Sunday, February 27, 2022

Ukraine 01

There was a brief window of hope, perhaps only real in some parallel universe, when war might have been avoided. If the west had recognised the People's Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, Putin may have been content. Ukraine might have split between east and west and lived as neighbours happily ever after. But the moment the first shot was fired that hope evaporated.

We are where we are and there are no winners. Putin may have calculated that Volodymyr Zelenskyy would flee and a new regime, amenable to his requirements, could be swiftly installed, the hit to some oligarchs inconvenienced by token sanctions, factored into the gains that close association with one of the most resource rich countries on the planet brings.

Forecasts, especially about the future, usually turn out to be wrong, but from this moment it looks as though Putin has succeeded in uniting much of the Ukrainian population against him and any idea of ever having closer links to Russia in preference to Western Europe is for the birds. And Ukrianians appear willing to fight for every inch of their ground.

As a pacifist and totally unwilling to ever pick up a gun myself and point it in the direction of another human being, I'm not going to start advocating that anybody else should. But what I am more than willing to do is suffer the economic consequences, and I don't belittle them, of a complete trade embargo of Putin's Russia. 

Currently the West sends some $300,000,000 every day to Russia in payment for oil, gas, minerals and other products. That trade should be stopped. Now. Europe would have to go on to something akin to a war-footing, but without the killing. There might need to be rationing of energy (allowing the price to go through the roof just forces misery on the poor while the rich carry on). As in war, industrial production needs to be switched, not to armaments, but to everything that reduces our dependency on Russian energy, from home insulation to alternative power production. The fighting may be restricted to Ukraine but the whole world should share the work and pain involved in defeating Putin.

The aim must be to swiftly demonstrate that Russia will be an isolated pariah, cut off from the rest of the world. Putin is not immortal and at some point the Russian population will find the strength to remove him. Our hope is that he sees this inevitability long before Kyiv is reduced to the rubble we have seen in Homs and Aleppo in Syria.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not use the same dressing up box as Boris Johnson, who favours the hi-viz look.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Energy Bills

Faced with the decarbonising imperative of the climate crisis, the talk had been of stranded assets, the fossil carbon industry holding coal, oil and gas that would have to stay in the ground as we moved to renewable energy sources. Big oil's days were numbered.

The industry has now pulled off a master-stroke. The increase in gas prices on the world market has been accounted for by increased demand in a post-pandemic recovery (we are not post-covid, but that's another story) with demand from China in particular being blamed.

There has been no sudden spike in the production costs of gas, or any other type of energy, so the increased prices translate directly to increased profit for the producers. In the UK 22 million households will be paying more cash to their energy providers for something that is costing no more to get out of the ground.

This may be the biggest, fastest, transfer of wealth from the many to the few, from everyone to the owners of the energy industry, ever, in all history. Even the 'oil shock' of half a century ago, which certainly had a massive long-term effect on global trade, did not impact households in such an immediate fashion.

And almost nobody has realised.

Increased energy prices are a Good Thing. The price of fossil carbon is far too low since the cost of the environmental damage done by burning it is externalised; the price we pay now does not reflect the price future generations will be charged for repairing the planet. So the increased price of our energy bills should be welcomed.


That there are poor people who will be unable to pay their bills, unable to keep warm is a Bad Thing. There are myriad ways and means to abolish poverty; it is for government to deal effectively with the issue before increased bills drop through letter-boxes.

We have to stop burning fossil carbon to mitigate global heating. Rolling out more renewable energy production is necessary but not sufficient. Currently the growth in renewables is barely keeping pace with growth in energy demand let alone replacing fossil carbon. Degrowth has to be established in the energy scene.

The low-hanging fruit of energy demand destruction in the UK is insulating our homes, but, absurdly, the Government is more concerned to put #InsulateBritain protestors in prison than to actually insulate Britain. The money is available; a windfall tax on the energy companies, to recoup all of the profits from the recent price rises, would go a long way towards rolling out a meaningful programme of home insulation, addressing several problems at one stroke.

It needs to be done before another winter arrives.