20 December, 2010

High Speed Rail - A rather large "White Elephant" in a small country?

For a Government advocating Localism, de-centralisation and devolution of power to local government and communities, I am astonished that it should also promote an exceptionally expensive high speed railway that reinforces London's central role within UK in stark contrast to these policies and only reduces journey time to Central London by a mere 30 minutes for the relatively few people having access to the service when compared with the total number of taxpayers expected to contribute to it.  Moreover, this does not make any sense at all while there are far more important priorities to attend to during these times of austerity and economic uncertainty with a fast approaching energy crunch already on the horizon.  What is the Business Case for this and who prioritises how tax payers money is best spent in the National Interest?
This has the stench of another enormous “White Elephant” about it similar to that of the MOD’s requirement for new but obsolete and vulnerable aircraft carriers without aircraft or affordable aviation and marine fuel oils to operate with at some near point in time post peak oil which, according to the International Energy Agency, occurred in 2006.
Our politicians seem to be completely out of touch with the real world and the issues confronting the 21st century.  19th and 20th century military and economic models no longer apply and current events have shown that unlimited growth dependent economies based on leveraged credit (fractional-reserve banking) are unsustainable in a world with finite resources.  Global resource depletion of all kinds is already impacting economic growth potential worldwide thereby threatening a century of international conflict.
In the immediate years ahead, we need to focus on the following:
  1. Massively reducing climate changing emissions, possibly with the assistance of geoenginering, while  developing sources of renewable energy including Spaced Based Solar Power in collaboration or partnership with Japan or any other world power.
  2. Developing, scaling up and deploying energy storage facilities that enable efficient and dependable supplies of renewable clean energy.
  3. Electrifying all forms of transport – dependent on future capacity of secure base load renewable energy supplies  and availability of Rare Earth Metals essential to green technologies.
  4. De-carbonising the current “just in time” food supply chain which is extremely vulnerable to peak oil.  A government 2005 report revealed that food miles within UK amounted to a staggering 30 billion kilometres or more per annum which is unsustainable in the medium to long term and clearly needs urgent attention.
  5. Developing new methods of sustainable self-sufficiency in local food production, storage, food preservation and distribution.
  6. De-centralising, diversifying and automating manufacturing capabilities as well as building capacity beyond already congested industrial and manufacturing areas in order to facilitate re-localisation.
  7. Improving, extending and electrifying existing rail networks to facilitate overnight long haul freight and re-localisation.
  8. Doubling existing passenger rail network capacity by adopting UK fabricated double-decker carriages similar to those found in France and Sydney, Australia.
  9. Improving interconnects between road, rail, air, sea, river and canal transport systems resulting overall in a more integrated, energy efficient and optimized national transport network.
  10. Deploying nationwide high speed fibre optic networks that enable global multimedia communications including video conferencing that dramatically reduces the need for business or personal travel and facilitates remote industrial, manufacturing and research capabilities.
  11. Ensuring full productive employment and that a greater share of the national wealth is more evenly distributed throughout UK to improve social welfare and provide for a rapidly aging population.
  12. Ensuring an end to hubris and national wealth being squandered in questionable overseas military campaigns, unnecessary mega-projects or bailing out insolvent Bankers.
  13. Compensating prudent savers, and in particular pensioner's savings, for the unexpected loss of interest income arising from Government emergency measures to rescue reckless financial institutions from insolvency while sheltering overextended borrowers from a similar fate by imposing historically low interests rates and printing money to underwrite the unknown full extent of remaining toxic loans on bank balance sheets.
The dreadful state of the UK economy and finances has come about because of inadequate regulation of UK Financial Services by successive Governments and incompetent Government Financial Services "watch dogs"!  It appears that past Governments turned a "blind eye" to the excessive risks attached to extremely lucrative activities of a few amoral business and finance elites engaged in short term speculative investments which generated extraordinary capital gains and thus tax revenues that in turn seduced our Governments into supporting the interests of the elite at the expense of the long term interests of the people they were supposed to serve and protect.  The inevitable financial catastrophe that followed in 2007/8 almost caused the total collapse of the UK banking sector were it not for a massive injection of public funds.  Recorded history dictates that they should have known better.
"Business as usual" is no longer sustainable.  It is time for radical change and long term investment in people and the things that society really needs, including re-skilling of the working population so that this nation can once again become an industrial and self-sufficient agricultural nation.  Transition Town Totnes is an example of what many communities will aspire to and want to achieve when confronted with years of economic contraction as competition for and access to dwindling resources becomes increasingly restricted by rising costs beyond what most people can comfortably afford.

17 July, 2010


With unprecedented levels of public sector debt (c.£4 trillion) and the prospect of an energy crunch likely to further undermine our economy within this Parliament, there is a high probability that we will experience a double-dip recession that could reduce our Government’s ability to pay down debt and meet future public sector liabilities, even with drastic public spending cuts.  Moreover, there isn't very much more the government can do to further stimulate the economy as interest rates are already at record low levels and taxation must increase in order to reduce the deficit.

In these circumstances, the economy could easily slip into a depression likely to be worse than the Great Depression as the global financial markets and our external creditors lose confidence in our ability to service our debts and another even worse credit crunch ensues.  Events in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain have already rattled global investment communities and interest rates in these countries are likely to soar reflecting the perceived level of risk associated with their economic growth potential and thus their ability to repay debt.  Governments in these countries have had strict austerity measures imposed on them by their external creditors to ensure that they are able to service their debts.

As a centre of international finance, UK has accumulated the second largest external debt in the world (after US) of almost five times GDP that could easily result in it being next in line for austerity measures being imposed by external creditors.  Accordingly, the new coalition government is entirely focused on paying down debt as allowing public sector debt to continue rising in a shrinking economy is a recipe for disaster.  Moreover, to allow foreign creditors to dictate terms for repayment would mean a loss of control over our sovereignty and independence.

It is time for a “reality check” and for us all to confront these issues through urgent and radical change in our consumer orientated ways of life by transitioning towards local low-carbon economies with resilient communities as self-sufficient as possible.  Energy and food security are likely to become issues of paramount importance.

Consequently, I have created this discussion paper that aims to distil the assumptions that will influence outcomes in the near to medium term, outline a mitigation strategy and determine a road map to implement the strategy.  This document is a work in progress that will evolve as the detail emerges and constructive comments are received from those of you that would like to contribute to its ongoing development.

In an effort to reduce bureaucracy and costs, the new coalition government has introduced policies of decentralization and devolution of powers to Local Government with decision making at the community level which will depend on motivating the general public, that have hitherto been essentially apathetic to change and cynical of Local Government initiatives, to step forward and become sustainable community activists.

The Government has also recognized the urgent need to stimulate reform and empower society in its recent launch of “The Big Society” that aims to deliver cultural change and inspire social enterprise.

We are all in this together and must start a collective process of change in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation rather than the traditional adversarial approach to change favoured by older politics and conventional Capitalism that culminated in a dysfunctional Labour government and the economic mess we are now in.

09 May, 2010


In the election debates broadcast on TV there has been an alarming absence of any political acknowledgement or discussion surrounding Peak Oil and the imminent energy crunch likely to undermine our economy during the next government's term of office.  Without secure and affordable sources of energy our economy cannot function let alone grow!  This is well documented in the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre video; "Natural Regression".

The first report of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) is essential reading for anyone in authority and in a position to initiate energy security contingency planning down to the community level. Energy security will have a more direct and immediate impact on us all in the coming years, eclipsing the Government's priority to mitigate Climate Change.If you don't have time to read the whole report then just read the Forward by Lord Ron Oxburgh (former Chairman of Shell), the Executive Summary and Conclusions to get the gist of what is in store for us in the very near future.

Executive Summary extract:
"Energy policy in the UK: reversal of priorities?
Neither the government, nor the public, nor many companies, seem to be aware of the dangers the UK economy faces from imminent peak oil. Big as our current economic problems are, peak oil means a very high probability of worse problems to come.  The risks to UK society from peak oil are far greater than those that tend to occupy the government’s risk-thinking, including terrorism.  Currently, it seems to us, the government places climate change as first priority for policymaking, followed by energy security, with peak oil (if it is viewed as a problem at all) in last place. In our view the more serious short-term climate-change impacts – substantial as they will be – will not be the first to wash over our economy.  Peak-oil impacts are more likely to arrive first, with 2011-13 being a worryingly early candidate window based on the evidence in Opinion A.  The core priorities we think the country faces are the reverse of the government’s current thinking. First we need to buy insurance for our national economy against peak oil. Next in line comes wider energy security, because our gas supplies are much at risk from geopolitics.  We could in principle face the prospect of power shortages as soon as the coming winter, but on balance we believe a gas crunch is less likely to hit than peak oil before 2013.  Climate change in this approach comes third not because it is less important, but because its severest impacts are further out than 2013."

If we accept the above premise which is shared by Lloyd's Insurance (World leaders in risk assessment and management) and the US Military amongst many others, then we are running out of time to prepare contingency plans and mobilize resources to mitigate energy uncertainty as the timeframe for establishing a low-carbon local economy must therefore be brought forward from 2050 to within the next Parliament.

I have read all the political party policy Manifestos but none acknowledge Peak Oil or indicate a time-frame for urgent contingency planning and priority actions.  There has to be a policy on Peak Oil just as there is on Climate Change.

If the next Government intend to follow the time-frame simply to mitigate Climate Change set by the previous Government and EU Directives i.e. transition to a low carbon economy by 2050 then all is lost!  We urgently need to prepare communities for energy descent towards a low-carbon economy (imposed by over-population and ensuing resource depletion) by 2020 and no later. 

The enormity of the task ahead of us is made clear in the summary of Professor David MacKay’s speech to the House of Lords 13 January 2009.   He is now Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

From a risk management view point, it makes much more sense to plan for the more immediate energy crunch facing us as this will inevitably fulfill climate change mitigation too.

The February 2010 second report of the UK Industrial Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security concludes:
"The severity and impact of the Oil Crunch in terms of economic disruption will be largely determined by the degree to which the period to 2014 is used to plan and adapt to the real threat of restricted oil supplies"

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any sense of urgency in dealing with this major issue which is very worrying. Cross party consensus on this is also essential as we can no longer continue to pretend there isn't a problem.

Everyone should be asking their election candidates if this is a top priority and what they would do about it?

Go here to find out who your election candidates are and then write to them to raise awareness and get some kind of response to this pressing major issue.

Doing nothing or the bare minimum is no longer an option as the economic and social implications of not preparing for massive energy cost hikes and supply disruptions are horrendous and could quickly lead to an extended national emergency.  Those of us that endured the early 1970s energy crisis temporarily imposed by the Arab oil embargo and coal miners’ strikes that resulted in fuel rationing and the three day work week can attest to this.

The difference this time is that because of energy resource depletion and the limited potential for renewable energy (for logistical and geopolitical reasons) there may be no viable way to avoid a long term energy crisis using conventional technologies which puts our National Security at high risk.

A possible long term solution to our looming energy crisis that warrants further investigation and evaluation can be found here.