Paea, Saturday 4th of July 2009
Saturday I spent writing and we sat and talked to Guilio, Natalie and Céline (they probably found a place to live – they’re all getting sick of staying in a dorm here). It’s interesting to be around so many different people (and it’s good to get used to some of them – I think I’ll really miss Natalie although we’ve not even known her for a fortnight).
I just noticed how irrelevant this is for our project – but I guess I’ve already written a whole lot of stuff which is not relevant… I don’t have very much energy at the moment and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere – not learning enough – the days pass and I don’t have anything to show for – sorry for the depth… and length of this – paper (or nowadays a white screen (as long as you’re not using Windows;)) is patient and I can relieve my bad conscience a bit by writing. Thank you for being such a patient reader!
Why does everything have to cost money? We’ve spent quite a lot of time on the internet and just got the first bill… we had a little disagreement about the number of hours and on the one hand I feel like Christelle is right (especially looking at the current economic crisis – it has really hit tourism French Polynesia quite hard… which also makes me hope mankind will realize that our current system isn’t working and look for a better (more just – socio-ecological) economic system) on the other hand we’re using it for a very good cause. How much suffering in the world could be relieved if people didn’t depend on fossil fuels anymore/would be self-sufficient?! Okay I guess this might be taking it a bit far (megalomania) – I actually just wanted to point out that it would be nice if everybody understood the greater good (modestly assuming that we have 😉 and we could use the internet for free… What am I worrying about? We have enough money for food and shelter and we have access to clean drinking water (I’ve learned from Céline that the tap water is safe to drink so we stopped training our arm muscles with my ceramic filter), education, medical care AND internet – which is a whole lot more than most people in the world can say – still my point is: I wish mankind didn’t “need” money!
Enough dreaming – back to reality: We were sitting at the table when we suddenly heard a thump and saw a lot of leaves. The neighbours had taken a chain saw (or two) and cut down a tree (fikus ?) in their garden which was now lying on the almost flat roof of our bungalow. The falling branches had already torn down the laundry from the clothes line and I was afraid the roof was going to collapse (the buildings here didn’t make the most stable impression on me) so I ran over to get Fréd. The neighbours had given us no warning but he was all relaxed “Haere maru haere papu” (which is a Tahitian proverb and means “take it slow, take it steady”). In Germany the police would have already been there trying to settle the dispute and fine the neighbour for illegally cutting down a tree that size, threatening the lives of innocent backpackers and probably also giving him a warning for the indecent time of day (old people’s naptime) for making such brutal noise. It’s quite refreshing to encounter such relaxed people (although the orderly German living inside of me (not that I think nationalities should matter one bit – we should all feel like world citizens – we’re in this together) has to admit that a little warning and time to take down the laundry would have been nice/polite).
While Raphael took some more ocean current measurements, I e-mailed my sponsor to confess our internet-sins, manipulated some pictures (I’m such a cheater – distorting reality!) and made dinner. I had some clients (Natalie and Guilio) for back-torture* in our room (which we are now sharing with Céline and Natalie – it’s a good thing we’re all so chaos-tolerant 🙂 and we all went to bed early (like pretty much every night).
I always manage to make a day look long (at least the text)…
*no, prostitution is not the right way to finance a trip like this (that reminds me of an article I read about female students in France selling their bodies to be able to finance their tuition fees – so I really shouldn’t be joking about this and be glad that I don’t have to pay tuition fees in Scotland) – what I meant was a massage.
Final thoughts of the day: relationships are distracting, money stinks and trees fall (for numerous reasons)… and I should stop producing so much output and get some more input instead!
Paea, Sunday 5th of July 2009
In the morning we went to a nearby „marchée aux puces“(flee market) with Natalie and bought a pretty good bike (for 6000 CFP – about 50 €) from a Frenchman who was selling nearly all his belongings (apparently he’d had enough of Tahiti (speculation)).
After breakfast we actually wanted to finalise our questionnaire but spontaneously decided (well I decided and convinced Raphael to come along) to go hiking with the American couple who had arrived here two days ago. Abby (studying Marine biology) and Chris (studying literature) turned out to be quite the good company – not as prudish as many Americans (which came in very handy: I could go skinny dipping) and very open minded (it’s a shame that there’s always prejudice attached to nationalities)! We walked along the main road for about 3 kilometres and then turned into a small road which ended in a rather empty parking lot (not that the tourists don’t adapt to the “culture” and drive (big) cars – there just doesn’t seem to be much interest for actually cultural things – I am very quick to judge, in case the reader hasn’t noticed – it might also be the fault of the local tourist information – just not mentioning it). We met a few locals by a bungalow but the archeological site itself was deserted. Unfortunately there wasn’t even a sign explaining anything (well, apart from the one asking/forbidding (disrespectful tourists) to climb on top of the Tiki) so the only thing we felt we could do was look at them, wonder when they were built, what the life of the people around them looked like and what the artist was thinking… and possibly disrespectfully lean against one of them and ask Abby to take a picture. After this touristy bit we followed the more interesting looking (wild) path up the hill along the dried up river bed (I was already starting to be disappointed since I really wanted to cool off in the water). The temperature in the shade of the forest was a lot nicer than in the shade of street (due to condensation?!). The first stretch of the path was still fairly “well maintained”/ traces of civilization visible: garbage (such as shoes, plastic bottles, rusty fridges and oil drums,…) and a little hut made of wooden boards and a plastic tarp (the person who used to dwell there must have lived off coconuts judging by the size of the heap of shells in front of it). I immediately pictured myself living in the woods and wondered how long I’d survive before I’d feel drawn back to civilization/certain people (emotional particularism) again…
Later on the trail vanished (at least to someone like me, who didn’t grow up in the woods) and the only evident marks of society were little piles of stones (to indicate to the “brave” adventurers that they were still on the “right” track).
The variety of plants we found was quite amazing – unfortunately I couldn’t name any of them apart from banana (Meia) and breadfruit (Uru) trees… and some type of red algae on the rocks in the river.
I didn’t really observe many different animal species (not even insects on the thin layer of humus). We only saw a few lizards (black with a shiny orange stripe on their backs), relatively small spiders, lots of mosquitoes in the air (and on our bodies), millions of centipede larvae and a small catfish (?) in the water. After I went skinny dipping twice (fortunately my fellow adventurers aren’t uptight) – the river now had (a bit more) water in it – we hiked/climbed further up the hill (partly through the water) and finally reached the (/a) waterfall! One of the nicest moments on this trip so far and I must admit I wasn’t thinking about exploiting this location and installing a micro-hydropower plant – the beauty of it should only serve as spiritual energy (I’m such a hopeless case of a tree hugger). On our way back we got quite hungry (for western standards – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced real hunger) and there were banana trees everywhere. Some of the bananas looked like they were almost ripe – ready to eat… so I grabbed a dead leaf to bend down the branch with the fruit on it. Unfortunately my greediness added to my misjudgment of the tree’s flexibility lead to a tragic accident, killing the tree and regrettably not it’s ill-mannered abuser… Now we have about half a tonne of green bananas – I still can’t believe I killed a tree 🙁
When we got back Raphael made dinner (I’m glad he knows how to cook and that we have such a well-balanced working-relationship) while I took a shower and downloaded Abby’s pictures (I’d forgotten to charge up the battery of my camera – so I can’t take credit for the good shots taken on our hiking trip).
I guess the exploration of potential new sites for harvesting hydropower was quite exhausting so we went to bed early…
Final thoughts of the day: we have a bike! I should learn more about nature – I killed a tree :(… I still love waterfalls and Raphael can cook 🙂
Paea, Monday 6th of July 2009
Today we actually wanted to finally finalise our questionnaire (I’m getting sick of writing this!) – we added a few sentences about Jühnde (Germany’s first energy self-sufficient town (using biomass – which admittedly is not always a good thing – but writing this in the questionnaire would probably confuse the participant!)) and how it attracts tourists from all over the world and the number of people employed in the energy sector in Germany almost doubling within two years – because we thought these two points are potentially valid to encourage the Polynesians (number of tourists going down, unemployment rate going up)… I have to watch it now: bite my tongue/sit on my hands otherwise Raphael will start to cane me again. “We” don’t want – we want the Polynesians to want – I’m not a missionary, I’m not a missionary,… It’s tough to think you’ve understood the common good!
Raphael called Nuihau Laurey (the local author, whom we were supposed to meet in the afternoon) to confirm our appointment. It turned out he wanted to meet us at the park across the road in a few minutes – in the haste forgot to grab the charged battery of my camera. It’s a good thing we live so close to the park and it turned out that Nuihau is just working on his second book – for school children* (with lots of pictures – totally my type of book 🙂 – so I could quickly run and get some juice for my battery. I’d been a little nervous before the meeting but there was absolutely no reason to be! Nuihau is quite humorous and very approachable. We learned so much although we only talked to him for less than two hours.
Nuihau Laurey has been working as a finance consultant in the energy sector for the last ten years and his book “Énergies Renouvelables” is the first one he published.
I don’t know if I should go into all the gory details of our conversation… (luckily Raphael took notes so with his help I can recall a few points):
EDT (Energie de Tahiti – linked to EDF) took over the hydropower plants (more than ten years ago(?)) from the former supplier and stopped expanding the potential (hydropower used to account for 48% of the electricity consumption and is now down to 25% if I remember correctly – although is has to be taken into account that he population grew). EDT seemed to be more interested in making big bucks selling fossil fuels… (If you think about it: multinational corporations are not interested in making people/countries self-sufficient – they’d eventually lose all their customers their power in the world! The author didn’t say this – these are just my thoughts)
When I asked about the fossil fuel lobby and the local politicians I was surprised and happy to hear that the current government is trying to head into a different direction (towards more renewables). Unfortunately politicians aren’t always as demanding and speedy as they could be – just my experience with European politics – Nuihau didn’t say this about the local politicians!
He gave us the contact details of the energy minister’s renewable energy consultant (we were very pleased to hear this position existed – especially considering the population of Tahiti compares to that of a city the size of Dundee).
Apparently EDT has been slightly more inclined towards renewables lately (see picture of advertising in slideshow). They are planning on installing a „hydrolienne” pilot plant (underwater turbine powered by ocean currents) near Rangiroa (Tuamotus) and have apparently already invested 81 million CFP (sounds like a lot… but is probably just peanuts for a company linked to Suez…) into the project.
Nuihau also told us that the local government has just recently (less than two weeks ago!) introduced a feed-in tariff (for the less technical readers: a political tool (which has been in place in Germany for about ten years now, France and Spain (among other countries) have adopted similar policies) to encourage the population to install microrenewables for example photovoltaic panels on their rooftops (there is a huge potential here since most buildings are one-story-bungalows – they are not in the shade of other, larger buildings and there is a lot of surface area) – you are basically guaranteed a certain tariff (fixed amount of money) for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that you feed into the grid – that way during the day/when the sun shines less fossil fuels (in the case of Tahiti) “need” to be burned). The photovoltaic panels here are also subsidized (cannot recall the exact percentage, but if we understood Nuihau correctly it’s something like 50%!).
Oil-imports: about 330 000 tons/year
– Copra-oil-exports: about 6 000 tons/year
The Copra oil (made from dried coconut flesh) which is produced here used to be exported to Europe but now the ship which came to pick it up from the local factory is not heading for Tahiti anymore. The copra oil storage facility is predicted to be filled by the 15th of August 2009… wonder what they will do when that point is reached. Will there be a change of heart and will they use it locally instead of trying to export it? EDT has done some testing (burning copra oil instead of fossil fuels in a local thermal power plant) about 4 years ago and found it was running just fine… Nuihau estimates that the local palm oil factory is running at only about 50% plant utilisation – so it would be capable doubling the production.
I am not quite sure how many coconuts are left rotting on the ground – if the people here drove smaller vehicles… wait, we don’t want (ouch my fingers)… it would be more sustainable if they/we didn’t all have individual vehicles!
Nuihau thinks encouraging the import of hybrid cars has the potential for quick reductions in oil imports and seems to be a valid technology for the transitional phase – especially in Tahiti where people travel mostly short distances and are often held up in traffic jams or move slowly in stop and go traffic in addition to that hybrid motors are a proven technology. I’m not too sure what to think of this type of transition but I am quite impulsive and radical… Nuihau’s point of view is probably more realistic.
We gave Nuihau one of the unpublished copies of the French edition of “Das Tahiti Projekt” (by Dirk C. Fleck – who is kindly sharing his blog with us) – so he has something to read on the plane… he’ll be working in Australia for the next two weeks but promised to invite us over to his place for dinner when he comes back – a fine and generous offer we kindly accepted.
When we mentioned Pierre Blanchard whose presentation we’d found on the internet last week and with whom we’ve tried to get in touch, he drew a “scale of knowledge about renewables (in French Polynesia)” from 1 to 10 in the air – placing Pierre Blanchard at 9,8 and himself (very modestly) just above 4. Nuihau strongly advised us to contact him again since he has a lot more data (sounds like we won’t have to take anymore ocean current and solar radiation measurements ourselves) than himself and praised him to be a highly intelligent and knowledgeable man.
After this amazingly vivid and informative meeting we went home to digest all the new and reinforced information and wrote some of it down.
Raphael got in touch with a few of the contacts Eric gave us. He also spoke with the RE consultant, who seemed a bit stressed, since the feed-in-tariffs were just introduced and apparently not running very smoothly yet – he said Raphael should e-mail him our plans and he’d get back to us.
After e-mailing Nuihau our questionnaire (he wants to take a look at it and possibly add/edit some comments/questions) and writing a bit I slaughtered the taro we’d bought yesterday – it’s a good thing I brought my big scout knife – those things are quite… intensely dense! After cooking it in saltwater I added it to a stir fry which immediately got a slimy consistency (if we ever run out of glue, we’ll know what to use!). Our dinner tasted a whole lot better than expected!
*interesting piece of information on the side: the curriculum here is pretty much identical to the one in France – there is quite a bit of environmental education going on, which makes me hope. Nuihau said le ministre de l’environnement is very nice and does have some good environmental awareness programmes for the public (especially children), which I find very important for the future of our planet. On the other hand I understand the urgency – “We need action now! There’s no time to be nice!” – he is talking about.
Final thoughts of the day: It was highly encouraging to meet Nuihau Laurey and I’m very glad we found someone likeminded. I hope we also get a chance to meet Pierre Blanchard and Terri Vallaux (the energy ministers RE consultant)!
Taro is different but definitely filling and tasty 🙂
Paea, Tuesday 7th of July 2009
Today we spent some more time mentally digesting yesterday’s meeting and definitely finally finalizing our questionnaire. We just got a phone call from the secretary of the environment minister – we shall meet him on Friday morning.
Now we just want to get our questionnaire online, send an e-mail with the link to a few contacts, possibly contact the two local newspapers (“La dépêche de Tahiti” and “Les nouvelles de Tahiti”) and ask whether they could publish the link on paper/on their website, go shopping and be done for today!
Final thought of the day: Raphael tried to concentrate on teaching himself how to LaTeX (a word-processing programme for his dissertation) but I kept distracting him for the sake of this blog.