Shale Gas Protests in Romania

One story that the major news media seems to have missed was that of a recent set of shale gas protests in rural Romania against the actions of the US owned firm Chevron. It would seem Chevron decided to start fracking on people’s land (or even back gardens!) without making any effort to consult with them first nor offer any sort of compensation.

Naturally this made them none too popular with the locals who proceeded to make a bit of a fuss, blocking roads and occupying sites. With the international media starting to sniff around and realising they were sitting on a bit of a PR disaster, Chevron responded by going around handing out flyers explaining why having a shale gas well in your back yard is kind of swell.

It would seem to be yet another example of an all too typical tale. Representatives of a corporation show up with a truck load of money outside the door step of some impoverished government. In return for which they get Carte Blanche to do whatever they want in said country. Inevitably this leads to exploitation and repression of local communities and destruction of the environment. A good example is the actions of Chevron’s in Ecuador and the toxic legacy they’ve left behind. Here they began using drilling practices and waste disposal techniques that were illegal in the US causing enormous harm to the Jungle environment.

It also shows us yet another reason to oppose fracking in the UK or US. Although at least in the US if a shale gas well explodes you get a free pizza!

Another factor related to shale gas fracking has been the level of methane leakage from such wells. Given that methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas any significant leakage of methane would represent a significant level of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed some worry that shale gas might be worse than coal as far as overall greenhouse gas emissions. Recent evidence now points to the possibility that the leakage levels have been significantly underestimated…by as much as 50%!

There are in short, many reasons for opposing shale gas drilling and pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. Climate change is one, the destruction of the environment another. But the corrupt dirty politics of these industries is clearly one of them.

Debating Europe?

Nick Clegg has challenged UKIP’s Nigel Farage to a debate about the UK’s EU membership. I’m a bit apprehensive about this one. Debating anything with radical right winger’s be it climate change, creationism or economics tends to be a bit like wrestling a pig. You both get dirty and the pig seems to enjoy it.

A good example of this can be seen by Bill Nye’s (American TV’s “the science guy”) recent debate with Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham. Ham employed a host of standard techniques the most notable of which is the so called “Gish Gallop”, whereby you fire off various half-truth’s, myth’s and plane made up BS in rapid succession, but your opponent is never given sufficient time to counter this by pointing out that you’re either lying or don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Indeed Ken Ham has his own Gish Gallop like technique often called the Ham Hightail.

E.g. no doubt Farage will bring up the issues the UK is having extraditing terrorist suspects, thanks to the human right act….but forgetting to mention that other EU countries have similar issues with terrorists and have found ways around this same human rights act (the problem for the UK is a lack of a UK constitution and ultimately the fact that, as the UK supported G. W. Bush’s rendition policy, judges here tend not to trust the government when the promise people won’t be tortured if sent abroad).

Or he might play the usual bigot card “immigrants from the EU are only here to claim benefits”. But of course the benefits system in other EU countries often pay’s out much more and its not as if there aren’t UK citizens living in Germany for example claiming benefits there. Also the official figures suggest that the cost to the UK of benefits claims from non UK citizens is tiny. Given that only 11% of the UK population is “foreign born” and even if the same number claim benefits as UK citizens (which they don’t barely 13,000 foreigners are currently claiming housing benefits) then given that the job’s seekers is only 0.69% of the UK budget that means immigrants cost us 0.075% or 1/1312th of the UK budget (plus whatever those 13,000 housing benefits claims cost) at most. And such a figure is easily cancelled out by the taxes paid by migrants over here working.

I think you get the message. The point is its far easier to make cheap sound bites and spout BS than refute this with cold hard facts and unless this debate includes a mechanism for fact checking Nigel Farage’s inevitably outlandish claims it won’t be a fair debate.

Cooking the books in UK colleges

We’re forever cracking down on students for “bad academic practice” aka plagiarism. However it would seem some of the UK’s HEI’s need to practice what they preach. I discussed last week recent revelations of systematic cheating of UK language exams within a number of UK colleges.

Now there’s a claim that Branfield college may have wrongly claimed £1m in funding. This is yet another example of the after effects of the defacto privatisation of UK universities. This meant many UK HEI’s have become increasingly cash hungry and mercenary. Hence these sort of issues can only be expected to increase, particularly within the UK’s college’s who are being squeezed by a reduction in funding from government and also drops in student numbers as increasingly many choose a university degree instead.

The true UK deficit picture

The beeb have a useful analysis of the UK deficit situation. The Tories would like to claim that the deficit is going down and that so too is the UK’s debt levels. Actually, that’s not strictly speaking true as it requires a very selective view of the UK economy. The deficit, borrowing and overall debt levels have all increased under the Tories, despite aggressive tory budget cuts. There is certainly a possibility that sometime around 2017, if current trends continue, that the economic indicators might well turn a corner.

However that requires us to make a number of assumptions, such as Tories welfare cuts don’t impact on the economy, that the present economic recovery continues, that the UK doesn’t leave the EU and that Scotland doesn’t leave the UK. And to be blunt none of these factors are guaranteed.

Stories over the last week

Been pretty busy over the last week, no time to do any blogging. But here’s a few stories that caught my eye.

Language test cheating
One story this week that I found pretty shocking was news of systematic cheating within the UK language exams, as shown on the BBC’s Panorama program. They portrayed people being able to buy an A curtsey of either a dodgy invigilator who simply read out the answers or an agency who supplied a professional to take the test. These tests are crucial to securing UK visa’s or university places, the latter of which of course can lead to a visa.

That cheating is going on doesn’t surprise me. While the bulk of international students I teach tend to have fairly good English skills, we’ll get the odd one who can barely string two words together. The sorts who’ll often only communicate to us via e-mails, which often read like they’ve been constructed using google babelfish. Of course the problem for us then is that such students often are able to point to an A in some ETS English exam.
So again, that some cheating is going on doesn’t really surprise me. What I find shocking is that its been going in within the UK right under the noses of the UKBA. Often with the explicit support of officials within UK colleges.

Ultimately I would blame this situation on two issues. Firstly the UKBA has lumped all the UK’s third level institutes from some community college above a chip shop in Woking in with all the major universities. One has to wonder if this was done more of political reasons. i.e. that the government is peeved that so much of the UK’s student population are foreign (about 30% at present). Of course I would counter that we have the commercialisation of the UK universities to thank for this. As inevitably a commercial company will chase those with the deepest pockets. And if that means looking overseas, then that’s what they’ll do. And obviously some of the smaller insitutions without the applied research or academic portfolio to call on will be tempted to turn a blind eye to a bit of cheating on the side, just to make ends meet.

And similarly the UK’s immigration policy where by applicants need to get various bits of paper work, often supplied by private companies has created a cottage industry, one that is very profitable to all sort of backstreet dealers and multinationals with dubious reputations. That of these companies some are corrupt and are engaged in systematically cheating the immigration system is hardly going to come as a shock to anybody, save a few naive Tory minsters. Again the solution is to perhaps get rid of these and make all the key tests for visas held and organised by some branch of government.

Of course doing all of that, plus properly monitoring the UK’s universities and colleges would be hugely expensive. The Tories want Swiss style immigration laws but don’t want to have to pay for their enforcement. You can’t have it both ways!

Bedroom tax
Meanwhile Channel 4’s Dispatches looked at the impact of the Tories bedroom tax. They pointed out that it is often splitting up families, forcing many struggling to make ends meet further into poverty and does not account for people individual circumstances, e.g. a disabled couple who need a two bedroom house. It’s even been linked to suicides.

Also the argument that tenants can get out of paying the tax by just moving to a smaller home falls flat as there often aren’t any single bedroom council flats available. Glasgow Housing Association for example made a long term decision sometime ago to only build houses and flats with a minimum of two bedrooms, as this increased flexibility and value for money of their housing stock. They’ve had to spend millions going around buying up private one bedroom flats to accommodate those forced out of their homes by the bedroom tax.

In short it is another silly short-sighted Tory policy written by some toff’s in Whitehall who’ve never visited a council estate in their lives….and would probably not what to as given the effects of this tax they’d likely be killed on sight! ;D

Dellingpole bows out
The Daily Telegraph it seems, has decided to part company with climate denier James Dellingpole :crazy:, one of its regular bloggers. Of course he’s tried to put a brave face on it, claiming that he plans to go solo or pursue private projects of his own, becoming a consultant, etc. Ultimately however it would seem having a climate denier on the staff at the same time that much of the country is knee deep in flood waters was a bit too much even for the Barclay brothers owned Telegraph.

He was starting to sound a bit like that propaganda minister for the Iraqi government. Nothing to see here, I assure you there are no floods in Devon the climate scientists are committing suicide at the gates to Somerset. :wave:

Not seen much of the Sochi games, other than the Snowboarding. This appears to be a sport that involves hanging around on a snow slope trying to look cool in your designer snowboarding gear while calling everyone around you dude. I wonder how they are fitting in to Putin’s Russia?

Just don’t do anything gay…or you’ll be wondering why there are lots of little red laser dots trained on you! :))

I find it odd that Britain isn’t doing better in the Slalom events, given the number of potholes on the roads since the floods started.

Barclays profit and loss
Barclays bank this week announced profits are down and that they would respond by cutting jobs. They also announced record pay-outs and bonuses for their top staff. So they respond to a dip in profits by sacking thousands of rank and file staff who actually deal with customers and awarded the “good-olde-boy’s” who are actually responsible for these losses an increase in salary. If you need any further proof that nothing was learnt since the financial crisis then look no further than this.

No you’re not keeping the dog
The Tories, lib dems (sort of the same thing these days!) and labour rounded on the SNP this week suggesting that a currency union was out of the question, regardless of who wins the next general election.

I’ve drawn parallels between the Scottish referendum and a divorcing couple, with them now arguing over who will get what and ultimately trying to get one over on each other. And of course this is hardly good news for the UK economic outlook in the event of independence, which its worth noting is still actually unlikely to occur (polls still say a narrow no vote).

Consider that anyone getting a divorce will often struggle to get credit from a bank, largely because banks worry that as the couple may not be behaving or thinking rationally and thus the bank’s money isn’t safe. Consider I know a couple in Ireland involved in a messy divorce the upshot of which is that they’re both going to get turfed out of the family home by the bank and after its sold they still won’t be able to afford to pay the lawyers, yet aware of this as they are they continue the fight purely to get one over on the other.

Well the same applies to a UK/Scotland split. The markets will punish both Scotland and England in the event of a messy divorce and they will dole out the bulk of the punishment on the City of London as the government in Westminster is supposed to behave more sensibly that getting involved in silly games.

And oddly enough I actually agree with the government on this issue, the idea of Scotland keeping the pound sounds daft to me and it is one of the reasons I’d argue that the SNP have largely failed to close the deal on independence. It would seem a lot more sensible to have their own currency, after all Ireland a nation of half the population with no oil reserves got by perfectly well with the punt for many decades.

Of course knowing the crafty cute hoor that Salmond is I do wonder if this is a deliberate ploy by the SNP. As they can now use this announcement as yet more propaganda to portray Cameron as another Edward Longshanks type (who’ll no doubt be seeking next to re-introduce the rule allowing English toff’s to spend the first night with new Scottish brides).

It also gives Salmond the perfect excuse to refuse to pay Scotland’s share of the UK debt (something the SNP type’s would be against paying given that as they see it the bulk of it was run up paying for wars, funding tax cuts to the wealthy, nuclear weapons and basically paying for the things the Scots want nothing to do with).

And Barroso was soon in on the act, indeed the timing is too close for it not to be a coincidence, claiming that Scotland would find it nearly impossible to join the EU. This is clearly intended for domestic consumption in Spain. While certainly the SNP needs to be realistic and realise that it would take time to negotiate EU membership, the suggestion that the EU would vote to make itself smaller is ludicrous at best and just plain stupid at worst.

Consider that while Spain or Belgium might worry about Scottish succession making a case for other breakaways, such a move to punish a nation for exercising its democratic rights while allowing the EU to interfere in a matter that is clearly an internal issue for a sovereign nation to work out itself, would go down really badly in other parts of the EU. Notably the Eastern states (who still harbour bitter memories of the efforts they had to go through to break free of the communist block). Smaller countries like Ireland, Greece as well as Scandinavia will likely be sympathetic to the Scottish cause and hostile to dangerous precedence such a policy would set. The danger is that if Spain and the UK (who last time I checked were trying to leave the EU!) tried to use the EU to meddle with politics within of a member state it would go down like a lead balloon and would almost certainly weaken if not undermine the EU’s credibility.

Bitcoin continues its slide
The woes affecting the virtual currency Bitcoin continue as its value still falls, with experts pointing to serious vulnerabilities within the currency. The problem, as I highlighted before is that even if a virtual currency is a good idea, Bitcoin may not be the medium that actually succeeds and even if it does, a currency has heavily overvalued as it clearly is no the sort of thing you’d want to be paid in or pay for you’re groceries with.

A very British Divorce

In the past I’ve drawn a parallel between the Scottish debate and a divorcing couple. Certainly I suspect Alex Salmond danced a secret jig when the Tories won the last election as he knew the Tories would be an electoral asset towards independence. And sure enough, the Tories immediately adopted the persona of a wife beater husband. Their response to Scottish independence talk has started off with the position “independence? You’re not getting that, we’d strangle you first”, moving onto “you walk out that door, you’re cut off, you ain’t coming back and we’ll see you on the street”.

Of course such tactics of trying to scare the Scots (see here and here) out of voting for independence have backfired badly. Opinion polls suggest the gap is down to 5% in favour, with 17% “don’t knows”. So if only a small proportion of those don’t knows either abstain or vote yes, then independence is a possibility. Again, returning to our divorce analogy acting like a complete psycho is only going to convince the wife to get as far away from this raving loon as fast as she can, regardless of what it costs.

So Cameron has resorted to the next stage, showing up on the doorstep with a photo album blubbering about how great we are together. I presume Cameron’s next move will be to start ringing Scot’s up at 4am screaming that he hates em cos they ruined his lifee…but there’s still a chance :)).

But seriously, if Cameron actually wants to save the union, here’s a few practical suggestions:

Devo Max
As I pointed out way back at the beginning of this debate, the opinion polls showed that what the majority of Scots wanted wasn’t full independence, but Devo Max. No, that’s not a type of soft drink ;D, but means more devolved powers to the Scottish parliament. With the Scot’s getting control over tax, welfare spending, energy, health care, etc. Indeed pretty much everything other than defence and foreign affairs would be handled by the Scottish parliament.

The SNP left it up to the other parties to put the Devo Max option on the ballot paper and the Tories walked straight into the SNP bear trap by arrogantly rejecting this opportunity. They were hoping that they could bully those the opinion polls suggested were in favour of Devo Max, into putting up and shutting up. But it seems instead that a large number of them are instead going the other way and supporting independence. I recall warning that this Tory position was a dangerous gamble that would almost certainly backfire and it would seem I’ve been proved correct.

To me therefore the obvious get out is for Cameron to swallow his pride, U-turn and offer more devolved powers to the Scottish ASAP, even before the vote goes ahead.

The Tories
Of course another problem here is the Tories themselves. There is a perception in Scotland that the Tories have screwed over the Scot’s right the way back through history. Hence why there is but one Scottish Tory MP and why many Tory candidates often get such little support they lose their deposits in Scottish elections, or get beaten by some single issue quack campaigning for thistle farming.

This is also why Darling Alastair, aka ex-chancellor during the financial crisis, aka the guy barred from every pub in Scotland, is heading up the ironically titled “we’re better off together” rather than Cameron or any Tory. And recall how Scot’s in Glasgow actually had a street party to celebrate Thatcher’s death (my all-time favourite Frankie Boyle joke, “don’t give her (Thatcher) a funeral for 3 million quid you could buy everyone in Scotland a shovel and we’ll dig a pit so deep we can hand her over to Satan personally” :)) ).

The fear among some Scots is that they are being spared the worst of the Tory cuts down south, but as soon as the referendum is out of the way, the Tories will starting hacking away at the Scottish budget in a way not seen since the days of Edward Longshanks. Of course by voting for independence, they can insure never again to have to worry about a Tory government down South making waves up north. And the last thing the Tories want is to turn this debate into a referendum on the Tory party, as that’s a vote they are always guaranteed to lose up north.

This of course again emphasises the importance of Devo Max as part of the solution. More devolved powers will lessen the fear Scots have of rampaging “Nasty” Tories down in Westminster interfering in Scottish affairs. As an additional measure Cameron could indicate that there are no deferred spending cuts in the works and no hidden surprises.

The EU
Now there’s nothing wrong with being sceptical of the EU, after all I come from a country who regularly vote, No or maybe to EU treaties. However the sort of Daily Mail-esque anti-EU xenophobia we hear out of UKIP or the Tories is largely an English phenomenon. As I mentioned in a prior post, as things stand I would argue that any pro-EU Scot would be advised to vote yes for independence. For while this might mean a temporary period outside the EU, it would avoid the risk of being dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU if England votes to leave in the not too distant future.

Of course Cameron could counter this by confronting the bigot brigade within his own party. i.e. drop any plans for an In or out referendum on the EU, make clear he still plans to negotiate the return of powers from the EU and will vigorously oppose any new powers Brussels tries to impose. But otherwise he is in favour of the UK’s continued membership (cos leaving would be insanely stupid and counter-productive), and if anyone in the Tories has a problem with that, well here’s a tinfoil hat, some swivel eyes, go join UKIP who are currently campaigning against gays causing storms.

At the very least he needs to be clear what the consequences would be if say a narrow majority of British voted to leave the EU, but an overwhelming majority in say Scotland or Wales voted to stay (e.g. that an in/out referendum would have to be passed in all the UK regions to be valid or that this would trigger a second independence referendum). Otherwise he risks a sort of “double jeopardy” option not only in Scotland but in Wales and Northern Ireland too!

Trident and Nukes
One other issue is the fact that the Tories seem so confident in the need for Trident (which could be at risk if Scotland gets independence) they want to base it all the way up North…as far away from London as possible! Equally, I recall a geologist pointing out to me that the best locations for a future UK nuclear waste repository are either in Scotland or the Midlands of England (not Cumbria). There is a distinct lack of any sort of democratic debate on these matters. The Tories have seemingly decided to just up and impose nuclear reactors, waste dumps and Trident subs on any community they feel they should. By contrast David Cameron is throwing money at those willing to accept Shale gas fracking on their doorstep.

Clearly therefore there needs to be more democratic engagement on this issues. Perhaps even a referendum on Trident and retention of nuclear weapons. And if there is some “national interest” towards basing Trident in Scotland, or putting any future nuclear waste dump in the country he needs to be clear that in return for hosting such facilities there will be adequate compensation to the locals.

Finally, returning to our analogy of a divorcing couple, if the UK marriage is going to work it needs firstly the recognition that things aren’t working and that real change is going to have to be implemented. If the Tory plan is to make some half-baked promises to “try harder” and not to hit the tax cuts/anti-immigrant bottle as much, blubber while leafing thro photos of the 2012 Olympics and generally try to scare Scots out of voting for independence. While they might, despite themselves, win the 2014 vote, nothing will really change, dissent will fester and a few years down the line there will be another referendum (and again the Tories plans for an “in or out” EU referendum certainly offers such an opportunity) and this time Scotland might well vote to leave.

The Scarlet Soda

One thing causing a flap over the last week or so was Scarlet Johansson’s endorsement of Sodastream, via a viral internet ad. Now you may ask, what’s the problem with that? Well Sodastream has based one of their factories within the occupied Israeli territories on the West Bank. Currently there is significant pressure from many governments and NGO’s (akin to that applied to South Africa during the Apartheid era) to boycott any Israeli businesses trying to profit from this Israeli occupation of the West Bank. This put Oxfam, who had nominated Miss Johansson as one of its celeb ambassador’s, in an awkward position, only resolved when she resigned from this role.

This controversy, with those on the pro-Sodastream side pointing to the fact that the company employ’s many Palestinian workers whose jobs are put at risk by this boycott. And in fact the company states that they are supportive of the idea of a two state solution to the present Arab-Israeli conflict. However others, notably the Pick Floyd artist Roger Waters who has sent an open letter via his Facebook page to Miss Johansson, tend to highlight the impact of the occupation on the Palestinian populace. An occupation that she is indirectly now endorsing.

Of course as always when you discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict it gets embroiled in the propaganda from both sides. The Israeli side, take a look at some of the comments on Roger Waters post for an example, tend to take the view that anyone who criticises Israeli is some sort of anti-Semite. After all the Israeli government, like certain other governments in the world is always right about everything, ever. The attitude of the Palestinian supporters is often to point to the atrocities of Israel, while forgetting about the impact of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on the Israeli population.

Of course I’m not suggesting that ever Israeli is a neo-fascist colonialist, nor that every Palestinian supports suicide bombings. I suspect the majority of both sides are neither. So perhaps we should imagine that rather than this factory being in the occupied West Bank, it is instead based in Chinese occupied Tibet, or perhaps the disputed territory of Kashmir, or how about Russian occupied territories in Georgia. Now my question is, if this were the case would Miss Johansson be so willing to endorse this product? My suspicion is, no! Chances are she’d run a thousand miles from the controversy and quickly develop one of those celebrity phobia’s against carbonated water. ;D

Consider for example the wonders it did to the careers of John Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank when they decided to inadvertently endorse the policies of the murderous regime of Chechen dictator Kadyrov.

But is it fair for me to compare Israeli’s occupation of the West Bank to China’s occupation of Tibet or the conflict in Kashmir? Well no!…Its not very fair to the Chinese, Indian’s, Pakistani’s or Russians! For the weight of international opinion is not nearly as clear cut on these issues as regards the West bank. A quick glance at the UN’s resolutions regarding the West bank, since 1967 shows that the almost all criticise or condemn Israeli occupation, often subject to near unanimous support (save Israel and the US). The The International court of Justice has also ruled Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being illegal.

Bottom line, letting Israel getting way with occupying land that is, at best, in dispute, and at worst, stolen and ethnically cleansed, is setting a very dangerous precedence. For there are many other areas of the world were several dangerous border disputes exist. This included the examples mentioned earlier, but also flash points such as Kurdistan, the Iraq/Saudi border, the South China Sea and several of the borders in Africa. The danger is, Israel is sending the signal that if you have the right allies you can try to replicate what they are doing and hopefully get away with it. However a conflict at these flashpoints could unleash a war that would make the Arab-Israeli conflict look like a storm in a Tea cup (consider that several of the nations mentioned above either have nuclear weapons or vast WMD stockpiles!).

So the pro-Israeli/Johansson position is only acceptable if one is willing to argue that its acceptable to sacrifice all the gains in international law and diplomacy made since 1945 just so that a couple of radical right-wing Israeli’s can put up some cheap condominiums. I think not! :no:

And as for Sodastream, if they truly believe what they claim, there’s a simple way for them to have their way and keep everyone happy – register their company within the Palestinian territories or some neighbouring Arab state (such as Jordan). Then they can pay taxes here (chances are tho, the Arab state my offer them a tax holiday and they’ll end up paying none!) and continue running their factory without offending international opinion. Of course that isn’t going to happen, as I suspect they would be punished severely by the Israeli government for such an act. Much as Putin or China allows their national corporations to pay lip service on human rights issues for the sake of PR, Israel is happy to allow companies to engage in token verbal support for the Palestinian position, so long as they don’t actually do anything!

And furthermore, I would add that it is arguably in the long term interest of Israel to achieve a peaceful settlement. And it is generally accepted by everybody, save the radical settler movement (or certain equally nutty US Baptists), that the obvious border between Israel and the West bank will run along the 1967 border. Any peace plan that does not recognise this is a peace plan doomed to fail. What Scarlet Johansson seems to support is thus a conflict without end, and an Israel which must send generation after generation to fight and increasingly pointless war. And futhermore, a conflict that threatens world peace.

Climate Change Hypocrisies

One is often confronted by the ineptitude of politicians :**: and their habit of putting presentation and vote winning ahead of doing the job we voted them to do and indeed our taxes pay them to do. This can range from the usual banning conkers and cheese races :no: to an inability to sort out the most basic local problems. However nowhere is this more evident than the politics of climate change.

In general terms all the major political parties except the general idea that climate change is real, its happening and we need to do something about it. With the exception of the US Republicans (notably the Tea party types) and certain other lunatic’s on the extremes (UKIP seem to think flooding is the fault of gays!) this is not a controversial issue. However when the thorny issue of actually doing something about climate change rolls around, there is often a strong reluctance of any politicians to doing anything concrete. In part this is because they worry that action against climate change might be unpopular in the short term and that might cost them votes.

Of course I would counter the claim that action against climate change is not necessarily going to be unpopular. The lowest hanging fruit is energy conservation, which means measures such as lagging lofts, more fuel efficient cars, better public transport, changing planning laws to make new buildings more energy efficient, encouraging the use of CHP by industry and large energy users, subsidizing domestic use of renewables, etc. I fail to see how any of this is likely to be unpopular with anyone…other than “Lord” Monckton :crazy: (note he’s not actually a lord, just likes to pretend to be one!)….or the Shale Gas industries newest lobbiest, David Cameron :lalala:.

Furthermore if, for example, the government was to bring in a carbon tax to discourage fossil fuel use and level the playing field for renewables (.e.g to encourage electric cars over petrol powered ones). I’d argue that this new tax should be brought in at the same time as VAT, Petrol duty and Vehicle Excess Duty and other related taxes are gradually reduced and ultimately withdrawn, with the carbon tax essentially taking their place. Hence the tax burden on the public should remain more or less the same and for those who make the right choices get to see a cut in their taxes.

And since we’re talking about, the insurance industry would argue we’re already paying a defacto carbon tax as a result of the increased costs to insurance premium’s worldwide, or the fact more and more are forced into government guaranteed insurance schemes all as a result of climate change.

But yes, okay, there is certainly a “perception” that measures to tackle climate change will be unpopular with voters used to their two SUV’s in the garage, 3,000 mile Caesar salads and two foreign holidays a year lifestyle.

However, I put it to any politician standing in the murky flood waters of Somerset that if there’s anything less popular than getting people to pay a little bit more in tax (for certain things) and conserving energy, its explaining to thousands of angry flood victims why there house has been under water for 3 weeks and there’s sod all we can do about it.

The flooding in the Somerset levels has seen the finger of blame go in all directions, from penny pinching tories cutting back on flood defences, conservationists opposed to dredging, the actions of the farmers themselves, etc. But certainly, while we can’t tie climate change to any one specific weather event, this is the sort of stuff its predicted we’ll see more of in future as a consequence of climate change.

Now the problem for politicians with that is, it means in future more standing in muddy fields and floods, more angry locals shouting at them. I mean would you want to be the local Tory MP in Somerset come next election time? Would you want to be a Tory major of London or PM in charge after London floods? And London and the south east is one of the very locations climate scientists fear will become more vulnerable to flooding, unless a lot of money is spent on new flood defences.

And extreme weather events, whatever the reasons, can swing an election. As I pointed out before, its possible that storms and floods in the US on the eve of the vote 2012 election, coupled with Romney’s climate scepticism, probably swung the votes in several key states Romney had to win (such as Florida) Obama’s way. And the reason why Merkel’s conservatives in Germany are such enthusiastic supporters of the “Energiewende” is in part because the CSU’s lack of empathy with flood victims and unwillingness to take action on climate change, cost them the 2002 election, a fact they are very slow to forget.

The Katrina effect
Furthermore there is also the expense of it all to consider. After Owen Patterson got run out of Somerset with his tail between his legs, the government realising how inept this made them look pushed the panic button. They immediately signed up to a whole host of expensive measures (such as dredging and new flood defences), that may or may not actually have any effect. The army was even deployed to help out. Although it’s turned out that they aren’t really needed. But it does show how the government is running scared on this issue all of a sudden.

This is a phenomenon I refer to as “the Katrina effect”. Where like George W. Bush, a politician is partially responsible for the severity of a flood (e.g. by cutting back spending on flood defences to save a few pennies) and then when the media go and make a big deal out of it, he’s forced on this massive guilt trip to make a lot panicky and often expensive promises to atone for his previous sins…at the expense of the tax payers, some of which may not actually be terribly effective.

As the 2006 Stern report made clear, even in the worst case scenario the costs of mitigating climate change will be vastly lower than the costs for fire fighting the consequences, quite apart from the loss of life and loss of political face, and the financial costs of panicky Katrina like responses to said disasters.

Consequently I put it to politicians, not only do they have a professional and moral obligation to do something about climate change while we still can, but it’s in their own long term interest to do so.

The fracking snake oil cult

This is a reposting of something I put up last week on my energy blog:

Recently David Cameron has been letting slip many signs that he, like many Tories, has fallen for the fable of Shale Gas as the snake oil cure for all ills, hook line and sinker. He absurdly suggested that shale gas had driven down energy prices in the US so much, that factories were moving back from China to America and the same thing could happen in Britain.

Before going any further it would be useful to set the facts straight:

• There are many reasons for a company to move a factory, energy costs are just one of those, and given that energy costs in China are still lower than in the US, it would be bizarre for a company to move out of China to the US only to pay more for energy if this was the sole deciding factor.

• The supposed link between Shale Gas and the 2007 drop in US wholesale gas prices is dubious at best. As I discuss (here) and Gail Tverberg also discusses, shale gas is relatively expensive (compared to conventional gas) and the bulk of the ramp up in Shale gas production occurred well after the price drop occurred (as in at least a year or two). So the only way Shale gas could have had an influence on price is if there was mass manipulation and price fixing of the energy markets (which would have been illegal), as speculated on here.

• While certainly fracking has become a major source of energy in the US, as I discuss here it represents about 35% of US gas production, but that’s only about 8% of US overall energy consumption. Hardly a cure to all of America’s long term energy problems.

• Shale gas has NOT made the US a net gas exporter, contrary to what certain right wing think tanks would have you believe. As EIA statistics show, while the US exported some 1,619 billion Cubic ft of gas, America also imported some 3,135 billion Cubic ft of gas.

• There are indications that the shale gas boom is starting to run out of steam. Reports by authors such as David Hughes, as well as official data from the EIA, suggest that shale gas is approaching peak production. There is a big question as to whether production will stabilise (i.e. all this trouble for just 8% of US energy production) or decline rapidly, as individual shale gas wells tend to have very rapid decline rates. All in all however, its likely that the benefits of shale gas will be short lived.

• As I also discuss in more detail in a prior post, there is a huge question mark as to how much of the UK’s shale gas is viable. Reports suggest it might be only able to meet a tiny fraction of the UK’s energy consumption. While its supporters often point to the very large quantities of shale gas trapped underground, this ignores the fact that there is a world of a difference between “proven reserves” and “reserves in place”. i.e. we’re still sitting on a several hundred years worth of coal supply, but I don’t see anyone arguing for us to bring back coal mining.

In short like so many on the right, David Cameron has fallen for this outrageous myth. And rather than do some basic fact checking he’s instead embellishing on that myth with yet more absurdities of his own. He reminds me of those celebrities who end up part of some crazy cult. And the problem is that he is now writing the UK’s future energy policy on the basis of a fantasy divorced from reality.

He’s dismissed renewables as “green crap” and cut back on policies aimed at energy conservation, both of which were crucial to the UK’s long term energy policy. as well as allying himself and the UK with arch-denier Canadian president Stephen Harper against the rest of Europe. An important point given the much higher carbon emissions from shale gas compared to conventional oil and gas, as I discuss here. And ironically his obsession with Shale gas is likely to be to the detriment of the nuclear industry he has also favoured with lavish subsidies.

Hence we must confront this snake oil salesmanship tactics for shale gas, now before it leads to a mess that it will take decades to undo.