Thursday, 19 November 2009

David in Parliament - Summary and my thoughts

Dear all

Disclaimer: please note that the ideas and solutions presented below are my own and may not represent those of Free Life On Earth.

After two days in Parliament and feeling very tired, I feel the need to write a summary of what transpired - in  summarised form as I have 20 pages of A5 format notes - and a huge number of handouts as well as mailings from various presenters - and lots of ideas about what can be done.  (I see that this summary is 3 pages long, so I have put especially important bits in bold.)

There were about 30 presentations in Total.  We have been told that they might be available on the government web site at some point.  I'll let you know.  There were about 100 people in the Old Assembly Chamber each day and about 20 of them were MP's besides the portfolio committee chairpersons.

You can see me in action on our Free Life On Earth BLOG.  Scroll down to FLOE Speaks Up in Parliament.

I came away feeling happy that these events took place inside parliament considering that FLOE has attended these types of conferences before.  For example the Energy Caucus Conference.  These conferences have happened outside parliament and there was a suggestion at the June Energy Caucus conference that we present in Parliament and this has now happened.

The main points in FLOE's presentation were:
  • we need to consider internalising the externalised costs, eg costs to the environment, water resources, air pollution, etc;
  • we need to think about decentralising centralised electricity production and allowing private citizens and business to make their own electricity and easily supply the grid;
  • we need to separate Eskom into a Generating Division and a separate Transmission and Distribution Division.  We called this division the National Grid Company.
Many of the chairpersons of the parliamentary portfolio committees were there, for example, Finance, Agriculture, Environment, Energy, etc.  One of the presenters said that it was the first time in three years of presenting to parliament that there was such a great cross-section of representatives from the different portfolio committees who each have a serious concern about Climate Change.

My first learning point from this conference was that whether climate change is happening or not, environmental degradation and destruction is happening at a faster and faster rate.  Many scientists believe that man is not responsible for climate change, but what is a fact is that the following IS happening:
  • forests are disappearing;
  • fisheries are dwindling;
  • agricultural land is disappearing;
  • although crop yields are up, quality in terms of minerals and vitamins in the crops are down;
  • crop production and cattle production especially by formerly disadvantaged communities is down in many places.  One presenter, who lives in a "location" next to Sasolburg said that cows are now routinely sold for R4500 each whereas before they were sold for R6000 each.  And this isn't because of the recession.  It's because the cows are thinner;
  • health risks, especially in terms of deficiencies and mental health problems, are increasing;
  • pollution is increasing, not just air pollution, but environmental pollution;
  • pollution of water is scary, especially pollution from open cast mining, for example coal mines.  60% of rain water is trapped underground and under normal conditions runs off into river systems and dams slowly.  Mines can be as close as 100 metres to river systems.  If the underground or above ground water gets into the mine on the way to the river, it causes Acid Mine Drainage as the water becomes acidic.  Not only this, but the water is contaminated in many other ways;
  • Our country's security is under threat as more and more people leave drought stricken parts of Africa and make their way to South Africa.  I'm not xenophobic.  But if we are to support these people, we need to protect our water resources.
Whats the point of having a coal mine operational for 20 years and then have water problems for 100's of years afterwards?  One presenter said that environmental cost to repair our water resources in the mining areas is R14 billion per annum for the next 100 years!!  Eskom pays R18 billion per annum for its coal.  Eskom's external costs of water and air pollution are R16.5 billion.  So Eskom are telling us that they need to triple our costs in the next three years just to pay for their new build.  After that they will need to double our costs to pay for their pollution.  Our electricity bills, if left up to Eskom, could go up 6 times in the next 5 to 10 years.  How can we afford that?  Why should we?

Now you might say that the external costs are ok, but the EC and other areas are putting bills through their parliaments which will help them decide where they buy their goods from and they might not buy from high polluters!  What happens then?

40 New Coal Mines by 2020?  A presenter showed that many of the new coal mines will be in the major water sources of the Orange River system which feeds millions of people downstream including in Gauteng?  What's more important?  Electricity or clean water?  What is truly more precious? Water or Electricity?  Especially if we can make electricity using wind, sun, ocean currents and tides, rivers, geothermal, etc?  How long can we survive without electricity?  How long can we survive without clean water?  And why are the farmers up in arms?

We have a Feed In Tariff implemented in March 2009, but no process to allow Power Producers to connect to the grid legally.  NERSA's document says that Standardised Direct Agreements and Connection Agreements will only be available in March 2010.  Presenters from Deloitte and Touche and Nedbank said they have clients with 100s of millions of Rands to invest in projects, but the government is dragging its feet and not allowing these developments to go ahead!  Why not?  Maybe Eskom doesn't want competition.  Maybe they are scared that there really are cheaper forms of electricity than coal and nuclear.  Maybe?

We heard about "state of the art clean coal" from one of the ministers.  Simply put, Eskom finds ways of trapping the green house gasses and other noxious by products of coal burning and therefore the coal burn is clean; ie the air is clean.  Even if 100% of the dirty stuff is trapped, where will the dirty stuff (sulphur and other waste products) be stored?  And what of the coal mines and the acid mine drainage?

One presenter said that Eskom should pay for the roll out of solar water heaters instead of paying for a power station.  I have done some calculations: 100 Billion Rand for a power station equates to 10 million solar water heaters at R10,000 each.  That's at least one solar water heater for every house in South Africa.  And after this there are hardly any running costs and no raw material costs.  And many many jobs will be created.  And there will be less need for coal mines and less acid mine drainage.  It takes 8 years to build a big R100 Billion power station.  Imagine if 5,000 solar water heaters were installed per day all over South Africa.  How many jobs would this make?  How many solar water manufacturers would pop up?

We are told that the power stations take 8,000 people each to build.  And 1,000 people to run a power station.  Consider that the equivalent is 5,000 solar water heaters manufactured and installed per day!!  For 8 years!  According to ITS Solar, a water heater saves the equivalent of 2,900 kwh per annum.  At 8 kwh per day and assuming the heater is on for 4 hours using 2 kw to run, we are looking at a power station replacement of 2 000 W * 10 million which is 20 GW.  So if we roll out 10 million solar water heaters we get 20 GW of energy for the same "price" as 5 GW of coal energy.   We are talking about vastly different "prices" here.  One for a sustainable clean reliable generator of heat.  The other for a dirty, unsustainable, continuously increasing in price, source of electricity to make heat.  We have the heater.  It's called the sun.  It's much more efficient to use it directly to create heat than to create electricity to create heat.  (If you are thinking about buying a solar water heater, please email me for a competitive quote.)

If my calculations are correct, we would need to spend R400 Billion to heat the same amount of water using electricity as R100 Billion will heat if we use the sun.  Which is cheaper, more reliable, and efficient?

So to get back to the hearings.

A presenter said that if the taxi fleet was retrofitted with catalytic converters, we would have an instant "forest" as the emissions using catalytic converters are hydrogen, oxygen and water.  I haven't checked what it will cost to convert my car, but I intend finding out.  And this creates jobs for the catalytic converter industry in South Africa, which unfortunately uses Platinum, but I think a good cost benefit (including external costs) could be done especially as one doesn't need more Platinum once the converter is fitted.

So what do we need to be concerned about?

1) Eskom is owned by the government of South Africa which is elected by the people of South Africa.  It is therefore owned by the people of South Africa.  The people of South Africa therefore have a say in how we get our Energy.  With more jobs or with more money to a few already incredible rich people?  We can't the people take responsibility for part of their lives and not leave everything to the government?  If the government does something, they need to raise taxes.  We pay!
2) One of the chairmen said that "South Africa has the most cohesive policy with regard to climate change in the world.  See the National Climate Change Report of 2004."  Well if that's the case, then why aren't we rolling out massive solar water heater and photovoltaic and wind projects as is happening in Germany, Spain, China, and other countries?  Where is the problem?
3) Whether Climate Change is happening or not, Environmental Degradation and Destruction IS happening.  What are we doing to prevent it?

Lastly I wish to concern myself with a question that kept popping up at the conference: "Who Pays?"

The answer is that whether we pay now or we pay later, we all pay.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone pays.  At the moment the environment is paying, but the environment is getting cross and the environment is getting sick.  And we are getting more stressed and we are getting sicker.  We are popping more short term fix pills and hoping that one day we will find a "pill" that will solve our environmental problems.

So what to do:

1) Keep canvassing;
2) Keep lobbying;
3) Understand what is happening;
4) Reduce your meat consumption by half.  18% of greenhouse gasses come from cattle.  13% from transport!
5) Don't buy any more plastic toys for your children for the next three years.  (There are lots of other types of toys, eg township children make their own toys; and there are things like Meccano which used to be made out of metal.)  Don't throw away any plastic products unless they are being recycled.  This will send a message to the manufacturers that we are fed up and sick and tired of supporting industries that aren't kind to the environment;
6) Remember that the customer is truly king.  What we buy or we don't buy depends on us.  The suppliers want us to buy with lots of advertising.

So how to truly change:

Change your mind set.  Consider a paradigm shift.  "Successful people are environmentally neutral or carbon negative" instead of "Successful people having bigger cars or bigger houses or holiday houses or golf clubs or whatever."  I have huge satisfaction in knowing that my spending behaviour change has contributed to the sustainability industry instead of the car industry.  One could say that my new car is on my roof, making electricity and saving coal on a daily basis.  Helping to really make the world a better place in my own small way.

Join the revolution today.  Are you concerned that if changing your habits will mean job losses?  If so, you are wrong.  More people will be employed.  Car manufacturers will become solar panel manufacturers.  Fewer machines.  More job satisfaction.  More people working from home.  More fed people.  More sane people.  More money in the local communities.  More happiness.

Lots of love and I look forward to your comments,

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