The UK’s Energy Crisis

What annoys me most about the Solar Power Feed-in Tariff saga is not that the UK Government suddenly pulled the plug on the full rate for household-sized systems, or that they set the cut-off date before they finished their consultation, or even that that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) dragged out a legal appeal process.

Despite the truly pitiful sight of a Minister of State being sent out to bat with a miniaturised teaspoon to defend the indefensible decision, and despite the energy industry stooges that have placements inside DECC and are clearly affecting policy, no, the thing that really gets me is the focus on budgets instead of targets.

Here’s a summary from the Government’s own “long term trend” figures for energy consumption in Great Britain :-

Nobody can swear to me that the last few years are not just a glitch caused by economic instabilities, and that the re-localisation of manufacture in future in a recovering economy will not push this demand continually higher according to the trendline.

What are we using to supply this energy ? Here’s a summary :-

Despite the near exponential rise in renewable energy, it’s starting from a small base. The increase in energy consumption is being satisfied by a sharp rise in the supply of Natural Gas – something which the UK is producing increasingly less of these days. And for those who think that shale gas production would help, no, only a few percent of demand could be satisfied. This is an import-led energy supply, and the trend should ring alarm bells, but clearly doesn’t even tickle the ears of the average person in the street.

Electricity demand growth remains healthy, despite problems with unreliable supply from nuclear electricity (refered to as “outages” in the DECC Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) reports) :-

Now, in the future, with an envisioned massive rise in renewable energy, higher electricity use would be reasonable, as long as other energy consumption reduced. But the growth in electricity consumption charted here is not people driving more electric cars or using electric heating instead of Natural Gas-fired comfort. This is higher consumption, pure and simple, not “energy switching” over to electricity.

As an aside – the sum total of these figures indicates that the nation as a whole is not engaged in significant energy conservation, despite decades of campaigning.

All these trends add up to a very slight loss in dependency on fossil fuels for the UK’s energy :-

This is the critical trend. North Sea oil and Natural Gas production is falling like a large rock, and no amount of technological advancement and re-stimulating the drilling sector is turning this around. This means that without a rapid decrease in fossil fuel dependency, the United Kingdom is going to start haemorrhaging wealth.

Goodbye, First World.

This is why is it essential to ramp up renewable energy deployment by whatever means at our disposal.

Greg Barker MP bleating about keeping to budgets is not helping.

Eco-Socialism #1 : Public Service, Private Profit

Public infrastructure and utilities are the skeleton of the national economy; the spokes of the wheel; the walls of the house.

Private corporations can in many cases put muscle on the body, a tyre on the bike, and furnish the rooms, but without the basic public provision, private enterprise cannot thrive.

Without taxes being raised – asking everybody for their appropriate contribution – there would be no guaranteed health service, education system, roads, water supplies, power networks.

Federal or central government spending is essential, and often goes without question or inspection – including subsidies, cheap government loans, tax breaks and even rule-bending and regulatory exemption for specific sectors of the economy. This policy lenience also applies to private companies that take on the provision of public utilities.

This explicit, but often glossed-over, support for public services means that private business can rely on this national infrastructure. Small businesses can rely on a power supply and waste disposal services, for example. Large businesses can rely on a functioning postal service and road network.

It is questionable whether for-profit enterprise would be able to survive without the basic taxation-funded provision of public services and utilities.

I can understand why governments feel the need to get public spending off the balance sheet, and outsource public utilities to the private sector.

There is a lingering belief that private enterprise makes public services more efficient; makes manufacturing more reliable; makes construction better quality.

In some cases, this belief in privatisation is justified. Where companies can genuinely compete with each other, there can be efficiencies at scale. However, the success of privatisation is not universal.

Many parts of a developed economy are monolithic – there is no real competition possible. You get electricity through your power socket from a variety of production companies – you cannot choose. The road between your house and your office is always the same road – you don’t choose between different tarmac suppliers. Your local hospital is your local hospital, regardless of who owns and runs it – you have no choice about who that is – and the government contract tendering process is not something open to a public vote.

Added to this lack of competition, in some cases, it is impossible to make a profit by operating a public service by a private concern.

There should be no rock under which private business can hide when it claims to be operating profitable train and bus services – without public subsidies, public transport cannot be run at a profit.

Liability for daily operations may have been outsourced to the British private train companies, but not the full cost of the services. Costs for locally-sourced services cannot be driven down because they cannot be made fully open to global competition.

By contrast, the globalisation of labour has been making manufacturing industry significantly cheaper for decades.

In order for globalised trade to work, finance has to be liberated from its nation-bound shackles, and so along with the globalisation of labour to nations where it’s cheapest, there has been the globalisation of finance, to the tax regimes less punitive.

The globalisation of trade is a two-way bargain between those that want to see the development of primitive economies and those who want to create wealth for their companies and their shareholders.

Globalisation has created a booming China, for example, and filled the pockets of any Western company that imports from China.

However, the tide of globalisation has reached the shore, and the power of the waves is being stilled by solid earth realities. Labour costs in previously under-developed economies are starting to rise significantly, as those economies start to operate internal markets as well as maintain export-led growth.

It could soon be cheaper to have manufacturing labour in the United States of America than China. But when that happens a curious problem will arise. Manufacturing industry has been closed down in the so-called industrialised countries – as companies have taken their factories to the places with the cheapest labour and the most lax tax.

Wealth creation potential in developed countries has been destroyed. And it is for this reason that Western governments feel the urgent need to privatise everything, because their economies are collapsing internally, and public budgets may no longer be able to sustain current government spending.

However, privatisation doesn’t work for everything. It doesn’t work for health, education, water, public transport. The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a vehicle to compensate for agricultural sectors than cannot make a profit. I would contend privatisation doesn’t work for the energy supply and distribution sector either – but for a special reason.

Normally, it is possible to run energy stations at a profit. The privatised sector inherited power stations and grid networks that were fully functioning, and the sales of power and Natural Gas were almost pure profit.

However, much energy plant needs to be lifecycled after decades of use – replacements are in order, and this demands heavy public investment, in the form of subsidies, or pricing controls, or tax breaks or some such financial aid, in order to avoid crippling the private companies.

Like the rail network, there is direct public investment in the power grids. This is to support new access for new energy plant. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I would argue that much more public tax-and-spend is required in the energy sector.

In future, most electricity generation needs to become low carbon and indigenous. The primary reason for this is the volatility of the globalised economy – it will no longer be possible to assume that imports of coal, Natural Gas and oil for power station combustion can be afforded – especially in economies like the United Kingdom, where much wealth creation has been destroyed by de-industrialisation.

It used to be easy to ignore this – as the North Sea was so productive in oil and Natural Gas that the UK was a net energy exporter. This is no longer the case.

To avoid the risk of national impoverishment, energy independence is dictated, spelled out by a deflating British economy and by the depleting North Sea reserves.

The easiest and fastest way to a power supply that is low carbon is by healthy investment in wind power and solar power. Yet with the turbulence in the global economy, spending on renewable energy has also been rocky.

Now is the time for the UK Government to stop tickling corporate underbellies to get them to invest in British energy, and to start collected tax revenues to spend explicitly on the energy revival.

It can be “matched” funding – the Renewables Obligation, for example, has drawn in massive levels of private investment into wind power. And the feed-in tariff scheme for solar photovoltaics had, until recently, been pulling in high levels of personal individual and private company investment.

This is the kind of public-private financing that works – create a slightly tilted playing field to tip the flow of money towards new energy investment, and watch the river flow.

Without public money ploughed into public infrastructure in non-profitable areas such as public transport and energy, private enterprise will not be able to make a contribution – they would quickly bankrupt themselves.

The result of capping public subsidies for renewable energy is a halt to renewable energy deployment. Those who resist wind farms are in effect destroying the country. Those who cap public subsidies for solar power want to break the nation.

We need socalist financing of new energy technology deployment, for the future wealth of our country.

Urbanity, Durbanity

People working for non-governmental, and governmental, organisations can be rather defensive when I criticise the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. What ? I don’t back the international process ? Climate change, after all, is a borderless crime, and will take global policing. Well, I back negotiations for a global treaty in principle, but not in practice.

The annual wearisome jousting and filibustering events just before Christmas do not constitute for me a healthy, realistic programme of engagement, imbued with the full authority and support of global leadership structures and civil society. People can try to spin it and claim success, but that’s just whitewash on an ungildable tomb.

The Climate Change talks that have just taken place in Durban, South Africa, were exemplary of a peculiar kind of collective madness that has resulted from trying to navigate and massage endless special interests, national jostling, brinkmanship, unworkable and inappropriate proposals from economists, communications failures and corporate interference in governance.

The right people with real decisionmaking powers are not at the negotiating table. The organisations with most to contribute are still acting in opposition – that’s the energy industry, to be explicit. And the individual national governments are still not concerned enough about climate change, even though it impacts strongly on the things they do consider to be priorities – economic health, trade and political superiority.

Over 20 years ago, the debate on what to do to tackle global warming and still maintain good international relations was already won, by the commonsense approach of Contraction and Convergence – fair shares for all. Each country should count on their fair share of carbon emissions based on their population – and we would get there by starting from where we are now and agreeing mutual cuts. The big emitters would agree to steeper cuts than the lower emitters – and after some time, everybody in the world would have the same, safe emissions rights.

What has prevented this logical approach from being implemented ? Well, we have had the so-called “flexible mechanisms” pushed on us – such as the Clean Development Mechanism which essentially boils down to the idea that the richer high-emitting countries can offset their carbon by paying for poorer low emissions countries to cut their carbon instead. Some have been attempting to make the CDM carbon credits into a commercial product for the Carbon Trading market. Some may contest it, but the CDM and carbon trading haven’t really been working very well, and anyway, the CDM doesn’t aim for emissions reductions, just offsets.

Other carbon trade has been implemented, such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which doesn’t appear to have caused high emissions industries to diversify out of carbon, or created a viable price for carbon dioxide, so its usefulness is questionable.

Many people have put forward the idea of straight carbon pricing, mostly by taxation. The trouble with this idea should be obvious, but rarely is. Over four-fifths of the world’s energy is fossil fuel based. Taxing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would just make everything, everywhere, more expensive. It wouldn’t necessarily create new lower carbon energy resources, as the taxes would probably be put into a giant climate change adaptation fund – a financial institution proposed by several people including Oliver Tickell and Nicholas Stern, although in Stern’s case, he is calling for direct grants from countries to keep the fund topped up.

On the policy front, there has been a continuing, futile attempt to force the historially high-emitting countries to accept very radical carbon cuts, as a sign of accountability. This “grandfathering” of emissions responsibilities is something that no sane person in government in the richer nations could ever agree with, not even when being smothered with ethical guilt. One of the forms of this proposal is “Greenhouse Development Rights“, essentially allowing countries like China to continue growing their emissions in order to grow their economies to guarantee development. The emissions cuts required by countries like the United States of America would be impossible to achieve, not even if their economy completely toppled.

Sadly, a number of charities, aid and development agencies and other non-governmental organisations with concern for the world’s poor, have signed up to Greenhouse Development Rights not realising it is completely untenable.

The only approach that can work, that both high- and low-emitting countries can ever possibly be made to agree on, is a system of population-proportional shares of the global carbon pie. And the way to get there has to be based on relative current emissions, ignoring the emissions of the past – your cuts should be larger if your current emissions are large. And it should be based on the relative size of the population, and their individual emissions rates, rather than taking a country as a whole. Yes, there will be room for a little carbon trade between nations, to enable the transfer of low carbon technologies from wealthy nations to un-resourced nations. Yes, there will be space for enterprise, as corporations have to face regulation to cut emissions, and will need innovation in technology to divest themselves of fossil fuel production and consumption.

This is Contraction and Convergence – and you ignore it at our peril.

A few suggestions for further reading :-

Contraction and Convergence The Global Solution to Climate Change” by Aubrey Meyer. Schumacher Briefings, Green Books, December 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1870098946

The Greenhouse Effect : Science and Policy” by Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 243, Issue 4892, Pages 771 – 781, DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4892.771, 10 February 1989.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/243/4892/771.abstract
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/Publications.html

“Climate Change : Science and Policy“, edited by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandea and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti. Island Press, 10 February 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1597265669

“The Greenhouse Effect : Negotiating Targets” by Professor Michael Grubb, published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) in London, 1990.

“Equity, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Global Common Resources” by Paul Baer, Chapter 15 in “Climate Change Policy : A Survey” by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz and John O. Niles, Island Press, 2002. ISBN-10: 1-55963-881-8 (Paper), ISBN-13: 978-1-55963-881-4 (Paper)

Kyoto 2 : How to Manage the Global Greenhouse” by Oliver Tickell, ISBN-13: 978-1848130258, Zed Books Ltd, 25 July 2008
http://www.kyoto2.org/
http://www.kyoto2.org/docs/the_land_1.pdf

Solar FIT To Bust #10

Part 1 : 29th November 2011
Part 2 : 1st December 2011


On Tuesday, Jeremy Leggett of the company SolarCentury alerted the Twitterati to the recording of the UK Parliament House of Commons joint committee meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Energy and Climate Change Committee, so I snapped on over and took a gander.

I was treated to a marvel of confusion over numbers, figures and viewpoints. The spectacle of Greg Barker MP’s performance in committee was wildly entertaining, probably not the kind of effect he intended. He seemed to treat the discussion as an opportunity to keep insisting on his one precious ultimatum – to cut the solar photovoltaic feed in tariff subsidy in half, several months early, with only a few weeks’ warning, on 12th December 2011.

As I was taking in his presentation, I suddenly became aware that I’d seen something very similar to this before – a Minister seemingly somewhat jokingly pushing for something indefensible. I suddenly realised I was watching what could easily have been scripted as a scene in the film “In the Loop“.

Tom Hollander and Greg Barker – twins, separated at birth ?

On a more serious note, during the second part of the committee meeting, held today, 1st December 2011, Her Majesty’s Treasury admitted that the tax revenue from the solar feed-in tariff scheme equated to the level of funds made available; although there were questions about whether the FiT should be considered public spending or not; questions about whether the FiT would contribute overall to the Economy; and a total absence of concrete figures yet again.

But’s let’s go back and look at what the real problem is. The solar electric industry was given to understand that the full feed-in tariff would run until April 2012. Thousands of individiuals, communities and companies borrowed money and signed contracts on that basis – and companies had order books that were very healthy. Equipment was ordered and partly or fully paid for. Goods were in transit. Scaffolders, roofers, fitters, electricians and designers were all busy as bees in Spring, buzzing all over roofs, countrywide.

Everybody thought they had until April to get their solar installation done. Then, suddenly, they didn’t. They had less than two months. Panic on the streets of London, and everywhere else, too. It would be impossible to get everybody’s solar system up before the deadline.

So, the race to complete solar installations was on. The number of completions started to rise exponentially. And suddenly, the Department of Energy and Climate Change got the justification that they needed to confirm pulling the rug out from under the scheme. The very high levels of solar installations in the weeks preceding the full feed-in tariff cut-off date suddenly made it look very, very expensive.

Meanwhile, a number of people have had to be made redundant, many deposits have been withdrawn, and many people must be facing anxieties about whether they can pay back the money they have borrowed if they miss the FiT deadline.

Despite all the confusion, there is one fact that is clear – there will be vastly fewer solar photovoltaic installations in January 2012 than there were in November 2011.

Because of the long period from survey to completion, cutting the scheme short with six weeks notice effectively cut the heart out of the solar PV industry.

So that’s a bust, then.

Sadly, concrete always seems to win

I had no intention of actually dirtying my hands by buying The Times of London to read today, but I scanned its headline on the display. “Search for growth lifts estuary airport hopes”, it proudly announced.

And that’s when I realised, that, sadly, even after the lessons of decades of poorly planned infrastructure development, concrete still always seems to win over common sense.

Some people may be most concerned at the Chancellor or the Exchequer’s diktat on freezing public sector pay, just to “put the boot in” conveniently ahead of a national one day strike over worsening pensions management.

But I’m more concerned about his sudden conversion to Keynesianism. He seems to want to create lots of construction jobs, widening roads and motorways, laying foundations for nuclear power reactors, and perhaps throwing Portland cement over large parts of the Essex coast for a new “hub” airport.

Yes, this would create economic growth of a kind. Productivity would rise, employment would rise, income tax revenue would rise. But it would be the equivalent of sending a team of workpeople to dig a trench for no reason whatsoever, and sending another team to fill it in the next day.

What this country needs is assets, not liabilities. We need to build infrastructure that will enable economic productivity and social wellbeing and not place a long-term drain on society and the public purse. Roads, nuclear power plants and airports are all potential liabilities. Here’s just a few reasons why :-

Continue reading Sadly, concrete always seems to win

Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

I was in my local cafe diner, screening for neighbourhood gossip and genning up on the Daily Mail’s latest scandal and outrage. Several stories were told from different angles throughout the grubby pages of the well-thumbed copy I was sifting through. “You know”, I mused, “I think they might actually want their readers to become schizophrenic.”

On the front page the headline “RESTORE ELITISM TO OUR SCHOOLS“. The editorial line seemed to be aimed at persuading the readers to find Michael Gove’s speech just as “extraordinary” as the writer did – “extraordinary” as in “bad”. This, after all, is a newspaper that often seems to want to portray itself as succour for the common man.

On page 7, however, the same story took on a nanny-ish tone “We must demand more of our teachers… and our children : And here’s why it matters: for the first time 1m [million] youngsters are not in work or education.” So, presumably, the writer of this piece was having a dig at teachers and their performance. Plus it was also having a swipe at out-of-work out-of-the-classroom “scrounger” teenagers.

Where, I asked myself, was the analysis of why so many young people were without a role in life, without prospects ? Where are the jobs, work placements and apprenticeships for “youngsters” ? The statistics show that there are not enough openings for every NEET.

Continue reading Daily Mail : Editorial Schizophrenia

Death of the Solar Salesman

Poor dear Greg Barker MP. As he attempted to answer questions in the House of Commons today on his disastrous decision to cut the solar photovoltaic feed in tariff, his face became progressively redder. His temper clearly became frayed as he got quite cross, and asked female Labour Members of Parliament to calm down, and even asserted that one question from a female opposition MP was “hysterical”, which I think was borderline sexist.
For some reason, nobody asked the Department of Energy and Climate the basic question – why don’t you increase the Feed in Tariff budget, instead of trying to whittle down the pence paid per kilowatt hour produced ? The Feed-in-Tariff scheme is working really well at the moment. It’s preventing the country having to subsidise the construction of several new power stations, and it has been providing, until now that is, new jobs and economic productivity.

Continue reading Death of the Solar Salesman

Occupy your mind #7

Image Credit : The Diocese of London

So, after rumours and quashings of rumours, Giles Fraser has resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, “resigned in protest at plans to forcibly remove demonstrators from its steps, saying he could not support the possibility of “violence in the name of the church”…Fraser, a leading leftwing voice in the Church of England, would resign because he could not sanction the use of police or bailiffs against the hundreds of activists who have set up camp in the grounds of the cathedral in the last fortnight.”

But just why did Giles Fraser resign ? What has it achieved ? What could it possibly achieve ? Now he’s no longer in the Cathedral organisation he cannot influence what happens. What pressures has he had to endure behind the scenes that gave him no option but to jump ?

Somebody I know has been praying that there would be heavy rain in London, just so the conditions would be impossible for the Occupyer camp to continue; that they would have to pack up and go home.

What on Earth is this @OccupyLSX protest for ? A camp of principle, to defend the right to protest ? A camp of demands, pursuing a just economics and a just society ? A camp of non-violence, when it deliberately provokes a stand-off between demonstrators and police forces ? How can the Occupyers claim to be peaceful when they know their actions have a fragmentation bomb-like effect on the society around them ? How can the Cathedral Campers evidence their intentions for a juster, saner, economic system, when the net effect of their actions is likely to be a huge law court struggle at taxpayer expense ? It’s not a revolution, it’s an irritation – or at least that is the way that it will continue to be viewed by the governing authorities.

Somebody on the inside track of campaigning in London has told me that the Occupy protest is destined to transmogrify into a Climate Refugee tent city in late November, early December. If it survives that long, then at least it can claim to be a piece of living art reflecting what is happening around the world because of climate change disasters.

Unless and until the Occupyers can take on relevance, everybody with even just a slightly-left-of-centre agenda will attempt to co-opt the Occupy London camp for their own purposes.

Remember, dear Occupyers, you are not “rising up” like the people in Libya – they were supplied with arms from around the world, forces overt and covert from Qatar, Europe and quite possibly America, and fed into a huge psychological operations narrative, ably supported by the media.

The Libyan conflict wasn’t about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, may he rest in peace. The information management of the North African and Middle Eastern unrest shows that mass propaganda still works, and that media consumers continue to fall for the same fabrications, time after time.

The European Union Question

David Cameron was on one screen, and CBeebies was on another. I was on the treadmill at the gym, interval training, pacing at the same rhythm as the blaring RnB, and reading the teletext translation of the Parliamentary debate.

I smiled at Ed Miliband’s nasally-charged bluster. I rolled my eyes at the interventions from the Conservative dinosaurs.

The Tories are the living example of the Bad Apple Theory, I thought to myself. One bad apple, or in their case, a clutch of Eurosceptics, spoils the crop.

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom harbours a number of corporatists and the stooge friends of corporatists, and this is their basic argument – deregulate and private companies will be more productive and save the economy from implosion. It’s the same argument that nursed the financial services market that went ahead and created derivatives of risk, and produced toxic credit progeny in abundance and caused the collapse of the banks which caused the current economic doldrums. Great job !

We’ve got the Coalition Government’s Red Tape (Cutting Of) initiative in full-swing, as well as the Eurosceptics. Their argument is – the European Union is a hyperquagmire and over-regulates and stifles business and innovation, so the United Kingdom should secede. What they fail to acknowledge is that European Union legislation and regulation have created excellent conditions for trade, unifying the standards of production across the Common Market, and drawing on skillsets and technologies from across the region, has advanced productivity and standards of living for all.

Continue reading The European Union Question

The Problem of Powerlessness #2

On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

Continue reading The Problem of Powerlessness #2

Occupy your mind #5

Image Credit : npmeijer

It rained last night in London. Cold rain. And the wind was blowing. And the poor little Occupyers were on my mind.

So I cooked up some vegan fare and this morning went down to St Paul’s Cathedral to try and offer nourishment to the be-weathered masses. Most of the placards and signs were gone, minimising the message, but the tent city was still there.

As usual at political protests, I took certain measures to disguise myself, and carried no form of identification.

Signs of the global economic meltdown – the train I wanted to catch was cut short – probably by the theft of metal cabling. It’s wrong to make the transport system grind to a halt – so many people depend on it. But I can understand why people are press-ganged into stealing metals – poverty is on the rise.

It took me ages to reach St Paul’s Cathedral, and I went straight to the kitchen tent to unload lunch, and grab a coffea (tea mixed with coffee) and breakfast mini-croissant.

Continue reading Occupy your mind #5

Occupy your mind #4

I think it was seeing a twenty-metre-high Robert Waterman McChesney projected to the audience at the Rebellious Media Conference that persuaded me I was being subjected to intense propaganda. These Americans, I thought, they’re all the same. They all use the same communications techniques, whatever brand of ideology they are pushing. The iconified “talking head” of Professor McChesney, well, yes, he was talking a lot of sense, but the medium is the message, and that medium was a twenty-metre-high idolisation of Bob.
After the opening plenary session of the conference, Noam Chomsky held humble court by the bookstalls, gladhanding people, and generally making nice to lots of unkempt teenagers and twenty-somethings in black tee shirts with nasty slogans on them. And nose rings. I was several circles of adulation beyond the physical contact zone, and beside me was a young mum desperate to put her cute infected infant in Noam’s great grandpa arms and get a photo apperture-nity of a lifetime. “Baby coming through”, I said, using my best crowd control voice-of-authority technique, “baby coming through”.

Noam Chomsky is very, very smart. And yet he still suffers from what I call “cognitive dissociation”. He deconstructed the demands of the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, Occupy everywhere movement – he said their feasible demands were too palatable, and their radical demands too inaccessible. But Noam, too, his ideas of a new labour-owned world are a step beyond unworkable. Being a pragmatist, I have recognised that people don’t automatically work well together without some kind of structure that they can slot into. Families, churches, governments – all need definitions of roles and functions, despite the ideal of total democratic freedom.

Continue reading Occupy your mind #4

BBC : Craven Power Muddle

Once again, the BBC has allowed to pass unchallenged the impression that green power policy and renewable energy investment are behind the dramatic rise in British domestic energy prices.

Disappointingly, this has come from John Craven, whose accuracy is renowned.

However, on this occasion, he has allowed a blooper meme to consolidate in the public mind.

Here’s how Countryfile went yesterday evening :-

[ Countryfile, BBC One, 16 October 2011, 18:25. Part way through recording, starting at approximately 20 minutes 32 seconds. ]

[ Ellie Harrison ] Earlier in the programme we were looking at the expected huge rise in wind power across the UK. But in the race to create more of our energy this way, who will win and who is set to lose out ? Here’s John again.

[ John Craven ] Earlier, I discovered how the plan to put wind power at the heart of our future energy supply is creating a building boom in wind farms, both on land and out at sea. With billions being poured into wind power, and with it being at the centre of the Government’s strategy on renewables, the future seems certain. So who will the losers and winners be in this wind revolution ? The most obvious winner is the environment as less fossil fuels are burnt. But who else benefits ? Well, another clear winner is big business. Companies building the wind farms get a generous price for the electricity they produce. […]

Continue reading BBC : Craven Power Muddle

Daniel Yergin : Revisionist Comb-Over

Image Credit : cache.daylife.com

I don’t have anything against balding people. Anybody can start losing hair, and will most likely feel embarrassed about it and start doing silly things like combing strands over the patch – the classic comb-over : not a sign of vanity, more a sign of vulnerability. It’s a kind of disguise, not admitting to the facts, even as the facts become more and more apparent. The balding person does not accept what is happening, and is seeking to delay the inevitable.
I’ve read the Introduction and Prologue (and a little of Chapter 1) of Daniel Yergin’s new book “The Quest : Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World”. I have found it very hard-going, and I keep having to pause. The reason ? I am far too critical of the writing, and it keeps making me some kind of cross between a tad narked and full-blown irritated.

Continue reading Daniel Yergin : Revisionist Comb-Over

George Osborne : Quantitative Greasing

Image Credit : So Fiyah

On the first day of October, The Times of London newspaper ran an editorial urging investment in Britain’s infrastructure as a way to turn the economy around. Under the heading “Re-engineering the Economy”, they wrote “…What Britain needs now is thus not merely recovery from recession: it is a comprehensive re-engineering of the economy. At the heart of this process should be a more ambitious approach to infrastructure investment and more activism in industrial policy…”
The writer continued, “…Stepping up investment in infrastructure will not only stimulate the economy in the short-term, but will also increase the potential for future growth…” They did not speculate extensively on where the money for investment was to come from, but it was clear that they were supporting the UK Government’s new planning legislation, in which the presumption for development will apparently always take precedence over objections to development. The Times writer did not make a very clear distinction between sustainable and unsustainable development, and considered building a gargantuan new airport in the Thames Estuary as valid a project as new wind power research in Aberdeen.

The Times appears to have understood that Britain’s energy infrastructure needs some concentrated attention : “Renewing Britain’s energy infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges that the country faces but it also presents a huge opportunity.” Part of the Coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s Electricity Market Reform seeks to apply state subsidies to low carbon generation, although rewarding power generated from existing nuclear power stations cannot possibly stimulate the new nuclear builds that the Government are keen on.
Continue reading George Osborne : Quantitative Greasing

The Times Flunks Economics

In its editorial of 1st October 2011, The Times of London, in commenting on the Labour Party Conference, under the heading “Anti-Business, As Usual”, penned this warning, “…Ed Miliband boldly took his party in the wrong direction in its relations with people who create wealth and can foster growth in output and employment in this country.”

When I read those words, I was struck with the impression that the writer half-doubted what they wrote, judging by the attribution of courage to what was, in their view, such a wrongheaded course.

Another reading of this phrase could be that the writer dared not offer an alternative analysis, and so the word “boldly” was self-referential critique.

What is expressed in this sentence is a repetition of a common right-wing political meme – the assertion that a nation’s wealth is only created by business enterprise. The rightwingers don’t seem to understand the foundational role that public health provision and welfare play; they don’t understand the value of public works in creating long-lasting genuinely common assets; and have been telling us for decades that state spending is an anathema, with no justification.
Continue reading The Times Flunks Economics

Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.

He sought to assure the nation that his one man mission is to relieve the financial pressure on the hardworking “squeezed middle” – fighting their corner against the profiteering railway companies and the moneygrabbing energy companies.

The little snippet of BBC TV News 24 that I saw cut to the correspondent raising doubts about whether this cost-of-living protection strategy would have any impact on the wider economy – whether measures to control transport fares and energy bills would create economic growth.

What does this little word “growth” mean to the BBC TV reporter, I asked myself. Does he think it means increasing employment, increasing incomes ? And how could employment be increased ? By increasing the “consumption” of goods, energy, water, transportation and knowledge economy services ? And how can this “aggregate demand” consumption be increased, if unemployment remains high and incomes remain stagnant ?

Allowing the utility and transportation companies to raise their prices allows them to remain profitable and build their businesses, presumably creating employment as well as giving a return to investors – those who have their savings in pension funds – where the fund managers invest in energy and transport. Why not allow energy and transport prices to rise ? People can learn to spend more on these valuable services, surely ? Pensioners will have their funds protected, and energy and transport businesses will stay profitable, paying tax into the state.
Continue reading Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

You cannot pay for carbon

http://e3network.org/social_cost_carbon.html
http://coolgreenmag.com/2011/07/13/study-you-are-already-paying-9-per-gallon-for-gas/

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from: Jo Abbess
to: Andrew Pendleton

Hi Andrew,

…I don’t like being told that carbon should be priced to solve climate change, because I simply don’t think it will work. All attempts so far haven’t worked, and for one very simple reason – nobody wants to be forced to buy a negative, virtual commodity.

The history of environmental fines is poor. What makes anybody think that carbon can be cleaned up by pricing, when oil spills and air pollution cannot be cleaned up by pricing ?

What’s the name of your Harvard economist again ?

Continue reading You cannot pay for carbon

The Dearth of Sense

While everybody’s busy discussing ethics in the media, today’s been a great day to bury bad news – the shelving of the Energy Bill – and with it the Green Deal, the only hope Britain had left of economic recovery in the short-term.

And what of the Electricity Market Reform white paper and the National Policy Statements on energy ? Into the round wastepaper-bin-shaped recycling receptacle, possibly.

What next ? The revocation of the Climate Change Act and the dissolution of the Committee on Climate Change ?

I don’t know whether I should make overt political statements, but I think this news sugar ices the brioche, so I will : David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” has failed.

We need Van Jones, right here, right now.

Flashback 2008 : Who Pays for the Re-Powering ?

2nd November 2008

Browsing at a newsagent on a mainline railway station…

The question on the front cover of Fortune magazine, Europe edition Number 20, November 2008, already on the stands is “Who Pays for The Bailout ? You do, of course”. Of course, as this Credit Crunch means Bailout argument plays out, the issue of Energy and Climate Change is lost. But the question should be all about how to create a new green economy. Who pays for the re-powering ?

A sign of the greening times – another story teaser on the Fortune magazine advises “10 Green Stocks to Own Now”, and the front of the Independent on Sunday quotes Obama claiming that Energy is his “number one priority” in his bid for presidential election, with his “Apollo” project :-

“Obama’s green jobs revolution : Democrat will lead effort to curb world’s dependence on oil; Plans to create five million new posts in clean energy projects : By Geoffrey Lean in San Francisco and Leonard Doyle in Washington : Sunday, 2 November 2008 : Obama has pledged to create five million new ‘green collar jobs’ if elected : Barack Obama is promising a $150 billion “Apollo project” to bring jobs and energy security to the US through a new alternative energy economy, if his final push for votes brings victory in the presidential election on Tuesday. “That’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office,” Mr Obama has said of his “green recovery” plans. Making his arguments in a radio address yesterday, the Democratic favourite promised: “If you give me your vote on Tuesday, we won’t just win this election. Together, we will change this country and change the world.”…”

Meanwhile…Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband (and Peter Mandelson) get off the plane in Saudi and beg for investment into green energy in the UK :-

“Gulf petrodollars help UK go green : Brown calls for Saudis to give more cash to IMF : Gaby Hinsliff, political editor : The Observer, Sunday 2 November 2008 : The fight against climate change will get an unexpected boost today from oil-rich Gulf states which will pledge to invest some of their petrodollar profits in British green energy projects. The surging oil price over the past year has left parts of the Middle East awash with cash as the rest of the world is squeezed by the credit crunch, making Arab royals some of the few active investors worldwide. The Gulf states have enjoyed a $1.4 trillion windfall from higher oil prices since 2003. Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday with Gordon Brown at the start of a tour of the region. He said some of that cash would now ‘help our firms reap the rewards from going low carbon and providing green energy to thousands of families’ under a so-called ‘green Gulf deal’ to be announced today…”

But that’s not the real reason why they are there. Ostensibly, the delegation’s serious business is about asking Saudi and other Arab oil states to contribute more towards the International Monetary Fund :-

“Gordon Brown in the Middle East : Brown hopeful of Saudi cash for IMF : Allegra Stratton in Riyadh, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 November 2008 15.30 GMT : Gordon Brown said today he was hopeful of success in his attempts to persuade dollar-rich Gulf states to prop up ailing national economies through a massive injection of capital into the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The prime minister spent three hours in one-to-one talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, trying to persuade the monarch to invest in a revamped IMF. On the first leg of a four-day visit to the Middle East, and aiming to secure hundreds of billions of dollars for the fund, Brown called off a planned dinner with business leaders accompanying him so as to allow maximum negotiating time with the Saudi king. The IMF currently has around $250 billion in its emergency reserves but there are fears that, with Hungary, Iceland and Ukraine having already sought assistance and more nations expected to follow, the sum might not be sufficient. Brown hopes to persuade Gulf leaders to use some of the estimated $1 trillion they have made from high oil prices in the last few years to boost the reserves, indicating that he would like to see the current sum increased by “hundreds of billions” of dollars. The prime minister said following the talks that he was hopeful of having secured Saudi backing…”

But hang on, what’s this ? :-

“…Brown, who is accompanied by a high-level trade delegation seeking Gulf investment, including the CEOs of BP and Shell…”

What on earth are BP (formerly British Petroleum) and (Royal Dutch) Shell doing in a delegation to the Arab states begging for the IMF charity fund and green energy investment ? Is it that BP and Shell won’t pay for green energy and it’s too hard to ask the British people to pay extra tax, so they’re coming to the Arab countries for a green energy bail-in ? What is going on here ? If OPEC countries are all in the “Axis of Evil”, and no foreign oil and gas companies can get a toehold, why are BP and Shell in the government delegation to Saudi ?

Paying for new energy systems can be expensive. The European Union Emisssions Trading Scheme is saying they want 100% of carbon emissions auctioned by 2013 to pay for larger projects – Carbon Capture and Storage and new Nuclear Power. However, the costly deadweight “white elephant in the room” is not nuclear power, but dead wells.

Are they all talking about Peak Oil in the OPEC Gulf, and proposing business opportunities to the King of the House of Saud to offset the Middle East’s future total loss of business as the wells empty – offering them compensation in the form of green investment deals ? Asking the Saudis to join the green energy race now and get ahead ?

BP and Shell have benefited from the recent rise in the price of oil, profiting even as the oil price has hit millions and created impoverishment. But they’re going to have to spend a very large amount on exploration for new oil and gas from now on. So why is there still resistance to spending more on renewables ? Can BP and Shell ever be convinced to go green ? Would a barrel load of toxic news work ? No. BP and Shell can’t pay for green energy because they have to maintain the profits of their shareholders. Pensions are going to be bad enough without forcing major “British” oil companies to pay for such things as bioethanol, algae biodiesel, solar panels and wind farms.

Action to tackle climate change must be a “tight shadow” on Peak Oil and its fall – tighter than the 9.1% depletion of the largest wells projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) To reverse the oil decline, and more so to take action on climate change, investment is required. Banks are becoming owned by oil-rich nations, but this is simply a natural outcome of poor financial regulation that led to the Credit Crunch. However, it doesn’t mean that the future will be oil and gas necessarily. This new layer of ownership of financial bodies is not significant, as it will not seriously impact the greening of energy, if people are serious about it.

What is of value here is not banking but energy itself, which underpins the entire economy. The scenario is this : Saudi Arabia will not admit in public that it’s going down because of “Peak Oil”. They would prefer to keep up the revenue, but they’re not “engineering” a reduction of supply. It’s reducing anyway.

From their perspective, allowing supplies to weaken, by not doing any new investment into raising production, would be protecting their reserves to sell in future. A good strategy – even more so as prices rise against losses of supply but strong demand (even despite the blooming recession).

I figure that what BP and Shell are doing in the Middle East is making the case to the major oil-producing states to keep on pumping.

I guess that what Gordon Brown is doing is making the Saudis an offer they can’t refuse – either the major western states will implement measures to control oil prices which would make OPEC lose revenue, or the Saudis can underwrite the global bailout.

This mission is not about green energy investment. It’s about keeping the oil flowing.

Glenn Beck : “Dangerous and Evil”

http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/glenn-beck/transcript/beck-americas-energy-under-attack

Thank you, Coal.

Thank you for the asthma, the mercury, the mountain top removal, the birth defects, the mine fatalities, the grossly inefficient electricity networks, the lack of investment in electricity networks, the smog, the heat, and above all, thank you for giving us Glenn Beck, on a platter – this is so much fun to watch !

James Delingpole : Going Underground

James Delingpole hardly ever sets his delicate foot in Wales, the country he archaically refers to as “the Principality”, apart from, ooh, about ten days a year when he holidays there, but nonetheless, feels he has some kind of inherited ex-colonial right to be affronted that large electricity generation and transmission infrastructure are going to be built there :-

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100088906/wales-is-in-danger-why-isnt-the-prince-of-wales-saving-it/

He gets top marks for being rather offensive himself – achingly rude, in fact, about the Welsh Assembly, besides his getting untethered about the wind farms and pylons for the transmission cables :-

“…The wind farms are bad enough on their own. But to make matters far worse […], in order for these bird-crunching, bat-chomping, view-blighting, rent-seeking monstrosities to be connected to the grid a huge 400kv power line is going to be constructed all the way from Montgomeryshire through some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery to the equally beauteous Shropshire…”

Continue reading James Delingpole : Going Underground

Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=7999

I found this excellent little CATO Institute debate somewhere in my Twitter stream, and I watched the whole of it, despite the annoying accents and speaking styles of the speakers, and the insider economics references to Pigou and Coase (they’re only theorems, you know).

I thought that Kate Gordon made some excellent rebuttals to Andrew Morriss’ whining, pedantic free marketeering, and I was with her right up until the last few frames when she said that the Center for American Progress, of course, supports a carbon tax, as this is, of course, the best way to prevent Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Such disappointment ! To find that somebody so intelligent cannot see the limitations of carbon pricing is a real let down. I tend to find that American “progressives” on the whole are rather wedded to this notion of environmental taxation, “internalising the externalities” – adding the damages from industrial activities into the cost of the industrial products. I do not see any analysis of the serious flaws in this idea. Just what are they drinking ? What’s in the Kool-Aid ?

Continue reading Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

The “red tape” challenge

So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?

He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.

Continue reading The “red tape” challenge