Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I learnt a new word today courtesy of Wikipedia - Synchronoptic, the simultaneous charting of different information. Here is a chart which composites several strands all self explanatory.

Where these lines will go in 2009 is anybody's guess.

Friday, December 12, 2008

the private lives of mannequins go mostly ignored

This shows the banality of Modern Art Galleries and the hapless behaviour of its audience in its pointless majesty. A picture like this is worth a thousand piles of bricks and a hundred and one installations. A most excellent observation of a feckless generation.

The banality of the gallery is just a shopfront for a greater cultural banality . Not only is the empress wearing no clothes who gives a sh*t?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Strategy for National Transition

Big Question – How does Transition Towns NZ develop a strategy for National Transition?

When big picture questions arise in conversation as this one did with Colleague Laurence the other day I find it hard to resist their challenge.

This question is a tremendously broad canvas and begs several major assumptions:
  1. it assumes that a strategy for national transition is desirable.
  2. it assumes that a strategy for national transition is attainable.
  3. it assumes that Transition Towns have more than two pennies worth to offer.
  4. it assumes that a voluntary organisation with few paid staff can make a contribution to the enormous task of reorganisation of an entire nation that would in the normal course of events be the responsibility of a large well educated well funded public service.
  5. it assumes that those in charge will actually be interested.
Assuming that the answer to the above is generally in the positive we then face the tricky task of defining terms so that the problem can be framed and measures set up so that we might know whether we are proceeding in roughly the right direction. If we can do this and satisfy ourselves that the underlying assumptions are broadly acceptable - then we might have an approach that we can tease out parameters and drill down to the sub-questions below. This approach could of course be caricatured as a classic left-brain, top-down, hierarchical-male strategy, which does not mean it is any better or worse than any other approach, it just is one approach and perhaps the most obvious.

Another approach is to imagine that the whole country has already made a transition to a lower energy future and to paint a picture of what it looks like and how the journey to it was made. This back-cast vision might be a fairly patchy rendering; some bits highly detailed and coloured, other bits barely sketched at all. Like painting a picture without any pencilled outlines this approach requires a good understanding of one’s subject, its structure, details and surface features for it to be more than a wishful fantasy. The more knowledge that can be brought to bear - other countries, towns or cities that have made significant shifts towards resilience, then the more the vision is a projection which is anchored with real world understanding.

A third option might be to develop a strategy by working in a painterly fashion perhaps starting with a splash of paint or a found object, perhaps an old factory or vacant lot and using it as the stimulus to build a picture of the future. A serendipitous “abstract for art sake approach whilst unusual and strangerous could certainly liberate thinking and perhaps tumble out some good ideas that could not be generated any other way.

Prophetic visions have a long and credible history in many cultures which should not be over-looked. Whether prophetic insights are received as a result of spiritual inspiration or the neuro-chemistry of a sensitive individual, (or a combination of both), the visions of gifted prophets have provided guidance for communities struggling to travel from present certainties into uncertain futures. Although the format and content is a little different from a white discussion paper, the raw power of the spoken word can perhaps do immeasurably more than kilograms of carefully weighted discourse. If ever there was a time when so many on the planet face certain tribulation, it will be when oil production peaks and declines along with most every other resource. The need for outside help will become ever more apparent.

My favourite dessert is a sherry trifle – at least it will do for the moment. A combination of sponge, jelly, custard, whipped cream, slices of strawberries & peaches all laced liberally with a rich fortified wine. To see a beautifully formed trifle blended, chilled, set and decorated in its great crystal bowl is to see a vision indeed. Perhaps the best approach is to cook up solutions in every corner of the kitchen and bring them together for a grand tasting and debate. Following which we might (if we are not overfed) concoct a hearty vision of National Transition from some simple well blended ingredients.

Ladies and gentlemen – a penny for your thoughts please.

Monday, August 11, 2008


The industrial dairy complex has leapt to the forefront of wealth transformation[i] in Godzone country[ii] and has received much criticism from environmentalists.

Such people see the affects of dairy farms as damaging our landscape. Whilst there is some truth to their argument, it is by no means the whole truth, for it is hard to enjoy the landscape if you are unemployed, and the development of the dairy sector is employing many people. Simply blaming the farmers for the affects of agricultural intensification overlooks the situation as one symptom of a greater disease.

At one level the dairy industry illustrates a parasitic relationship between farmers, cattle and the land. At another level it reflects a greater parasitism between the state-corp[iii], communities and the land. The dairy industry is a metaphor - for as any tourist will understand, cows are not the only creatures that can be milked. If we feel milked by a system, it is not so much the money that we feel being drained, but our very energy. The ensuing enfeeblement reduces our ability to think about the ever-changing present that bears down upon us, let alone ponder the future. Until we realise this, it is all too easy to inhabit that “clueless” existence that JH Kunstler refers to. Like placid bovines it is enough to trek from pasture to milking shed, from work-house to out-house and back each day.

To what extent have individuals, families and groups of people become cattle equivalents in a vast financial milking system? At what point does symbiosis graduate from benevolent parasitism into a malignant virus? Do we need to experience burnout before the penny drops that the energy required to service a consuming lifestyle exceeds our capacity to deliver it? Must we wait until we are indebted or worse - bankrupted? Once such insight percolates our consciousness and we gaze at the grass beyond, how long before we find that the path is impeded by invisible, electrified fences?

Constructed with the greatest care and deliberation, we occupy paddocks of conformity tailored to our human shape. We find ourselves fenced with barriers no less real than the galvanised railings of a rotary milking shed. If conformity to one’s peer group is the first fence to clear, the second is much higher and more impenetrable. This is the legal obligations that our society surrounds us with and in which we become enmeshed on many different fronts. It only seems fair that if we borrow money that the lender should receive a reward for the use of the funds which could have been put to another use. [A little bit of milk in exchange for grazing]. It only seems fair until there’s a drought and grass (and milk) are hard to produce and cannot be yielded in the agreed quantities. Money lenders don’t think like farmers, they don’t need to factor seasonal variations such as recessions into their repayment schedules; they can always recover their capital in kind. Even if required to write off colossal sounding sums in bad debts, the over-all picture is the greater concentration of cream in the separator.

What holds this high tensile system together is a bovine willingness to conform. This conformity like money and debt is legislated out of thin air for good and useful reasons. Like money and debt, conformity to Law is captured on wafer fine sheets of cellulose and inhabits the vacuum between ink and the concepts in our heads. Like the money industry, the conformance industry has secured its place in the courts of power. Like Siamese twins Money and Law are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, they must both be accepted, they are both owed fealty. For the most part they are accepted unquestioningly, at least until we want to make any significant change to our material situation. For significant material change almost always results in the need to borrow finance over two decades to do it. Wisdom unfortunately doesn’t come until one loses something of value.

“Ah – you want a new house/ship/factory do you. Well – we have a deal for you! Do you want to re-locate or do you want to build?” At this point even the dumbest of us know that our aspirations are being handled with the delicacy of a cattle prodder. And so we proceed somewhat tremulously if it’s our first home along with a herd of others being shifted from an outer paddock to a holding pen. Our progress along the race of life is maintained at a steady speed by the barking of dogs, the crack of alkathene pipe on rump and the comforting throb of a distant milking shed - until we come to the stockyards. Here we are weighed and assessed by a succession of vetinarians, stock-agents and haulage workers to determine our value to others as an investment opportunity. If we make the grade and suffer no deformities such as a poor education or a criminal record we are drafted. “Do you have life insurance?”

Willingly and even gratefully we step into a new working life that a long and subtle process of indoctrination has prepared us for. It’s as exciting as taking a credit card for a walk in an electronics shop. Just who is taking who for a jog anyway? Did I mention artificial insemination, drenching, vision and values programmes and other forms of continuing professional development to keep us in line and on target? It’s only now in the short spaces of sentience between caffeine boosted periods of feverish workload that the fear starts to come up like a cold pale moonrise on a windy night. Between the shreds of cloud we start to see demons mocking us as we work our life away. If we have any insight - we shudder and groan.

The lowing of the workforce is initially tempered with prescriptions of alcohol, television, lotteries and sporting diversions. As time goes on it is followed by prozac generics and whatever spiritual disciplines we can lay our hands on to dampen the neuro-chemistry of despair without damaging production. However the milking shed is working hard in competition with others just like it. Competition leads to reduced margins which lead to cost cutting and deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance inevitably leads to breakdowns and the milk cannot be harvested properly leading to losses of profit.

Eventually the farmer is bankrupted and if the cattle have a nice farmer who is interested in his animals’ welfare[iv] then they get sold to another farmer down the road or sent to the freezing works where they undergo sudden changes in body temperature and configuration. If the cows are unfortunate enough to have a farmer like Farmer Enron who cares little for his cattle, the cows will be left in their stalls to chafe at the railings and to savour the pain of debt in their bulging udders. This pain brings realisation and knowledge and soon the sound of mooing cattle can be heard all over the farm.

[i] Not wealth generation but transformation of environmental capital into financial capital.

[ii] Godzone = New Zealand

[iii] State-corp = Marriage of Government + Commerce (aka The System)

[iv] All farmers understand their dependence upon the health of their stock – but this is not really a story about farmers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Getting food into ones body is an absorbing and time consuming process for most species. Man is no different. The process of acquiring, storing, preparing and eating food is considered in a step-wise fashion to locate the dependencies and the connections with lifestyle.

Here is a diagram setting out the degrees of food dependence that can be seen in many modern lifestyles. The colours refer to a "rough" chromatic scale where the warm colours represent high levels of dependence and the cool end represents high levels of self sufficiency. The diagram is not intended to precisely model every particular lifestyle but to organise a few archetypes on paper.

The spectrum we occupy are largely based on many unconscious choices. Knowing what options are available is the first step to thinking about where one is best positioned.

- Which slots best describe your food routines?
- Is it financially sustainable in the medium term?
- Will it be sustainable as the depletion of fossil fuels starts to enfeeble our industrial agricultural system?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Affects of Peak Oil on Architecture

The following is part of a talk given to Western Branch NZIA which met at Whanganui River Institute, 27 June 2008.

First Point - Architecture pre-existed the use of cheap fossil fuels, but it was a little different then.

Secondly – There are many definitions of an Architect, but one that is useful to the discussion about Peak Oil and resource scarcity is Architects as “concretisers of culture”. Just as bacteria are instrumental in turning carbon rich algal deposits into fossil fuels, Architects are instrumental in fossilising the agendas of those with resources at their disposal.

On the face of it, the advent of PO and reduced flows of energy unfortunately means that there will be fewer resources play with and to plan with. It is almost certain that the communities that Architects recently served will be going through a certain amount of upheaval, and as resources become more expensive new needs will emerge and old ones will disappear. It is highly probable that resources will be refocused on basic needs and agendas will be recast in the light of new and very pressing needs.

Not all of this will be a bad thing. Post-modern deconstruction will be seen as the last gasp of bankrupt ideologues who had no idea what times they were living in. Their architecture is destined to moulder and become an enigma for post-oil generations to marvel at. Decadent lifestyle pornography which architects have been totally complicit with over the past decade is likely to be greatly resented by those who cannot afford basic housing and for their owners will be expensive to maintain and heat. Many examples of what is currently called sustainable design will be seen to be sustainable in name only.

I suspect that there will be a re-evaluation of what architecture is actually about and that the future will have both opportunities and threats. To get a handle on this I have done some armchair analysis to examine the kinds of issues that are likely to raise their heads. I think there will be food for thought for councillors as well as architects.

So how will the advent of Peak Oil work through our world?

It will not be “Business as Usual”

The first obvious affect of reduced volumes/increased demands will be expensive energy. This has started happening. The second affect will be patchy supplies of fuel, which will be equivalent to a chronic heart failure. See below a chart of some of the trends that seem fairly predictable from this side of the decline, but there are sure to be many more:In addition to their knowledge of building design and procurement Architects have some significant skill-sets that are likely to prove valuable:

The ability to see/imagine a project at many different levels of scale consequtively over both space and time.

The ability to generate multiple solutions and to evaluate them for the best fit to the circumstances and situation.

The ability to act as a communication hub in which there are many different players all with interests at stake.

The ability to marry analytical and aesthetic judgements in the best interests of the project – The Art of Compromise.

The ability to think through and resolve complex staging issues arising from the implementation of implementing change on existing situations.

The ability to make decisions under conditions of stress and make fair-ish judgement calls in real time. – Also the ability to reverse those decisions when they are found to be wrong.

The ability to generally maintain the appearance of calm in the face of unbelievable bureaucratic frustration.

These skills are not acquired quickly or easily and are the intangible values upon which our reputation and utility rests. These skills are likely to be in demand during any period of significant change, and it will be interesting to see how well we are able to market our skills and perhaps diversify the role of Architect.

So what should Architects do? Some suggestions to start a discussion:

- design with the future in mind

- understand the times we are living in

- observe the forces in play

- re-think people’s actual needs

- re-think level’s of Architectural services

- advocate long term planning and declaim dubious projects including past ones

- acquire tools to demonstrate value for money

- re-think material use

- re-think design – Keep It Simple Sustainable & Sensible

- passive solutions better/cheaper than fallible active systems.

The great project over the next decades will be to help bring our lumbering hubristic civilization down to a survivable landing. This will involve different mindsets and value-sets from the ones that have held sway and become accustomed to working with. It will not be business as usual but business for the shrewdest, and all business involving resources will be carried out under the greatest scrutiny. The new frugality will focus on basic needs and will view as contemptible profligate waste the kind we currently experience as normal. The future is a mixed. There will be opportunities for both Chaos and Community. If we don’t lead or assist those who do lead by providing workable solutions, the forces of chaos will establish themselves by default, and the opportunities for community will dwindle.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Belief, Denial & Peak Oil

We occupy a meme saturated world, much of it a result of the information explosion that accompanied the ignition of fossil fuels. Denial – the opposite of belief has become an important strategy in preserving a clear head from the pollution of toxic information swilling around us. We all operate within particular resources of time and space and must filter the information that comes our way. Much of this happens without any conscious effort and we navigate our days essentially guided by punishment and reward instincts which have stood us and our ancestors in good stead. We share this guidance system with many in the animal kingdom and for the most part it works exceptionally well. Humans however get a very wide spectrum of information directly from the world and some of this includes information received from others either directly or indirectly through one of the many media of information exchanges.

The ability to transmit information through abstract symbols, verbal and visual languages, and traditions has enabled humans to exploit the world around them and to become biologically successful. Language enabled groups of individuals to become organized to acquire and accumulate knowledge and to pass it on to others. This knowledge included basic facts about the world; [this is what barley looks like], as well as higher forms of knowledge - traditions and values; [this is when and where is it best to plant barley]. Belief in what one’s elders said about material resources had its obvious advantages. This was fine when the information matched the world and was sufficiently detailed to be useful.

However information is not always accurate, up to date or clearly passed on and can be corrupted accidentally or deliberately. Humans also discovered the advantages of with-holding or pitching information intended to deceive those they competed against. So the utility of information needed to be weighed against the disadvantages of mis-information or dis-information. The ability to discern the difference between beneficial, neutral and damaging information is therefore of critical importance for individuals and groups in a competition for resources.

Belief and denial are alternative conclusion points in the process of determining what course of action is best in the circumstances. An element of choice is involved in assessing information and feeling whether it fits with the world one has experienced. (If the information does fit one’s experience there is a greater chance that the information will be believed and where necessary acted upon, including the option to seek further information). Information that conflicts with experience will be pondered, and is more likely to be denied and put to one side. Such mis-matching information may even give cause for concern to the receiver’s relationship with the sender.

Over time we learn to trust certain sources of information more than others, [our best friend telling us we have bad breath is more troublesome than a snide adversary]. Some information is more important than others [you have received an email from realplayer vs. you have received an email from an old flame] and the knowledge is tagged with an emotional marker which indicates its significance. This tagging (or message amplification) has two sub-conscious effects: firstly it makes the event register on our memory; secondly it forces important information through the mental filters that guard our precious mental space – our consciousness. When the news is of life changing significance; [I’m sorry but you have cancer], it can set off a cascade of feelings that quickly overwhelm us. In this situation denial can be recruited as a strategy to mitigate the paralyzing affects of bad news. This is particularly so when the consequences of the bad news are at some point in the future, and we can go on living, avoiding an awful truth.

Denial takes a number of forms and expressions depending on the attitude of the person and the scariness of the issue that confronts them.

The most obvious denial devices are ridicule and “argumendum ad hominem” attacks on the messenger. The denier engages with the issue only long enough to determine that a response to shut down the issue is warranted. This could be driven by an exaggerated feeling of anger or fear and might include physical attack as well as emotional/verbal abuse. Ad hominem attacks need not be overt nor emotional and are highly effective when kept carefully neutral. [“Well they would say that, wouldn’t they!”], is essentially an attack on the messenger strongly implying bias. This shifts the focus from the point at issue to another which the denier is less threatened by. This tactic has been termed replacement, evasion or displacement.

A variant of ad hominem attack is to call into question the perspective of the messenger – in particular whether they are a pessimist or an optimist. Such labeling is a giveaway that an attempt is being made to avoid engagement with the issue. This can be taken a step further by the denier stating that he/she is an optimist, and the messenger by implication must therefore be a pessimist. This switches the focus from the point at issue to one which the denier is probably happier to focus on – himself. If the messenger buys into the counter-argument offered it leaves them struggling on vague subjective territory.

Similar appeals to bias of perspective have been used with devastating effect by those with politically correct agendas who attempt to silence debate on issues because those who oppose them may not be black/gay/female/disabled/whatever. Rhetoric such as “what could you possibly know about such and such because you’re a white anglo-saxon middle-class so and so” is an emotional blunderbuss that should be seen for the contemptible attitude it reveals and perhaps parodied to underline the bankruptcy of the argument.

Inappropriate analogies can be used to refute or accept issues. One classic analogy is that “truth is like an elephant in a darkened room. One person feels the trunk, another the ears, and they all come to different conclusions about what truth is.” It is amazing how many people actually swallow this analogy and fail to consider why truth might be more like a candle that illuminates - than an elephant, (that does what elephants do). Analogies are powerful levers in debates where an element of subjectivity is present, so must be treated with care.

Parallel with elephantine analogies are post-modern arguments which attempt to equate experience with reality. Po-mo “discourses” (as ideas are called in the rapidly fading philosophy of post-modernism), quickly lead one down “disrupted” unsustainable paths into nebulous pseudo-intellectualism. [What we know about the world is “mediated” through our senses, reality is just a construct of the mind, my reality is not your reality etc] ad nauseum. [There is no truth except for the truth that there is no truth, therefore we can all do whatever we want]. One logical extension of this is that Hitler was essentially a good man because he was true to himself. – Really?

Euphemistic language intended to minimize the affects of an issue is another form of denial. Describing civilians killed by bombs as collateral damage, or an aborted foetus as a product of conception are two that readily come to mind. We are deluged by such language whose primary purpose is to frame debates so that a particular mindset is adopted. The framing of issues is a powerful tool of propaganda that is beyond the scope of this short essay, but it is worth noting if only as a bullet-point. Advocates of any issue, including peak oil use this tool of rhetoric as much as anybody, but they can also be on the receiving end also and should be able to recognize it. Just as safe sex is more acceptable to an individualistic society than abstinence, in the minds of the majority a carbon credit system is probably the condom equivalent that people will find more acceptable than curtailment of their desire to travel. After 2 or more generations the freedom to travel is now a deeply embedded freedom that will not be given away without a fight.

The trivial end of denial is an unconscious habit used to insulate sensitive personalities from all manner of unpleasant truths. Many of us practice self-deception whether in the form of false belief or false denial with such skill that we surprise ourselves when we come to understand what motives we have been operating under. The clever dark parts of our minds, the parts that arrange the stage scenery around our fragile vanities, utilize a number of devices from the property departments of our experience to ensure that the pretence is believable firstly and most importantly to ourselves and secondly to others.

More seriously though are circumstances where denial of serious issues places other people in jeopardy. A “she’ll be right” attitude to the maintenance of vital infrastructure is never going to come across well in an enquiry after something has gone tragically wrong. The words “duty of care” or “failure to perform” will be applied like branding irons to those who brushed issues aside casually or avoided proper engagement with them. In such situations, denial of an issue will have similar consequences as the failure of an antibody to recognize a foreign bacterium colonizing it.

And what about those responsible for governing a territory and organising its future development who overlook reasonably foreseeable issues ahead such as peak oil or climate change? What will they say when they are asked, as they surely shall be – “and what did you do about peak oil/climate change?” Will they run through a list of evasion, rationalization, minimization, or will they plump for a bald faced denial that they knew what was coming?

Many who have engaged with the information about Peak Oil and Climate Change are compelled to believe that these are the issues of the present time which will subordinate all other issues. Peak Oil and Climate Change is the double star with the gravity that makes all other concerns orbit around them. The duty of those who have been radicalized by the information is to become catalysts which radicalize others. Those who understand catalytic reactions in chemistry know that a true catalyst does not take part in the reaction itself – it is just a tool that “reduces the activation energy” required for a chemical reaction to take place. This is pictured as being a substance or a reagent that affects the geometry or electronic charge of the initial ingredients so that the reaction proceeds with reduced energy inputs. A true catalyst remains unchanged after the conversion and able to go on to catalyze others.

Advocates should bear this in mind lest they take on more than simply presenting the information and end up being burnt out. This is much easier said than done, but the ability to develop a thick skin in the face of denial is probably a peak oil survival skill all in itself. This does not mean being rude. That will help nobody - least of all oneself. What is needed is the respect of one’s audience and this must be earned. It does mean we need to remember that the issues we confront people with are deeply threatening, and our message must be delivered to maintain engagement. A certain amount of sharp (or blunt) denial responses is to be seen as par for the course, but we must sustain our campaign - and sustainability must start at home.

Monday, April 7, 2008

36 States of the Nation - March 2008

Here is my view of the state of NZ to end March 2008. Very little change evident, but it looks like the drought is easing off most of the country.

Here is my view of the state of NZ to end March 2008. Very little change evident, but it looks like the drought is easing off most of the country.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Can You Survive On $20NZD Per Week?

Here is the first of my case studies of people, their gardens and their dependence on food procurement systems. I have decided to adopt a one page format and focus on the main issues that the particular case illustrates.

In this study Jeremy has taken a rather frugal approach as you can read in this.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


The words - meltdown, collapse, tsunami, bubble burst, train wreck have appeared in news items across the world in connection with financial markets.

Those who don't live in a fabricated reality of denial understand that systems that we depend on are not only suffering stress, but are being deformed. What follows is an essay on the subject of system collapse and the ways we might be able to get a rough fix on the state of things. This is presented in 7 pages.







An example of a Chromatic Scale below:

This will be updated over the coming months.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Coming Cultural Revolution

For those interested in the stream of ideas generated by the prospect of a resource depleted future, I have created a blog called "The Coming Cultural Revolution".

I hope to explore the following:

- Lifestyle Trends
- Peak Oil
- Transition Towns
- Permaculture
- Energy use
- Environmentally Sustainable Design
- Sustainable Faith

Xxancroft blog will remain as a general posting point

Saturday, March 1, 2008


The phrase "business as usual" is often invoked by those with vested interests who stand to lose a service, patronage or facility. The phrase is intended to calm the worries of those who see difficulties ahead. "Business as usual" is often a give away that it is anything but as usual. As well as being a give away the phrase is an unintentional antagonym - a phrase that means the opposite of what it says.

Here is the main entrance to a supermarket undergoing re-modelling. Each sign bears the slogan "Business as usual" to remind shoppers that they can still carry out shopping. Supermarkets are loathe to shut down for building alterations because they risk losing customers to other stores. Building alterations are anything but business as usual for the store managers but with careful planning it is often found that trading actually increases during alteration work.

Alterations in continuously occupied public spaces are also a major head-ache for builders who must take responsibility for the health & safety of members of the public. For builders this means managing work during night periods, erecting safety barriers and creating the endless paper-trails that demonstrate the processes put in place.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


36 States of the Nation

The Great Cultural Revolution will be a life changing era to all who live through it, and its affects cannot be under-estimated.

The changes that are likely to happen will also trigger bitter reactions from the general public - a public who are ill-informed of the bigger picture and the inevitability of the events that will be precipitated. It is certain that the vast majority will be unprepared and will look for simple solutions in order to maintain the status quo. These solutions are likely to be counter-productive and potentially as damaging as the changes. Accompanying the reactions of those who seek to grasp that which cannot cannot be held on to, will be a profound shock of such depth that it will dissipate any remaining mental energies to reduce the daily impacts of change.

In order to counter these two fatal responses people need to be able to see where "things are at" and where "things are headed". This at least may facilitate some life saving abstract thinking which might work itself out in sound decision making.

I propose to track the status of some 36 aspects of national life under the following six headings:

- Environmental Wealth
- Economic Health
- Social Cohesion
- International Relations
- Cultural Vitality
- Spiritual Integrity

This will be done with the crude but highly evolved (or beautifully designed) metric of subjectivity. The results will be published monthly and the status of each aspect will be shown as a colour from a "Chromatic scale". - This all sounds a lot more complicated than it is.

Each of the six headings will have six features critical to the common wealth of the nation. The list is an educated guess at what is important and is intended to capture the broad sweep of national health and activity. Because this is a work in progress some aspects may be replaced with others that are deemed more appropriate.

The list of Headings and aspects follows:

- Geological stability
- Meteorological Stability
- Natural asset stocks
- Bio-diversity
- Bio-hazards
- Ability to manage waste

- Essential services (power/water etc)
- Inflation
- Concentration of wealth
- Paid employment
- Living within means
- Balance of trade

- Continuity of oil supply
- Access to markets
- War and peace
- Continuity of communications
- International reputation
- Ability to service treaties

- Ability to govern
- Stratification in society
- Law and order
- Crime and decency
- Family life
- Individual rights

- Health and fitness
- Ability to reason
- Education system
- Health system
- Research and development
- Lucidity of expression

- Lordship of Christ
- Focus of belief
- Unity of believers
- Principalities and powers
- Manifestations of integrity
- Persecution

This list could be longer or shorter and six sets of six is somewhat arbitrary. There is no defining way to model the life of humans in society. If it is found to be useful all very well. If not there are plenty of other blogs to choose from - but time is shor . . .

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The New Zealand Energy Strategy to 2050, (NZES), published October, 2007 is part one of two government papers to provide guidance about New Zealand’s energy future. The first part “Powering Our Future” covers the over-arching issues and the policy direction with government initiatives set forth to drive the policy. The second part (not covered in this review) is an action plan aimed at those responsible for running households, businesses and industries.

Part One – Powering Our Future is a comprehensive assessment of the NZ energy landscape. From the outset it is abundantly clear that the NZ Govt is aware of the criticality of the energy flows necessary to maintain the economy and the social cohesion it provides. It is also aware of the affects that society has on the natural environment. It paints a picture of a diverse and interconnected set of energy industries in a world that is rapidly changing and a world that is pushing the limits of the underlying resources. Any strategy looking 40+ years into the future is ambitious particularly in the flux of our time in history. When that strategy attempts to pilot a path through the conflicts of economy and the environment that ambition is enormous.

A great deal of effort has gone into planning the strategy and the document has a consistency at macro and micro-levels. The policies are backed with plenty of diagrams, illustrations and textual information. The diagram of NZ’s energy flows on page 107 (inset) is a masterpiece of graphical representation. The tone is positive and with the evidence of the research on the page it creates a feeling of reassurance. For a lay-person such as myself, (Architect), the NZES required an investment of concentration and mental space in order to fully digest the complex subject of a nation’s energy future. The glossary of acronyms and definitions at the rear of the document was essential.

The agenda presented in the strategy is the paramount importance of living sustainably. As such there were no surprises and the directions advocated appear to be in the nation’s best interest. Some effort was devoted to prepare the public for the roll-out of potentially unpopular policies such as the (carbon) Emissions Trading Scheme and NZ’s energy obligations to off-shore entities such as OECD that contribute to NZ’s energy equation are mentioned. The difficulties that energy providers have had getting projects off the ground because of the Resource Management Act were also addressed.

NZES clearly and lucidly separates vision from action. Action is teased out under main headings of :

- Resilient low carbon transport

- Security of electricity supply

- Low emissions power and heat

- Using energy more efficiently

- Sustainable energy technologies and innovation

- Affordability and wellbeing

The strategy however, has an “Achilles Heel” in its benign evaluation of future oil supply. Whilst acknowledging the advent of “Peak Oil”, the NZES adopts a so-called “mainstream” view on the matter. The International Energy Agengy (IEA) projects that world demand for oil will rise to circa 117 million barrels per day by 2030. This projection has wide support, however the IEA’s projections of future supply have been highly contested by those studying the peak oil issue. Those critical of the EIA are senior analysts and geologists who have come from within the oil industry and have formed the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO)[1]. The NZ Energy Strategy quotes IEA’s - World Energy Outlook 2006;

the world’s proven reserves (including non-conventional oil) should be sufficient to meet demand to 2030[2].

EIA’s own records of actual oil production in the period from 2005 to date shows the IEA supply projection to be greatly and increasingly wide of the mark. Not only is the wedge between demand and supply ever widening but it looks like a full blown delamination is happening, the consequences of which cannot be under-estimated.

One presumes that this critically important matter was carefully thrashed out in the offices of the MED prior to publication and that the final spin was adjusted for political reasons. In the currently optimistic economic environment it would be extremely difficult to come up with a publicly acceptable energy strategy based on the oil production peak that occurred May 2005, at 74.3 million barrels per day[3]. With every month that has passed since that date, it is becoming clearer that the actual supply trend is already downward. It is obvious that even without the political instability of OPEC countries in the Middle-East, real production is unlikely to ever exceed 90 million barrels per day let alone push through the 100 million barrels/day mark.[4]

An energy strategy based on the true trend-lines would be very different from the one published, and it would not create a feel-good factor. The Governors of New Zealand have therefore elected to post-pone the inevitable until circumstances make it obvious to the electorate that Draconian measures are what is actually needed. This will only result in reducing the time to prepare mitigation measures and make the affects more acute. In this the NZ government is no different to most Western governments which all founder on the shoals of a short term election cycle. The meta-problem of ever-increasing needs in an ever-depleting world, as illustrated by oil energy, will severely test the resilience of the Democratic process.

Meanwhile, the MED Discussion Paper: Options for Government Response to an Oil Supply Disruption has been quietly circulating since Sept 2006. This is a much more targeted document and does not try to set up a grand plan of managed actions to transition to a new sustainable economy. In my view a combination of both documents will form the strategy that will be adopted in the not too distant future.

Despite the crucial flaw discussed above the New Zealand Energy Strategy to 2050 is still an important document for New Zealander’s to read. There is much to learn about the issues that are unfolding and there is plenty of valuable information that is not wrong. All New Zealanders need to see how their personal choices fit into a nation’s attempt to chart a course into a very uncertain future.

[1] Matthew Simmons (oil investment banker) is just one of many who have written extensively on the subject. A copy of a detailed analysis titled Another Nail in the Coffin (Nov 2007 ) leaves no doubt about the true state of world oil production.

[2] NZES - Box 7.1, p47

[3] This figure is for Crude Oil + Condensates.

[4] To put this into perspective, the most oil NZ has ever pumped is about one million barrels in one year (2006).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Not so long ago a museum installed an exhibit comprising a topographical map of a large coloured area that had been sold by its original Maori owners to European settlers. Alongside the map was a small collection of spades, blankets and a musket, which formed the exchange. The commentary and presentation was a fairly overt exercise in propagating the view that the original owners had been swindled by the new arrivals. Such post-modern approaches to history are nothing new, and despite the lack of objectivity the example was worthy of further consideration.

Why did Maori of the 1840’s trade so much land and hard won commodities such as flax fibre, timber and kumara for a single musket, a few spades and some blankets?

The musket projected shot (and power) and with it – respect.

The spade provided leverage of the soil – food

The blankets insulated them from the cold – health

Food, respect and health are vital to any community and are essential for harmony. The lack of any of these creates conditions of dis-comfort and dis-harmony, and therefore conflict. Thus the acquisition of muskets, blankets and spades was one way in which Maori attempted to increase their well-being and security in the land in which they lived.

There is of course a lot more to the story than that, but the main point I wish to draw out has got nothing to do with moralising about the fairness of the transactions. It is simply to see that at the time of the transaction, the decisions were made with a certain amount of pragmatism in achieving an immediate outcome, and perhaps less thought about the cumulative or later affects of such trade.

What we can learn from this is that values change as a result of a shift in the underlying conditions. In 2008 a single acre of rural land could be traded for many guns, spades and blankets. Perhaps just a few acres would be able to equip a small army with guns, spades and blankets. [Once an army was brought into being then the conditions affecting the locality would change again – for a time].

How our own generation will be judged by those of the future with their different value-sets will depend on the conditions and circumstances they find themselves in and the perspective that results and the degree to which knowledge is transmitted. Will we be a parable, a legend or an enigma? Will there be museums to show how our generation traded its present abundance for another generation’s destitution. Just how will the curator’s of the future present this story?