Joules and the Knowledge Economy
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Chapter Six - Land of the Lost Trace Gases-The Matter with Air.
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by Dave McArthur 7 Dec 2008
How do you
communicate the nature of the environment to Environmental Educators? I
find the enormity of the challenge is so great I find myself becoming
quite inarticulate. Here is my story.
harbour is a wondrous place. Words and photos fail to portray the moods,
colours and sparkle of this near landlocked harbour. You can gain a
sense of its geography
here. Note the speck a little north of the centre of the
harbour. This is Matiu Somes Island. New Zealand’s Department of
Conservation has photos and short videos of the history and biology of
the island here.
I have known the
island for 60 years now. It has always evoked a sense of mystery, awe
and foreboding. As one sails past it on the ferries and looks down on it
from aeroplanes the bleak buildings and concrete gun emplacements are
like huge memorials. They form reminders that Maori tribes fought and
died attacking and defending its cliffs. Then for a century the island
was a quarantine centre. Sick people were offloaded from ships here and
died of terrible diseases, including young soldiers who had survived the
carnage of the trenches in the First World War and then perished in the
Great Flu Epidemic. New Zealanders of Italian and German extraction were
interned here for years during the World Wars of last century because of
My first memories
of it are of a barren, grassed world, razed drought-yellow in the
summer, gale swept, rain-green in the winter. It was forbidden land. Its
role as an animal quarantine station for the decades after World War Two
gave it a quasi-religious status, for this was the place that epitomised
our worship of money. The national consensus was that keeping our
pastures and animal stock safe from any possibility of invasion by
unwanted organisms was a sacred duty. At the same time the island,
bereft of native plants and birds and straddled by an industrial complex
was a reminder that wave on wave of human invaders had completely
re-engineered New Zealand in their likeness, destroying other species on
scale in the process.
Now, for this
last two decades since the animal quarantine station was closed, I have
witnessed the slow regeneration of the original habitat as volunteers
have donated millions of hours to the propagating and planting over
100,000 plants - most native to the region. Each summer the covering of
the island has incrementally transformed with the rich, green
convolutions of emerging forests pervading the drought-yellow of the
And now with the
introduction of rare and endangered species of lizards and birds the
skies and bushes of the island are now alive with calls and rustles now
rarely heard on the main islands of New Zealand. It is a time warp
glimpse into what was and what might be.
It takes 45
minutes to walk around the island and every turn in the path provides
glimpses of the world out there, reminders of humans foot prints on this
There is the
constant roar of jets accelerating overhead onto the winds of the
Roaring Forties as an elite of human beings each single-handedly destroy
whole barrels of our precious remaining reserves of mineral oil in a
desperate few hours keeping themselves aloft. Ships glide by stacked
high with motley coloured containers of non-recyclable goods or with
gleaming white luxurious cabins inhabited by rich tourists.
much of the harbour, animated by a constant flow of cars and trucks,
also destroying remaining mineral oil and gas reserves on scale. The
flow is interspersed with occasional moments of sanity in the form of
electrically driven trains trundling along the tracks by the motorway.
In one corner of
the harbour glitzy office blocks gleam, reminders of the money traders
and policy makers who dominate the transformations of our lands, oceans
and skies. Carbon forms only have value for these folk if they can
profit from their trades in them. Their activities influence the
dynamics of societies and other ecosystems around the planet as they
promote carbon trading, “free markets” and the investments in
derivatives based on vast undervaluations of mineral oil.
Turn 180 degrees
and the harbour is sliced with the long wharf for fuel tankers. It
points towards a large cluster of gleaming white mushroom-like growths
along the foreshore, which are the fuel storage tanks for feeding our
insatiable desire for mineral oil.
The miles of bare
grassed hills and dark monolithic blocks of pinus radiata forming much
of the harbour skyline reflect the reality of much of New Zealand now.
Hidden in one of
these dark pine forests areas on a nearby prominent headland is
Wellington’s prison, a reminder of the murky underbelly of our shiny,
At night the
lights surrounding the harbour dull the celestial pageant in the sky
above. On the island we are too distant to hear the endless whine
generated by the cars of the motorways. They form streams of light in
the night defining the harbour perimeter. The eye is drawn to two
powerful, glaring white stars above a glinting metal shape. On the
island we are a faraway land, too distant even to hear the histrionics
and alternating roars of elation and disappointment from the tens of
thousands of human beings clustered striped cheek by painted jowl in the
sport stadium, insulated within a world defined by the fortunes of their
favourite foot ball team.
On the island it
is quiet enough to hear the faint rustle of the ancient and rare tuatara
in the undergrowth. The island is one of their last refuges from the
activities of Homo sapiens, one of the only places where there is also
refuge for vital elements of their diet in the form of our unique Cook
Strait giant wetas. In their rustle we are linked to eons two hundred
million years past. The trees they rustle through here are testimony of
the power of humans to love, to conserve biodiversity.
relatively still place at the centre of this swirling hurricane of human
activity is where we can more easily observe the confluence of man-mind
and matter-energy, where we can more fully experience being the
environment, where we are one with all.
We depart from
the Wellington wharf on the harbour ferry on a perfect November Friday
morning. The skies are clear and blue, the waters are calm and the
movement of the ferry generates most of the fresh balmy breeze we
experience. On arrival on the island we are locked in a small, hot room
on the wharf and instructed to search our luggage and clothing for
seeds, mice, insects or any other unwelcome matter. It is a graphic
reminder that we are a major threat to the balances of life on the
Our group is
about 20 Environmental Educators, mainly members of the NZAEE,
and several girls of about ten years of age from Thorndon Primary
School. Throughout the day we are treated to the insights of people who
are passionate students in the conservation of the flora, the birds, the
weta, the Blue penguins, the lizards and the general history of the
island. It is a particular
privilege to meet the elders who first started volunteering to replant
the island 28 years ago and to share their humility. It is a delight to
see and hear the excitement of the children as they get to hold the
scaly Cook Strait giant weta and fluffy Blue penguin chicks. I am glad
these visionary elders lived to see their dream reflected in the glow on
the faces of our young.
And in that glow
I am strengthened. I am reminded of why I persist with this most
difficult and thankless work that I do. We human beings have such a vast
capacity to deny change and our roles as stewards. We construct
incredibly sophisticated rationales for living in this denial and their
scale is matched only by the irritation we feel when individuals dare to
suggest our carefully manufactured rationales are fatally flawed - they
are built on quicksands of misery. Always I am searching for
compassionate ways to identify and communicate these flaws, even unto
Perhaps all the
contrasting sensations of this island will coalesce in this dreamy fine
weather to enable the communication to happen?
morning the Environmental Educators gather to share their education
resources for communicating the value and need for biodiversity. In turn
the Educators display their wares. The island is showcased as an example
of biodiversity. Others showcase resources communicating the value of
biodiversity in our gardens, our soils, our streams, our estuaries, our
All this is
great. If only I can communicate the ultimate source of biodiversity and
bring all this wisdom together. I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of
the task, for I know the worlds these folk live in. They are the
products of schools, universities and other organisations that teach
science is just a way of thinking, not a state of being. I know the
family, peer group, career and other pressures that fracture their
sensibilities. They have told me they consider driving cars, flying in
jets around the world and other such unsustainable activities as their
birthright, as essential for their work, as justified by their passions
for “the care of the environment”, as rewards for all their hard
work. Their experience and
that of our wider society is that the “the environment” is something
out there, beyond them, separate. The great irony is that they dedicate
so much of their lives to attempting to communicate a sense of our
interconnectedness and yet their lives are models in alienation. I
decide not to say anything.
A breeze sends ripples of light shimmering through the leaves of the trees outside the window. A pair of kakariki flit past, two comets of iridescent red and green chasing each other. The tree dapple sunlight enlivens the softness and innocence of the faces of the two children leaning against their mother by the window. I am still mindful of the humility and generosity of the elders who bequeathed us this scene. I observe all this and in that moment everything comes together. My inhibitions dissolve. It does not matter that I appear a fool.
What I probably said
I cannot recall
exactly what I said. It is possible I said something like, “ I am too
interested in communicating about biodiversity… I know this will seem
a long stretch…I consider our brains are biomass too and I have been
looking at how to promote the biodiversity of our minds .. often areas
of our mind are kind of barren ..why is this so? … and who destroys
About this time I
surface and look around. People are listening but I can see the lights
in their eyes are rapidly dimming, the blinds are coming down. I know
that compared to clutching a snapping lizard or bedding a plantling into
the soil this must seem so esoteric. I try a new tack:
“…. I have
been looking at what blinds us to so many forms of energy, so many
options .. the Conservation
Principle, ….its about where mind meets matter..
My audience is
kind and people tolerate me. My attempt to communicate flounders to a
halt and sinks with narry a bubble. No one asks questions of
clarification. No one comments. Maybe there is one person present who is
intrigued? I suggest that maybe the website www.bonusjoules.co.nz
be added to the list of resources.
What I was trying to say
So, in brief,
just what was I trying to communicate? I am suggesting that the genesis
of biodiversity is at the point of the interaction of human-mind and
matter-energy. Each of us is biodiversity to some degree and determines
the biodiversity of the planet. We each are stewards of all.
Biodiversity cannot thrive unless we each are crystal clear in our minds
of the Conservation Principle of Energy. And always elements in our
being will deny its messages.
are involved with our sense of separation and alienation, our fear of
mortality, our capacity to cling and grasp to notions/materials as
though we own them for eternity…
And the more
these elements of denial dominate our beings the greater the misery we
know and the less biodiversity there is. The less we are our
environment. The compassion that links us to all is lessened as our ego
grows. We cease to be the environment. Our experience of the intimate
and vital relationship between mind and matter-energy diminishes and a
chasm grows in our consciousness.
becomes something out there, an academic notion, a mere thought system.
It is no longer central in our every decision. Thus our capacity to act
as stewards of all is diminished.
And what is the
Conservation Principle of Energy? It is the nearest we have to a
universal law in that it has never been faulted, despite our best
endeavours to find flaws in it and so disprove its wisdom. It advises us
that energy is so bounteous that it can be considered a constant i.e.
energy cannot be created or destroyed and is by its very nature
constantly conserved, completely sustained.
I symbolise the
potential of the universe(s) as “energy”.
Others including Environmental Educators variously symbolise
fossil fuels, sugar drinks, Bulk-generated electricity, chocolate bars
and other commodities as “energy”. In so doing they deny the other
great message of the Conservation Principle and thus destroy
biodiversity. How so?
Principle suggests that energy is as bounteous as the potential of the
universe(s) and that it is manifest in myriad forms, all of which is
subject to continual transformation from one into the other. Implicit in
this is the notion that there is a vast array of options, including
I use the
“manifest” symbol with care. I use it to communicate the belief that
our minds are matter, are energy. I use the symbol in the sense of “
become apparent”, “become obvious” and “made clear” to
I am also evoking
our sense of the existence of paradox in that two actions are occurring
as one. In that spark of awareness when human-mind meets energy-matter
then we are reflecting the universe even as the universe becomes
apparent to us.
Words, spoken or
written, rarely communicate paradox effectively and our brains soon tire
of reading about it. I will simply suggest the mind-energy-matter
experience is central to our existence and is as true as the teachings
of ancient The Buddha and contemporary quantum physics. The reason I
persist with word symbols is that they frame all our education resources
and they do have the capacity to transcend our time-space experiences.
Also physics suggests information is physical. The words framing our
national education curriculum are as physical the piles, studs and
rafters of our school buildings.
flourishes in the moment of acceptance of the Conservation Principle of
Energy. Biodiversity is diminished in the moment of denial. For
instance, as soon as we define any energy form, any resource, any
element of the universe(s) as energy then biodiversity is reduced.
Conversely the moment we realise that we have, for whatever reason,
mistakenly associated an energy form with energy then in that moment of
realisation enhanced possibilities emerge, among them biodiversity.
Conservation Principle denied - an example.
Let us briefly
explore a contemporary example – only the names are changed:
specialises in burning fossil fuels to generate Bulk-generated
electrical products. It calls itself “Ultimate Energy” and it calls
its products “energy”, for it knows the potency of the “energy”
symbol. Its Public Relations consultants have advised that this use of
the energy symbol will promote associations of the Bulk-generated
electrical products with vitality, life, the essence of being.
The company works
to protect this brand by embedding it into national legislation, media
frameworks and education programmes. It works to sponsor environmental
education programmes that teach that “energy = Bulk-generated
electrical products”. It associates energy efficiency practice with
“using less energy” and deprivation i.e. being deprived of its
products i.e. “energy”. It teaches that humans can conserve energy
and in doing so it denies and obscures the central messages of the
Conservation Principle of Energy.
In order to
protect its branding investment the Ultimate Energy Corporation actively
stifles the development of education programmes that communicate the
vision of diversity and bounty inherent in the Conservation Principle.
At the same time it diverts public attention from the impacts of its
activities by sponsoring a wildlife sanctuary in an attempt to promote
the popular image that it is a corporation that believes in
If we explore the
mind of a person made in the image of this psychopathic corporation we
find it barren, populated by a few monolithic and monotonous mental
forms. The general atmosphere is one on unease and fear. It is tinged
with self-doubt, desperation and vague hopelessness. The deep shadows
cast by notions of “energy crises”, “energy failures” and
“energy shortages” persistently lurk and darken the mindscape.
This mind is like
a forest stripped bare by herbicides or some genetic engineered mutation
or other human technology. Dead plant forms remain, crumpling reminders
of vibrant colours, variant shapes and multiple movements of trees gone.
Only one or two selected species remain, dotted sparsely in the
mindscape. Their name of “energy” and their massive size belies
their vulnerability to some storm, some drought, some disease, some
event that could kill them so easily in these weakened soils and exposed
If we explore the
mind of a person made in the image of the Conservation Principle of
Energy we find it rich, luxurious with all manner of colour and shape of
mental forms. The sun shines, the wind blows, the tides surge and
diverse carbon forms thrive. The general atmosphere is one of ease and
awe. There is an ethos of self-respect, trust and hope. The more we
examine each type of form in such a mind the more its diversity becomes
For instance, if
we observe the electrical manifestations of the potential of the
universes in the biodiverse mind we find Bulk-generated electricity,
Micro-generated electricity and Dwelling-generated electricity. We find
electrical forms as diverse as lightning, electrons flitting in and out
of existence within the distances of the atoms, electrical plasma on
galactic scale, electrical currents and electrical static. These
electrical forms have contrasting qualities of every type. Each has its
own name and none are called “energy” or “power” or even
“electricity.” Each is
a wellspring of hope as it provides options and opportunities.
And with the mind
being the environment we find the barren mind generates a landscape made
desolate by huge dams flooding valleys, large pylons and towers jarring
the sweep of the plains, towering chimneys spewing pollution and
darkening the skies, peopled by humans with the uneasy, desperate minds
And we find the
biodiverse mind generates a landscape of deep variant valleys, flowing
and expansive plains and sparkling skies, peopled by human with the
serene, fulfilled mind I described.
You may be
wondering about the well meaning and dedicated Environmental Educators
working in the wildlife sanctuary sponsored by Ultimate Energy.
Those that step
outside the sanctuary experience great anguish and confusion for they
find that the corporation has levered off its sponsorship of
biodiversity in one small valley of the world to lay waste to the
greater landscape, oceans and skies and to destroy on scale very finite
carbon forms such as fossil fuels.
are fractured by conflict, for human brains are complex biosystems of
mirror neurons. The barren vision of Ultimate Energy is reflected within
at a primal level of the brain. Thus their instinct for biodiversity is
at war with their instinct for survival, beholden as they are to
corporate funding and social acceptance. This dissonance is reflected
back to the world in their use of symbols of all sorts.
The truth is
always out. This is not a mind diverse in hope.
Those that do not
step outside the sanctuary reside in a dream of biodiversity that does
not include the world. They act simply as pure conduits for the Ultimate
Energy Corporation and the visitor to such a mind encounters no clear
vision of how humans need act to enable biodiversity to flourish around
our planet. The tragedy is that the greater their reputation for
“caring for the environment” the more Ultimate Energy can lever off
their fine intentions to destroy our planetary environment.
The truth is we
are our environment, and that includes all the socio-psychological,
economic and political aspects, regardless of inconvenient we might find
can perhaps best be seen as an exploration of physics. It is the physics
of sentience, of consciousness, of life. It is the physics of what
happens at the quantum level of our neurons when mind, matter and energy
coincide. Central is the physics of the Conservation Principle of Energy
with its paradoxical message of mortality and hope – a paradox that
cannot be resolved by intellectual effort. It can only be resolved when
our spirit is one of acceptance of change/stewardship.
In our acceptance
of our mortality we are more able to live in harmony with the flux and
flow of change we reside in. We are Mirror Beings and we need act as
stewards, whether we like it or not. We each are deep networks of mirror
neurons. These pulsate with electrochemical reactions generated by our
interaction with all. Our mirror neurons enable us to reflect the world
and communicate with it, especially with our fellow human beings. The
information we reflect, the information we are and the information we
impart is physical. In other words the physics of our life is that we
are what we model in all actions, including our choice of symbols such
We ignore the
physics of our situation at our peril. For instance many of us are now
discovering this truth as our mineral oil/gas based wealth evaporates
and our economies implode. Societies that have equated mineral oil/gas
with energy grow increasingly bankrupt and desperate, their members
stranded in the barren and hopeless mindscape I have described.
that have instead valued mineral oil as a very potent resource, a very
finite and valuable energy form, and use it sparingly are tending to
thrive. This is because their members tend to enjoy biodiverse minds and
in embracing physics they discover stewardship generates greater joy and
I will conclude
by making this radical suggestion. It may be that the notion of
Environmental Education is unhelpful. It may be that it needlessly
generates chasms in the interaction of the human mind and matter-energy
and that it destroys our sense of harmony and connection with all.
fragmentation is readily apparent in the framework of our National
Curriculum. Science is defined as a way of thinking devoid of ethics,
not a moral state of being that enables civilisation to exist. It is
framed as an activity or discipline parallel to learning a language,
creating art, keeping healthy and living civics rather than the state of
being that enables us to learn, share and create. Arguably the NZ
Education Curriculum is an active WOMD and produces a race of
See it from our
grandchildren’s point of view. They will look back and see that our
generations destroyed vast mineral resources on an epic scale that will
evident for eons. Our education system produced a people that destroyed
38 barrels of mineral oil a day per 1000 people, mainly in devices like
cars, trucks, jets and other products specifically designed to maximise
wasteful uses of this incredibly valuable resource. Over half of easily
extracted mineral oil of our planet has been destroyed since 1980. Our
education system produced a people that have destroyed the quality and
quantity of our forests and soils at a massive rate. Our education
system produced the profoundly amoral and brutal Emissions Trading
Strategy now adopted by our nation.
Our children will conclude we were callous and uncaring generations who cared not who died needlessly because of our activities. We might refrain from actively gassing our fellow humans on scale or vaporising them with nuclear weapons but our daily activities have the same impact.
radical suggestion is that though the concept of Environmental Education
is a flawed product of the current flawed Education Curriculum there is
a great role for those who are passionate about ensuring our children
enjoy all the opportunities we inherited. Rather than expending our
lives attempting to sustain a construct called Environmental Education
we should found ourselves firmly within a spirit of compassion. It is
not an easy way of living and it has great rewards. A prime reward is
that it enables science to exist more fully and we are better able to be
in harmony with the thermal, electrical, carbon and other flows and
balances of the universe. We are better able to experience enhanced
inclusiveness and a reduction of the current exclusiveness fostered by
what our current curriculum defines as science.
Footnotes to this blog.
My previous blogs predicted that in the USA Sarah Palin and in New
Zealand John Key would ‘win’ our most critical ballots. These
predictions have proven accurate so far. The teams of Barack Obama and
John Key contains most of the people who promoted the vast credit
explosion based on a vast undervaluation of mineral oil/gas. The
resource grows scarcer by the day and credit systems continue to implode
accordingly. No one but no one in our media seems able to confront
generated by their promotion of SUVs, jet travel, McMansion suburbs and
design-for-waste products in general.
The cartoon strip
that accompanies this blog was published about 5 years ago. In this
chapter Bonus Joules explores the trace nature of our atmosphere. Junk
Joules, who represents our elements of denial of change and stewardship
constantly derides and works to undermine our awareness of the trace
nature of our existence. The strip was inspired by my experiences of our
senior educators and “climate change” policy makers and activists. I
had gradually realised that their refusal to use the “trace gas”
symbol evidenced a profound denial of change/stewardship. This and their
associated unsustainable lifestyles is why they clung to images of our
atmosphere as a “greenhouse”. Some had told me the thermal processes
of our atmosphere can only be communicated via such greenhouse images!
Bonus Joules is attempting to see if alternative ways exist.