance of the trace gases that enable our civilisation. What better time to mull over the wondrous miracle of our existence than at breakfast time. The extra packaging would provide the graphic space and people could feel good knowing they can make a difference by bulk purchases. 

I never did get a reply. About that time I reverted to the wisdom of my parents who, now in their 80s, still sustain themselves daily with a simple bowl of porridge for breakfast. By doing so I estimate I have reduced my carbon emissions from cardboard/plastic packaging by over 90% and from aluminium smelting by 100%. Sorry, Dick. And I find a simple bowl of pog is actually more delicious too.

Monday morning and Joe Harawira gives a keynote speech –or rather creates a religious experience. It is an emotional evocation that reveals how Maori legend links them to the past and to the future and to the land. I recognise it as a powerful means to remind our people, especially our young, of the awe and humility that resides in us. Unlike the next keynote speaker, Joe goes to the heart rather as well as the intellect. To that extent he extends beyond the academic treatise and works the primal lands of our minds so dominated by the PR industry. However neither speaker confronts the spectre of the PR’s sector’s power and domination of our lives.

So here I am sitting here late Monday afternoon, wondering if there are better things to do with my time than attend this conference. Already I have heard the despair as delegates joke how their friends joke how they will go down with their champagne glass clasped high as humanity drowns when our supporting ecosystems collapse around us. For a brief moment I wonder if I should join them. Yeah, what the hell. There’s a lot of good wine out there and this conference cost me half a new roof on my cottage.

At times like that I pray to the greater wisdom for guidance and ask the universe what would it have me do. Then I notice a curious thing. An instant sign or response to my prayer?

The computer screen contains one link, just one link. It is to Jason Clark’s speech at the inaugural national conference in Hamilton in 2002. Jason came from “the dark side” as he put it – the world of PR with its excesses of lies, fear mongering, “damage managing” and greed breeding. He explained that while our formal education system tends to focus on the intellect only, education forces in the PR industry bypass this region of our beings completely and focus on our emotional-primal responses. As a result they are the dominant force in our lives. 

At the time I observed mixtures of disbelief and even anger at him written on the faces of the delegates around me. Many clearly felt insulted. For my part I was elated, for here was someone who understood how the Environmental Education industry really works. I was relieved to learn I was not alone with my views and Jason’s speech gave me added strength to carry on these last four years. Search the net as I might I had not been able to establish contact with him to get the text of his speech and thank him.

Coincidence? Serendipity? A sign? It seems a bit much that the one link on the computer should be to Jason’s speech. The poor guy running this seminar on bloglines is a bit stuck. His password that worked so well when he tested it at lunchtime no longer works and the University support staff have gone home. I only had three people to be concerned for. He has two-dozen people staring at locked screens. 

While we wait for help we chat and I ask him why he chose Jason Clarke of all people. He tells me that he considers that speech the only standout speech of any NZAEE conference so far. It had absolutely transformed him though he knew of no one else who had liked it. This was a phenomenon I had observed. Many educators said they understood what Jason was saying but their actions since clearly revealed they did not truly believe it. They have continued pouring Greenwash and PR Spin into our schools and households on ever increasing scale, despite all the evidence indicating it is counter to their objectives. In particular I am thinking of the Climate Change Office resources and Enviroschools. Many delegates talk of the latter in hallowed tones.

That night I pull into an Internet café and check my email. It is bursting alive with commentary on Lovelock’s new book and with links to scientists’ commentary on it. The conference feels a curiously virtual reality by comparison.

Another small sign occurs next morning that perhaps I should carry on with this work. I have bought a supply of shirts for one week and on Tuesday I throw on a tee shirt gifted me by the Wellington Marine Education Centre. A delegate stops me. He says he now works for a Government agency and has inherited the task of communicating atmospheric and ocean issues. I explain I am really here pushing an energy efficiency concept of bonusjoules. He almost falls over with disbelief. He has cartoons from my website “plastered all over his office” and has even used them in a presentation. 

Yes, who knows where a seed lands and what it grows into. I think of our prominent climatologists like Jim Salinger and Kevin Trembath. They fly all over the world communicating climate issues to all who will listen and yet never question the science underpinning their communication. I have long been at loss at how to communicate to them. Maybe there is a way yet? I will keep on with this stuff despite all.

The next keynote speaker is Sir Jonathon Porrit CBE. Jonathon is chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and Programme Director of the Forum of the Future. Seems like he has pretty direct contacts with Prime Minister Blair. 

Well its also seems like Jonathon is struggling to retain hope. On his plane flight to New Zealand he had read James Lovelock new book. James generated the great modern symbol of Earth as a living entity he called Gaia. Just about all sustained civilisations have used similar symbols to express the living entity that is our planet and to remind humans that they ignore its balances at their peril. James, using 86 years of insight and experience of this global civilisation, now feels we have triggered unsustaining changes to our atmospheric balances. This means over the vast bulk of humanity may well soon perish.

This is a probability I have long confronted along with the risks of destroying global oil-Gas reserves this generation. It is easy to lose hope, as most have. Jonathon struggles openly and honestly with his ability to retain hope before the whole conference. People listen intently. He then proceeds to discuss how he had spent time at a session listening to how Enviroschools is being implemented throughout NZ schools and the great things it is doing. He stops at this point, bows and shakes his head before speaking with passion. What he could not help noticing, and maybe I paraphrase him, is that amidst all the quantities of data and presentations of Enviroschools there was not one single mention of carbon, not one single mention and yet our use of carbon is the great issue, the overwhelming issue, the most enormous issue facing us all at this time.

There is a profound silence in the hall of 300 people. One solitary person at the back of the hall begins clapping. The clapping echoes on itself in the silence and for some reason I am reminded of the ancient meditative exercises where one imagines one hand clapping and where one asks if a tree makes a sound falling if there is no one in the forest to hear it. Surely soon others will join the lone clapper but no one does. Surely others see the fatal flaws in the symbols employed by Environmental Industry in New Zealand and beyond? Not one person joins the lone clapper. I cease quickly as it more fully dawns on me that I am that lone clapper and probably will remain so. 

Jonathon then goes on to tell us how he did recently have a wonderful experience up in Scotland. There he discovered children were calculating their schools impact on carbon balances. When you entered the school entrance the results were there for all to see. He tells this as a story of hope. Clearly what none of his hosts have told him is that 10 to 12 year olds were doing this in hundreds of schools in New Zealand in the 1990s through their community-owned Bulk-electricity distributors. 

Then I note the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment sponsors his visit. Suddenly Jonathon’s ignorance makes sense. The Commissioner’s published history of the Bulk-electricity system in New Zealand reveals no knowledge of life before the Electricity Reforms of the 1980s. Seemingly what was the world’s most advanced electricity system came from nowhere as the Commission ignores the extraordinary role small communities played in creating this remarkable system over a period of 90 years. It was they that were teaching about the potential impact of carbon emissions and how we can reduce our use of fossil carbon.

Similarly the Commissioner’s publications on Environmental Education such as See Change make no mention of the Energy Action programme, despite or because its external reviewers were the top Environmental Educators in our universities – Canterbury, Massey, Victoria, Macquarie… Life does not exist before 2000 for these guys or the Commissioner. That happens to be when funding ceased for the carbon education programme as community ownership of local grids was destroyed by the Electricity Reforms legislation and the new Parliamentary culture/ertia.

Afterwards I slip up to Jonathon and inform him that the absence of carbon is no mistake. Enviroschools is easily a case of Greenwash and is designed to enhance our Government’s Clean Green Image programme and to obscure New Zealand’s Unclean Ungreen Practices. No programme that effectively communicated about our carbon use and its possible impact on the environment can get funding from Governments here now. I sense he believes me; his eyes go a bit bleak. I hasten to inform him that ideas are happening in NZ that he will not find out about on this visit and he should know they could give him cause for hope. I wonder to myself whether maybe he will one day check out the ideas I presented to the conference and find hope there? 

At lunch time secondary school students show us their award winning work for the environment. One group has worked to restore a local stream destroyed by local industry practices. They worked to involve the community, promote better agricultural practices and in general succeeded in their attempts. They made a humorous video explaining how they achieved their aims that won them second place in an international competition. The spirit of their video entrances the audience while my own faith in the power of our youth to sustain us is reaffirmed yet again.

My mind goes back to 2001. Energy Action has folded for lack of funds. There is no coherent climate education programme anymore. I am realising that to the extent the Government is serious about reducing the negative impact of our carbon use on the atmosphere and our children, it is doomed to failure by its use of symbols. 

I write a long and detailed proposal to the Climate Change Office suggesting they create a video competition between schools at Level 4 (11-12 year olds). Students would create a video 3-4 minutes long portraying the nature of trace gases and the fact that trace gases, including water vapour, together constituting only parts per thousand of the atmosphere keep Earth’s surface 33°C warmer than it would be in their absence. 

I knew our students would come up with brilliant ways of portraying the huge numbers, tiny fractions and leverage involved, whether it was filming a thousand beans or human beings and dicing the thousandth one into pieces or whatever. 

The six best videos would be compiled on a disc as a peer-peer education resource and I suggested that one reward would be to get the State owned TV1 to broadcast a video a night just before the 7pm weather forecast in for the week of the 2002 Rio+10 Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. I fail to receive even a letter of acknowledgement from the Climate Change Office to my several page detailed proposal. This is despite sending it to a couple of people there.

Since then we have seen New Zealand’s carbon emissions rocketing, inordinate investment in carbon emitting technology, the scrapping of the proposed Carbon Tax, Carbon Trading has become a fiscal laughing stock/liability and the scrapping of the proposed Methane tax.  Overseas readers should know we are unique in New Zealand in that our methane emissions from industrial process are even greater than our carbon dioxide emissions and, of course, methane is over twenty times as potent as a Warmer Trace Gas.  Our schools have produced a remarkably ignorant group of farmers and journalists. These people believe methane is largely generated from the farting of livestock such as cows. Hence they dismissed the Methane tax using the derisory symbol “Fart Tax”. They do not understand even the basics. Ruminating animals produce four times the quantity of methane from belching as they do from farting.

Tuesday afternoon and our bus inches and idles its way down the crowded car park which is the expressway to EarthSong, a “sustainable housing development”. A minor tropical storm is affecting Auckland. Trees are falling over and vehicles crashing into each other. Coming from the boisterous climate of the Cook Strait where this is considered only a breeze I am bemused. Conference members doing field trips to the local islands are being sick in their boats. 

I chose to go to EarthSong as I lived for a decade of the 1970-80s in a community development in Christchurch till I could take the city’s smog no longer. Creekside then had seven houses spread over two acres. Half of the 27 people were children and many of us adults had determined we would have only two, one or no children. Commodities such as vehicles, laundries, freezer storage, lounges, televisions etc were pooled to reduce our environmental footprint.

EarthSong with a planned 33 households is even more sophisticated. They do not have innovations that we had such as an intercom so one household could baby-sit four other households in the evenings. However they collect rainwater off their roofs for all but cooking purposes. Their ground catchment system easily contains the heavy rain falling on their land today. Each house is built to the sun and has solar heating. (Goddam ugly things – the sooner the guys who made SUVs so sexy start designing solar technology the better. And who is thinking ahead so the systems can be adapted to smart Whispergen, wood pellet type technology that they stick the tanks on the roof? I doubt EECA is.)

A most advanced feature is that the community bulk-purchases its Bulk-electricity.  You buy into a low amp society and soon learn to not put on all your heavy consumption appliances at once. My last bill for 555 units over 35 days was $131. Their reward is a $30 bill per month, $40 at most. Their system has vast positive implications for our hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and our lives in general.

I groan as I think of the environmental and social devastation that the flog-off of Vector Ltd to a couple of overseas bankers is going to cause.

Wednesday morning and I am really lit up. Dr Jenny Su is an absolute gem. In four and a half years as Executive Secretary for the Division of Environmental Protection at the Ministry of Education in Taiwan she has transformed school campuses and their communities throughout the island. Hearing her is to understand how she does it. She does not own ideas or expertise and works to draw out the wisdom of institutions and their communities. 

Schools, and I include universities, come to her with a proposal and she asks “ What is the benefits for your community and show me how they support you.” If they cannot show the connections they are sent away. Her Minister is so impressed with the gains in sustainable practices he has offered her a billion dollar package to work with. She has refused to take it up, as she believes that sustainable change best comes from communities and it is more vital that the Government really supports this ideal.

The cracking of the jaws dropping onto desks in disbelief was hilarious. Conference delegates are stunned that anyone might turn down a billion dollars in Environmental Education. Coming from the community-owned Bulk electricity days I understand the wisdom of what she does. I think of our current anti-community, fragmented and secretive Bulk-electricity structure and our hostile Parliament. I think of our fragmented competitive school system with institutions scrambling over top of each other as they strive for student numbers and funds. I think of how our formal Environmental Industry is riddled with intellectual dishonesty and PR spin as each sector in it scrabbles and fights to keep its pet project alive. 

Jenny was confronted with this too and yet now has university professors and graduate students enthused to share their knowledge with their colleagues and communities. Principals no longer dread the topic and instead delight in talking to their communities of their work in making their campuses more sustainable. Some schools are even off the Bulk-electricity grid and place zero demand on local stormwater and waste infrastructures. Her big focus is on identifying and publicly acknowledging good critical thinking, no matter how small the campus.

I ask does she work with private companies and if so how does she prevent them using the programmes for Spin and Greenwash purposes? She replies that at first the CEOs would ring her up and she would just put the phone down on them. They got the message. This said, she does involve some private companies but she identifies the good ones. It is she who approaches them and it is all on her terms. An example is the world’s largest photovoltaic panel manufacturer. She describes the guys running it as just a bunch of engineers out to create a most sustainable product who happen to have made a lot of money doing it. They were happy to be involved and there was never any thought that their company’s name would be in anyway linked.

For me, Jenny is an example of the power of the individual, of the community, of our schools, of a small island people to show the world a sustainable future.

Afterwards I notice a small phenomenon. A few people begin coming up to me saying that I must feel my ideas are at last being supported. I am kind of surprised as I had little inkling that they knew the ideas I promote. I guess some NZAEE exec bods might have read my submission to the conference. Though NZers visit my website I rarely observe them there. The bulk of my readers are overseas where I have noted people spending up to 9 hours over two days on it. 

(I mentioned this to a mate and when he hears one extended visitor is Virginia-based he laughed and says that is where the headquarters of the CIA is based. Yeah, well. I am well aware of the mass misery that the Agency causes. Then again their intelligence must surely be revealing that our present systems and activities are leading to an inevitable mass collapse of civilisation. Maybe someone there loves their child and wishes more for it and finds hope visiting my website?)

At the end of the conference a teacher asks if she can see the Energy Action programme. She wants to teach about “energy” and carbon.  I have bought a dozen teaching posters with me and I pass them by her back at the hostel. A couple of other delegates happen in on our discussion, including the president of the NZAEE. I think they are amazed at the scale of the thinking in the resource and I have to tell them much of it is already superseded. It certainly is in my mind.

Before I leave Auckland I visit the SkyTower like a good little tourist. Noble attempts are being made to wean Auckland city from its severe oil addicted ways. One of my first acts on arriving had been to pay homage to the new Britomart rail centre. I admire the millions of dollars of sculpturing though the dead punga trees had a sad effect. Perhaps they died in sympathy with the dead train sitting at the platform. Periodically the line of people sitting glumly on their handbags and satchels were informed that mechanical breakdown would mean a twenty-minute delay. I do not know how many twenty minutes that was on top of. No train came or went while I was there.

I ask to change my train ticket back to Wellington. “This must seem stupid but you cannot buy railway tickets at the railway station – you will have to go elsewhere.”  I walk around the block to a place that does sell them. “This must seem so stupid that you cannot buy such railway tickets at the railway station”, offers the woman behind the counter, perhaps anticipating the zillointh such comment. I agree and we discuss the stupidity and inefficiency of the New Economic Order. 

I have to pay an extra $26, which takes the price to $145.This is over twice what an airfare is. I think unkind thoughts about our parliamentarians who promote this nonsense with their billion dollars subsidies to airlines while dumping on rail. 

Later at the rail station I am told I could have avoided this extra charge by just coming down and buying my ticket at the time of departure. I note 50% of the seats are empty all the way to Wellington. What a rort. And the contracting caterers failed to turn up with food for the canteen. As a result there was not much else available than the traditional pies so scorned by our version of the Neocoms, those people who destroyed our rail potential in New Zealand too.

I had noted there is rail station near my hostel and ask if I can be picked there. There are no city buses to Britomart by the departure clock-in time (7.10 am), I will avoid a taxi fare and I will be able to sleep in an extra hour or more.

I am told “Sorry, if we did that the train would never get to Wellington.” I point out that I date from the steam age and it was perfectly possible then. I do not add that the world lacked MBAs and smart technology then. “The problem is we do not own the tracks and can do nothing about the fact the lines were all welded up by the previous owners TranzRail …so our trains cannot go very fast in case the lines have buckled in the heat.”

Its becoming clear to me that the definition and purpose of the Economics Reforms is to maximise energy inefficiency and to allow everyone to pass the buck so oil is used up as fast as possible. Our nation has been reduced to a state of structured helplessness. Just like America. An American at the hostel told me how helpless so many of his compatriots feel and that all his acquaintances who were all for invading Iraq in 2003 now say “Oh I was always against going in.”  What will they say when their dependence on the oil and drug trades collapses their economy?

I sit high up in Skytower with a glass of wine watching the sun set over this amazing isthmus. Buildings crowd its surface to the horizons. There are some beautifully designed buildings but many recent ones are very ugly and seem to be built by sun-haters. The city lights gradually replace the day and the roads are revealed as four-lane wide gashes of red and white that slash through the urban scape.  Now I can understand why I was the only person on my bus at 8am peak time coming into the city centre this morning.

People here think cheap oil and a benign atmosphere are forever. 

I think of the great gleaming Humvee I saw inching down Queen Street. I easily walk faster than it. Indeed I have time to stop, window shop, dream and calculate how many horsepower it takes to move the near stationary ego of its sole occupant a mile. With 25000 man-hours of labour/energy in a 42 gallon barrel of oil, add the military, the extraction, processing (23 gallons are lost) and transport man-hours involved and he uses a gallon this half hour and only 1% of that gallon actually moves him (the rest disappears in heat and friction) head hurts.. this individual could be using a resource of 3000 man-hours of labour to move himself down this street. For all that he does not look all that happy in his tank. How helpless can you get?

Yes, as I gaze down on Auckland I know this city is in for such a shock when its access to cheap oil suddenly ceases, if the weather gets turbulent. It has not one single electric means of transport. The pavements are still full of broken branches from the wee breeze earlier in the week. I drink to the fact I do not live here, even as I know such attitudes are a recipe for misery.

The train trip back to Wellington is a fabulous experience. The length of the North Island is soaking in summer. Much of the first hour is spent travelling through a frenzy of graphiti, sometimes three stories high. If only we can more tap into the amazing energy of our young people and create a sustainable future for all. Then we are into the lush industrial pasturelands of the Waikato.  

Periodically, just as I am sinking into a reverie, a commentary on the towns, viaducts and history we are passing through blasts out of the speakers positioned above every passenger’s head. Nice idea. Terrible technology. Imagine the hapless passenger who uses the train more than once. The powers-that-be really hate trains in this country and it is often said that Toll Holdings only wants to move freight. 

Sometime after Hamilton I become aware of a new force moving us. A quiet force with terrific tow. My heart leaps with joy as on steep curve I see what it is. We are now electric. Unannounced we have changed locomotives in Hamilton. For some reason I feel quite emotional and the landscape comes even more alive. I really feel at one with my land now. In my mind I see the wind turbines quietly turning and the rains falling onto the hills behind the hydrodams. I feel the atmospheric forces being transformed into horsepower – 4000 hp I later learn. The engine pulling us has almost twice the power of our largest diesel locomotive. My ears are popping at the rate it moves us up into the King Country.

My feelings can best be described as a sensation of moving from a crude barbaric era into an enlightened age. I am leaving oil in the ground that will provide food for my great, great grandchildren and I am not murdering the hapless humans who live in oil-rich regions. I am moving through our world leaving only a small footprint. The sense of sanity is palpable. I stand out on the viewing platform and experiences something else new. I can smell the summer, the crackling broom pods, the drying hay, the crops of brassicas crushed underfoot by browsing stock and all those smells that were always swamped by the fuggy diesel fumes before. 

This is living. I reflect on the quiet desperation written on so many the faces of the occupants of cars we zip past.  I reflect on the quiet anguish expressed to me by conference delegates as they asked how we can alert people to the need for change and yet still maintain hope. Daily in their work they are at the interface with classes of students, workers in industries, streams of tourists, panels of politicians and it is so hard to maintain hope in the face of overwhelming challenges created by our use of energy. Someone suggests to me I might be able to help create an “energy” education programme for an SOE. Someone else suggests an organization might use me for a “climate” education programme they are planning. Always people come back to the problem of “keeping people hopeful as we get them to face the facts”.

Hope is something I am fortunate to know of, especially in this moment as I flow through this land, borne along on its winds and rains. It is pointless teaching energy efficiency without talking of the power of compassion and how any act links us to our environment. It is pointless teaching how we face calamity by destroying our habitat without providing in people with simple strategies for ameliorating the impact of their activities. I know we can teach the wonders our climate so that it inspires sustainable change and energy efficient practice. The programmes cannot work apart.  One provides activities with no meaning and the other provides insights with no hope. I know the power of our children and their ability to transform their communities for better. Grant Dunford with his Energy Action programme was a genius. I know we can create an even more inspirational education programme so each may more know their Thermal Beings and their Trace Beings.

Palmerston North and back to the Barbaric Ages. The fumes and the crude sounds of the diesel-burning locomotive assail my nostrils. I buy a small bottle of wine and together with a couple of other passengers in the viewing platform we salute Kapiti Island and the motorists who wave back to us. We have a ball.  I make a toast to life with every sip. Just as Jenny Su is transforming Taiwan I know New Zealand can reinvigorate its Parliament, slough off its fossil fuel addiction and provide guidance to the world with inspiring education programmes and sustainable ways. 

We pass a substation. Painted over so it is barely legible is the crafted engraving that reads Horowhenua Electric Power Board. It reminds me of the National Radio News in the week describing how power companies were out fixing broken power poles and downed power lines and getting the power back on in the Auckland storm. I lost count of the number of times Maggie Barry, the newsreader, abused this wonderful symbol and made it PR gobbledygook. I drink to our much wiser and more scientific grandfathers and their communities who built and named this substation with such care. We can all learn from them. I drink to the future past and arrive in Wellington feeling rosy and elated from my rail journey. 


Since my last blog our New Zealand Parliament has scrapped plans to establish a carbon tax and has turned its back on the spirit of Kyoto. This will be no surprise to people who have followed my blogs. Enough said. 

Will try to put my presentation to the NZAEE conference up on this website when I get time. 

UK Knight Says Govt Must Support Sustainable Dev.

The Bonus Joules cartoon, drawn a couple of years ago, is pointing up the fact that our New Zealand schools are turning out generations of plumbers, builders and electricians who are ignorant of the most  fundamental principles of thermodynamics. These people make the major decisions involving billions of dollars of investment that will impact for a century or more. 

Return to Cartoon Journey

Return to Update Page

Return to the Welcome Page