Thursday, July 31, 2008

Notes from a Clear Stream

- Jeremy Witts-Hewinson -

So, you thought using eco-diesel was a move closer to saving the planet?

It started in a scrapyard in Oudtshoorn. My wife insists I’m the only person she knows who window shops in an industrial area! I noticed an old Fintail 200D Mercedes Benz standing forlornly in the late winter sun. Having always wanted to include a clattering oil burner in my collection of old Mercs, the saga began.

In a sort of gladiatorial challenge to the scrap merchant, the offer was made on condition that it could be driven off the property. Much slingering, shouting, clattering, and lots and lots of blue smoke later, the engine was running. I nursed her through the scrapyard gates, at which point the column-mounted gear lever plopped unceremoniously to the moth-eaten-carpeted floor! I had a deal which I then wasn’t sure I wanted! The fact that Suzie (that was the name scratched on the key ring) made the 60km drive home without too much drama re-enthused me.

After months of gathering dust and muisvoƫl droppings under the mesquite tree, a body re-spray and engine reconditioning was carried out.

Aware that fossil fuels are so infra dig, I found an article in a women’s magazine about a person living on her eco-friendly, permacultural, self-contained, energy efficient, recycled, organic, green - and/or all of the above - plot in Noordhoek very interesting.

Choosing to overlook the fact that she sounded like a bit of a modern Marie Antoinette to me, play-playing the modern equivalent of milkmaid-milkmaid in the backyard of the palace, I focused on the point that her little diesel car was fuelled entirely by bio-diesel. This is what’s replacing ever-diminishing fossil fuel resources and saving the planet, we’re told.
What if Suzie, with a few modern modifications, naturally, was able to clatter away happily on planet-saving fuel? A quick response from a company distributing the stuff in the Western Cape led me to a bloke near Gouritz River mouth. Bulk purchasing is the way to go – that is what the aunty in Noordhoek does. I had visions of Suzie towing a small tanker-trailer to purchase supplies.

What stood between me and Suzie saving the planet was the “modification” to her engine. A restoration project that I felt was a little indulgent was going to turn into something really altruistic and progressive! The opportunity to persuade local farmers to come on board loomed. Maybe I could become a regional agent AND help save the planet! I espoused my idea of Suzie being a vehicle for planetary salvation to my environmental guru up the valley and his usual bright and happy face cascaded into a sadly bewildered look of bemusement.

Alas, the profit motive had already hijacked my high-flown ideals. Apparently, virgin rainforests in Borneo are being flattened as you read, to make way for highly profitable palm plantations producing tons of palm oil for highly energy inefficient refineries churning out bio-diesel!

Desperately clinging to my idealism in the face of such brutal truth I stammered, “But what about supporting the emerging Free State farmers in their plan to produce tons and tons of rape seed to be made into environmentally-friendly bio- diesel?” “It’s all genetically modified and causing havoc with indigenous plant species in the area!” You can’t exactly tell the bees where to go a-courting, I suppose…

Of all the plans of mice and men… that plan was surely devised by the mice. What is a non-consumerist eco-warrior to do? Can anyone suggest how I can persuade my 1930’s anthracite consuming Aga to behave more kindly to our dying planet?

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