Last weekend I attended the Origin Festival, which billed itself as an electronic music, art and holistic lifestyle festival. I was invited to give a talk, my choice of topic being quite broad. It was put down in the programme as Web2, IT technology and applications for greener living, but would have been better titled Technology and Consciousness once I’d finished it. Unfortunately the talk never happened due to a bit of disorganisation, but I did get to attend some of the other workshops. The audiences were quite small, the concept of workshops at a trance party being quite new to South Africa, and with the parties having become more mainstream, perhaps the emphasis has drifted away from the aim of exploring consciousness to getting schmangled as fast as possible.
Nevertheless, the workshops were great, and both the presenters and audiences passionate and knowledgeable. There were also quite a people from outside South Africa, who could add interesting international perspectives.
Hidden dangers in food (GMO)
I came in near the end of the presentation to hear a highly passionate discussion about GMO’s by Charmaine Treherne of SAFeAGE. She was showing a video she’s probably seen hundreds of times, and was still tearing her out in frustration at the dirty tricks of the GMO companies. The focus though was on health, while I feel that the aspect of corporate control, lies and manipulation are more interesting, and more difficult to refute.
I was particularly keen to make this presentation. It’s a passion of mine, and the recent Eskom power cuts helped focus the mind again. Presented by Ray Nolan of Solien Energy Solutions, it covered the basics of using renewable energy for household use. He mentioned that solar water geysers require the least capital, and make economic sense for anyone with a house in South Africa, paying themselves off in about 2 years.
I’ve since got a quote for my house, coming to R14500 at most (there are cheaper, equally good alternatives). Since hot water accounts for around R200 a month (I think!), it will take 73 months, or 7 years to pay off. Of course, it’s an upfront charge, but at the same time, electricity costs are sure to increase by an above inflation rate during that period, so it still does make some sense. For anyone installing a new geyser or building a house, if makes absolute sense to install from day one. Here’s an opportunity for Eskom to subsidise solar water heaters. It’s a lot cheaper than building massive new power stations. Perhaps Eskom is looking at how much money they’ll earn in the long run, but government should really be stepping in here, as the power debacle is much more critical than Eskom’s profits.
The information about photovoltaics was interesting. Apparently the best panels will last up to 50 years, while some on the market today last only as little as 3 years. Apparently the German and Japanese ones are good quality, while the Chinese ones are not. A good quality one also makes economic sense, although it requires quite a capital outlay, and it will be quite a few years before it pays itself off, even assuming South Africa remains mired in the energy dark ages and doesn’t implement a system to allow one to sell excess capacity back to the grid (so you’ll be earning money in the day when there’s excess capacity), and that electricity prices remain as cheap as they are currently. I also heard that Vivian Alberts, the Johannesburg professor in the news about the solar breakthrough last year, found no local government or private support, and sold the distribution rights to Siemens, which was later sold to Shell Solar. There was audible groan when we heard that SA’s most promising renewable energy technology now rests in the hands of the notorious Shell. Once again government has dropped the ball with its myopic focus on the pebble bed reactor. Production has apparently started in Germany, but South Africa won’t see the panels for quite a while.
Again, I’ve subsequently been given an approximate (very) quote for my house of R300 000, which much as I’d like to support the principle, isn’t likely to happen anytime soon!
Finally, he mentioned biogas digesters, which break down sewerage to generate natural gas for cooking, and potentially provide fertiliser for the garden. The ability of the digester to provide a higher pressure than an ordinary gas canister, and this solely through the mechanism’s design, attracted some detailed questions. These don’t make sense for individual houses, requiring the inputs, or is it outputs, of around 20 people in order to function optimally. If enough people can get together, they’re a fantastic innovation.
The obligitory hemp presentation, by Tony of the Hemporium, was quite enjoyable. It covered the basics of hemp’s suppression by US corporate interests and how valuable a crop hemp could be, particularly in South Africa as a means of poverty alleviation. 3 different products can be produced from the same crop, and in Canada, where it’s been legal a while, it’s the most profitable crop for farmers. Paper, bricks, a plastic replacement, food, oil and fabric are all possible byproducts. The exciting aspect of hemp is that, in the South African context with our different needs, it makes even more sense than in developed countries.
Hemp is still not legal in South Africa, and apparently there are two main reasons for the lack of takeup here. One is the possibility of cross-breeding with marijuana (and thereby weakening the strains), the staple cash crop of much of rural South Africa, so marijuana farmers have not embraced it. The other is the fact that the government trials were run by a former bigwig in the cotton board, hemp’s main commercial rival. After 10 years of fudged results, the man may be facing charges, and the new person in charge is apparently a lot more open to the possibilities.
Speaker after speaker mentioned frustration with government inaction, or even obstruction, when attempting to push their ideas. I was left feeling quite despondent that a government that started with such vision, and so much possibility, is now one of the main reasons for South Africa lagging in so many areas.
An intern (I didn’t catch her name) at Earthlife Africa presented on the pebble bed modular reactor. While interesting, perhaps this presentation suffered to a degree from death by powerpoint (why was I surprised that the wikipedia article exists, even it’s just a redirect). The usual facts were hauled out, but the presenter couldn’t answer questioning on some of the anomalies, such as why solar power apparently creates so many more jobs than any of the other alternatives. An audience member suggested it’s because solar panels need constant maintenance, regularly repositioning them for optimum effect, but that didn’t tie up with the put em in and sit back for 50 years approach of the renewable energy talk. Similarly, while it’s obvious that the costs for the PBMR as presented by government spindoctors doesn’t include much of its life cycle, and that the production of nuclear fuels and so on does create greenhouse gases, the same seems to apply to renewable energy. Again though, government’s blinkered viewpoint, and vested financial interest, means they’re more of an obstacle than a solution.
I’m still absolutely convinced that the nuclear model is pure lunacy, but this presentation wouldn’t have done much to convince sceptics.
The Mayan calendar presentation was highly enjoyable, though perhaps you had to be there!
Art of conscious living
The Bhakti yoga society presented on the art of conscious living, and the presentation was quite humourous, albeit unintentionally. Aimed quite superficially, it discussed the three gunas (although that word wasn’t used – they mentioned tendencies of the mind I think). These are tranquility, fury and inertia. The presenter was speaking in that calm voice so characteristic of spritual teachers (excluding of course ranting televangelists – I did say spiritual though). Being a party as well, and being the last of the presentations close to sunset on Saturday evening, there were quite a few people roaming who were no longer in the realms of rational, or tranquil, consciousness. One particular individual was loudly and obnoxiously interupting (so I suspect alcohol was his drug of choice), making comments such as FURY, JA, WE ALL NEED A BIT OF FURY, JA and, when a slide of a brothel was shown (representing inertia), HEY, DON’T FUCKING DISS THE WHORES, A MAN NEEDS A GOOD POMP SOMETIMES or something along those lines. The presenter, who had been calmly responding to each of the interuptions, started to lose some of his tranquility, and stormed off to get an organiser to escort the miscreant away.
Once the audience had been restored to normality, tranquility ensued.
The topics and quality of speakers on the whole were great, and I hope the experiment is repeated in future.