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 Greenhouse Deffects

Bonus Joules feels a bit disconnected in the Greenhouse world.



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 5:  Greenhouse Deffect

Blog Dave McArthur 29 Aug 2005

I recently did a survey of all the political parties in our Parliament. It seemed a timely thing to do as the 2005 elections draw near and we have to decide who is best fitted to take over at the steering wheel of the New Zealand. Our driver must understand weather conditions and be able to get the best from our fuel. The results are a surprise. Our politicians might be more capable drivers than our “energy experts”, climatologists and journalists/presenters.

Originally I hoped to publish the results of the survey the third week of August but as I write few in the latter groups have been able to respond. By contrast I have replies from most of our political parties. I will risk being unfair and suggest it is probable the lack of response from the other three groups is in part because they are timid and even terrified of politics (life?). This is not helpful because the topics in the survey are profoundly political and are the heart, mind and soul of our civilisation. These folk all shape the politics of the issues.

I do not wish to be unfair to anyone and will get back to the somewhat sad results of this brief study of the behaviour of our “experts” and journalist/presenters. First I will explain what I did. I sent a quick “energy” quiz (4 brief questions concerning definitions of “energy”) to leaders of all our political parties and to “energy experts”. I sent a quick “climate” quiz (3 brief questions) to the environment spokesperson for each party and to professional climate experts. I also sent a combination of these questions to leading media commentators/journalists. This is the select bunch in media I am more familiar with. I daily have to try and make sense of their utterances. They provide the framework of so much of my information.

This survey is not really about the answers to the quiz questions. It is about how various groups communicate. You see, there is one thing I am becoming pretty convinced of: there is little or no public science underpinning the symbols we use to communicate the nature of energy and, in particular, our climate. 

Did I sense you give a groan at the mention of the words “energy” and “climate”? Quite probably. We have been programmed in most scientific fashion by the PR industry to associate them boredom, interminable meaningless argument and a sense of boredom and confusion. And grubby politics. And deep ethical conflict. 

Many of us simply don’t want to go there.

Hang in. Remember this survey is about people acting strangely, weirdly, even acting in most unscientific ways. And this brings me to something fundamental to the survey. You are a scientist. Yes, that’s right. Relax and let go any negative sensations and conceptions of science you may have developed at school. The fact you can read this proves you have an immense capacity for science. Proof resides in your ability to conduct the millions, if not billions, of careful little experiments you have performed with symbols to learn read and write. 

The people we call “scientists” are no more or less scientists than you are on average. They may have greater expertise at some small aspect of life and have more sophisticated ways of expressing some elements of the nature of energy. They might even able to apply detailed mathematics to some situations. Some are accorded the prestigious title of Scientist. However you may well apply science to many areas of life they are unable to. Know that fact about yourself and you will lose your awe of Scientists and be able to respect the scientist within them and yourself. Do this and you can experience a lot of fun and joy.

It could well be that the scientist in you enables you to have a lot more fun that our Scientists (people paid large sums of money to practice science) and most of our prominent journalists/presenters. Check out some of these rather miserable responses from our highly paid “experts”. When I sent them the questions I knew they would sit in their laps like unexploded ticking bombs. 

Take these un-attributable responses. I was constantly startled at how people could instantly recall receipt of the questions when I phoned around to check that the email questionnaires had been received OK.

Sample conversation no 1.

Me: Hi. My name is Dave McArthur and I am just ringing to check if you received a brief email questionnaire from me concerning our use of climate/energy symbols?

Expert: Yes I did and I will not be responding.

Me: Can I ask the reasons?

      Expert: It is just not on my list of priorities. This is a political matter.

Me: May I quote you on that.


Sample conversation no 2.

Me: Hi. My name is Dave McArthur and I am just ringing to check if you received a brief email questionnaire from me concerning our use of climate/energy symbols?

Expert: Yes. I don’t take part in surveys. I get questions from all over the world all the time and I am very careful how I answer them.

Me: And you are not going to answer these questions? I am attempting to establish if there is a science in the communication of (the) issue.

Expert:No …and science is very important to me. I can tell you that we scientists involved go to very great lengths to ensure there is science in our communications before we launch an (education) programme.

Me: I am very glad to hear that. I have been unable to detect any serious research. Could you quickly point me to just one source?

Expert: (Very abrupt) Listen. I am sorry. I am very busy. I have a deadline to meet. Goodbye.

Sample conversation no 3.

Me: Hi. My name is Dave McArthur and I am just ringing to check if you received a brief email questionnaire from me concerning our use of climate/energy symbols?

Expert: Yes I did but it is not my policy to reply.

Me: May I ask why?

Expert: It is not of my nature to answer them –I felt restrained by the questions and will not answer the questions briefly and without careful qualification.

Me: Part of the survey is to find out what people do when they are in a public setting and have little time to respond and elaborate. I am interested in finding out what they hope to communicate in the brief moment when they use a symbol…

Expert:( Long kind of heavy silence, perhaps some interest? Then effective end of the discussion of this topic.)

Some of the email responses were equally revealing. This one from one expert beautifully encapsulates the fears, confusion and suspiciousness surrounding the use of these symbols:

“I was reluctant to respond to your earlier mail, as this area is fraught with strongly-held views and political issues. It is easy for apparently innocuous remarks to be misconstrued, accidentally or otherwise, once they are "out there". Could you give me some more details on your own background, the purposes to which you intend to put this information?”

What is apparent is that words like “energy”, “climate change” and “global warming” are not just “any old words”, as cynics casually dismiss them. For some people the symbols are like unplugged grenades dropped in their laps. They could blow their egos, their reputations, their careers, their businesses apart. What is it that makes these people so vulnerable? If I had gotten a ten year old to ask the questions they probably would have flicked off a response without much hesitation and enjoyed warm fuzzies from being able to help in the nation’s education. It could well be their response to the 10 year old destroys far more of the options of future generations than answering the same questions from a 57 year old school janitor.

Just in case those quoted above are now sitting there nervously wondering if their response will explode in their face, I will take a moment to be put them at ease. 

The above quote will remain un-attributed. Indeed I wish to put all those who did respond at ease. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to all those who responded. Thank you for your courage and your care. You are heroes. You are prepared to risk being proven wrong and are thus living by one of the great principles of science.

An example of a response that most fully expressed this spirit is:


Happy to answer. These answers are quick fire, I have not used any officials or bureaucrats to do them for me, and have just relied on my high school and uni education. 



Phil Heatley 

MP for Whangarei
Spokesperson for Energy”

Sure, Phil’s answers beg major questions such as how anyone can be a spokesperson of energy, let alone a minister of energy. Sure, the questions were originally addressed to the Party leader, Don Brash. However Phil is acting in the spirit of the survey. His response offers more opportunity for us to understand what people might be saying and meaning in the middle of a lively media interview or in general debate. 

As mentioned, the primary purpose of this survey is to reveal and explore the variety of meanings given to key symbols. Any comparison and comment on the knowledge of the individual respondent is very much secondary. It is also to explore the degree of political paralysis, corruption and lack of science in our institutions and media. My hypothesis is that our experts do not know what they are saying and we need a serious review of our use of “energy” and “climate” symbols.

Contrast Phil’s and other similar quick fire responses with the caution and even extreme trepidation of some. The following correspondence with EECA is an example of the caution - and again please be mindful, gratitude is in order. 



Heather Staley received your e-mail and has passed to me to follow up on. I have a couple of questions...


What will you be doing with the information? 



Presenting all the answers from respondents in a table so people can see the variation in definitions. I will also offer a commentary on patterns of responses. I will publish this on my website, on SEF and with any news agencies and education institutions that want to use it. Since writing I have been invited to present a paper at the NZAEE conference in Auckland next January and the results will be part of that paper.

All correspondence such as this will be published to illustrate how symbol use is decided.

What are you hoping to establish from these questions? 



1 The degree of science underpinning the use of symbols of energy i.e. the degree of science underpinning the communication.

2 Our use of symbols reflects fundamental aspects of our nature.

Are you attributing responses to particular people? 



Replies are attributed to political parties, though correspondence will be published to enable readers to view the decision making process. 


Yes - from "energy experts", unless they work for an institution and wish their definition to be attributed to that institution. I will be making my belief clear that we should all be grateful for those who co-operated in this exercise as they have contributed to the solution of significant communication/education problems.


Many thanks

Senior Advisor Communications


Thanks you for your explanations.

I understand that the Minister of Energy has been contacted for a response to your questions. His answers and Heather Staley's answers would be the same so please refer to the Ministers response. 

Kind regards 

Senior Advisor Communications

Me: Thank you very much for all your help. Much appreciated.

All the best 


No problem - good luck with your findings! 

Senior Advisor Communications

I know I speak for us all when I say I sure hope the Minister of Energy and the ‘energy agencies” promote a sustainable images of energy. If they are not then our civilisation is in deep trouble. If they are deeply flawed then EECA will have to alter its name and its by-line: EECA is improving energy choices.  Find out more by visiting What if EECA is actually dehumanising energy choices? What if humans cannot really conserve or waste energy? What if EECA confuses energy with the forms it takes. Then the deep message is that a resource is as bounteous as energy and we experience catastrophe when the fuel reserve ‘suddenly’ disappears or the system transporting the resource suddenly collapses. Such confusion of the nature of energy is a recipe for oblivion.

The main reason given for not responding is that old enemy of science and staunch ally of the PR industry - lack of time to reflect. Take the following correspondence: 

Hello Dave

Thank you for your reminder.  Morgan is away out of the office today and tomorrow.  I'll bring your email to his attention when he returns back to office on Monday.  I trust that's not too late? 


Executive Assistant to Dr Morgan Williams
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Me: No it is not too late.

Hello Dave

Thank you for sending us the set of energy questions, which Morgan found of interest.  Unfortunately it's not the Commissioner's practice to answer any of the questions without the context, background and overall objectives of the survey.


Best wishes

 Executive Assistant to Dr Morgan Williams
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

My response – sent within the hour:

Hi ….

Unfortunately I have to race off in a minute and resume my duties as a school janitor. Do not have time respond in detail. However will paste response to another correspondent. It may provide some of the detail that Morgan requires.

Thank you again



***First details of my background. I am a school janitor. Before that I was unemployed three years (On the dole) Previous to that I was a builder labourer for three years, an electricity meter reader for twenty years, a postie for seven years and a range of jobs such as stevedore, storeman and freezing worker for three or four years. These occupations gave me privileged insight into what is taught by teachers and experts (including PR industry experts) and what is learned by the average person. 


The insights prompted me to ask a series of rarely asked questions. I say that advisedly as the Robyn Baker, the director of the NZCER, informed me that probably no one has had the combination of time, funding, experience and inclination to ask them. An important one is: What evidence is there that there a science in the communication of climate issues? I can find no evidence despite corresponding with some of the worlds leading climatologists and educators. By contrast I detect a distinct science in climatology. This is a separate issue. 


As you say "this area is fraught with strongly-held views and political issues" and the purpose of this brief study is to discover what happens when politicians, media commentators and climate experts are asked to define commonly used symbols they use.


I believe that there is a need for a national (international) review of the symbols we use to portray the nature of energy and climate processes in particular. It could be that serious research will show popular use of key symbols is determined by sector groups and not science principles. It could be that there we can use more helpful symbols that provide greater science in the communication of the issues. The objective of this work is to generate such a national review. In the short term I wish to assemble a small register of responses/definitions in the hope it will encourage people to be more alert to the possibility of miscommunication on "energy" and "climate" issues. 


With such a contentious issues I can only ask that you trust I have the best interests of our children at heart. It is certainly not my intention to humiliate or degrade any respondent in any way.


My gratitude for this and any further response 

Dave McArthur

Hi Dave

Thank you for the additional material. Unfortunately Morgan is now away from the office for the rest of the week and is shortly departing NZ for Europe. Therefore he is not able to participate.


Best wishes, 

Executive Assistant to Dr Morgan Williams
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

A positive thing about this response is that at least Morgan got to see the questionnaire. In many cases a “time minder” would have intervened and deleted it as not a priority for their employer. 

As you can see, time is of the essence in this discussion. Or should I say, a sense of lack of time. Yep, me included. The problem is the creative processes in reflection, like those in wine and cheese, needs their own time to ferment and mature. I don’t even have time to get into the many unhelpful reasons why we allow ourselves to become deadline driven. I will just say “time pressure” leaves us vulnerable to using the barren, even dangerous, symbols provided by the PR sector.

Mention of the devil, I can hear the media commentators and “energy experts” dismissing this call for a review as just more of this bloody modern nitpicking PC crap. The question I ask them all is: How come we never hear these people condemning as PC the tens of millions of our dollars that the Bulk-electricity companies spend re-engineering our great scientific symbols of energy to serve their measly ends in New Zealand? Look at the two –three million of our dollars that the bankers of Origin Energy have poured into redefining the symbol of “positive energy”. In the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age such behaviour is barbaric in its consequences.

Probably if pressed, these “PC bashers’ will say, “This activity is different, this is business, the just part of The Market play. In such a context its OK to say all energy forms are the same and Bulk-electricity is energy. This is just advertising.”  Such ‘PC Bashers’ are either superbly naïve or vastly hypocritical.

This brings me to my essential points:

·         We make our choice of symbols in an environment where Publicity Relations Industry definitions of them have the greatest resonance. This is proven by consumption patterns. Ignore what people say – measure what they do and don’t do. 

·         Most of our responses to the symbols we use, as propagators and as recipients, are determined at a primal level. 

·         We experience a sense of confusion when our basic experiences collide with a symbol’s ascribed meaning i.e it is at odds with our daily experiences.

An example is the last point is the fact that every blooded cell in our body knows “global warming” is a good thing. That is why our most vital celebrations such as Christmas are an expression of our gratitude that the sun has remained with us. In New Zealand, which inherited the multi-millennia Northern Hemisphere custom, we are seeing movements to make sense of our southern climate with the emergence of June solstice celebrations. Every cell in us knows that the day the sun does not rise is the end of life, as we know it. 

How scientific is it to attempt to over-ride that primal knowledge and say “global warming” is a bad thing? Or that that our tropopause (the mixing zone) experience of the atmosphere is like living in a “greenhouse”? 

More importantly, what drives Scientists, formal educators, and media people to use such flawed uses of these symbols? Is it because there something they afraid of in themselves and alternative symbols might take them out of their comfort zone in their daily lives? Quite possibly. Does this use achieve the industry objectives work for educators in the PR sector? Almost certainly. They are probably the only group approaching the communication issue with any degree of science. For them the flaws are assets.

Perhaps it is just the glib and/or unscientific use of key symbols that explains why the simple questions I ask sit like time bombs in so many laps. The experts fear being revealed as wearing no clothes, like the proverbial emperor. In this case they lack the clothes of science if they step outside their area of expertise.

Perhaps it is deeper. They are not truly able to believe energy is not the form it takes, like we die and civilisation as we know it will disappear. They are unable to really believe we live trace existences and prefer to think that humans have dominion over Earth.

I initially realised some real screwy politics was going on a couple of years ago when I first learned that life on Earth is completely dependent on the existence of gases that exist only in parts per ten thousand or a million in the atmosphere. I thought there must be too many noughts after the decimal point of their percentage eg ozone = 0.000004% and methane = 0.00017%.

So I rang up Martin Manning, then head of NIWA, to confirm the extraordinary figures. He confirmed them and said with some passion, “If only, if only someone could get it across we are talking trace gases here”. 

Now I had never registered the term “trace gases” before. They are gases that were just barely detectable using 19th century technology. Only mere traces of them could be detected then. The solution to Martin’s problem seemed pretty plain to me: SAY WHAT WE MEAN. In this case, talk about trace gases. Ah, that life should be so simple. Enter the politics of our use and abuse of atmospheric gases. And greed and fear.

Clearly conventional education is not working. Witness the Fart Tax and Carbon Trading fiascos and the leaky thermal shacks we continue to build. I sat down and spent several weeks considering what might happen if we replaced the ‘greenhouse” symbol of the atmosphere with the “trace” symbol and came up with a staggeringly different and more vital vision of our world. And seemingly much more sustainable too. The enormity of the difference was scary till I became familiar with it. 

To my astonishment our climate and education experts, with two notable exceptions, did not want to know about it. I am not very articulate but I sensed this was not the problem. Their eyes glaze over because something very fundamental is challenged. The questions and alternative symbols triggered some aversion response deep within them. This is not science, as I know it.

I got a new perspective when it was announced that Dr Pachauri, the new chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was coming to New Zealand. His predecessor, Dr Robert Watson, apparently got sacked 

in 2001 for pointing out the obvious – the USA is the largest carbon emitter in the world, being responsible in way or another for over a quarter of emissions. (The USA is only 3-4% of the world’s population). It seems he committed near treason as an American by pointing out:

“The United States is way off meeting its targets,'' said Watson. “A country like China has done more, in my opinion, than a country like the United States to move forward in economic development while remaining environmentally sensitive.''

Well it seems Kenny Boy, ferryman for George Bush in 2000, was certainly offended by such statements. Ken Lay was CEO of Enron and starred recently in the recent movie of Enron’s collapse: Enron–the Smartest Guys in the Room. 

Kenny Boy rang up his close mate, now the new president of the USA and asked what he was going to do about this jumped up ….who was bad mouthing America. George promised to get rid of Robert Watson. State Department officials began a campaign going around the Third World countries suggesting to them it was about time and much more democratic and appropriate if the UNIPCC was headed by one of them. And so Dr Robert Watson was ousted and we now have Dr Rajendra Pachauri from India


Soon after his election Dr Pachauri planned to visit NZ and I managed to organise a meeting with him. I planned to show him some NZ climate education resources we had just created. I was also interested to check out his reaction to alternative uses of the “greenhouse” symbol. I happened to mention this latter intent to others. 

The response was intense. I got a stern instruction that I was just to stick with conventional education resources and “keep off that other stuff”. In the event we never did get to meet as Dr Pachauri fell sick in Hong Kong or Singapore and had to postpone his trip Down Under. I was not informed when he eventually did get down here.

At this point I more or less gave up on New Zealand and checked out a few overseas “climate experts”. I hit the same wall. They are no different. Check out this classic example of a communication breakdown.  This is from the person some describe as “the world’s leading expert on climate change.” The initial response was somewhat scathing and my correspondence was dismissed as “unedifying”. This is understandable, as the answer to my first question reveals:

A question I ask: What would Earth’s energy system look like if the image of Earth encapsulated in a greenhouse did not exist?

Answer: It would be very cold and uninhabitable: about -19C.


I trust the reader could see straight through the confusion. Humans are funny old things eh. And we are hard to budge from our beliefs as is revealed in this further question on our images of how the atmosphere works:

Question: Can these concepts (images) be communicated without the use of the
Greenhouse Model (image)?

Answer: No

Please bear in mind these are the responses of an extremely busy person who has a deep knowledge of atmospheric processes and who travels the world communicating about them. It is remarkable that I even get a reply. I wrote back, pointing out the confusion between questions of climate science and the communication of science.

 There came an apology and the acknowledgement:

“Nonetheless I appreciate that you are trying to clarify ways of getting complex concepts across to people who may have inadequate background.”

I followed up the invitation to provide more commentary and analysis and liked to think I had promoted greater science in the communication of atmospheric issues. Vain hope. 

I put my questions concerning the science underpinning our use of the greenhouse symbol to various education sites devoted to explaining climate issues. One person kind enough to respond was David P Stern

an ex-Goddard Space Flight Centre Scientist. His response is typical in that he dismissed out of hand my concern that there seems to be no science underpinning climate communication and my questions. He offered no evidence to back his opinion:

To: "Dave McArthur" <>
Sent: Monday, March 22, 2004 2:06 PM
Subject: A greenhouse effect by any name would mean just the same

Dear David

 I must disagree with you.  The term "greenhouse effect" is quite
appropriate. It relates a physical effect to something familiar from
daily experience--a greenhouse trapping the heat of sunlight by
blocking its return via infra-red radiation.

   It is also a well-known and well accepted term.  Your complaint seems
to arise from the bad press the term has received, but the only way to
counter that is by pointing out what you feel is wrong with such
perceptions.  Introducing a new euphemism (like calling a liar
"truth-challenged") will have the opposite effect, by making listeners
wonder whether you are trying to mislead them in some way.

By the way--I wrote about the greenhouse effect in


David P. Stern
Greenbelt Maryland

 More recently I heard an international broadcast by the “world’s leading climate change expert” I quoted earlier. I wrote an update stating that I still had been unable to detect any serious research in the communication of climate issues. I used David’s letter to illustrate the lack of science, pointing up obvious contradictions in the response. An obvious one is the statement that the ‘greenhouse’ symbol gets a bad press. This is clearly nonsense as it is the only symbol used by the dominant media. Have you ever seen any other symbol used, such as Warmer Trace Gas? No. Also the fact a symbol is a well-known and well-accepted term does not mean it does not promote flawed images of energy and maladaptive behaviour. The response I got provided no evidence that our Scientists know what they are saying:

Hi Dave

I seem to recall having some of this conversation before.  I can't say I agree with you on much of what you say.  There are terms that are in general use that are abused and which are misleading but you and I cannot make them go away.  Still the greenhouse effect is a reasonable term, as are greenhouse gases and I reject your alternatives.  I spend a lot of time trying to educate all sorts of people and giving talks, but you can only reach so many.”

I ask you: Is the use of a symbol really reasonable if conflicts with our essential experience that the troposphere

 is a turbulent place? Or if it confuses our children and tradespeople so they cannot use air effectively in insulation and dwelling use? Or it promotes God-like beliefs that humans rule over nature and can mine and engineer the atmosphere at will? Or it obscures the wonderful organic dynamic and finely balanced nature of our atmosphere? Or if it leaves our  “experts” wringing their hands wondering why the public does not understand climate issues.

I have written in previous blogs of my attempts to open up debate on such issues and how our top teachers and officials have exploded or imploded when I present schema of my rationale for a review. I have witnessed my presentation physically taken down two minutes into the rationale to shut the meeting down.

 Sure, it must be hard to see painstakingly created education programmes involving years of work revealed at possibly flawed and even as serious Greenwash. However I sense something deep is going on and the questions challenge core spiritual axioms. That is why I witness reactions of red inarticulate anger, white shock and grey failure.

I find we are locked into a tragic cycle where teachers say they use symbols because “climate” and “energy” experts do and these groups say they use symbols because the media do and the media use symbols because the “experts” do. They all say they use the symbol because it is what the public understands. And so the circle goes around and around, given subtle deft flicks by the PR industry to control and enhance the centrifugal force to ensure it continues. 

This is the sad state of science in New Zealand and our great mentor/advisor/consultant/leader/ruler, the USA. The other day the New York Times (Aug 21) ran an article by Jodi Wilgoren titled:

Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive

SEATTLE - When President Bush plunged into the debate over the teaching of evolution this month, saying, "both sides ought to be properly taught," he seemed to be reading from the playbook of the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank here that is at the helm of this newly volatile frontier in the nation's culture wars…

Actually I go further and say we are embroiled in spiritual wars. We are brawling among ourselves for meaning. There are those who say meaning is rising stocks and share values, monetary profit, career, reputation, power over other people and an expanding gross national product based on taxable uses of energy. There are others who sense there is more to life. They tend to say meaning is love, compassion, generosity, sharing and science. In the context of these wars, symbols like “global warming” “climate change” “energy” “power” “electricity” “ greenhouse” are incendiary weapons re-designed by skilled PR industry professionals to scorch our finer sensibility into a state of confusion, fear and subservience to “market demands”.

This is the world the recipients of my questionnaire receive my questions in. It is not the world of science with its inclusiveness, openness, collegiality and joy of discovery. Rather it is a miserable, ego-bound, fear-filled, greed driven world. That is why many people and their systems quickly deleted the questionnaires as spam and “zero priority”. 

Not one journalist/presenter was able, for whatever reason, to answer the questionnaires. Spokespeople for a couple of them did inform me they were “too busy”. Climate and “energy” experts were marginally better but, if the above quotes are anything to go by, many cannot cope with the questions in the modern environment. By contrast almost all the political parties risked responses and some were clearly from individual politicians, not just their bureaucrats. The Postmaster at Parliament returned my initial emails to Jim Anderton of the Alliance and I don’t know if I ever got through to him eventually. Thanks folks.

As readers can see for yourselves there is wide divergence in the definitions provided. Some expressed considerable interest in learning if their responses are right or wrong. As I replied to one person:

“I am a simple layperson  and I don’t know the answers . Anyway if Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty holds, then there can be no definitive answers. We can only search for the most helpful/ adaptive images of energy. Put another way, if our images are seriously flawed then our civilisation will disappear, as have previous civilisations.  I fear our present images may have us on the skids. This survey is more about how people respond rather than the content of their response.  I will post you a copy of my completed article, which looks to be quite fascinating.  My particular concern is the way the Bulk-electricity companies are screwing up our kids and destroying many health and wealth options.”

Actually I could have worded that better. It is the bankers of the fossil fuel and Bulk-electricity sectors that are the ultimate concern. These are a small group of people who dominate our systems and control our decisions how we use energy forms. 

Within the last two generations they have promoted the destruction of the bulk of our oil and gas reserves and revealed scant regard for the welfare of our children. As these reserves run out they are now attempting again to assume more control of our electricity systems. The recent transfers of PowerCo and Vector are NZ examples. I have discussed the latter transfer in my recent blogs. US examples are their present attempts to use the current Energy Bill proposals to repeal the 1935 New Deal Legislation. and the Public Utility Holding Company Act in particular

It’s not hard to see their attempts to shape our consciousness in the redefining of our utilities as “energy companies” with all their fancy “energy” and “power” titles. We know millions of PR dollars that are spent promoting  associations between Bulk-electricty and Gas  and the symbols “energy” and “power”. We may even glimpse the manipulations as these associations are exploited to promote “energy crises” that come and go when their short-term dividends are threatened by low hydro-storage capacity or the gutting of a Gas reserve. We know that the efficient and diversified use of energy forms is not in their interests. What few of us realise is the degree this small group controls our use of symbols of energy.

Recently I heard a broadcast in which Marilyn Waring described the shock and disgust she experienced when she discovered how international accountancy standards are framed. This same small group formulated them in the 1950s to serve their own narrow interests. In brief, if a human activity does not directly profit them, then it is deemed not to exist. They cannot make money directly out of acts of love such as parenting and doing unpaid housework and so these acts are discounted to zero or negative value.

 For more on Marilyn try Factbites

Marilyn Waring analyses economics from a feminist perspective and explores the implications of discounting the work of half of the world's population.

Waring is best known for her critique of mainstream economic analyses that ignore the environment, subsistence production and women's work.

New Zealand and most nations subscribe to these accounting standards and we must abide by them if we wish to trade and borrow on any scale. The same miserable group defines official definitions of  “energy” in the same narrow self-interested manner. “Energy” is defined as the resources they can personally profit from and in the process of enforcing this definition they have effectively thrashed a most wonderful symbol of bounty to pathetic shreds. Sitting in the sun in a snug, insulated house to keep warm does not count and generates negative statistics. Plugging in an electric heater in a thermal shanty is counted and lauded as GROWTH. NZ uses these daft standards of accounting and this is reflected in some of the responses. And example is the identical Minister of Energy (NZ Labour Party) and EECA response:

 Question 1. What does the Principle of the Conservation of Energy state?

Answer: The law states that the total inflow of energy into a system must equal the total outflow of energy from the system, plus the change in the energy contained within the system. In other words, energy can be converted from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.

Question 2. Humans can save/conserve energy. True/False.
Quite separately from the technical definition referred to in question 1, the phrase "energy conservation" is also commonly used in New Zealand and
around the world to mean "a reduction in energy use".  In this context, the answer is True, humans can conserve energy.

Question 3. If your answer is False, which manifestations of energy can humans save/conserve?  N/A


I am developing a little rule of thumb that as soon as I see the word “technical” I look for major contradictions and will find the responder is in the deep doo-doos. Usually it is because the person, having said energy can be neither created or destroyed now wants to go ahead and say it can be – just as the crazy international “energy’ accounting rules do. It’s a bit like saying, “Yes I know the Law in New Zealand says I must drive on the left hand side of the road. Quite separately from the technical definition, I think it perfectly safe to drive on the right hand side of the road as I am doing because that is what is done in America.”


I am developing a little rule of thumb that as soon as I see the word “technical” I look for major contradictions and will find the responder is in the deep doo-doos. Usually it is because the person, having said energy can be neither created or destroyed now wants to go ahead and say it can be – just as the crazy international “energy’ accounting rules do. It’s a bit like saying, “Yes I know the Law in New Zealand says I must drive on the left hand side of the road. Quite separately from the technical definition, I think it perfectly safe to drive on the right hand side of the road as I am doing because that is what is done in America.”

Why did these financier guys set up such a contrary accounting system? Simple answer. It is effective PR strategy. The system confuses energy with the forms it takes. This makes it is easier to promote the belief in people that the energy forms the merchant bankers control and sell are the only ones available. Keep telling people often enough that oil or Bulk-electricity bought from them is energy and they will come to believe the bankers are the fount of life. Oh, and it keeps the populace ignorant and thus more malleable too.

We can be grateful to NZ First for illustrating this narrow definition of energy. Thank you for you thoughtful response. 

We understand the science but present an "energy” policy in accordance with traditional portfolio expectations where we consider primary energy supplies, consumer 'energy' distinguished by fuel and where we wrestle with the problems of supply and demand.”

The accompanying “Energy Policy” page NZ first provides effectively defines energy as Bulk-electricity.  There is little to suggest energy also comes in the shape of gravity or solar or biochemical forms. This flaw is typical of nearly all our media and our journalist/presenters/commentators constantly fall into the trap.

And my answers to my questions? These are the most helpful responses I can make in this moment. First the “energy” quiz:

Question 1.What does the Principle of the Conservation of Energy state?

Answer: Energy can be converted from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.

Comment: Some describe the Conservation of Energy as the nearest thing we have to a law in science in that no one has ever proved it untrue in practical terms. Many have pedalled concepts of perpetual motion machines, elixirs of eternal youth and renewable energy but all have been proven false prophets and shonky dealers. The Principle of Conservation also speaks of great bounty in the energy forms we can experience. That reflects the universe I know.


Question 2. Humans can save/conserve energy. True/False.

Answer: False


Sure, part of me would like to say humans are not bound by the rules of our environment and are not subject to the Principle of Conservation. The scientist in me says it is a false belief that I can conserve energy. To think I can is an act of arrogance and ignorance that leaves me vulnerable to emotional manipulation by the PR industry with all its the Spin and Energy Gobbledygook. The industry focuses on and blames energy, not our use of energy, as the source of our problems. To the extent we fall for this we become our own worst enemy.

Question 3. If your answer is False, which manifestations of energy can humans save/conserve?

Answer: Energy forms.

Comment: Humans can save and conserve many forms of energy for considerable periods. For instance we can use resources such as trees, the air, the sun, fossil fuels, the soil and the oceans so they all remain to benefit hundreds of generations of humans. Alternatively we may choose to transform the more limited of these resources into unusable energy forms within the period of our generation.

Question 4: Electricity is energy. True/False

Answer: False.

Comment: “Electricity” is an energy form or rather a range of energy forms but it is not energy as our economists, Scientists, policy wonks and other spin doctors try and tell us. Nor is it ‘power’, as they also try and brainwash us. The form of electricity we use to power our appliances can usefully be described as an “energy carrier”. 

I find the best way to avoid becoming an agent of Energy Gobbledygook is to say what I mean. If I am talking about the stuff we buy from Bulk-generators of electricity I say “Bulk-generated electricity” i.e. I name it. Similarly I talk of DG electricity or Distributed Generation Electricity to describe electricity forms generated at point of use.

This way we leave our children options that open the way to them enjoying more diverse, sustainable uses of electricity and resilient utility grids. It releases them from the spiritual comatose spread by those miserable banker barons I wrote of. These options are vital in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age.

Check out Wikipedia for more reasons why it is vital to say what you mean e.g. electric current, electric charge, electrical energy, bioelelectricity etc. As it more politely points out:

“Terminology issues

In addition to its definition by physicists, the word electricity has several popular definitions which are contradictory…. It is advisable to be extremely careful when interpreting texts which employ the frequently misused term "electricity" in place of the more precise terms.”

I just hit on is William J Beaty’s really helpful website where he asks, “What is electricity?” and says:

“This question is impossible to answer because the word "Electricity" has several contradictory meanings. These different meanings are incompatible, and the contradictions confuse everyone. If you don't understand electricity, you're not alone. Even teachers engineers and scientists have a hard time grasping the concept.” 

He comes to the same conclusion. Say what you mean. He provides a list of electricity forms and suggests appropriate term to help us talk about them.

And now the “climate quiz:

Question 1:The planet Earth is subject on a global scale to daily warming by the sun. What term do you use to describe this process?

Answer: Global warming.

Comment: I associate the symbol “global warming” with sensations of great health, vitality and abundance. I wonder how anyone can attempt to say global warming is bad. What is it about life they cannot face and would have us deny?

I am concerned about the possibility that human activity is impacting on the atmosphere and altering our climate in perhaps un-sustaining ways. I call this “Human-induced Climate Change”. It is important to communicate our activities may be resulting in an unhealthy “Thermal Energy Build-Up” that will affect each region differently. The impact of such a thermal build-up is not uniform globally and some regions may drastically cool down and peoples become at increased risk from both extreme events of floods and droughts.  

Question 2: Please describe in one brief sentence what you mean by ‘climate change’.

Answer: Climate change is fluctuations in our climate caused by vital variations in solar activity, Earth’s rotation, tectonic activity, biosphere life and the currents of the ocean and air.

Comment: I associate the symbol “climate change” with normal, healthy processes in general. Again I wonder what drives some to associate it with disaster.  See above comments re. global warming. In the case of the PR industry acting for the bankers of the fossil-fuel/Bulk-electricity sector the reason is obvious. It is the oldest trick in the book to take a symbol associated with health and vitality and re-associate it with a criticism or argument you wish to obscure. The argument then becomes associated with a sense of confusion.

Note: The biosphere contains humans but they are not vital for its existence. We can experience Human-induced Climate Change.

Question 3: Which gas is the dominant “greenhouse gas”?

Answer: Water vapour

Comment: The New Zealand Government says carbon dioxide is the dominant “greenhouse gas”. See our school and the Climate Change Office education resources. I disagree.

1) Without water vapour Earth’s average surface temperature would be over 20°C colder i.e. over 5°C below freezing. That’s farming in a freezer. Existence of the all our atmospheric gases put together only make 33°C difference. Three of those gases, hydrogen, oxygen and argon, constituting 99.9% of Earth’s atmosphere, have near to zero warming effect. CO2 makes only a couple of degrees difference.

2) Water vapour dominates our weather. Unlike the other major Warmer Gases it is recycled in and out of the atmosphere every ten days or so. Cycles of the other gases tend to be measured in centuries. Water vapour is concentrated in only tiny regions of the atmosphere and where and how it transforms into clouds, rain and snow can result in very different heating and cooling effects. 

3) Water vapour dominates our sensibility and so should be dominant in climate education programmes. Sure, our emission of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane impacts of the behaviour of water vapour but understanding how water vapour works is basic to our comprehension of our weather.

There you have it. Are you ready to join the call for a review of our images of energy yet? Could be a lot of fun as well as a wise move.

I will now announce this blog’s Bonus Joules Award for Enhancing Science and Humanity. It goes to all those who responded to the questionnaire. You are heroes whatever your answers. And the Junk Joules Award for Generating Needless Risk and Misery? It goes to all those mindless systems and institutions that have disabled individuals from feeling free to reflect on and answer these fun, simple questions.

Quick comments for the week.

*The deep state of denial continues in New Zealand even though the price of oil is now $US68 a barrel today.  Journalists/presenters still talk of these prices as high and clearly have not begun to face up to the fact we are in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age now. What will they call the prices when it is– as it always should have been - over $US100 a barrel?

* Don Brash (National Party) and Winston Peters (NZ First Party) still are going around saying they brought down inflation in the 1990s. Who is going to break the news to them that they are talking dangerous rubbish? They were not responsible for the dive in global, Gas, steel and oil prices through that period. Show them the graphs of inflation and price movements. ($9US a barrel by 2000, down from $35 in the mid 80s) Any country that remains dependent on these commodities is about to know inflation/stagflation on scale and that’s a fiscal fact.

*I see Mark Weldon, CEO of our Stock Exchange, being given half a page in my weekly broadsheet (the Sunday Star Times) to bang on about how the flog-off of Vector Ltd is the way for New Zealand to go. More and more I am concluding that the Stock Exchange is a major drain on our wealth and business life. Sure, the sale of the community-owned Vector will keep the exchange from falling over for a while but why send the whole country down the gurgler with it. If we are going to have to subsidise Mark and the other bods there, it makes much more sense to give them each a million bucks a year for the rest of their lives and so save the country countless billions in lost opportunities in the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age.

*What? An extra $40 million is going to be poured into expanding Wellington Airport? I reckon it saner to spend the money developing travel with strong border control mechanisms. Like ship-based tourism. Rocketing “fuel surcharges” is going to be the least risk our economy faces. Oil products underpin our global food and health systems now. The chance of the terrorism of a pandemic is about to go exponential as oil prices begin profoundly stressing our current public health structures.

* Its official. The PM announced that roading investment construction is set to reach record levels. Oh, shades of the Easter Island statues! 

Finally the cartoon panel that accompanies this blog: I created this series about 2002 as a means of exploring popular images of energy. This chapter, using the theme of holes, looks at the symbols our Scientists and Climate Experts use and concludes some key ones are now outdated and unhelpful. Our insights using modern technology and the activities of the PR industry mean the symbols have long lost their useful meaning. In the last panel Bonus Joules smashed a hole in the greenhouse surrounding Earth to release excess heat trapped inside out into space. It did not help.

Perhaps the greenhouse construct is such a crude symbol of our atmosphere that it blinds us to the mystery and wonder of it and we cease to know and care for it. Remember, dear reader and fellow scientist, the words attributed to Einstein:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." 

Dominion Post Nonsense
Click on it to enlarge


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