Dienstag, 14. Juli 2009

Inefficient but friendly, SUVs, Independence, Tauini Huira’atira

I think I’ve never actually introduced the reader to our project properly – so here are just a few words about renewables in general (skip this paragraph if you know a bit about renewable energy):

A network of different renewable energy sources is more reliable/less vulnerable to fluctuations (wind and solar radiation fluctuate (simply depend on the weather), biomass has an adjustable output, geothermal, hydro and tidal power generally have a constant or predictable output) and so requires less or optimally no storage capacities (whenever electricity is stored losses occur – you never get out as much as you put in). Obviously the composition used needs to be regionally harmonized/can vary widely depending on the meteorological, geological and geographic factors of the surroundings. At this point I’d like to point out, that in conventional thermal power plants (such as coal fired and nuclear power stations) only about one third of the primary energy (coal/uranium) is turned into electricity. The other two thirds get dumped into the atmosphere in the form of heat. Since these power plants are so large and centralized there are not many people living in close proximity who could use the “excess” heat in their homes. Having more decentralized solutions is therefore more efficient (heat and electricity are produced close to where they are used). A network/the grid helps even out natural fluctuations.

Raphael is writing his thesis (Diplomarbeit) on energy autonomy (100% renewable energy) in French Polynesia. We are here to find out about the potential of the different sources (wind, solar radiation, ocean currents, waves, rivers and possibly heat in the ground) that are exploitable locally and using these figures we aim to propose a concept for a composition of technology (turbines, solar panels, and so on…) that could be employed to achieve a mix consisting of 100% renewables. We hope Tahiti (or French Polynesia as a whole) will be able to use this proposition and set a positive example for the world – demonstrate that a whole country can be energy self-sufficient and sustainable using renewable energy.

Paea, Wednesday 8th of July 2009

On Wednesday we didn’t do anything exciting apart from reading (taking notes) and philosophizing (about bad habits that lead to environmental destruction, mankind and life in general – and how we often understand something (for example how many resources flow into meat “production”; how rainforest gets cut down to make space for gigantic (genetically modified) monocultures (leading to a drastic decrease in biodiversity) which are treated with lots of petrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides – polluting the groundwater and making the local people, fauna and flora and also the final consumer sick), livestock emitting methane (speeding up climate change even more)) – many people know all this but they still eat meat because “it tastes so good” and the myth that meat is necessary for a healthy balanced diet and that “we were meant to eat meat” is kept alive…) but still refuse to change our habits in order to become more sustainable – ouff what a sentence – sorry for the bad style – they didn’t teach us how to write properly in school (or how to think in a structured manner)! My point is: it is hard for me to understand why people don’t change their habits once they’ve understood injustice because they’re no less compassionate than me! There must be two different levels of understanding in order to act (differently)…

This is so black and white… but sometimes I think it’s quite simple and easy to understand: WE NEED TO CONSUME LESS – it’s the ugly truth and no one likes to hear it. Well, it’s actually not that ugly – I bet we’ll find that we’re happier once we’re less distracted by material things!

Oh, there was one exciting thing that happened today: We received an e-mail from Eric saying that they’re planning a media-coup…

Final thoughts of the day: Today was nice and quiet – time to tidy up (internally and externally), read, think and talk.

Oh, in the morning Fréd told us that almost all Marae (ancient Tahitian open-air places of worship) on the island were destroyed – the rocks were used by the missionaries to build churches. On Sunday when we passed by a catholic church it was so packed that people had to sit outside on the steps!

Paea, Pape’ete Thursday 9th of July 2009

In the morning after breakfast and our daily dose of internet we went to Pape’ete (we took “le truck” – sort of public transport) to meet Rudolf and Belinda (two old friends of Tai’na and Eric). It turned out that they lived in a really nice house by the ocean and had a room to let (usually for one person). When Belinda (clearly a business woman) started to make some calculations I thought she was going to say “but for you we’ll make an exception”, the price went up – obviously: there’s two of us and we would use up more water (not really - we both shower fast), gas (we always cook together) and electricity (well we usually just sit in the dark with our laptops)… I decided to be diplomatic and not to mention our “efficient behavior”. What she offered (Rudolf didn’t get involved) was a fair bit less than what we’re paying at Te Miti now. We said we’d consider her offer and call her in the evening.

After the “business part” Belinda went and did something else so we were left with Rudolf and his idealism.

Rudolf was recruited by the French army when he was 17 and went to France to fulfill his military duty. His initial aim was to become a general but later he realized that he was fighting for France – and really felt he should be “fighting” for his country. He decided to become a bodyguard and also spent a few years in Germany.

In 2004 he first met Oscar Temaru, the former and current president of French Polynesia. He knew he had to protect him – and his country so he went back to Tahiti to fight for the independence of his people (he sounded very patriotic saying this). One of his main issues was the racketeering of the French – he elaborated especially on them testing their nuclear weapons (193 in total) between 1966 until 1996. Apparently the Bikini islands successfully sued the Americans for the damage done by nuclear testing… Once Polynesia has freed itself from France, Rudolf wants his country to take the same route (take the case to the International Court of Justice) and demand compensation payments… When Rudolf talked to a nuclear weapons/consequences “specialist” (?) from France about the damage done – and took his harpoon caught a fish, cut it open with his knife and asked the specialist to have a piece – he refused. But the radiation levels are within the healthy limits… maybe the specialist just didn’t like fish!

Then Rudolf continued talking about his independence ideas. He remarked that a lot of people here (especially of the older generation) are afraid of becoming independent because (they think) France is financially supporting Polynesia (I’ve heard both sides of the argument now – need to have a look at some numbers). Rudolf stated that France collects about 70 billion CFP harbour taxes and 25 billion CFP airport taxes every year (that together would be almost 4000 € per year and inhabitant – I have no idea about economics but that number sounds very fishy!) and he claims France only pays 19 billion CFP for Polynesian civil servants… I can’t quite imagine this. When I asked why people aren’t rioting on the streets he replied that they simply didn’t know... According to him most Polynesians don’t like to read (the news – which are largely made by Frenchmen anyway) – I hope they’ll make an exception for the “Tahiti Projekt”…Rudolf was very keen on getting a copy (he seems to like reading). He mentioned that his cousin is a well-to-do man who would potentially be interested in lending financial support to spread the book (and with it the “virus”) across French Polynesia :)

We also chatted with Rudolf about education and all agreed that simply importing technology (like solar panels, wind and water turbines,…) wasn’t enough – there also needs to be a transfer of know-how and once French Polynesia has achieved energy autonomy they could export the knowledge which they’ve attained in the transition process to the rest of the world!

Speaking about education and the French reminds me of something else Rudolf told us: from 1904 until 1983 it was forbidden to speak the Tahitian language in school! Rudolf had always refused to accept this and was beaten by his teachers (for standing up for his origin). Apparently Temaru made sure to incorporate Tahitian into the new curriculum as a compulsory subject a few years ago.

I wonder why there are/were so many obsessive control freaks (in Europe) – how can anyone suppress a culture like that?

When I looked out of the window on the ocean side I noticed the ugly oil storage facilities in the distance (by the harbor). “If a plane crashed Pape’ete would go up in flames!” Rudolf (who seems to be drawn to exaggerations sometimes – just like me) also remarked that Temaru had already made plans to remove this “blott on the landscape”** and install facilities to harness ocean energy – something like OTEC (using the temperature difference from depth and warm surface water of the pacific to generate electricity). Apparently the location was already tested for feasibility but the project died due to “flip flop” politics. It is quite common here for politicians (from the two big parties) to switch over (according to Rudolf mostly due to nepotism “If you switch over to our party, I’ll make sure your daughter gets that well paid job she always wanted”,…), which disrupts the balance – so suddenly the formerly weaker party is in power. This unstable political situation holds back investors for renewable energy applications (among other things).

After spending a few hours with Rudolf, we went to see Antonina to find out how long her visitors are staying – she didn’t know yet… We also met Manuel (the former boss of Tahiti Tourisme in Germany) and he offered us an apartment in his house (“only 12 minutes from downtown Pape’ete”) for a very generous price.

Two offers in one day with the prospect of moving in tomorrow! We took the extremely slow bus back to Paea (traffic jam) and I confessed to Christelle that we’d be leaving the next day – she wasn’t too happy but didn’t make us pay extra.

I cooked some mashed local Yam (?) which we had with local tomatoes then we packed up our many things (well… I packed up my many and Raphael his few things – I should learn to live with less!) Raphael called Belinda to tell her that Manuel had made us a more interesting offer (hoping that she’d go down with the price a bit – which she didn’t). We were completely exhausted (probably also due to our sudden decision to move) and went to bed – last night in that tiny dorm with loud dogs and roosters that crow and bark all. I really must say I’ll miss the breakfast (not the insubstantial baguettes and sticky sweetness – I miss my porridge) but the people and the good conversations around the breakfast table (and Fréd’s good stories).

Final thought of the day: We bought a pig in a poke… and maybe I shouldn’t get too involved with the local politics – we are here for the more technical aspect (of energy autonomy… self-sufficiency – that sounds less political)

**also the title of a book by Tom Sharpe which I can recommend (if you like black humour :)

Paea, Pape’ete, Aute II, Friday 10th of July 2009

We got up early in the morning, quickly grabbed some breakfast and put our thumbs up by the main road. It only took two minutes until a 62-year old retired golf instructor of Asian origin (who surely didn’t look her age) picked us up. She said a lot of people here spend all their money (or in a lot of cases more than they have) on big cars and then live in shabby little huts. She preferred to drive a small vehicle and live in a nice house (or two as we later learnt). She also commented on drugs, violence and alcoholism connected to the Polynesians (as we drove past a few men drinking Hinano – note: it was about 8:15 in the morning).

We went into a little bookshop since we still had time before our meeting. We found “Energies Renouvelables” but thought it was quite pricey – Nuihau actually wanted to swing by and give us a free copy yesterday…

At 9:28 we had finally found the ministry of the environment and sat down to wait for the minister. He turned out to be a very friendly and approachable lad. He shook Raphael’s hand and gave me two bisous (hint of kisses on both cheeks). His press relations officer took loads of photos (for publications by the ministry) and Paula Meyer (responsible for the biodiversity division of the Department for the Environment – I’m not sure whether she has subordinates or her division consists of only one person only) sat down with us. We gave “Georges” (Handerson – the minister – here everyone is called by their first name and “on se tutoit ici” (sp.?)) a picture of Eric Bihl, Volker Freystedt, Dirk C. Fleck (the famous authors) and himself which was taken about three years ago. At first he couldn’t quite recall the event but when we handed him a copy of the book and told him about the content a bit (Tahiti in the year 2021) he remembered and smiled. He promised he’d read the book right away when he got home from work and eagerly embraced the idea of starting a media campaign and spreading the book (and with it the idea) across French Polynesia!

To loosen up the conversation we told the two that Raphael had desperately tried to find “Terrawax” (biodegradable wax for surfboards) but could only find “Sexwax” (they seem to have a monopoly position here). The two agreed that there is still a lot of work to be done to encourage retailers to stock more eco-friendly products (wonder if we encouraged another point on their To Do list ;).

Paula told us that a network consisting of four commissions (“climate, ecosystems and society”, “attenuation of climate change”, “green house gases” and “Adapting to climate change” – not too sure I understand the logic of splitting up the commissions like this – yet ;) was formed in March. They are supposed to collect propositions of projects which will be brought forward and evaluated in September. When Raphael asked how often they met and if it wasn’t a commission of empty words (again – seems like I’m not the only member of our team who could do with a bit more diplomacy) she got slightly offensive and responded that they’re working “assez efficace” – efficiently enough...

When the conversation drifted towards biomass (now that sounds exciting!) the minister told us that it takes 4 kg of coprah to produce 1 litre of coprah oil. 1 kg of (subsidized) coprah costs 120 CFP – so the material cost for one litre would already add up to 480 CFP (wow, now the reader knows I can calculate ;) – that is not counting the cost for production yet. Then the two discussed how the price for petrol (currently 120 CFP) at the stations (Total, Shell, Mobil) is made up. Every now and again (regular periods – every 3 months, I think) a government body meets to fix the price of petrol and it then costs the same at all stations. Taxes account for about 60% of the price. I must admit I'm not that interested in the current economic situation (although I should be - life is all about money and the "free" market) but would like to know how much potential there is for coprah (we'll have to find someone who can give us some numbers - hope Pierre Blanchard gets back to us soon)...

After about an hour the minister suddenly disappeared. Paula later told us that he went to meet a few rioting fishermen. Tetiaroa, the atoll that used to belong to Marlon Brando (the protagonist of the film “The Mutiny on the Bounty” which is set in Tahiti – can really recommend it) is now a place of debate. Apparently the owner of the new eco-hotel doesn’t want the fishermen in “his” lagoon (for ecological reasons… or maybe because he needs the fish to feed his guests). The atoll is private but the lagoon in front of it is public.

So we were left with Paula, who had really “thawed up” by now (side note: she’s clearly not the type of person who’s into frozen ready meals). She told us that people here “needed” their 4x4’s and daily dose of TV… and, that there are only 3 rangers in charge of 118 islands (/atolls? – making it nearly impossible to enforce laws implemented for environmental protection – of the reefs for example) and the 1% of the tax that used to be dedicated to “protéger la nature” has now been diverted from it’s intended use and is now being employed as general Polynesian budget.
At this point Raphael noted that I should explain this seemingly incoherent paragraph to the reader: My point is that people don't care about the environment enough.

A few years ago she wanted to encourage her children’s school to install photovoltaic panels on the rooftops but it turned out not to be economically feasible since the price for which EDT would have bought it back was a lot lower than the price to the ultimate consumer.

Another issue that concerned her was the construction of dams for hydropower plants. Being in charge of the biodiversity division she proposed more photovoltaic panels but since this doesn’t need a big workforce locally, her proposition was shot down. The argument of employment seems to be superior to any others…

Towards the end of the conversation Raphael pointed out that “development aid” is useless when only the technology but not the know-how is shared – she agreed but wasn’t too confident that Tahiti could one day become an exporter of knowledge.

When we walked into her office I had to smile when I saw the organic fair-trade tea on her desk – we’re not the only tree huggers on the island after all. She gave us a few documents and promised to have a look at our questionnaire (I know that last time I wrote that we’d finally finalized the bloody thing but Raphael had another change of heart – so I’m really hoping to have it ready on Monday).

After this motivating meeting we went over to the tourist office to tell Manuel that we would like to move into his apartment – TODAY! He was busy and couldn’t receive us for the time being, so we went to the bank (Banque de Polynésie) to exchange some money (which took about half an hour – Polynesians are so extremely inefficient… but very friendly (that’s probably better than grim efficiency – especially when you a born into a remarkably patient society)) and then took the extremely slow bus home (when we asked the bus driver in how many minutes he was leaving he showed us four fingers – we assumed that he meant four minutes but what he probably meant was forty – minutes or people on the bus…). We’ll be smarter next time!

Back in Paea we had some leftovers out of the fridge, said goodbye to everyone (Christelle wished us good luck with our project), grabbed our things (yes, we managed to take it all in one trip) and not even 13 minutes later a nice woman (with a big pickup-truck to fit our two big backpacks, the suitcase, surfboard and bike) picked us up and offered to give us a ride to the Tourist Information (where Manuel works). She was already convinced of renewables (like everyone we’ve talked to so far) and said for Polynesians the earth (fenua) was the most important thing (no comment). We waited for about an hour until Manuel finished work (in the meantime I took a lot of pictures of the harbor and surrounding area and talked to one of the locals who was sitting by his stall handcrafting a necklace out of bast fibres, sea shells and plant seeds, while Raphael was watching our things).

We very carefully loaded our things into Manuel’s gigantic white Audi Quattro – making sure not so leave the tiniest mark on the leather seats (I felt very awkward sitting inside in my dirty bare feet and wearing my Go Green shirt)…

When Manuel and I arrived (Raphael was cycling to an agreed meeting point in the meantime) I unloaded the car (it’s a good thing I’m so strong – the theoretical gentleman probably has back problems ;) and unpacked a few things while Manuel drove back down the really steep hill to pick up Raphael. About half an hour later Raphael (drenched in sweat) and Manuel (well air-conditioned) arrived - bicycles don’t seem to fit in Audi Quattros that have leather seats (wow – I’m learning to become more diplomatic)…

Raphael and I had a look at the large, modestly furnished but undecorated apartment (which is situated on the ground floor of Manuel’s house) and discovered that we didn’t have a pot. Manuel had to go/drive shopping anyway so we tagged along. On the way (in the huge air-conditioned car I felt completely out of place – and a bit lost as I looked out the window at the other prestige-vehicles – I’m so glad I’m not here on my own and I can always talk to Raphael when I’m overwhelmed by “concrete cancer” and other “diseases” linked to civilization).

Our gas bottle was empty so Manuel allowed us to come upstairs and cook in his kitchen – it was completely unlike what I’d expected – by no means huge or posh (just remembered the peculiar origin of this word – it stands for: portside out, starboard side home (it used to be more expensive to book a cabin on the shaded, cooler side of the ship (going from England to India)).

Why does society teach us that some animals are disgusting? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to look at a cockroach*** and say that I truly appreciate its species… I should have more respect for these amazing creatures (especially now that we’ve got a few of them as flat mates – I must admit I was slightly… surprised when I lifted up my backpack and encountered a couple of them).

I always thought after a few days my blog entries would get shorter but I’m afraid that’s not the case – there’s always so much to report!

Final thoughts of the day: First impressions aren’t always right!

***they can survive nuclear fallout – I couldn’t!

Aute II, Pape’ete Saturday 11th of July 2009

This morning I was woken up by the sun which fell through the dining room window into “my” open door (we now sleep in separate rooms – this apartment is so spacious… maybe I couldn’t sleep because I missed the company). We had breakfast (wholegrain cereal and milk which Manuel had given us last night – although we went shopping – he seems like a quite generous person :) outside on the wooden porch looking down on a very steep garden/dirt slope.

I climbed on a mango- and an uru-tree before we went downtown with Manuel (nature always manages to cure concrete cancer :). In Pape’ete we made our way to the market where I sat down with the intention to finish writing this while Raphael charged up our phone credit (French Polynesia is an expensive place to live – unless you dwell in the bushes and live off uru, coconuts and meia, I guess). I tried to find an unprotected network (for internet access) but didn’t succeed. We’ll have to buy some credit for one of the public hotspots here – unfortunately quite a few shops here already close at 11:00 o’clock on Saturday. On the other hand people can properly enjoy their weekend when they don’t have to work.

One of the locals at the market place suggested we go to McDonald’s – and access the “free” hotspot there. We couldn’t quite believe it but gave it a try and sat down outside at one of the tables. I observed the pigeons picking at the extremely healthy leftovers on the ground and couldn’t help asking myself how much shorter the life expectancy of pidgins (and locals) is who come to feed at my favourite corporation (selling fast food) regularly…

At noon we met Nuihau in the Parc Bougainville just across the road. He gave us a copy of his book with a dedication in it (guess it’ll be shared custody between Raphael and me ;). Apparently the government recently published a 20-page document with a few random spreadsheets declaring the goal of energy autonomy by 2030. Nuihau commented on its lack of depth so the absolute media guru of French Polynesia (head of most local newspapers, magazines,…) asked him to write a counterstatement. He promised to send us the document and contact Terii Vallaux (the RE-consultant), his Publisher “Au Vent des Iles” and the media guru (maybe he’s interested in a story about two students who have a big plan… or idea (we’re not as organized as we could be!) I’m really not a media person but if it serves to spread the “Tahiti Virus” I’ll make an exception). Nuihau said we should also go surfing together, when he comes back from Australia and if we ever have problems or need someone to help us move we shouldn’t hesitate to call him. Nuihau is such a nice fellow :)

Since the shop to which Manuel had taken us last night was actually already closed (and quite pricey) we were under a bit of pressure so we had to go shopping again today. Fortunately I’d left my shoes at home and the asphalt was… nice and warm (we felt like cooked vegetables when we entered the fridge (a gigantic “Carrefour” supermarket)). Usually I try to avoid shopping at big supermarket chains – but we were quite hungry and needed subsidized**** baguette (and the smaller shops tend to close early on Saturdays). We walked past one of the tills in order to enter the store (in a very logical and most straight-forward way) – a security person asked us to go back the way we came in and enter the store “properly” (strictly educating customers – what a great place to shop)… finally “properly” inside the store I was attacked with a pen by another member of the security personnel who marked our bottles as paid (and I thought we’d broken another rule)… this was the first time we encountered such strict and orderly Polynesians!

After the disappointment of not finding eco-friendly dish-detergent we luckily spotted toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper. We also needed something for breakfast… unfortunately we haven’t found a good local breakfast yet – since there’s no grain (meaning no local bread or cereals). So we went with latter imported option. Fortunately we found “Vai Ora” – fresh milk which is produced locally (not taking into account that I usually go for the vegan option when I’m in my normal tree hugger habitat). The only downside: It is about three times as expensive as the subsidized milk!
Why the hell aren’t they subsidizing the fresh local milk instead of the imported sh…?!! (excuse my French – I probably don’t know enough about politics…)

When we were about to pay (I had already packed all our groceries into my backpack - on top of my wallet) Raphael handed the teller a coupon which she refused since he had received it at another Carrefour branch. The two got into a little argument so I quickly dumped out my backpack and gave her the money. This was also the first time we met an unfriendly and impatient Polynesian (must be Carrefour’s bad influence).

Outside Raphael and I had our first argument – I managed to overstrain his patience (didn’t know that was possible) – but luckily everything is fine now – we really depend on each other (and harmony).

Back at “home” – it took quite a while of walking in the heat and thumb-signaling before someone stopped and gave us a lift up the steep hill (living here without being motorized is nearly impossible since there is no public transport and cycling up the extremely steep hill (hot asphalt) could be considered an extreme sport) – we were totally exhausted and had a little break before reading (Raphael) and writing (me).

I am such an internet-junkie: I really wanted to check my e-mails (I’ve been offline for two days now!) so I searched for networks nearby and actually found a few, which were unfortunately all protected, so I set out in search of the proud owners (people in this area don’t seem to talk to their neighbours much – often the walls around the properties are so high that it’s pretty much impossible) – and actually found a friendly neighbor across from us/below us ( the garden/dirt hill is so steep that one can hardly walk down – it’s more of a slippery slope). I explained my situation (renewables, research, student,…) but she didn’t want to give me the password – I should come over in an hour and could work on her computer. A few minutes later (I was sitting on the porch with my laptop) the next door neighbor (same level) talked to someone on the phone (she was standing on her porch) and then shouted that the other neighbour’s internet was “broken” – very mysterious… No internet for me that day (starting to show signs of physical withdrawal).

In the evening Manuel brought us an electric rice cooker – Raphael had already replaced the gas bottle in the kitchen with the one in the bathroom (which usually caters for the warm water needs of the shower but the continuous-flow-heater is broken and we’re used to taking cold showers from Te Miti anyway… I hope I’ll have enough discipline for cold showers when I get back to Scotland. They use up less water (to prevent brain freeze) and make your immune system stronger). We discussed the efficiency of electric versus gas cookers and had dinner.

Raphael went to bed but I couldn’t sleep so I boiled a pot of yogi tea and sat down at the table. My sleep rhythm seems slightly disturbed (I spent most of last night writing and slept a bit in the afternoon) – I think my little brain cell works better at night.

I just saw a gecko running around on the kitchen wall and ceiling and thought how amazing it would be if I had feet with a micro/nano(?) structure like his (life as a protester would be so much easier if one could simply walk up the walls of coal fired power stations to drop banners)… Maybe I should have studied bionics instead of renewables… on the other hand my understanding of chemistry is quite poor and hey, I’m here now – possibly making a difference :)

****Certain products, like rice, bread and milk are subsidized by the government.

Final thoughts of the day:

We found some structure in the public transport system here! “Le truck” is painted in different colours, depending on where it goes!

I actually quite enjoy working late at night – everything is so peaceful and there are no distractions (at least no external ones).

I’m starting to miss hugs – apparently one needs 7 a day to stay healthy (I bet this number was obtained in a highly scientific study)!

I also wonder if I should apologize to the reader for being so judgmental (I hope the carnivores didn’t feel offended) and… wonder how you feel about me being such a radical and “polarized” (protesting, running around in my bare feet and wearing “Go Green” shirts) black & white-thinker… I am hoping I can encourage you, dear reader to become part of our movement –
shake off those doubts - a different world is possible!

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