Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is energy important?

I have just realised that I may be under a misconception. Judging from the occasional flurry of debate on power projects, and my own personal biases, I thought that the energy subject was an important one. But, maybe I am wrong.

I try to review the press in New Zealand to understand what the energy issues might be. This sometimes proves to be very difficult. Most times nobody seems to be very interested in energy. My recollection is that energy used to be its own subject area in newspapers but is no longer. I know there used to be a Ministry of Energy (now there is a Minister but no Ministry).

It seems that the debate about energy has become the more sophisticated debate about the environment. I find that a little surprising. I don't find it surprising that the environment would be a special subject of interest but that it replaces energy as a subject. To my mind the debate about energy and the environment is fundamentally about physical reality. The rules around the provision are inherently physical. Both the influences and the reality of environmental impacts are also inherently physical. A balanced debate about energy and the environment must surely be a discussion about physical reality and well considered trade offs between both.

I have already made posts on this blog to the effect that some of the debate around energy is ignoring physical realitites (let alone economic ones). Interestingly enough, in my opinion, the environmental debate also seems to be highly abstracted from reality. To an extent this is because the major concern in global environmental terms is highly complex and sufficiently indirect to be, for all practical purposes, abstract. Much of the solution infrastructure, global greenhouse gas markets, is also highly complex and abstract.

All of this belies the underlying reality that the problem is essentially physical and that there is no perfect solution. Ultimately, as well, there are no global solutions and that it is at the local level that each carefully considered trade off needs to be made. And, it is at the local level that the global abstractions become the most acute. In my previous post I posited that most people want windpower but most people would also rather that it isn't built near them.

My primary concern with the abstraction of the arguments is that these global abstractions do ignore the reality. That each solution must be both physically practical with acceptable physical effects at the local level. Unless these physical realities are well understood at the local level then the globally abstracted debate is meaningless.

What forum, is my question, is the local reality discussed in a policy sense? The RMA discusses local isssues but this is always from a purely local perspective. National's proposed EPA may achieve this purpose but if New Zealand's EPA becomes anything like Australia's then it will not reconcile local reality to global abstraction. It will only make the gap more layered in inaccessible bureaucracy.