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Bonus Joules searches Google and discovers barely a trace of Trace Gases and some unsustainable visions of Life on Earth.

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Chapter Five - Land of the Other- A Goggle at Google.

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Blog by Dave McArthur 26January 2008

How nations use their electrical potential may determine if humanity survives. So do you know who controls that potential in your country?

 In New Zealand each year our “elite” magazines and broadsheets give us insight into their own intelligence when they compile a list of the “50 Most Powerful/Influential Persons” in New Zealand. The exercise is usually pointless in that a person can influence many people but only because a more powerful person enables them to. Indeed some “influential” people are effectively just façades for more powerful people who do not enjoy public performances and prefer to lead private lives.

 However, as mentioned, such exercises do offer an opportunity to evaluate whether one is getting value for money investing in these publications. Last year as I flipped through the list of “the 50 most influential NZers” provided by the NZ Listener (22 September 2007), once the leading “intellectual” weekly magazine of this nation, I realised how bankrupt of insight our media is now.

The NZ Listener’s insights into critical issues such as our use of our carbon, solar, electrical, symbol and other potentials seemed shallow to meaningless.

 I thought it would be a hard break canning my weekly magazine. I have subscribed to the NZ Listener for three or four decades now and used to look forward avidly to its arrival each week. This last year or so it has lain around for weeks unread and then I pick it up not to be stimulated but to check out how it failed to handle important topics. As I write now I am listening to fine music over the net via the speaker system I bought with my $NZ150 NZ Listener subscription. The speakers add a wonderful extra dimension when I watching some of the insightful video lectures and audio articles now available on the Net. I feel wired for sound. In fact I feel far more wired in general.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog –what it is to be wired.

Now I do not know who the most powerful people in my country are. It is clear that if our media know who they are they are not telling us. And in my own case when I read the media lists I rarely see the names of the people who have motivated and inspired me. I witnessed first hand the Economic Reforms of the 1980-90s in New Zealand and am very aware of how close we came to civil war. The fact it did not eventuate was because of the actions of very powerful people, quietly working, unsung, in our communities ensuring common decency prevailed. Some performed acts of extraordinary heroism but our popular media history does not record them. Their wisdom sustained us from the destructive actions of the callous and greedy that gained their perpetrators large fortunes, national honours and knighthoods,

I mentioned the key issues facing us. They provide the context of any evaluation and so I will spell at what I believe are the critical elements. Already the human population has swelled by 10% this century from 6 to 6.6 billion souls with our richest billion people consuming our resources on this planet at a suicidal rate. Key mineral, soil and biofuel resources (including foods) are on the steep downside of the bell curve of their exploitation.
The current prime sources of our wealth – the fossil fuels and soils of our planet - are rapidly becoming depleted and we are destroying vital carbon balances.
For the first time in history over half of humans live in towns and cities. The design of most of the cities manifests a lack of care and even an active distain for our solar potential.

In this context our use and abuse of our electrical potential becomes critical. Used with wisdom it can enable us to enjoy healthier foods, sustainable transport, enlightening communication and the profound sharing of knowledge and hope.
Used with a spirit of greed and meanness it can quickly destroy all that we know as democracy and civilisation and result in economies imploding into poverty and warfare.

For instance, electronic devices can be used to control and manipulate individuals intimately and populations em masse.

For instance cars with combustion engines can be seen as electrical devices for transporting people. The electrical currents used to move/heat/cool the car are commonly generated by burning fossil fuels but increasingly by biofuels. As little as 10% of the energy used actually moves the occupants. Thus cars with combustion engines are an incredibly inefficient form of transport and way of generating the electricity. By comparison the electrical currents used in an “electric train” consume a fraction of a percent of Earth’s resources to move a person and can be one thousand times more efficient.

The socio-economic implosion caused by our current use of cars and the accompanying abuse of our electrical potential is becoming evident with countries such as the USA and New Zealand becoming increasingly debt-ridden and militaristic while many poor countries face famine as the price of both mineral oil and biofuels rockets. As a result food prices have doubled in Bangladesh this last year alone. Inflation is becoming rampant around the globe.

This is the global context in which we New Zealanders use our nation’s electrical potential and there is one person who has dominated how we use this precious resource. This arguably makes him probably the most powerful person in our nation.  He controls how we design and use our homes, how we communicate, transport and entertain ourselves, what we view and shapes much of our foreign policy. For all this the name of David Caygill does not a rate in our media’s vision of our power structure. Either our journalists are very ignorant or they are simply cowardly hacks acting for sector interests. Either way they fail us and to illustrate the how much they fail us I will I will provided a potted history of the last two decades in New Zealand.

In the late 1980s it was becoming very apparent that our use of our carbon potential was profoundly unsustainable. We had experienced the inflation and stagflation impacts of the “oil shocks” of the 1970s and knew this was a minor prelude of the catastrophic economic collapse that would happen if we continued to put a low value on mineral oil and gas.
In the latter case we were witnessing the flair-off in a generation of a supply of mineral gas with the potential to provide warmth and cooking in New Zealand homes for four hundred years or more.
The concept that humans could affect climate balances with our carbon emissions was seeping deep into our psyches.

At the same time we glimpsed the possibilities offered by the confluence of optic fibre cable, computerised electrical equipment and dwelling scale generation of our needs. We knew this confluence of new technology using our electrical potential could provide fantastic possibilities for a more sustainable life. Back in the 1980s New Zealand was extremely fortunate in that every community still owned its local 230 volt/communications grid and citizens in each community had a democratic say in how its potential was used. The people of New Zealand also owned the telecommunication system (Telecom) and were in an ideal position to ride the great confluence to new levels of wealth.

In 1990 Hon David Caygill was the Finance Minister, having been Trade and Industry Minister and Health Minister. At the time fellow cabinet ministers and political commentators described him as more or less the intellectual powerhouse of the cabinet. As one fellow cabinet minister is reported to have said, David had the capacity to put up cogent argument after cogent argument on an issue and keep going long after all others were silent of ideas. Ever genial and polite, he quietly dominated cabinet decisions by wearing down alternative views by  “attrition”.

In those days people who disagreed with the neocom vision that dominated national policy then were dismissed as “wets”. Hon David Lange, our Prime Minister for much of David’s cabinet life, described him as “.. tinder dry ….combustible..” It is probably true to say David’s humanity was powerfully tempered by a deep fascination with Milton Freidman style Chicago Economics.

I know of no evidence to suggest that David used his powerful role in the 1990 cabinet to oppose the sale of New Zealanders national telecommunication’s system (Telecom) to a couple of American corporations (Ameritech and Bell Atlantic) at a give-way nuts and bolts price of $NZ4, 250 million. The new owners were even gifted the phone numbers, thereby giving them an effective medium term monopoly over landlines worth $NZ billions. Most evidence suggests David promoted this vast transfer of the control our electrical potential to these private corporations.

David was also influential in forming the framework for the reforms of the Bulk-generated electricity industry. These reforms continued under the National Government throughout the 1990s, culminating in the 1998 Electricity Industry Act. This legislation effectively stripped New Zealand communities of their rights to own the intelligence of their local 230-volt grid systems. In 1999 the wholesale transfer of New Zealand’s Bulk-generation resource began with the transfer of control of a critical 26% of it to the Edison Mission Energy Company of the USA in the form of Contact Energy.

The Electricity Reforms, as they are known, were very unpopular and the Labour Party capitalised on this fact by describing them as “Mad Max’s Reforms”. (Hon Max Bradford was the Minster of Enterprise and Commerce, which included responsibility for Ministry of Commerce (including Energy and Industry) and the Department of Labour.

In the build-up to the 1999 elections Labour made great play on what it called the “electricity shambles” and promised a major review of the Reforms if it were given the mandate. It got a powerful mandate to do so from the New Zealand people and one of its first acts was to institute the 2000 Ministerial Inquiry into the Electricity Industry.

This presented Labour with a grand opportunity to perform a historic review of New Zealand’s use of our electrical potential. The power of the convergence of the new great technologies was very clear now – as is evident in that link showing how the 2000 Inquiry used the Internet. The failure of the telecommunication reforms was now apparent with the rate of involvement of New Zealanders in the Internet and broadband plummeting from being world leaders in the early 1990s to very mediocre levels by 2000. Also very clear was the fact that the disenfranchisement of communities and the fragmentation of the grid had resulted in increasingly unsustainable, crises-ridden systems. Carbon emissions were rocketing, despite New Zealand’s Kyoto commitments to reduce them to 1990 levels.

 The new Labour Administration appointed David Caygill to head the Inquiry and he ensured the status quo remained. I am informed that the other two panel members concluded changes were required but “David rolled them.”  The Inquiry ensured New Zealand remained set on a very high-risk course in which our use of our nation’s electrical potential remains dedicated the serving the short-term interests of a few merchant bankers/industrialists at the expense of middle-low income people who form the vast majority of our nation.

This is manifest in many ways. The system is now profoundly hostile to the community development of distributed generation and the intelligent uses of local broadband. As you can see from the linked graph the average Kiwi household endures rocketing Bulk-generated electricity charges while large corporations experience little or no increase. The situation for the average person has worsened since this 2002 graph with many of us lower paid citizens now paying over 20 cents per kWh. 


And then in September 2006 the Labour Administration (Hon David Parker, Minister of Energy) sacked the head of the Electricity Commission for doing as he was legislated to do: explore the full range of options of how we can use our nation’s electricity potential in the most sustainable way. In fulfilling his legal obligations Roy Hemmingway questioned the dominance of the merchant bankers who make huge profits off our Bulk-gen electricity system. Roy’s affidavit makes fascinating reading and its insight into David Parker accords with my experience of his abilities.

Labour replaced Roy with David Caygill. David was then, and is now again a member of the Commerce Commission.

As mentioned it was becoming apparent to anyone with half an alert brain in the late 1980s that the Cheap Oil-Gas Age is coming to a close – probably within one short generation. It was also clear that how we use our electricity potential will be critical to whether humanity transitions to a new age. In this context David has shaped New Zealand through the last two decades as no other person has done. His views have affected our nation’s wealth by scores, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars. It is probable that his views have had a major influence in developing NZ as a model for global warfare.

In this context, David Caygill is the most powerful person of this generation in New Zealand, whether our media realise it or not. We should know more of David’s views and as our media cannot or will not do the research and ask the required questions then I guess it is up to bods like me (a school janitor) to volunteer some starter questions of David. I do this for free and with no journalistic or academic sinecure to help me. The questions are in no particular order and they are intimately connected.

Q. David, you are head of a national institution called the Electricity Commission. What is your definition of electricity?

Q. Our schools, media and other institutions – including the Electricity Commission - commonly confuse the electricity, power and energy symbols.
How do you think this confusion impacts on our nation’s level of science?
In particular how do you think the confusion impacts on our capacity to use our electrical potential in intelligent and sustainable ways?
If you rate the confusion as unhelpful or dangerous, what role can the Electricity Commission play in educating the public and promoting wiser uses of these key symbols?

Q. A similar confusion exists in the use of the electricity symbol. The dominant use in our culture, including the Electricity Commission is in the equation electricity = Bulk-generated electricity. This works to exclude a huge spectrum of our electrical potential – broadband, Micro-generation, Dwelling generation, photovoltaics, cellphones, Internet etc. What role can the Electricity Commission play in providing a wider and more cohesive our vision of our electrical potential?

Q.  Current economic models associate growth in consumption with a healthy society and the human population has grown exponentially this last century. Do you believe this is sustainable and what do you think New Zealand’s role should be in the global context?

Q. Other countries, for instance Germany, see the promotion of Dwelling-generation of electricity as an important investment in risk management (Civil Defence) and for enhancing the resilience of their grids in general. German householders, for instance are guaranteed a net profit on any electricity they contribute to their local grid. By comparison, the current NZ legislation contains a wide range of blocks to such investment here, including onerous taxation, metering and other compliance costs. Indeed it appears as if the Electricity Reforms are specifically designed to suppress the development of Dwelling-based generation of electricity. What value to you put on Civil Defence and how essential to you believe it is to have our communities involved in it?

Q. Our Bulk-generation companies are legally bound to provide profits for their key shareholders/stakeholders –effectively this means their bankers. What genuine motive does a Bulk- electricity generator corporation have in promoting efficient uses of our electrical potential when they make their best profits from selling Bulk-generated electricity and from keeping the grid systems profoundly stressed?

Q. The Electricity Reforms resulted in the fragmentation of New Zealand peak load control system (the “hot water” ripple system). Often the “ripple” switches on the dwelling switchboards became the property of the Bulk-generated electricity companies. Their wider interests are best served by the ripple system failing, or at least working inefficiently. In fact Contact Energy is reported to charge consumers extra for installing ripple relays. This makes sense because they can pass on the costs from the ripple failures and increased inefficiency on to consumers via the Electricity Commission, local grid owners and other agencies.  How do you propose to remedy this fundamental flaw in the system?

Q. What is your definition of democracy?

Q. What is your definition of Fascism?

Q. The Electricity Reforms of the 1990s removed the rights that New Zealander’s had enjoyed for the previous century to form democratically governed co-operatives to use their local electrical potential. How do you think this has affected the relative levels of democracy and Fascism in New Zealand?

Q. A great convergence of technologies such as broadband; the Internet; “smart” metering and appliances; and Dwelling-based generation is occurring. What do you think the implications of this are?

Q. At present there is very little indication in the statements of our political parties, Parliamentary media releases, portfolio and legislative frameworks etc that our Parliament and policy makers are aware of this convergence. It is probable that this convergence means current accounting methods are outdated and will result in New Zealand massively undervaluing the composite value of these technologies. (I am sure you are aware that the 1990 Treasury advice re the sale of Telecom failed to account for the convergence. The Electricity Reform legislation evidences no cognisance. Nor did the sales of Capital Power and similar grids. Hence they were sold for as little as 10% of their real value.)

How do you propose to ensure that the people of New Zealand receive advice that puts full value on the convergence and we fully conserve our electrical potential?

Q. The Electricity Reforms effectively stripped New Zealanders of our rights to be citizens and reduced us to just being tradeable commodities. Already this century we have seen the trade between companies of over a million people (assuming each household contains on average over two people.) Some people have been traded more than once. This has been done with no consultation with very valuable personal information being traded, including security, financial and other information. Do you believe this is right and proper in a civil society?

Q. There is much talk about “smart metering” and “smart appliances”. Most of the talk refers to the capacity of the new electronic technology that enables dwelling electrical flows to be remotely monitored at the time of consumption and for dwelling appliances to be controlled by remote electronic means. Do you concur with the belief that this means the controller has enormous power over how modern households are designed and used?

Q. Late last year the California Energy Commission of California State attempted to introduce legislation permitting Bulk-generated electricity corporations to use the new generation of “smart” monitoring devices to turn off heating/cooling devices such as freezers, hot water system, air conditioners etc in dwellings. Many dwelling appliances would be fitted with “non-removable” FM radio receivers as part of building and other compliance codes. There has been a considerable public outcry at the proposal and the proposal has been considered Orwellian.
What are your views on the proposal? Do you see ways the technology can be used in democratic ways and what social structures might be involved?

Q. Meridian Energy’s ARC technology is an illustrative precursor to the advent of the fuller technology in New Zealand. It is only available to Meridian customers in areas where they have strong concentrations of customers. (Source Meridian Energy)  The Electricity Reforms were based on theoretical premise that “competition will deliver new technology.”  However as this and other examples (the planned degradation of the ripple system, consumer advice services etc) illustrates how in practice “the market” tends to obstruct innovation and generate expensive duplication. How do you propose to promote the use of technology that serves the greater interests of communities and the nation rather than just the interests of corporations?

Q. One striking feature of the convergence of technologies seems to be that its benefits can be most fully realised by local community structures.

Cellular technology relies on using small, localised broadcasts. Every community has its own set of needs and unique generating potential (solar, wind, tidal, insulation etc) and thus the effectiveness of dwelling based generating technology varies widely. Broadband over the 230-volt system will probably be cellular and local too as transmission is blocked at the suburb level by transformers. The Electricity Reforms preclude the intelligent involvement of communities in their local grids and this far has promoted structures that are antithetical to the convergence. 

How would you like to see the convergence to be manifest in New Zealand?

What structures do you propose?

In particular what structures would you put in place to ensure that communities can maximise the knowledge potential of broadband?

Q. The Electricity Reform legislation effectively gives the Bulk-generated companies the total right to own under the knowledge of how households use 230-volt electricity. For instance, citizens are not permitted to use ARC and similar monitoring devices to broadcast their household consumption data to groups of their choice such as their local council, consumer group, hospital, university or other support/research group. 
How does this accord with your definitions of democracy and Fascism?

 Q The confluence of technology means that Bulk-generated electricity companies can now build very detailed profiles of household life.  We have already seen how the legislation has promoted trades in over a million people. What is there to stop these corporations trading their knowledge profiles to other corporations? What role should the Electricity Commission be playing in alerting the public to the risks and dangers of these trades to individuals?

 Q. Is it true that the current co-generation legislation demands that a householder can only trade any surplus 230v electricity that their dwelling may generate with the company that retails to them i.e. they must sell to a Bulk-generator?

If so how does this accord with your notion of democracy and with the stated aim of the Electricity Reform legislation to provide New Zealanders with more choice in how they can be involved in the Electricity Market?

Q. Some argue that Wellington’s Citylink is the future of sustainable societies. Using city owned infrastructure and a seed fund of $NZ100,000 two council employees ran optic fibre though central Wellington making its CBD at one time the second most wired in the world. Basically they created a fat pipe providing cheap bandwidth and left the community to decide what runs through it. What do you know of Citylink and how sustainable do you think this model is?

Q. Most of Wellington City’s broadband structure is based on the Treasury model that the sale of Telecom was based on. Large corporations provide competing networks (at present Telstra Clear, Telecom and Vector Ltd. This has resulted in widespread duplication and profound stress to existing systems. (See my photo essay of collapsing Wellington’s collapsing network). My street now experiences blackouts at a third world rating.
Recently it took me 11 hours on the phone alone with one company to have broadband connected and it provides a limited range of cable programmes at very high prices compared to other areas of the world. 
As a Wellington citizen I have no intelligent say in this model and international comparisons of broadband figures suggest greater Wellington is slipping behind. Do you still have faith in the 1990 Treasury model? Have your views have altered on how we can best use our electrical potential and in what ways?

Q. I have constructed a prototype template of how grids can be evaluated on an intelligent – incoherent continuum.  What would you rate the current Electricity Reform model on this continuum?

I finish this blog as I always do by providing a brief explanation of the cartoon strip that accompanies it. It was first published about four years ago now and the commentary that accompanies it is slightly dated but it still remains accurate. Google continues to employ the image symbol in a most unhelpful way – particularly in the light of recent fMRI research pointing to the very powerful role of images in our lives.  

 A search of “greenhouse” under images on Google still generates an utterly confusing and dangerous association of the atmosphere with greenhouses. A search on “greenhouse gases”  compounds the association while a search on “trace gas warming” provided only a couple of helpful links. The point is that Google is fundamentally a reactive force that works against sustainable adaptation of behaviour. In this case it promotes a profoundly flawed vision of human's role on Earth while destroying sustainable uses of the greenhouse symbol. Other popular search engines similarly put us at risk.

As an aside, I just searched on Google using a large portion of my last blog and the page of links it supplied failed to provide a link to it. By contrast a search on AltaVista provided one link only when provided with just the introductory sentence to the blog –the correct one.


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