Last night I attended a public meeting of about forty people at Te Manawa here in Palmerston North. As coordinator of the energy-related RunnningOnEmptyNZ internet group, I was curious to see what Jeanette Fitzsimmons might say about the energy situation. I wanted also to ask her the status of government understandings regarding peak oil and gas. Local university students had organized the gathering to oppose Solid Energy's proposed opencast coal mine at Happy Valley, near Westport.
It started fairly mildly. Speakers were students Jo McVeagh and Jonathan Oosterman (Save Happy Valley Campaign) and Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green Party). Each spoke eloquently about that project, which seems bound to despoil many acres of beautiful red tussock land and ruin the habitat of kiwi, other birds and a rare snail species. They had recently visited the area to rally locals opposed to the scheme. The spoke of the brilliant clarity of the night sky at the site. Wekas ran through the campsite, and Kiwis could be heard calling in the bush all round them. All this is likely to be lost for the sake of coal mining for about ten years, instead of taking stock of the national energy situation and acting less blindly.
They showed an truly excellent little home-made video that showed the beauty of the area. It included very good interviews with ordinary local people angry about ugly mining pollution. It had changed a large river they used to picnic and swim in, into a now-called 'industrial river' that industry regarded as available for their wastes. Neither the companies nor local and regional councils would act to correct this. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
FITZSIMMONS SPOKE ABOUT PEAK OIL AND GAS
Then, in the presence of a local news reporter Don Kavenagh of the Manawatu Evening Standard, Jeanette Fitzsimmons used almost all of her quite lengthy time using overhead slides to publicize the facts of peak oil and gas in New Zealand and the world. This included telling us that NZ peak oil had occurred in 1986 and our peak gas in year 2000 (very interesting for me to find that out).
She showed Dr. Colin Campbell's famous graph of global peak oil and several likely decline scenarios, explaining that extension of the plateau would make the decline even faster and worse. In all the scenarios, the decline of oil was about now, or at the latest, within five years. She referred to both Iraq and Afghanistan as wars to facilitate access to oil, saying she hoped that nobody present still believed the purposes were searches for weapons or to provide democracy to those countries. Because the evening was about the mining proposal, I noticed she unfortunately could not be expected to spend much time talking about actual dependency on energy, and she didn't.
LOOKING AT COAL AND ALTERNATIVES
In her usual matter-of-fact style, she systematically covered all the alternative energy sources like various solar technologies, wind power, waste from forestry, excess tallow, and oil from coal. Interlaced was a fair bit of talk about carbon emissions. She talked pragmatically about the Kyoto protocol (which still needs Putin's signature to be a reality). Coal is twice as CO2-producing as natural gas, as well as ruinous of lands and water and quality of life where it's burned. She covered incentives like carbon credits and taxes. As I recall, she omitted the routine debunking of the hydrogen myth. I expect a few people probably went home relieved that hydrogen would save the day, not realizing that it's made from now-expiring natural gas, or from electricity that is already in short supply.
As an example of what is possible she said her own home was off-grid. She said it was still very comfortable and used slate tiles to capture sun warmth, and a wood stove for cooking, and photovoltaic for electricity. She said photovoltaic was too costly for most people, but talked of a cheaper option where an array of hundreds of homes could all have solar roofs and exchange energy with the national grid, 'giving' energy during sunny times, and 'getting' energy at other times. I presumed that system would not need battery storage (greatly cutting the cost) and instead (like wind power) could use the hydro power system as the storage feature for supply in slack generation times.
Using an overhead slide to make the point, she said with great emphasis that the alternatives would still not be sufficient to continue present levels of energy supply, and that the energy decline would in fact force us to make better use of energy instead.
She also emphatically made the important point that acting immediately was vital because soon energy would be much more expensive, hampering all efforts to adjust, for example building more windmills.
GOVERNMENT FORECASTS ARE BASED ON OIL PRICES SOON FALLING UNDER $20!
With a mix of frustration and amusement, she spent a minute to point out that the current 2004-2025 version of the 'NZ Energy Outlook' (Department of Economic Development) which forecasts low oil price in the future. I checked my copy, and sure enough, here's what it says on page vii at the front in the executive summary:
"The key assumptions of the Reference scenario, which covers the period 2000 to 2025, are:
... Oil prices rising from US$20 a barrel in 2004 to US$25 a barrel by 2020, and constant thereafter."
She mentioned cases where documents hot off the press and being presented in the House with similarly deluded low pricing. This was occurred while newspaper headlines stated prices above US$40.
STYLE OF PRESENTING - THE BALANCE BETWEEN COMPASSION AND URGENCY
Although 'urgent', her style was still tactful and compassionate, presumably so that people would not simply panic away from the unwelcome facts (as we have so often seen). For example, to promote intelligent energy planning, she said in a quick voice, "We can get by if we build these systems now".
I smiled to myself, understanding her predicament. I myself suspect we will be propelled into very harsh energy deprivation by our incurable addiction to comfort and convenience from abundant energy. (The public will irresistibly deny and oppose their salvation). Also there is a huge, implacable physical infrastructure of suburbs, highways, and globalized sourcing of vital goods. Even so, I still say we are obviously better to expose the ignorant folly of new motorways and globalized trade, and to make our food production local.
RESPONSES TO THE ENERGY DECLINE
Fitzsimmons then suggested government responses to the energy decline. I wrote notes from the slides, and added my bracketed comments, as follows:
Government leadership - Solarize government buildings - Model energy efficiency in new buildings (set the example for public to follow) - Small vehicles in fleets instead of large ones - Buy local policy (to reduce transport needs)
Electricity supply - Net metering (both pay and earn from your meter) - Demand exchange (sharing between anyone, not just limited to peer/competitor industries) - Abolish fixed charges (so billing was more strongly related to actual use of energy, not to just being connected) - Progressive pricing (I think it meant you'd pay more for gluttony)
Economic - Revenue-neutral carbon exchanges (I think she said it was to prevent mercenary evasion of carbon emission constraints) - Mandatory green electricity contributions - Carbon credits for small projects as well as large projects - Don't change Resource Management Act to advantage big business like Aqua, the electricty grid, roading schemes
Delivering the message - Link energy to quality of air, water soil, quality of life (I thought of that beautiful starry sky, and clean swimming in the river) - Commonsense - Don't wait for the crisis (to impose hardship that could have been avoided)
Transport - Rail about five times more efficient than road - Fuel efficiency, and some biofuels from waste - Public transport, carpooling, cycling, walking - Planned cities, town planning
MY GENERAL IMPRESSION OF THE TALK
Pretty good, considering the evening was about a environmental damage from a coal mine. She could hardly have done more to use the opportunity to talk about peak oil and gas, and how to respond. Virtually her entire presentation was about that. More would have been a hijack of the meeting, jeopardizing future invitations to speak.
BRIEF PRIVATE MOMENT AFTER
After the usual clusters and individuals had approached her after the talk, I asked her what she thought was the present understanding of the government and Hodgson currently. Her reply was that they still believe the quite obviously misleading speculations being publicized by the US Government by the (politicized) US Geological Survey and the International Energy Agency who parrot their statements. To challenge that requires study of different authorities and arrival at a sensible opinion, and then making the government do the same. Until that is done, New Zealanders are unwittingly being driven, by their ignorant government, into the worst oil and gas shocks ever experienced in our history.
Supporting information about the imminent decline of oil and gas within New Zealand and the world is available from the sources described below.