February 2, 2007

Letter from Jeanette Fitzsimons

Filed under: The environment, Uncategorized — Tony Bridge @ 3:50 pm


Kia ora tatou:

Some time ago I wrote to Jeanette Fitzsimons, leader of the New Zealand Green Party on the subject of the windfarm on the Lammermoors. Today I received a reply.  Here it is in full. I have to say that my position since then has changed, that I am seeing the whole issue in a new light( no pun intended) and that I think there are bigger issues at stake… More on that later.

Dear Tony

Thank you for the link. Your photographs of the Lammermoors are really stunning.
As proponents of empowering people the Green Party are pushing for micro-generation options and the solar hot water programme is a part of this approach.

I certainly agree with you, small environmentally friendly sources of power, using renewable energy sources, closer to places where energy is in demand is a more sustainable path and community ownership of local energy generation would be ideal.However, we are faced with living in a system where most people and business and government are not prepared to limit their demand for energy in the way you and I are. (My household lives on 2 kWh of power a day.) Energy use is growing by around 2% a year and renewables are steadily reducing as a percentage, despite all the wind we are building. Despite an energy efficiency strategy we have not succeeded in increasing our energy efficiency very much over the last 5 years.
As you know, I am a strong proponent of wind farms and renewable energy in general. Accelerating climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and we simply must reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. We must stop the burning of coal for electricity generation and provide more electricity to the national grid to enable electric transport options. While there are technologies now to reduce emissions from burning coal like sulphur oxides and sooty particulates, there is still no commercial technology to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions at all, and these are the ones that are changing the climate.
The first major wind farm in NZ, Meridian’s Te Apiti in the Tararuas is I believe a beautiful addition to the landscape. The turbines along the side of the hill look like ballet dancers, shining in the light and slowly turning. Yet the Lammermoors landscape is a different matter. I also feel sad at the thought of covering that landscape with turbines, but I feel more sad at the thought of millions of people losing their homes, mass extinctions of thousands of species, new pests and diseases in New Zealand, and all the other impacts of climate change, including the destruction of some incredibly beautiful places.
What to do? Are large scale wind farms the only option? No, there is quite a bit more hydro that could be built – like the Wairau river where our longest braided river is being drained – 69% of its median flow taken right out of the river bed into a canal for 40 km for hydro development, and destroying the habitat of several bird species. I can’t support that either.
The fundamental problem is that humanity has grown in its demands beyond the limits of the biosphere and every new demand has an environmental impact somewhere. Until people recognise that and are prepared to demand less, particularly of energy and transport fuel, the damage will continue. That is the real education challenge facing us. Every local group I have tried to help protect what is dear to them wants to do it at the expense of another area somewhere else.
My choice for the future would be greatly increased efficiency in using energy so demand stopped growing, and then the use of small scale community owned renewables to phase out fossil fuel. But until others share this vision, it will not happen. I have managed to get a major solar water heating programme going with government funding, but if every house in NZ had a solar water heater it would still be a small part of the total demand.
So, if the future has to be climate change or destroyed rivers and species or landscape, I will, reluctantly, not put landscape first. There are no unique ecological relationships or species in the area of Project Hayes. I have checked this out. But it seems incredible beauty is not enough to encourage NZers to turn off their heated towel rails. I wish we didn’t have to choose, because there is another way. But too few NZers want to take it.
Thanks you for documenting this amazing landscape and for your passion in wanting to protect it. Perhaps it will help educate people about the impact of their energy use. We tried to do the same thing when we campaigned against the destruction of the Waitaki river with Project Aqua, and thirty years ago, against nuclear power which was imminent in NZ. Only when people reject the concept of endless growth will we be able to value the more important things in life.
If you want to post any of this on your blog in my name you are welcome.
Yours sincerely
Jeanette Fitzsimons



  1. Tony:
    I can see why you have changed your position. (You hinted at that in your post on An Inconvenient Truth.)

    I understand why Jeanette Fitzsimons feels the way she does, and I find it very depressing because I fear she’s right. The trouble is, we’re told growth is good for the economy. It enables better healthcare. It raises our standard of living – and that then enables us to buy more possessions, including those which require electricity for their operation (as well as energy of some sort in their manufacture). The more we have, the more we seem to want, and through advertising we’re exhorted relentlessly to buy, buy, buy. When we’ve covered some of our most beautiful landscapes with windmills and our demand for electricity is still increasing, what then?

    Maybe tidal energy will be an option, but will that generate enough? Will the few years of respite allow time for changing people’s attitudes? Somehow I doubt it. Too much is stacked against reducing consumption. We could be happy with less, but for most of us conditioning makes us think the opposite. It’s not simple, either. There’s another dilemma. Reducing the consumption of goods on a large scale puts lots of people out of work. All the same, there must be heaps of electricity we could conserve if we all were just more careful about not using it unnecessarily. How do we get that message across? And do it without turning people off? It’s the switches we want turned off!

    As a society, we’re waking up to the seriousness of the situation too late. It’s reduced our options and something now has to be done in a hurry. I’m pro-windfarms, too, but of the smaller, community sort. However, it’s quicker and easier to get large ones up and running.

    These thoughts make me want to copy A. A. Milne’s dormouse who found himself in a chrysanthemum bed – curl up with my eyes shut and imagine something else. It’s a tempting thought, but wouldn’t achieve anything, so I won’t. Those of us who care just have to keep on trying to bring about an attitude change.



    Comment by Peregrina — February 2, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  2. > So, if the future has to be climate change or destroyed rivers and species or landscape, I will, reluctantly, not put landscape first.

    Also reluctantly, I think Jeanette sums it up very well here.

    It’s worth remembering, too, that wind farms are probably fairly reversible. A future generation can probably remove them and have the landscape return to more-or-less the current state (though roads may be a problem). I don’t think braided rivers recover like that and extinct birds are … extinct.

    The latest IPCC climate change report is due out tomorrow It sounds like it’s going to make horrible reading.


    Comment by Rebecca — February 2, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  3. Rebecca:
    Yes, the report’s out, and what’s been reported in the news is very very scary. It also says there’s a probability of more than 90% that the cause of global warming is human activity. With governments taking notice, perhaps now we will all be persuaded to reassess the way we live and make changes.

    I think you’re right in saying that possible future removal of the windmills could result in the landscape’s return to more or less its present state. Regeneration does seem to be a strong force where plant life is concerned.

    Maybe tiredness last night was making me too pessimistic. Thanks for a little bit of cheering-up.


    Comment by Peregrina — February 3, 2007 @ 6:48 am

  4. Hello, Tony (and everyone else):

    This morning I caught the latter part of a discussion on National Radio about changing the way we do things in order to reduce carbon emissions. The last speaker was from Landcare and made the point that many people each doing a little can make a noticeable difference. An encouraging thought! She gave examples of two simple things: changing over to eco-lightbulbs [in my experience, some are better than others], and changing the way we drive our cars so that we use less fuel.

    If you click on the Landcare link below you’ll find a series of further links for all sorts of things, including a carbon emissions calculator for households and many suggestions for being more planet-friendly.

    Let’s all do something, as well as encourage our friends to check out this website and make changes, too. We might yet be able to ensure that the windmills on the Lammermoors (and in other exceptionally beautiful landscapes) can be dismantled in a generation or so because they’re no longer needed. I must say I felt heartened to hear just how much is already being done and how concerned so many people are.

    Much more cheerfully,


    Comment by Peregrina — February 4, 2007 @ 7:54 pm

  5. Hi everyone

    As well as cutting down on the little things, I reckon offsetting emissions sounds like a very good thing to do. This is an NZ scheme through Landcare that pays landowners to let marginal land return to native bush:

    You can use their calculaters to figure out your carbon use for everyday life and holidays and then pay online. Easy!

    Cheers, Rebecca

    Comment by Rebecca — February 5, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  6. Hi everyone, good down to earth letter from Jeanette Fitzsimons. As the project photographer for the Meridian Wind farm being currently built in Mossburn – Southland, I have been having lots of discussions about the pros and cons of these windmills. My opinion is that the NZ energy system is purely dollar driven. After setting back the possibility of a good energy system 20 years by the Governments splitting up of the energy sector into competing companies ( I was in the energy sector at the time) and forcing the local powerboards to sell thier micro hydro systems to the big companies. Now its all about profits and paying the Goverment / shareholders its dividends. Wind farms are cost effective power generators. Reasonably cheap to put up and little maitainance. The best windfarm areas have been mapped out in NZ already and the companies are picking the best spots with least resistance to put them up. The most wind generation the country can produce is around 15% of the national load because the power generated is varying and tricky to manage.
    On the Goverment side they will not be getting the same tax / gst income from solar hot water and full energy efficency. There has to be a strong political will to reduce power use for it to happen, not just lip service.
    Call me cynical if you want, and you’d be mostly right.
    As for my stand on wind farms I think they can be placed in the landscape with some sensitivity and look OK, but they do wreck the natural harmony of the land. They are not the best answer but are the best of the current options available. The rest is up to us and our use of electricity.


    Comment by Graham — February 11, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  7. So The Green Party want to form a coalition with a party that shows it cares for the environment and poor people. Maybe a party that wants the support of the Green Party should kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and advocate that thing that was on the news a while back, which was the possibility of giving people $0.10 for returning empty cans and bottles that they’ve used.

    Comment by Briana — June 3, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

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