Thursday, June 25, 2015

On The Brighter Future With Solar Panels On Parliament

Yesterday morning, I woke up to news that four GreenPeace protesters had scaled Parliament, and were presently engaged in installing solar panels on the pediment.

This is, needless to say, a highly risky and rather exciting means to protest and highlight our collective over-dependence on fossil energy. But I shall not get into the moralities or exigencies of that here. Suffice to say I hope we can all agree that this Government has not done enough to support renewable energy (instead choosing to reward damaging extractive industries by helping out foreign oil and coal concerns); and that there's strong potential for us to make greater use of renewables here in New Zealand.

Instead, what I want to share with you is a little anecdote that immediately popped into my head as soon as I read the headlines about this incident.

For you see, this isn't the first time somebody's installed solar panels on a high-profile government building. Not least as a publicity exercise.

Way back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. Then, as now, the Developed World found itself in the grips of an Energy Crisis. Except whereas today's woes are caused by a gradual and growing realization that our supplies of these resources are finite (and, to be fair, certain geopolitical happenings) ... the crisis back in his day was primarily driven by a series of oil embargoes and crises at the source. First, in 1973 Arab states initiated an embargo and price-hike designed to punish America and its allies for intervening in the recent Yom Kippur War against Israel. That was then followed by the chaos of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. This lead to the previously unheard-of situation in the US of long queues for petrol at service stations, and oil prices that would, within a year, reach a height unsurpassed again until 2008. Here in New Zealand, this gave us the phenomenon of Carless Days; a synthetic oil refinery at Motunui, and the #Muldoonist stab at providing renewable energy through hydroelectricity. (Gosh, reducing our use of pollution-causing private transport while increasing our use of renewable energy? Sounds almost Green :D )

In any case, rather than aggressive military intervention, Carter decided to pursue the 'smarter' course of action: moves toward energy independence, secured through renewables. As he pointed out at the time, you can't embargo the sun. (unless, of course, we're talking about the backstory to The Matrix)

Carter proudly proclaimed of his solar panels that "A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people".

And where is that solar panel now?

It's in a museum in China.

How appropriate.

Let's not be like America after Carter. Let's have a sane and sober conversation, as a Nation, about how we move forward into the sunlight of a less fossil-fuel dependent future.

After all - as Winston says, fossil fuels are a "sunset industry" with only a very limited future.

Let's not join them ;)

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