There is an idiom in the English language ‘to back the wrong horse’ that can be defined simplistically as: ‘to make the wrong decision and support a person or action that is later unsuccessful’.

In 1876, William Orten was president of Western Union, which had a monopoly on the most advanced communications technology available, the telegraph. Orten was offered the patent on a new invention, the telephone, for $100,000 (worth about $2M in current dollars). He considered the whole idea ridiculous. He wrote directly to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, and said: “After careful consideration of your invention, while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities… What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” Two years later, after the telephone began to take off, Orten realized the magnitude of his mistake, and spent years (unsuccessfully) challenging Bell’s patents.

In the first instance Mr Orten’s judgment was clouded by his inability to recognize technological innovation and the potential applications of a product that offered the ability to communicate directly, and in real time, from person to person. 

In contrast, Western Union’s telegraph system relied on the translation of short written messages into a simple code, the most famous being the Morse code, which could then be transmitted as a series of long and short electrical pulses through a privately owned national network of wires to a receiver. At the receiver’s end the messages were then decoded from electrical pulses back into the original wording.  Messages needed to be short, privacy was sparse, and voice transmission was impossible. Perhaps a large part of Orten’s lack of interest and condescension derived from his belief that Western Union already monopolized the means of transmission, namely the network of wires, that carried the electrical signals needed for communication. 

But, as history has shown, his decision was not only short-sighted, it was patently stupid.

To bring the idiom a little closer to home, Bermuda is in a position where we need to make some very careful and well-informed decisions about the horses we decide to back over the next few months and years. 

We have a mix of old and new energy technologies that are vying for our attention and the decisions we make are going to shape the future of our country for many decades to come. 

One of the potential decisions I have watched with great interest is the debate on the ‘Blue Halo Project’, which proposes encircling Bermuda with a 200 mile radius Oceanic Protection Zone. 

At the epicentre of the Blue Halo lies our 21-square-mile island with an almost total reliance on non-sustainable fossil fuels, and one of the heaviest per capita carbon footprints in the developed world. 

To quote the 2011 Bermuda Government White Paper on Energy: “The majority of Bermuda’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced through the combustion of fossil fuels and municipal solid waste to provide the energy necessary for electricity generation and transportation.”

At 14.44 metric tonnes per capita “emissions of greenhouse gases from Bermuda in 2008 exceeded twice the worldwide average”.

Perhaps we should all be giving a lot more thought to the creation of a ‘Green Core’ for Bermuda that is truly sustainable and an example to other small island nations. 

Bermuda could, with a little political effort, and a comprehensive program of incentives, easily become the ‘Poster Child’ for green technologies and the politicians behind the incentives would be front and centre on the world environmental stages.

The time has come for all of us to decide which horses we are willing to back to create a sustainable future for Bermuda, and let’s hope we make our decisions with better long-term vision than Orten. 

This is our children’s future we are gambling with and the decisions we make will create a legacy that they must live with. 

So let’s get started cleaning up our own back yard and creating the ‘Bermuda Green Core’ and when that’s done we can start looking at enveloping ourselves in the so called ‘Blue Halo’! 

Nick Duffy is the divisional manager at Bermuda Alternate Energy. Comments and suggestions may be sent to info@bae.bm