Thursday, 23 August 2012

OPINION: How far are we prepared to compromise?

by Derek Onley

Thank you Jeanette for your considered and polite response to my concerns (August Blueskin News, p.30). I am pleased to see that you 'would much prefer that a different partner for Windflow Technology (WF) had been found' and, yes, we all make compromises, often unavoidably, because of the sort of society we live in.


My opposition to the military has been long held, though it comes from a safe and peripheral association compared with that of many people throughout the world, including my parents and relatives. As a boy in southern Britain, I played among bomb sites left over from World War 2. I demonstrated against Vietnam and nuclear weapons as a student, and looked down the barrel of a machine gun in Salazar's Portugal, while staying in villages where all but the wealthiest, privileged young men were absent, fighting to retain control of African colonies. I abhor war and especially those who profit from it. I'm all for making their life as difficult as possible.


I am all for severing all ties with them, be they economic, political, pragmatic or, come to think of it, sporting. There is an unsavoury irony in building and profiting from wind turbines for US military bases in countries like Iraq, invaded by the US for the oil and now supported in their permanent occupation of that country with 'sustainable' wind energy. I would prefer to see the military have to pay vast amounts of money for increased oil prices. I would prefer they became less and less sustainable in all respects rather than more sustainable in their ability to occupy someone else's country.


I'm all for protesting about any connection with them at any opportunity, and I find it unfortunate that it was me rather than the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust (BRCT) who instigated discussion about Windflow's financial problems and their subsequent solution. BRCT claims to be part of a ground-up, grass-roots solution to the environmental, financial and societal problems that we face and as such, it needs to ensure that discussion and decision making on its activities are open, informed and democratic. If I had been made aware of Windflow's decision then I would have proposed that BRCT withdraw from its accord with the company through Our Wind Ltd (OWL) or, at the very least, protest loudly about its association with weapons manufacturer General Dynamics. Oh, and insist that the CEO Geoff Henderson take a history lesson or two.


So at the risk of over-extending the metaphor, my line is drawn in a very different, less pragmatic position. To put it bluntly, I would not consider saving a company, be it small, greenish, innovative and local, by associating in any way with or profiting from military activities.


But is that to say, as Jeanette implies, that we should give up?  Of course not. But are there alternatives? The fact that a relatively small local company building wind turbines for New Zealand conditions has to seek capital from a large overseas corporate is essentially a condemnation of the financial system (read 'capitalist' if you've ever heard of that shunned, discredited leftie Karl Marx). It strongly suggests to me that it is time to seriously look at alternative ways of organising and financing production. Immersed in the New Zealand, dare I say it, right wing, economic beliefs (note the religious word), it seems almost impossible for anyone to realise that there are alternative approaches out there. Given the state of world banking and the opinions espoused, amongst many others, by a recent visitor to Waitati, Nicole Foss, one has to seriously question whether an injection of capital from any source is likely to be a long-term solution. Yet another reason to urgently explore other means of facilitating production. Something perhaps that BRCT could usefully put its energies into?


Let's not deceive ourselves, for all its local, community-focused, renewable, sustainable attributes, Windflow's turbine manufacture is still a big, high tech undertaking. A $7 million loss is big money and the need to raise a quick $2 million is a big ask.. It would take someone on the New Zealand median wage of $27,500 per year – and remember half of New Zealanders earn less than that – over 36 years to earn just $1 million. One has to wonder if technologies that require such large sums of money can be considered green and sustainable. Serious attention to the efficient use and conservation of energy, and dispersed, small-scale power production at site of use, for all the compromises involved, may well be a better option worth exploring.


At the risk of being dismissed as an away-with-the-fairies, aged hippie (a very different category to Jeanette's Saul Alinsky but the same era), I can think of another saying from the sixties, 'Small is beautiful', and on a darker note suggest you listen to Bob Dylan's Masters of War. If you've gone off Bob after his Christmas offering, Pearl Jam do a pretty good version.


Stop press:  In July, after Palmerston North City Council received over 1000 complaints about noise, the Environment Court found 'Te Rere Hau wind farm has been operating in such a way that the noise effects at local, residential locations are considerably greater than most predicted in the application'. Te Rere Hau operates Windflow 500 turbines. The turbines may not be the problem and hopefully we will get to hear about and discuss this in an open, informed and democratic manner.

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