The NSW government is staking a lot on the ‘Water for Life’ plan, the focus of which is a desalination plant at Kurnell. I’m not going to rant and rave on about the stupidity of desalination as opposed to more prudent measures like reduced consumption of water in the first place, especially by industry (One BHP Billiton mine uses 33 million litres every day), or using recycled water. Instead, I take issue with the advertising campaign being used to soften up the electorate to the blow of buiding such a piece of infrastructure. I can’t find it anywhere online as an mp3 or video, not even a transript, so you’ll have to trust my impeccable memory. It went something like this:

…And a desalination plant (ambiguous pause) Powered by renewable energy (ambiguous pause) It would have zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The ambiguity of the pauses was that the hearer, me, is left unsure as to where “powered by renewable energy” fits in the text. It could either be:

…a desalination plant, powered by renewable energy. It would have zero greenhouse gas emissions.


…a desalination plant. Powered by renewable energy, it would have zero greenhouse gas emissions.

See what I mean? I can’t tell if the advertisement is stating categorically that the desalination plant will be powered by renewable energy, thus having no greenhouse gas emissions, or if the ad is merely pointing out the obvious, that the desalination plant would have no greenhouse gas emissions if it were powered by renewable energy (which is not necessarily the case).

The only thing I’d be certain about would be that the prosody of this section of the advertisement was intended to be ambiguous between these two readings. The benefit of that is to have people believe that the desalination plant will be powered by renewables yet allow the government to come back later (after the election, for instance) and say “we never said it would be, we said if it were, then…”.

At least, that’s what I would have concluded, had I not seen the government’s website about the project, which contains a pdf factsheet, stating quite unambiguously that the desalination plant will in fact be powered by the surplus 3.7 million megawatt hours of green energy that the National GreenPower Accreditation Program cannot seem to sell to consumers.

Still, never let the facts get in the way of an otherwise warranted, anti-governmental rant!