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by Norman Maclean, October 2004


Power resides, it is said, in the hands of the people. With fingers on a wall switch at 6 p.m. we may feel there is some truth in the old maxim. But that god-like ability to dispel darkness is so much taken for granted, we’ve long-since lost the awe a simple lightbulb must have inspired, early last century.

How much power we can get our hands on, looks like one of the burning issues of the near future. Until recent times, any suggestion of wind-generators, brought howls of derision from the hydro-electric lobby and all opponents of Alternative Anything.

It’s fascinating to note how quickly — almost stealthily — wind generation has become respectable. Wind farms are up and running — more are planned with only small protest. Whatever happened to the scornful dismals we used to hear, of wind-mills being too expensive, too inefficient, too unsightly? Could it be that those rotating vanes now dotting various hill-tops, are whirling almost as fast as the minds of politicians and power brokers who have realized how rapidly we are reaching crisis point?

Apart from the fact that we’re running out of available rivers to dam and that such massive assaults on the natural environment, provoke understandable public concern, there is another, deeper threat to our illuminated comfort zone. As greater numbers are now aware, Iraq’s oil reserves are the actual reason for America’s military presence in that benighted country. Anything to do with exporting the Republican brand of freedom and democracy, is a Disneyland illusion.

But Iraq alone will not suffice: Iran will almost certainly be found in need of armoured liberation before long, if America is to continue gobbling up 25% of the world’s resources and not have to worry about filling up at the gas station or powering myriad devices that in theory, provide a good life.

Our own soft lives are equally dependant on abundantly flowing oil. Perhaps it’s time to take heed of the concerns expressed this year at Berlin’s conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. Saudi Arabia’s promise to increase production to meet U.S. and world economic needs, was the hot topic. Demand, it was acknowledged, is never properly estimated; supply is merely aspiration, not actual delivery.

Ali Samsan Bakhitari, vice-president of the National Iranian Oil company said: “The crisis is very, very near. World War three has started. It has already affected every single citizen of the Middle East. Soon it will spin over to affect every single citizen of the world.”

A new logo in the form of a glowing flower, now represents one of this country’s major petroleum companies. It’s clever — an emotionally appealing emblem in an age rapidly making green its favourite colour. And our green hills, buffeted by howling westerlies from now until autumn and beyond, may well bloom in time with multiple shining heads, their rotating petals turning gales into energy.

Meanwhile, I continue to irritate in my place of employment, by flicking off light switches in rooms made bright enough by that abundant sunshine we’ve hardly begun to think of harnessing, in any coherent plan, for the future needs of the nation.

Well, hot air must suffice for now and less of it in the board rooms one might hope. If a wind farm near you means the difference between light and dark in the days ahead when the price of oil will certainly increase, any aesthetic considerations might have to be pushed aside. Living in New Zealand, we still boast we are as free as the breeze.

Norman Maclean


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