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Chapter 3 No 4: Imprisoned in a metaphor!
Blog Dave McArthur 11 Aug 2005
Exponential OnEnergys ahead in New Zealand? That is the question the recent article Exponential Enrons Ahead inspires. And will the villains in the new horror drama be our oil companies dressed up in different guise ? Will you soon be billed by Mobil Vector or Shell PowerCo? Are we on a roller coaster ride to misery?
Anyone who saw the recent movies Enron –The Smartest Guys in the Room and The Corporation will know I am talking about. Scary stuff. Psychotic stuff. The stuff of misery for the bulk of humanity. And the flog-off of Vector Ltd ensures we will share the misery in New Zealand.
First I will pick up where I started writing this before being sent the vision of an Enron future. Bear with me. I am sure the blog will lead back to this OnEnergy future. So, starting again:
Did I hear right? The NZ Labour Party is worried because polling indicates a softening of support for it from 25-39 year old women? If I did hear accurately, this loss of support is attributed to their growing concern that the Government “lacks vision”.
If women of this age perceive a problem we should all be on a red alert. The womb is a potent bullshit detector.
Many years ago I read the vivid account of a French woman. She was of child-bearing age in the period between World Wars I and 2. She described how “everyone” talked of WW1 as the war that ended all wars. It was said its horror and scale had ensured that. She said that women of her age could not believe the rhetoric. “Deep in the heart of own bones we knew it was untrue”. Something in their most vital depths of their physical beings warned them they “would be only breeding cannon fodder”. Any sons they bore would be slaughtered in senseless war.
The intuition of those women was prophetic though they did not sense to articulate the scale of the slaughter of women too in the coming atrocities. Historians and sociologists will point to the low breeding rate in that interwar period and attribute it to factors such as a lack of males after the earlier slaughter of them. In general these commentators are unable to express the profound and wordless gut-felt sensations of women of childbearing age. These are a complex primal (subconscious) response to the culture surrounding them. The maternal urge contains powerful bullshit detectors that work to protect existing and potential children. If the woman senses no future for a potential child and she feels empowered to, then the primal maternal urge can manifest itself in decisions not to have a child.
On the subject of political vision, every political party and leader can articulate a vision of some sort. Hitler, Mao, Pinochet, Suharto and Bush all had or have visions. I guess what the women polled are unable to detect is a meaningful or sustainable vision in our present Government. Perhaps Labour’s articulated vision is too much at odds with the reality its policies create? Perhaps all Labour’s talk of caring for the environment and “conserving energy” fails the acid gut-test of the reality created by its overall policy. So what might these women be experiencing?
Tertiary-educated ones will be well aware that present “student loan” policies reduce knowledge from being a vital right to being merely a tradable commodity. The Student Loans Scheme reduces the free flow of information and mortgages students’ lives before they have barely started. Women graduates are alive to the fact that they carry an enhanced load of the national debt that has been dumped on their generation.
(Newsflash. As I write, Labour is announcing the removal of interest charges on student loans. This is a welcome acknowledgment of the unsustainable nature of the Loan Scheme though it still leaves the flawed, cynical “knowledge consumption” / “user pays” ethos intact. It still stifles development of the Knowledge Economy)
Housing is becoming less affordable and household debt is rocketing for these women. This is despite relatively high dwelling construction levels. These trends are part of the reality revealed in this report:
“A new study has found that New Zealand has a higher ratio of women to men in the peak childbearing ages of 30 to 34 than any other industrialised country, with 9 per cent more women than men.”
The price of oil and Gas based products is rising and the alarming concept of Peak Oil is emerging in the general consciousness:
(09 August 2005 LONDON: Oil prices hit a record high of $US64 overnight after warnings of militant attacks in the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia and on worries about refinery outages in the United States. )
At the same time too few are enabled to catch even glimmerings of the positive possibilities in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age. It is probable that, deep down, many of these women sense our continuing addiction to oil and Gas use is screwing our economy and putting the next generations at grave risk.
Constant “energy crisis” headlines ensure they sense the vulnerability and risk attached to a system that demands ever-growing supplies of Bulk-electricity. They know our civilisation now depends on electricity, the grid could collapse at anytime and little is being done to reduce demand and promote intelligent uses of electricity.
They know “something is going on out there” and there is a reason why people are arguing about the impact of human activity on weather patterns. They sense deliberate confusion in the arguments and symbols used to portray how the climate works. Reports filter through that some areas of the world could experience sudden and massive climate changes because of our carbon emissions. Events such as occurred in Mumbai this week give an inkling of the scale of potential climate activity:
“The city formerly known as Bombay was deluged with 37 inches (940 millimeters) of rain in 24 hours Tuesday -- the most any Indian city has ever received in one day.”
This is in a country that holds the records for rainfall e.g.
“July 1861, Cherrapunji, India: Greatest one month of precipitation ever measured globally: 9300 mm (366 inches). Total rainfall for the period 1 August 1860 to 31 July 1861 is greatest rainfall in one year ever recorded : 26,461 mm (1,041.78 inches).”
Sure, Labour acknowledges these climate and resource challenges in its rhetoric compared to its principal benchmarks, National, Act and The Market. It even maintains institutions such as the Climate Change Office, the Electricity Commission and EECA. However fundamentally it does not benchmark itself against environmental and social standards. The fact is that when the crunch comes, it continues to channel investment into SUVs and trucking, State-subsidised airlines, fossil-fuel burning electricity generation and more motorways. It continues to promote population expansion as the foundation for economic health, speculator- driven dwelling designs, profit-driven universities and research facilities, the Electricity Reforms etc. It fails to invest in rail, shipping, energy efficient dwellings and community-based knowledge. These are all signals of its primal vision.
This primal vision is promoted as the norm by all political parties. Some like the Greens acknowledge the vision is unsustainable and attempt to provide alternative strategies. However too often the symbols they employ to convey their ideas are born of the ethos they condemn. And as I have argued in previous blogs, their “green” credentials give extra potency to the use of these counterproductive symbols. We face the irony that their choice of symbols means it is possible the Greens are unwitting and powerful proponents of the current unsustainable vision.
It seems trite to point out how billboards, daily advertising broadsheets and weekly magazines, television and the internet all surround us with symbols designed to promote images that this vision is sane and represents the “good life”. Yet too few of us are able to fully acknowledge the potency of these forces and how they dominate our decisions.
For instance, as I write Morning Report on National Radio is discussing the “high price” of oil. This use of the symbol “high price” works to obscure the fact we are in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age and that history will judge our generation’s practice of pricing oil under $2-300 a barrel as obscene, if not barbaric. This flawed use of the symbol impacts on every aspect of my life and reduces my options for communicating, traveling, learning and being a human. The truth is the price of oil is cheap – far too cheap! And this is not an argument for increasing the slush funds of the oil companies.
Yes. I acknowledge the potency of the symbols surrounding me and their immense impact on my life. This statement astonishes acquaintances. They say I seem the least influenced of all the people they know. They seem unaware of the paradox that for a person to be free they must know and accept at the deepest level what imprisons them.
So a feeling of uncertainty, doubt and even entrapment exists deep at a primal level in the womb of many women of child- bearing age. It is a sense Labour’s vision will not really sustain their child. Nor can they draw significant sustenance from National, NZ First, et al.
Women unable to articulate this sensation of uncertainty remain vulnerable as any of us to the attentions of the powerful PR industry – particularly the agents working for the short-term interests of psychotic corporations and their political fronts.
These Spin Doctors stroke the uncertainty and confusion with all their media means and whisper “Yes, all is not right and it is time for a change.” Their idea of change is the promotion of the status quo. They work to ensure change is in the form of the movement of political parties to promote the status quo and the movement of individual voters to support parties that maintain the status quo. They work to create a “soft” malleable voter –as Labour is perhaps discovering.
The PR industry has a couple of key measures of its success: it’s ability to “move product” and its ability to “maintain damage control”. The critical challenges generated by our unsustainable images of energy and our use of energy forms is of little concern. The industry is dedicated to ensuring the unsustainable elements of the status quo vision are obscured.
That is why our media and politicians obscure the fact our civilisation is dependent on our access to and use of precious resources. Instead they argue in terms that focus on the links between fiscal management and inflation. If you have not already done so, check out these links and see the real relationship between these basic commodities and inflation/depression. The Gas and oil graphs are especially telling.
Soon I hope to put up a graph showing how the price of electricity has doubled for many domestic consumers in New Zealand over the last few years too.
You can see what nonsense is talked by people like Don Brash, Winston Peters and others when they claim they tamed inflation. Who would be relaxed bringing a baby into their cloud cuckoo world? Or into Labour’s world in which the oil-Gas bankers continue to promote the squandering of the remaining oil reserves, inefficient uses of electricity and suppress the use of the sun.
Ah, yes. I knew the logic of our present predicament would link us back to those disastrous Arthur Andersen and Co creations: Enron and OnEnergy. Recall too that the now defunct AA and Co is the consultancy that drew up plans in 1999 to enable Monsanto to control all the world’s seed stock by 2010. (Don’t know about this? Little wonder. The daily advertising broadsheet, the NZ Herald, went to extraordinary lengths to ensure you remain oblivious by teaming up with Rodney Hyde of the Act Party to trash a visiting authority on the subject. They even went to the ridiculous lengths of deriding him as a “bottom bouncer”. I was there when Jeffrey M Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, confirmed that he had never been subject to such sleazy treatment anywhere in the world, not even in his native USA.)
Anyway I can assure you the spirit of Arthur Andersen and Co is alive and well both here in New Zealand and in America. Here it is manifest in the current unprecedented transfer of wealth and power to a couple of overseas-based investment bankers. Our media obscure this transfer by describing it as the “Vector float” and other euphemistic names.
You don’t know the implications of the privatisation of Vector? Check out some of my recent blogs.
The spirit is alive and manifest in the fact that not one of our major political parties dares alter the Electricity Reform legislation to re-enfranchise communities, even if it wishes to. The leader of the NZ National Party, Don Brash, did talk of change in his June speech to the Electricity Engineers Association. For example:
It simply makes good sense to allow lines companies to own generation. It will open up more opportunities for those companies that already have a major investment in the sector to add to the capacity of the New Zealand generation base.
Yes, it does make sense until you read the rest of his speech in which he promises to reduce responsibility for carbon emissions, build more roads, further disenfranchise communities and neuter the RMA. His speech makes no mention of the vital need for demand side investment and he promises to expand our borrowing programme:
“Simply put, borrowing to invest in assets where the prospective economic returns outweigh the costs just makes good sense. It's good business.
It's like extending the mortgage to add an extra room….
Dr Cullen remains afraid to allow the Crown to borrow more to spend on roads and energy.”
Perhaps Dr Cullen realises deep in his guts that it is wrong to make future generations pay for motorways they will not be able to use in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age? Why should they pay for our stupid decisions? Perhaps he does understand the great Conservation of Energy Principal and is aware humans can only invest in energy uses?
Whatever, Don’s speech is no cause for hope for anyone but the oil-Gas companies. There is no suggestion National is going to amend the Electricity Reform legislation to ensure communities can again participate in the Electricity Market as they were able to for nearly a century. In short the bankers of the oil companies must be licking their lips.
The spirit of Arthur Andersen and Co is also manifest in the Prime Minister’s desperate silence on the high risks for her electorate when her constituents lose control of Vector.
Citizens in the USA are subject to such silence too. In the USA the spirit of Arthur Andersen and Co thrives and is manifest in the unprecedented attacks on the New Deal Legislation. It looks soon as though it is about to be gutted by the proposed Energy Bill. In the 1920s and 30s the average American would have called it a different name - “ The Robber Baron Bill”. In brief, the New Deal’s greatest and most historic principle is to be demolished. Check out Kelpie Wilsons commentary:
Bill Heads to Conference - Will PUHCA Finally Surface?
“…Most papers around the country ran a summary of the energy bill during the week it that it passed the Senate, but amazingly, only one paper even mentioned the PUHCA repeal provision. The Daily Herald (Provo,UT) ran an article titled Lawmakers Praise Energy Bill, with the following information:
The energy bill would repeal the Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935 - PUHCA for short.
Supporters of the repeal say it would improve competition and allow new money and innovation to improve efficiency and reliability.
But repeal also would allow companies like Enron or Halliburton to buy up utilities with little state or federal oversight, critics say. Partial repeal of the act a few years ago, led to the Enron debacle and the energy crisis in California.
The repeal would make mergers easier, but it also would make it more difficult for state agencies to protect consumers, regulators say.
.A few days later the Citizen Times (Asheville, NC ) published a fairly in-depth article titled: "Let's slow down and really examine energy bill - especially utility deregulation."
And that's it. The sum total of American newspaper reporting on the dismantling of one of the last keystone provisions of FDR's New Deal. It's a puzzler. As Lynn Hargis, the attorney with Public Citizen who is most closely following this issue says, "It doesn't matter if you think PUHCA repeal is a good thing or a bad thing, but you can't say it's not a BIG thing!"
A trillion dollars worth of utility assets are about to be deregulated and no one knows about it.”
As Kelpie Wilson puts it, “those who follow corporate conspiracies” might find it instructive to find out who owns key daily broadsheets and their bankers. I checked out our NZ Herald and soon linked to the Irish Examiner and some of Dr Tony O’Reilly’s other interests
It is perhaps helpful to know that Dr Tony O’Reilly not only heads the NZ Herald’s owner, Independent News and Media. He also heads Providence Resources and has 43% control of it. “This is a company formed out of the merger of Atlantic Resources and Conroy Petroleum and Natural Resources some years ago”. And a brief survey of the NZ Herald’s advertising content reveals the oil industry is a profound source of income for it.
If you want to know more about the Enron/OnEnergy future being planned for us, then check out the views of Molly Ivins:
We're about to repeat a huge mistake that will let the big oil companies jack up our electric rates.
The trouble with deregulation is that it always takes some disaster like Enron before we realize there was a reason for the regulation to begin with.
We are about to repeat one of the huge mistakes of the 1920s and '30s because we have forgotten why PUHCA (pronounced Pooka) was instituted in the first place. PUHCA is the Public Utility Holding Company Act, passed in 1935, which prevents concentration of ownership of power plants. Both the House and Senate versions of the energy bill contain a repeal of PUHCA.
As Kelpie Wilson points out in an article for Truthout, "For 50 years we have had reliable, cheap electric power that has allowed strong economic growth, and no PUHCA-regulated energy holding company has ever gone broke."
PUHCA was partially repealed in the '90s, and even that much deregulation was part of what led to Enron, Westar and other slight mishaps.
PUHCA puts utilities under strict regulation by both state and federal governments. It restricts ownership of utilities to public or private companies that are in the business of producing power.
The most likely candidates to take over power companies are the big oil companies, now awash in cash. There goes the electrical grid: Why fix it when you can charge more for doing nothing?
Lynn Hargis, an attorney who spent 10 years at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is now with Public Citizen, says repeal means a repeat of the same dreary mistakes. In the 1920s, three huge companies owned half of the nation's power plants and built them into speculative power-holding companies that used the reliable money from utilities for flights of fancy in the stock market.
When you are paying your electric bill to ExxonMobil, Halliburton or some Chinese firm, you will see why this is a monumentally bad idea. (Speaking of the veep's former home company, according to HalliburtonWatch.org, the company is employing its workers in Iraq through its subsidiary in the Cayman Islands. This means Halliburton won't have to pay unemployment benefits for the workers when they return home.)
Whoop! Whoop! Cayman Islands? Caymans Islands! Does that ring alarm bells? Perhaps we had better start kissing Transpower goodbye, Dr Cullen? Particularly if Don Brash goes on his planned borrowing and deficit creating programme.
Anyway, for more, check out Kelpie Wilson articles:
The latter article ends:
"...Jack Casazza is wistful for the utilities of the past. "I'm a believer in capitalism," he said, "and I believe in getting a reasonable return on my investment. But the company I came up in believed that you don't hurt the customer. I have grandchildren and I want to see this country run so they benefit, not so Warren Buffett can put money in his pocket."
Lynn Hargis fears we are headed for another Great Depression. She said, "Not only is it going to be horrible for the whole country, but nobody is even talking about it."
Yeah, that is depressing stuff. Last week I watched the Wellington audience as it sat numbed and shocked at the end of the Enron movie. The theatre was packed to the eaves and I was the last on the waiting list to get in. Having intimate knowledge of the Arthur Andersen and Co spirit and having lived the horrors of the TransAlta-OnEnergy experience I can say the movie does not reveal the full extent of the nightmare that experience is for industry workers and their families in New Zealand.
I chatted with two older gentlemen while waiting to see if we could get tickets. One told me he had been very instrumental in creating NZ commerce laws. He thought Enron could not happen here and asked me why I was interested to see the movie. I told him how I had worked in Arthur Andersen and Co’s structure here and how I had lost my family, my home, my career and my income. I explained the movie is important for me because at last some of the misery and truth about their corporate ethos and activity is being documented and revealed. Watching the movie would be an act of catharsis –as indeed it proved to be.
Initially his eyes opened in disbelief as I described life under these corporations. They then filled with great sadness when I briefly detailed the violence and callousness their culture breeds. At the end he said, “How sad, what a sad, sad story…”
I tried to reassure him, “Like its not all bad, like I find you never know what good comes from bad.” However I did not feel he could understand how that could be. I am sure that as he listened in the movie to tapes of Enron traders laughing and gloating as whole communities were put at great risk in the California’s Black outs of 2001 he would have felt less confident that our laws protect us from such potential violence and chaos.
I wonder if it triggered memories in him TransAlta- OnEnergy risking the welfare of hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the Wellington region, when it callously gambled that it could supply electricity to them when it only had generation capacity of a reputed mere 13% of the demand? Was he reminded how Todd Energy’s FreshStart started disconnecting domestic electricity consumers in blocks of 400 in 2001 when they became temporary liabilities? Did he wonder why Labour persists with legislation that strips NZ citizens of their rights and reduces them to being just tradable commodities?
Hmmm. Notice how I seem to use the words “callous” and “violence” repeatedly? Perhaps it is because I believe that, on balance, a future under the oil companies is a recipe for violence.
Their history shows how they are consumed by greed and care little for coming generations. They care not that most of our children, born of an oil-dependent culture, will not even have access to the vital oil-based products required to feed themselves. We even heard rumblings after the last G8 conference that Russia should be turfed out of the group it as it was not making its oil and Gas reserves available fast enough to keep our SUVs and trucks moving!
I also used the word exponential advisedly – as I am sure Kelpie Wilson does. The bankers of the oil companies, by fair means and foul, converted our society into an oil and Gas guzzling mechanism that maximises consumption of these precious resources. They care not what happens when the resources become too expensive to use to sustain our wider society. They will simply attempt to take over the next most profitable cash cow: our electricity systems. These will become even greater potential cash cows in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age.
The same greedy strategies will be used to further repress all serious use of small-scale distributed generation and smart technology when it conflicts with profits from the banker’s Bulk-electricity investments, no matter what the negative impact is on the environment or the average citizen. This they will do as surely as they destroyed tramcars and created the SUV.
They will, of course, argue we can sustain civilisation using nuclear energy. This resource is more finite and expensive than most can believe and it is extremely dangerous in the hands of the uncaring – as today’s article (Aug 7,2005) in the New York Times reminds us:
“WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 - The operator of a Florida nuclear plant appears to have shipped radioactive waste to ordinary landfills, municipal sewage treatment plants and some unknown locations in the 1970's and early 80's…”
So how can I add cheer to the lives of all and especially the lives of my acquaintances in the cinema foyer and the women searching for a world that might sustain any children they bear? How can good come from bad?
I devoted my last blog to another movie What the Bleep do We Know? This is a fascinating point to embark on any journey exploring for sustainable images of energy. The movie explores the greatest ideas of quantum physics and neuropsychology. The insights born of these ideas are overwhelming in their immensity for they suggest the universe arises from within us. Our moments of awareness influence into existence the atoms that make our world.
This is as mind boggling as it is empowering stuff. I suggested there are many Scientists who can work all day with these ideas and yet remain unable to live their insights. At the same time there are many people who have little knowledge of maths and physics who are able to live the great insights of quantum physics. We are all born with the “little scientist” within us and some are fortunate to retain this ability. You can.
As I reflected on the Bleeping ideas and wrote about them I was mindful of how unhelpful Western psychology is. I was aware of how likely it is that my literary attempts to portray a world in which we order the probabilities of the atoms would be condemned as the estranged ravings of a schizophrenic by conventional modern counselors and therapists. I was also conscious that elements objects of my creation may feel threatened if I lack compassion and humility.
In brief I am saying we can explore and discover sustainable images of the nature of energy and bring them to being. The vision of our electricity systems controlled and dominated by the callous, uncaring reincarnations of our present oil-Gas sectors need not be. Instead we can share a vision of ourselves as Electrical Beings in which communities control their local electricity grids and design them to serve the interests of our children and to sustain our immediate environment. The basis of that vision is love and electricity is seen to come in many and various forms, not just the form conjured up by the bankers of the Bulk-electricity sector. Know this and we can share a prosperous future with our children.
And the 2001 cartoon panel that accompanies this blog? I believe this is another of our unsustainable high-risk images of the nature of energy. In this case the “greenhouse” image of Earth’s energy system alienates us from our environment. It sets us apart from the atmosphere that sustains us and provides us with a Victorian mechanistic vision of our world. Indeed the modern popularity of the greenhouse image stems from the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 which was created to express our sense of dominance over all dominions – including nature. It contains the seeds of the imperialism and the pathology from which our modern corporations came. It is a metaphor of us as colonisers rather than co-habitants of our environment, as takers rather than givers in this universe.
We retain such images at our peril. Especially when there are now images that can deliver us far greater beauty, joy wonder and awe. More on this probability soon.