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NZ Lifestyle Block - - THE GOOD LIFE -

im­by­ism; there’s a lot of it about. We all do it, yet we all hap­pily ac­cept goods and ser­vices as long as their down­sides hap­pen some­where else. For in­stance, we all drive around lug­ging a lead-acid bat­tery with us, yet how many of us would vol­un­teer to live near a bat­tery re­cy­cling plant? I wouldn’t, yet I’d be aghast to learn that they weren’t be­ing re­cy­cled. We’re a funny old lot.

Some years ago, we went through a Nimby episode our­selves. We were liv­ing on a nar­row, foot­path-less, dead-end road in a small vil­lage 20km north of Dunedin. Jog­gle down our front steps, across the road and we were on the river bank you see pic­tured at left. It was Wind in the Wil­lows stuff, with Ratty and Mole just around the next bend for sure.

It was also heaven: long sum­mer evenings, kids play­ing up­stream and down, sausages cook­ing (a steel plate and two con­crete blocks, no fancy bar­beque re­quired), sun­sets, and just the sound of the river bur­bling.

Two hun­dred me­tres along the road you en­tered the walk to New Zealand’s tallest tree, a Eu­ca­lyp­tus reg­nans. It was un­re­mark­able in it­self but a great wee walk, bor­dered ei­ther side by plant­ings put in by the lo­cal school chil­dren. This was par­adise to us, at the time.

Then came a pro­posal for what would be­come the Orokonui Eco­sanc­tu­ary, the con­cept of which we heartily ap­proved. Ini­tial thoughts were that the site would be ac­cessed along our road, tour buses and all. Help! Kids – 12 of them in our short stretch of road – and tourist traf­fic and no foot­paths! And in­sult of in­sults, ‘our’ walk to the tallest tree would be fenced off.

As it turned out, we lost the tree walk, but the pub­lic eco­sanc­tu­ary ac­cess and all the traf­fic went else­where. We shifted to a new block par­tially be­cause of that ex­pe­ri­ence. Later, the vil­lage put in a river-side walk­way, tran­sect­ing that

‘some­where else’.

Our lat­est chal­lenge is a wind farm pro­posal and it’s in our back­yard. We won’t see the tow­ers – only just – from our block and I don’t know yet if we’ll hear them, but it has forced us to do some se­ri­ous think­ing. It is an un­usual pro­posal in that it is be­ing put for­ward by the lo­cal Blue­skin Re­silient Com­mu­ni­ties Trust us­ing a ve­hi­cle called Blue­skin Energy Ltd.

Im­me­di­ately, the ques­tion needs to be asked, is this about mak­ing money, or about go­ing re­new­able, or about be­ing re­silient as a com­mu­nity?

If it’s about mak­ing money for the share­hold­ers – even if they’re lo­cals – then surely it should be placed on the windi­est site in NZ? In­vest­ment-wise, is there a bet­ter op­tion?

Back when the idea was first floated, wind was more ‘eco­nomic’ than so­lar, but a lot has changed since 2006. So­lar can be bought in smaller chunks, is quiet and doesn’t re­quire main­te­nance. No­body ob­jects to neigh­bours with pan­els on their roofs as it just de­notes an in­tel­li­gent neigh­bour­hood!

If it’s about lo­cal re­silience, can the tur­bines sup­port the com­mu­nity if

So­lar pan­els do a good job and are far less con­tro­ver­sial. re­flect­ing that a lot of peo­ple seemed to ad­dress only one thing at a time, as­sum­ing ap­par­ently that all other things will stay the same. Take the im­pact on tourism for ex­am­ple; if we’re go­ing to wean our­selves off fos­sil fu­els, who ex­actly is go­ing to be vis­it­ing, and how? Not many peo­ple, un­less by bi­cy­cle/foot so tourism is elim­i­nated as an ar­gu­ment.

We are rapidly ap­proach­ing sev­eral global bot­tle­necks, of which Cli­mate Change is but one. Draw-down of nat­u­ral cap­i­tal, over­pop­u­la­tion and un­der-ad­dress­ing of pol­lu­tion are all parts of the com­pound­ing prob­lem.

We need to put so­ci­ety – lo­cally, na­tion­ally and glob­ally – on a sus­tain­able foot­ing, and we are se­ri­ously late in do­ing so. Lo­cally and na­tion­ally we are fun­da­men­tally ham­strung in that we have to op­er­ate un­der the Brundt­land def­i­ni­tion of sus­tain­abil­ity, the key to our RMA. Un­for­tu­nately, what­ever else it is, the Brundt­land def­i­ni­tion is not a def­i­ni­tion of sus­tain­abil­ity. We may end up chal­leng­ing it be­fore this process fin­ishes.

The use of fos­sil energy is not sus­tain­able – it’s a one-off draw-down. Cur­rently, fos­sil energy is es­sen­tial to hu­man life at all lev­els, a par­a­digm with only one pos­si­ble end re­sult – col­lapse. That is not up for de­bate, only the path­way and time­frame.

That be­ing a clearly stupid goal, we must change to re­new­able energy us­ing the re­main­ing fos­sil energy. Given that we are al­ready us­ing it full noise, and that we have al­ready dug up and burnt the best, the move to re­new­ables can­not be fast enough.

Nim­by­ism – while un­der­stand­able – can­not pos­si­bly carry the same weight in terms of so­cial ur­gency. Many of the ob­jec­tors are in­dulging in lan­duse prac­tices which are – in a word – un­sus­tain­able (see Para 2).

So we are left with one ques­tion: is this pro­posal the best use of the time and re­sources re­main­ing? This ques­tion is ob­scured by our so­ci­etal con­ver­sa­tion be­ing al­most to­tally about ‘money’ which is ir­rel­e­vant to a large de­gree. In a truly sus­tain­able so­ci­ety/econ­omy/ ecol­ogy, you can­not ‘make a re­turn’ on ‘in­vest­ment’; the re­turn would ex­pect to be spent, which rep­re­sents ‘growth’. Growth and sus­tain­abil­ity are in­com­pat­i­ble.

So we sim­ply ask, is this the best thing – or one of the best things – that can be done at this time?

It cer­tainly beats pro­duc­ing meat from Ab­bots­ford clay ter­rain us­ing fos­sil fu­els.

Given that I live close-by, I could claim to be wor­ried by the noise pos­si­bil­ity; this would be some­what hyp­o­crit­i­cal given the in­ces­sant high­way noise we all cur­rently ac­cept.

Aes­thet­ics? We all ac­cept the Mt Cargill tower. Un­bolt these things and the ter­rain is un­al­tered – the same can­not be said of most other land-use prac­tices.

A longer-term ques­tion is whether this pro­posal can be sev­ered from the ‘grid’ in the face of so­ci­etal/fis­cal break­down. If it can­not – and lo­cal stor­age would seem to be a per­ti­nent fac­tor – then is there a bet­ter way of build­ing lo­cal energy re­silience?

But ba­si­cally I look to the ap­pli­cant to con­vince me that the pro­posal is bet­ter here than at a windier site, and that it is bet­ter, more sus­tain­able, more re­silient, than the al­ter­na­tives (lo­cal hy­dro, so­lar PV, other). If that is done, it has my sup­port.

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