Alan Moran writes well, and I was impressed by a recent article of his in Catallaxy files on the absurd electricity-generation situation in South Australia. One number took me by surprise: the spot price for electricity moved from the usual range of $50-100 per megawatt hour to thousands, just like that. I believe the highest point was around $14,000. To put the rise in domestic terms, where you would normally pay five to ten cents to run a thousand-watt radiator for an hour, now you would be charged $14. What had caused this extraordinary rise? Alan Moran explains it:
Last week came a triple whammy, not totally unpredictable. A cold snap drove up demand. This was associated with unusually windy conditions that stopped the windmills from operating. And the main interconnect from Victoria was down in preparation for its capacity being increased. In addition, a number of major user firms – including BHP, Nystar and Arrium – had decided to buy electricity on the spot market rather than contracting. Absence of contracts provided a signal to Engie, the owner of Pelican Point, the second largest power station, to divert its contracted gas elsewhere.
Those with a taste for irony will note that the wind turbines stopped because there was too much wind. Suddenly, firms that needed power right now, and had no contracts found, they would have to close their doors. Blame was thrown around as the SA Government found itself to be horribly embarrassed. Even the Commonwealth was criticised for providing subsidies for wind-power development. Moran again:
This latter call is a bit rich since the state has made a feature of its wind resources and it was only in November last year that the Premier attending the Paris Climate Change conference paraded the prospect of the state becoming 100 per cent “low carbon” electricity which he said would be good for jobs.
The sight of governments going down the renewable energy path has fascinated me ever since I became aware of it. What did the Treasury say, in each case? Did it point out the high cost of renewable energy — about three times that of coal-fired power? Did it point out that wind is notoriously variable in its capacity to deliver when power is needed? Did it point to the lower profit the State’s industries would make, meaning lower capacity to invest, and a lower capacity to employ, as a consequence of high-priced power? Was it told to mind its own business?
I’ve written more than once about the ACT’s delusionary quest for 100 per cent renewable ‘clean’ (how environmentalists love that word) power, and ACT politicians should inspect closely what has been happening in South Australia. It could be a foretaste of things to come in the national capital. Let them note that in South Australia wind accounts for 38 per cent of supply and solar for seven per cent. The State has closed its own coal mine and the attendant power station, and now really depends on Victoria’s brown coal — again, an irony for a State proud of its clean energy. The politicians should also read and think about an excellent essay in Judith Curry’s Climate etc on the whole clean energy issue.
Now to words. As a writer I have had a long-running battle with neologisms, even though I recognise that language is always in process of change. For example, I detest ‘ongoing’, which seems to me to add nothing to a fine word that has been in use for generations — ‘continuing’ — and I won’t use it. I also detest the common practice of turning nouns into verbs — ‘I hope to podium in Rio’. So in English usage I am a conservative, if only because it took me many years to develop a feeling for and a decent mastery of the English language.
Having said all that, I am also always interested in the new ‘word of the year’ — the coinage that has attracted sudden fame and use, so that it is recognisable at once, though it hardly existed a year or so ago. The current issue of OzWords, published by The Australian National Dictionary Centre, made me look for the winners for 2015.
The ANDC selected sharing economy, defined as ‘an economic system based on sharing of access to goods, resources and services, typically by means of the Internet’. While I do know of, and have used, the ridesharing service called Uber, which is an example, I have to confess I haven’t yet come across a reference to the ‘sharing economy’. No matter, that’s just a sign of being old and out of touch.
The Oxford Dictionaries chose what I thought was an ’emoticon’, but is apparently an emoji — ‘face with tears of joy’ — as their word of the year. It hasn’t come onto my screen yet, though the older emoticons have, as have their old typing predecessors, like :).
Collins chose bingewatch, which apparently describes the behaviour of people who watch the entire Lord of the Rings, or a whole series of Star Trek, in one hit. I have never done that, again a sign of decrepitude, I have no doubt.
The American Dialect Society chose the pronoun they to get us all out of having to write ‘he or she’, and I will now do the same, with a sigh. I have been reconstructing what I want to write for a decade or more once it became clear to me that ‘he’ meaning ‘he or she’ was going to cause more trouble than it was worth. The way out at the time was to set everything in the plural, so that ‘they’ and ‘their’ referred to ‘people’. The ADS told me also that Shakespeare and Jane Austen used ‘they’ to refer to the singular, so it must be OK!
The Macquarie Dictionary people chose captain’s call as their word of the year, and I knew it, and think I’ve even used it. I felt some relief.
Merriam-Webster, the American dictionary people, chose ism and though that’s not a word, if another dictionary can choose an emoji, what’s wrong with a suffix? Apparently, seven words ending in ism produced great volume and ‘significant year-over-year increase in lookups’. What were they? Yes, you’ve guessed it: socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism.
The American Dialect Society offered its list of also-rans, too. They included
ammosexual: someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner.
ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online.
on fleek: put together, impeccable, well-arrayed.
thanks, Obama: sarcastic expression in which a person pretends to blame Obama for a problem.
microaggression: subtle form of racism or bias.
Australian runners-up that I liked were
lawfare: George Brandis accused environmental groups of using lawfare to stop particular developmental projects going ahead.
keyboard warrior: a person who adopts an excessively aggressive style in online discussions which they would would not normally adopt in person-to-person communication, often in support of a cause or theory or world-view.
You will note that a lot of these new words refer to and have grown out of communication on the Internet, mobile phones and the like. Whatever happened to letters sent by post? We don’t write them any more. For my part, I only write in longhand when it is important indeed that I do so, as the truly personal communication from a distance. Our society is changing quickly, and our language follows.