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Tim Watkins: Anatomy of the Crisis

Tim Watkins: Anatomy of the Crisis

Welcome to the oil death spiral

Welcome to the oil death spiral

There is something deeply tragic about watching people who would be dead within a fortnight without oil nevertheless calling for oil – and fossil fuels more broadly – to be banned immediately.  It is possible, of course, that these people believe that food grows inside supermarkets or that the chemicals used to provide clean drinking water can be beamed to the waterworks using Star Trek technology.  The hard reality though, is that every aspect of modern living – even for those of us surviving on the margins – depends upon oil… and not just any old oil.  The workhorse behind the modern, hi-tech western economies is the roughly 30 percent fraction of an average barrel of oil called diesel.

Take a look around the room where you are reading this.  Every item your eyes land upon was, at some point in its life, transported on a truck – if you are in the UK, a large part of it will have arrived on a ship from Asia too.  Almost all of those trucks used diesel as a fuel.  Some smaller trucks and vans may have used petrol (gasoline) and an even smaller number may have been electric… but only the small ones – you cannot run a large semi using batteries (at least, not if you want to leave some space for cargo).

Take another look around the room for anything made from or with plastic, or anything which is painted or dyed.  These, too required oil in their manufacture.  Almost everything made of metal or requiring metal as a component began life in the bucket of a diesel-powered crane, which loaded it as an ore onto a diesel-powered mining truck, which delivered it to a fossil fuel-powered grinding machine which, in turn moved the crushed ore to a fossil fuel (coal or gas)-powered smelter.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Central banks are stealing underpants

Central banks are stealing underpants

Let’s talk about supply shocks.  Cast your mind back to the beginning of March 2020.  Remember how everyone panic bought pasta and toilet paper?  Except that it didn’t really happen – at least on a large scale.  What happened was, in their usual underhand way, the establishment media paid supermarket managers to hide the toilet rolls just out of shot while they photographed the empty shelves.  And then there was that time when the photographer got one of his mates to load a shopping trolley with multi-packs of toilet rolls to give the impression that this was commonplace.  But there were shortages.  Not from panic buying, but simply from the additional demand as we all added one or two extra items to our weekly shop.  In a just-in-time supply system, that is all it takes to create a shortage.

There was more though.  When lockdown began, there was a massive switch from what we might call the wholesale supply chain into the – usually much smaller – retail supply chain, as big consumers like schools, offices, factories, hotels and restaurants dramatically cut consumption even as a newly created army of homeworkers sought to increase theirs.  For example, most eggs would previously have been consumed in the wholesale sector, where they are packaged in cartons of thirty or more.  In the retail sector, eggs come mostly in half-dozen and dozen cartons.  So that, at the beginning of lockdown there was an egg shortage because of the shortage of egg cartons.  Toilet paper was affected in a similar way as demand for the large, wholesale rolls used in offices and factories slumped even as demand for household size rolls rocketed.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

In Brief: OPEC and out, Prices up – inflation down, Constructive ambiguity, The essential difference, Pet cemetery, Another fuel

In Brief: OPEC and out, Prices up – inflation down, Constructive ambiguity, The essential difference, Pet cemetery, Another fuel

OPEC and out

The political fallout from the OPEC+ decision to cut its oil production target by two million barrels a day – which would leave the world economy around six million barrels a day short of its pre-pandemic peak – is sufficient to push us closer to collapse.  The Biden administration, who optimistically believed the President had secured a 200-million-barrel deal with the Saudis to replenish the USA’s strategic reserve, have treated the announcement as tantamount to a declaration of war.  Although there is no law of physics that says oil producing states have to provide the west with cheap oil.

The decision is yet another Western own goal in an economic war that the west is clearly losing.  It was the Biden administration’s decision to refuse new licenses for US domestic production which, despite depletion, could still fill the gap left by OPEC+ cuts (although the USA – like the UK – still needs to import heavy oil).  It was also their decision to empty the strategic reserve, which is meant for dire emergencies, solely to keep pump prices down ahead of next month’s mid-term elections.  Elections that Biden’s team may well lose, as Michael Shellenberger reminded Americans this week, the situation:

“… poses political risks for Democrats who, in the spring of 2020, killed a proposal by President Donald Trump to replenish the SPR with oil from American producers, not OPEC+ ones, and at a price of $24 a barrel, not the $80 a barrel that the Biden White House promised to OPEC+. At the time, Trump was seeking to stabilize the American oil industry after the Covid-19 pandemic massively reduced oil demand…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Since when did banks produce energy?

Since when did banks produce energy?

It takes a special kind of cynical self-interest to make people pay twice for something they already cannot afford, while claiming you are doing them a favour.  This though, is the energy price relief package announced by Liz Truss yesterday.  The package plays that old political card of being not quite as bad as it might otherwise have been, while still being a lot worse than it was.

Politically, the announcement confirms a great deal of what we suspected.  In recent years there has been a growing belief that the Versailles-on-Thames technocracy pulls the strings and that incoming prime ministers are simply given their script on arrival in 10 Downing Street – this is born out by an energy package – drawn up by technocrats over the last six weeks – which is wholly at odds with Truss’s policy announcements during her leadership campaign.  The announcement also demonstrates that despite her third-rate tribute act, Truss is no Margaret Thatcher, nor even the economic liberal that she claims… because a true libertarian – and likely Saint Margaret herself – would have allowed the energy companies to go bust rather than ignore the inflationary impact of state intervention… so now we know.

The package itself involves capping the average energy bill at £2,500 for the next two years, rather than the immediate rise to £3,549 and the anticipated rise above £6,000 in 2023.  There is also a reduction on the regressive standing charge for electricity as the various green levies are removed.  A reduction in VAT is also expected in future, and the national £400 bill reduction, together with the £650 for people on low incomes remains and may be extended next year.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

In Brief: Trading safety, An inflection point, The crisis of under-consumption, A reign of decline

In Brief: Trading safety, An inflection point, The crisis of under-consumption, A reign of decline

Trading safety

Within the inner sanctum of one of the world’s oldest and most esteemed universities, an ageing professor sits in a battered leather armchair.  Oblivious to the day-to-day sensations within the room – the slow tick and tock of an antique grandfather clock, the shimmering particles of dust caught in the beam of sunlight making its way through the sash window, or the odour of the worn, dusty and tea-stained carpet – our professor meditates upon the deeper mysteries of the universe.  In the adjacent reception sits a dragon secretary, whose main role in life is to guard the inner sanctum and to ensure that none of the mundane workings of a modern university be allowed to disturb the professor’s haven of tranquillity.

After three decades of neoliberal governments turning universities from bastions of knowledge and inquiry into the individual units of a cargo cult-based Ponzi scheme, this vision of a university may be but a reflection of a lost past.  It is, however, a metaphor for the way in which the human brain works – just like the dragon secretary – to prevent any of the millions of pieces of data that flood in through the senses from disturbing peace of mind.

When the mechanism – which psychologists call the “Affective Signalling System,” which causes us to seek pleasure and avoid danger – works properly, any sudden change in the environment will be allowed to enter the conscious mind.  This is a safety mechanism wired in by ancestors who needed to know if that rustle in the grass or snapping of a twig might indicate the presence of a predator hungry for a hominid meal.  And even within that tranquil inner sanctum, the odds are that our professor will notice immediately if the old grandfather clock stops ticking.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nobody could have seen it coming

Nobody could have seen it coming

Eighteen months ago, the UK average annual combined gas and electricity bill was £1,287.  Later this week, we expect to learn that it will rise to £3,582 in October and to £4,266 in January 2023.  Not, in reality, that anybody is going to pay that amount.  All but those at the very top of the income ladder will instead cut back on energy use, with those at the bottom forced to self-disconnect.  The problem is far worse for business users, who are not “protected” by the price “cap” imposed by the regulator.  Energy is often the third largest cost – after wages and taxes – to businesses which have already been struggling with higher input and debt-servicing costs.  What this is pointing to is a major affordability crisis this winter, with growing concerns for public health and the likelihood of a recessionary wave of business insolvencies.

As with the 2008 crash, the Versailles-on-Thames establishment are keen to point out that “nobody could have seen it coming.”  After all, “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” coming just as the economy was staggering out of a two-year pandemic – itself arriving just months after the UK finalised Brexit – amounts to a combination of events which would have been considered outlandish in a work of fiction…  except that a work of partial fiction – a docudrama – accurately set out the main causes of the UK’s current energy woes eighteen years ago.

In 2003, BBC programme makers began work on a series called “If… ,” which aimed to explore the future crises which required political leaders to act immediately, using drama to make the point.  The three series, which were broadcast between March 2004 and May 2006, tackled issues like the impact of obesity on public health, the growing disparity between rich and poor, and intergenerational conflict between the boomers and millennials…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Net zero is dead – so what now?

Net zero is dead – so what now?

There is a deep irony that Europe’s wind turbine factories were among the first to close in the face of our growing energy crisis.  Nevertheless, it goes a long way to demonstrating the fundamental flaw in the net zero project – while the harvested energy of the wind may be renewable, the technologies that do the harvesting are not.  Indeed, these supposedly “green” technologies depend upon complex global supply chains powered by fossil fuels at every stage of their manufacture, transportation, deployment, maintenance, and decommissioning.  But that inconvenient truth was never allowed to get in the way of the technocratic net zero fantasy – aka “the great reset,” “the green new deal,” or “the fourth industrial revolution.”

It wasn’t, you see, just us who were “energy blind.”  Indeed, those at the bottom of the income ladder tend to be more aware of the importance of energy – including having enough calories to ward off hunger – than the technocrats and elites at the top of the pyramid, who tend to believe that they are perched up in the clouds solely due to their own efforts, rather than to having burned their way through a mountain of coal and an ocean of oil to generate their theoretical wealth.  And so, they sold us this children’s story about how complexity and science don’t really matter, and that so long as we all wish hard enough, we could replace all of the coal, gas and oil with sunlight, wind and pixie dust.  And in doing so, nothing would really change, and we would all own nothing but still live happily ever after.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Green technocracy’s dirty secret

Green technocracy’s dirty secret

Germany is in trouble.  The IMF has revised its projected growth figures down to just 1.2 percent for 2022.  Even this may prove to be optimistic now that gas imports from Russia have dropped to just 20 percent of what was anticipated prior to the EU sanctions.  With autumn approaching, German industry is anticipating power outages while the population looks forward to food and energy shortages.

The cuts in gas supplies – resulting, apparently, from Canada refusing to return essential turbines following repair – mean that Germany has no chance of building up its gas storage before winter arrives.  And, of course, it is possible that the Russian state will use this moment of weakness to cut supplies even further.  After all, most of the future gas which would have gone to Europe has since been sold to Asian states instead.

Inevitably then, German – and western – media outlets will spend much of the winter talking about “Putin’s energy cuts.”  In reality, it is the European technocracy and its puppet politicians who bear the greater responsibility.  After all, it is they who have spent the last three decades leaving Europe vulnerable to precisely this kind of supply shock.  As Lea Booth at Quillette argues:

“The truth is that the Energiewende was doomed to fail from the start. Germany bet big on solar and wind and shut down their nuclear plants when they should have forgone renewables and expanded their nuclear energy program instead. Germany’s anti-nuclear ideology is so rigid that they closed three nuclear plants in December 2021, despite the global energy crisis, and plan to close their last three nuclear plants this December, despite Russia’s energy extortion.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bigger than you can imagine

Bigger than you can imagine

What I “remember” of the 1970s is actually very limited.  Most of what I think of as “my memories” have, in fact, been generated by various retrospective media coverage of the period which provide the framework into which my scraps of memory have been slotted.  And the younger someone is, the more their view of the 1970s will have been shaped by media rather than memory.  And so, it has been all too easy for today’s lazy news coverage to frame our current woes through the lens of an imaginary 1970s.

The crisis now unfolding, however, is entirely different to the 1970s in one crucial respect… The 1970s crisis was largely artificial.  When all is said and done, the oil shock was nothing more than the emerging OPEC cartel asserting its newfound leverage following the peak of continental US oil production…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The great unravelling

The great unravelling

Real life Bond villain Klaus Schwab has become the focus of ridicule following crude attempts to remove articles praising Sri Lanka’s “Vision 2025” economic plan from the World economic Forum (WEF) website – the world’s leading proponent of the hi-tech fourth industrial revolution apparently not realising that nothing ever disappears from the internet.

Sri Lanka was supposed to be the poster child for the Great Green New Reset, scoring a 98 percent ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) ranking.  Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa winning considerable praise from globalist leaders and climate activists alike for his speech to the COP26 conference in Glasgow last November:

“Sri Lanka recently restricted imports of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides due to public health concerns, water contamination, soil degradation, and biodiversity impacts.

“Although opposed by entrenched lobbies, this has created opportunities for innovation and investment into organic agriculture that will be healthier and more sustainable in future.”

Critics of climate action have understandably focussed on this policy as “the reason” for Sri Lanka’s economic collapse and descent into political chaos – Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe having fled the country after the hungry masses invaded the presidential palace last week.  In spite of praise from organisations like the WEF and the world bank, however, the Sri Lankan economy was highly indebted and vulnerable to economic shocks long before the country’s leaders decided that a mass crash diet was in order.  The country’s main sources of foreign currency – without which it could not repay its debts – are tea exports and tourism.  Tourism was, of course, crushed in 2020 and 2021, as countries locked down and air travel ground to a halt.  In 2022, moreover, air travel is still disrupted, and far fewer consumers can afford international travel.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The age of dissonance

The age of dissonance

As the surplus energy available to the economy declines, so the number of things that we can do in theory but can no longer do in practice will grow.  This is the inverse of the technological efficiencies won in the course of three centuries of industrialisation – the peak of which occurred at some point in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The two obvious apex technologies were the Anglo-French Concorde – the only supersonic passenger aircraft to operate commercially – and the USA’s Saturn Five rocket and associated technologies which propelled three men at a time to the Moon and back.  We didn’t forget how to do those things, and theoretically we could repeat them given enough time and resources.  But energetically, they are now beyond us – the energy cost of doing them is far greater than any benefits they might offer in return.  The humble automated car wash turns out to be a more mundane technology that is disappearing in the rear-view mirror.  It is simply cheaper to pay someone to hose down a car, or cash-strapped car owners can do it themselves.  And following peak oil in November 2018, and with the ensuing energy crisis – exacerbated by lockdowns and economic warfare – gathering pace, we can expect many more of our supposed technological feats to turn into stranded assets.

Another technology – in the broadest sense of the word – that looks set to go the way of the dodo is the once ubiquitous shopping high street.  The once prestigious department stores were already in freefall before SARs-CoV-2 began its world tour.  But two years of lockdowns have devastated retail businesses of all kinds, leaving shuttered-up shopfronts along every high street in the country, with the Welsh city of Newport claiming the record for having a third of its former shops empty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Walking backward into the storm

Walking backward into the storm

Are we in a recession?  It is an interesting question because nobody can know for sure.  A recession is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth.  Okay, but how do we know if, in the quarter we are in, the economy is shrinking?  Again, we cannot know this.  This is because the latest data we have is for February 2022… and it showed an unexpected fall in growth to just 0.1 percent.  In the event that growth turned sufficiently negative in March 2022, then the first quarter of 2022 as a whole might have been negative.  And in the event that this negative trend continued through April and on through May and June 2022, then we would indeed be in a recession… but we will only know for sure when the data is published in August.

It is on this kind of uncertainty that economic policy is set.  On top of the slowdown in growth – which may have improved or worsened, but nobody knows yet – comes data for March showing a dramatic fall in retail spending, largely resulting from rising food and fuel prices.  Is this because households and businesses can no longer afford to buy, or are they reining in their spending in anticipation of higher prices in future?  Again, we do not know.  Certainly, food and energy retailers have warned that prices will have to rise in future.  At the same time, households and businesses face higher local and national taxes and utility bills.  And so, falling sales is likely a combination of both prices that have already risen and the expectation of price rises to come.

Crucially though, the lens through which economic policy makers are viewing the economic clouds gathering on the horizon is a financial lens which looks back fondly on the sunlit uplands of the pre-2008 years as some kind of normal…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This time really is different

This time really is different

The UK may have avoided a technical recession – two successive quarters of negative growth – in the first half of 2022, but a year from now this will be of little comfort.  This is because – despite the protestations of the US Bidon administration – the downturn in economic activity in the latest (February) growth figures – 0.1 percent, down from 0.8 percent in January – has nothing to do with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.  Rather, the decline in economic activity is the result, primarily, of a massive global shortfall in energy, with fossil fuel extraction impaired by the lack of investment during the lockdowns, and with oil down some four million barrels a day from its November 2018 peak.

Last autumn, these energy shortages translated into painful spikes in prices, which helped fan the flames of a general inflation resulting from broken supply chains and the rapid spending of two-years’ worth of state pandemic handouts – mostly to corporations and the wealthier half of the population.  Much of the additional demand generated by state spending, however, has already disappeared – in part due to the additional price of almost everything within the economy at a time when wages are failing to keep up.

In this, at least, the inflation of the 2020s is very different to its 1970s cousin.  In those days, wages were protected by a combination of strong trade unions, governments committed to maintaining full-employment, and financial controls that prevented investor-flight.  None of those constraints exists today and are not compensated for by a minimum wage which, if set too high, can only result in fewer jobs.  In a few sectors of the economy – such as HGV haulage last autumn – market forces have driven up wages.  Although even here, employers have preferred to offer golden handshakes rather than an increase in the hourly wage…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Imperialism in bright green

Imperialism in bright green

Voiced by Amazon Polly

The human ability to disconnect from and deny geopolitical reality lies at the heart of the “green” net-zero project.  Most obviously, those – like the current UK Prime Minister – who claim victories along the road to the Nirvana of net-zero must maintain blindness to the way in which the UK economy is integrated into a global industrial civilisation.  As a result, such measures as closing British coal mines and coal-fired power stations can be translated into lower national carbon emissions figures, even though all that is achieved is the outsourcing of UK emissions to other, less developed states elsewhere on the planet.  Aiding this sleight of hand is the international convention that we do not include emissions from shipping in anyone’s national data, giving the appearance that there is no difference between goods moved tens of miles by truck or train, and goods transported by ship from the other side of the Earth.

Nor is it only governments and politicians that get away with this dubious accounting trick.  Activists simultaneously demand the construction of thousands of wind turbines – manufactured on the other side of the planet – while denying the need for the materials from which wind turbines are made, deployed, and maintained.  Consider, for example, the recent outrage over the decision to extend the Aberpergwm anthracite mine in South Wales and the proposal for a new mine in Cumbria.  Both are intended to supply UK steelworks which, among other things, will produce the steel which is essential to the construction and deployment of thousands of wind turbines.  Activists have reacted as if wind turbines might otherwise magically construct and deploy themselves with the aid of the net-zero fairy, or – even less plausibly…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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