Hanpden Debate – my full spiel

We went to the Hampden Debate last night. A great institution – long may it continue. I was part of the Affirmative team, sandwiched between two Professors (Economics and Engineering) both of whom, of course, public-speak more fluidly than Muggins.

My prepared spiel was far too long – but I absolutely enjoyed the question-time afterward. Pete Hodgson was bloody good – and had clearly done his homework on me!

At the end of the day, though, the real link-up between energy, work, wealth, growth and resources, was too long a chain to examine. It takes at least an article (1000-2000 words) or an hour lecture/talk.

The audience would have taken it at speed, though – a bit like the audience at the Richard Heinberg lecture at Otago Uni Physics last year. Tellingly, there won’t be anything in the paper (you can count on it) just as there wasn’t from the Heinberg. Nor were any paper staff there getting ‘learned’.

Interestingly (predictably?) National – in the person of Jaqui Deans – pulled out of being the Negative team. I suspect she would have had trouble – not because of the audience bias (they’re too nice a bunch of folk for that) but because of lack of intellect. It was probably for the best – I’d have not attempted humour with them – would have gone for the jugular. Labour stepped in, and it made the evening better for the defusing.

They’re still a long way from realising the immediacy of the issue, but good on ’em for fronting.

Here’s my full spiel (boy, 6 minutes is short!):

Hampden

First, could I please have a show of hands?

Thank you. There was an email from one of the negative team did the rounds a couple of days ago. Asking if a show of hands from the audience was allowed. Political lesson one – never let the opposition know your strategy in advance.

Actually, that may give you lot some hope – that looked like an overwhelming majority to me – and they didn’t have a clue what they were voting for – just like a general election, really.

Anyway, there’s something I have to get off my chest – anyone ecclesiastically savvy – know what this garment is? That’s right, a surplice.

Jennie knocked it up for me out of an old bedsheet – I’ll say that slower – Jennie knocked it up for me out of an old bed-sheet. Being recycled, it was cheap – call it ‘budget’. That makes it a (listens) budget surplice.

Here, I think you might be in need of a budget surplice. On the back, you’ll see it reads “Labour ye less, that ye might be more sustainable”.

I guess we’d better get to the topic in hand – something about growth being no good, and being weaned from old fossily things.

Seemed to me, a good place to start, would be an old fossilly thing called Silvio Berlusconi, and a teeny, weany thing called – hands up if you know her name?

Ok – so everyone knows what he’s in trouble for? – show of hands please?

See – it’ll be so ‘yesterday’ by the time you get to use it. Ruby it is.

Maybe with this type of audience,I’d be better with a more tabloid style?

I’m going to use Mr Berlusconi, as an example of the futility – thats fUtility – of growth.

Picture, if you will, a large pile of something being dropped in Mr Berlusconi’s driveway. ………. the mind boggles, doesn’t it? Imagine him coming home for a few nights in a row. I know it’s implausible, but just indulge me, OK? (I”ll bet he’s used that line himself).

Now, exponential growth is expressed in terms of ‘doubling time – how long it takes to double whatever is doing the growing. Money, resource use, doesn’t matter. 3% growth – remember the old Post Office man coming round the schools raving on about 3% growth, an how it’d make you a millionaire starting with thruppence? 3% growth per year, doubles in 24 years. Then that doubles in the next 24. And so on. 10% growth – and how we’re told to envy China – right? Or Left!. 10% growth doubles in a mere 7 years. 7 years!

Lets get back to the Berlusconi driveway, with that big pile of – something = in the middle of it. On the first night, he comes home, and shovels one shovel-ful away. Then he makes a phone-call, no: ……… then on the second night, he shovels away two shovelfuls. Then 4, then 8,16.32,64….

I don’t have to know the size of his pile (although Ruby might be able to enlighten us) to be able to tell you what happens on the last 3 nights.

On the last night, he shovelled his way from a half-pile left, to all done. The night before that, he went from ¼ to ½. Three nights back, he went from 18/ to ¼.

Three doublings, and you go from 1/8 to all-gone. Of anything. Money, arable land, any finite resource. That’s the important point in this debate – the fact that doubling-times apply to both economic growth, and to the depletion of the fossil fuel resources which drive it.

Berlusconis’ pile will get used up at exponential speed, but it may not be by dint of his shovelling. I suspect the real diggers will be the lawyers, assorted apprentices to Aphrodite, and the odd ex-wife.

3 doublings, from 1/8, to all-gone. Nobody sees it coming. Remember it. Beware the exponential function.

Oil. The doyen of fossil fuels. The one that packs the most punch. The most portable, all-round useful, indispensable, of all our energy sources.

We are officially half-way through the pile of oil. The official bean-counter is the International Energy Association, it advises our Government and most others, and they’ve gone from denying the existence of Peak Oil – the half-way point – to suddenly acknowledging that it, in fact, happened back in 2006!

They’re not the only ones late to the party – this wee exchange is from Hansard, in 2004

Jeanette Fitzsimmons; “What does the Minister understand by the term ‘Peak Oil’, and when does he expect it to occurr?”

The Honourable Dr Michael Cullen: “ I have to confess that, for once, the Menber has floored me. I do not understand what is meant by the term Peak Oil”.

Two years before it happened, thirty-two after it was forecast – and the brightest brain of the bunch is floored? Does not understand?

So help me, they DO say you get the government you deserve….

Oil, then, is into the last doubling of all, then – going from ½, to ‘all gone’ as we speak. There’s a funny wee thing with piles of stuff though, the rate at which you can shift, shovel it, pump it – is greatest at the half-way point. From there on, your rate of extraction slows down. And – because we’re human, we tend to dig into the juciest, biggest parts of the pile first – the last bit includes scraping up the bits and pieces – the dregs. An in a way, the last half isn’t even a doubling – it’s more like an equalling of the first half, but getting less every day while you’re about it.

In terms of economic growth, there’s another teensy-weensy Italian-sounding problem – (not Berlusconi’s) – it’s called Fiat Money.

Almost all of the money loaned into existence, started as a figment of some bankers imagination. BANKERS.

They loan it out, and charge a profit on it. Somebody borrows it, pays a builder to build them a house, and HE charges a profit on it. The banker and the builder, then want to spend this ‘money’. They’re not spending it yesterday – they’re intending spending it tomorrow. This is an expectation that the future will be able to pay – and to pay at an exponentially-increasing rate. In that paradigm – can you remember the old song ‘ Buddy can you spare a Paradigm’ ? – in that paradigm, sooner or later your economic growth runs smack-dab into the future’s inability to pay.

Given that we learned in 3rd Form science, that work requires energy, we can safely assume that if oil is our major source of energy (and it is) then that half-way-through-the-pile of oil point, had to signal the peak of economic growth. The peak of the ability to do work, in other words.

So Economic Growth is a dead duck. An ex-parrot. It’s shuffled off it’s mortal overdraft. Invalidated it’s visa. Cashed it’s chips. It’s ‘effing snuffed it.

She’s all over Rover. No point in kick-starting a dead motorbike. What we have to do, is husband (or in Berlusconi’s vernacular, befriend) the last half. We need it for essential social services – medicines, rescue-choppers, ambulances, water-pipes, a thousand and one things we haven’t yet figured out how to make without oil, or transport without oil.

Of course we will all be poorer – in money terms, but money isn’t the way we should value richness. We will do more for each other voluntarily – things might get cheaper in Italy – and we probably have to be a lot smarter than we are at present, which means we have to concentrate on educating for a sustainable world.

Being educated is always good – the Berlsconi’s of this world must always be able to distinguish between a lire, and a leer. And the Rubys of this world are always better off if they can tell a Bambina from a Bambino. Although they might be in trouble if they have horizontally-opposed twins.

Could I have a show of hands please?

(Turn) – all yours, but I think they’ve had enough. Any more, and there’ll be mass RSI claims with the ACC next term. Nick Smith’ll never let you away with it.

Thank you.

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