A wise remark – the future of energy

The oil price reached a record high again this week… the most sensible thing I’ve heard recently was Lord Oxburgh, former Chairman of Shell (profile), at an event held by Climate Change Capital, a specialised merchant bank.

He said the world’s infrastructure was:

fundamentally optimised to extraordinarily low energy prices and cheap natural resources. Neither of those premises holds true today. I believe the days of cheap energy and cheap natural resources are over.

He went on to argue that energy-using and producing infrastructure turns over ever 30-40 years, so there is a 30-40 year window available to reoptimise to new conditions that are here to stay (podcasts of the event). I suppose that’s obvious once it has been said, but it was refreshing hear it put so clearly and by a grandee of the oil industry.

Copenhagen consensus – wrong question leads to wrong answer on climate change

In theory, it would be good to prioritise resources for global do-gooding by asking what is the best use of an additional $50 billion,and weighing costs and benefits of different approaches. The Copenhagen Consensus Center, headed by Bjørn Lomborg author of the Skeptical Environmentalist and bête noire of the greens, attempts to address this sort of question. In doing so, they’ve created a list of 40 possible global interventions and asked workshop participants drawn mostly from UN represenatives (China, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam and Zambia) to rank them. The ranking they came up with places climate change at the bottom and tackling communicable diseases at the top. There are several flaws in this superficially attractive approach. These are: Continue reading “Copenhagen consensus – wrong question leads to wrong answer on climate change”

What’s the opposite of "human rights with common sense"

What is the opposite of ‘common sense’? ‘Stupid’ could be right. Or ‘arbitrary’. But one opposite might also be ‘principled’… meaning that you stick to deeply-held principles, even if they give you discomfort in specific cases. Conservative leader David Cameron called for “human rights with common sense” as he promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights (BBC or original speech). He can probably have a Bill of Rights (which the Human Rights Act already is) or the appearance of common sense – but not both.

The whole problem with common sense is that it implies a very elastic view of what is right… Continue reading “What’s the opposite of "human rights with common sense"”

Vision for CAP reform – reduce the role of the EU

Obviously anyone would be annoyed by the ludicrous wine lake thing (below). So duly inspired, I decided to set out a vision for Commmon Agricultural Policy reform – based on devolution, sustainable development and sound economics.

Rather than do it here, I thought it would be interesting to post it on David Miliband’s blog, as he was discussing CAP… So here it is. Wonder what he made of it?

Wine lake – only Europe could produce something this insane

A surreal return to the public eye for the European Wine Lake [Guardian article]. I presumed this had gone in the 1980s along with that other great icon of European progress, the Butter Mountain. Amazingly, the EU subsidies for wine production in 2005 were €1269 million, of which €791m went to measures to prop up prices by restricting the supply. The system restricts supply mostly by distilling about 15% of European wine output into industrial alcohol or solvents (and no, it isn’t then sold as Blue Nun…). European wine stocks now exceed one year of production, or about 20 billion litres – think of a lake 1Km wide, 2Km long and 10m deep. [more]

Much of the problem lies with uppity New World foreigners, who it seems are unfairly taking the market over by selling us affordable, attractively packaged, good quality wines. Continue reading “Wine lake – only Europe could produce something this insane”

Greedy civil servants – stop robbing the young and work longer or pay more

More self-serving beefing today, as reports suggest that “No 10 orders shock U-turn on pensions“. It looks like the government may try to repair the damage done by its craven pensions cave-in to the public sector unions last year. It is reportedly thinking of accepting that if pension age sticks at 60 then civil servants will have to contribute more to their absurdly generous gilt-edged final salary pensions. Unfunded public sector pension liability stands at some £530 billion according to the government or £930 billion according to actuaries Watson Wyatt, that being about £40,000 per UK household (see Lords debate). What is going on?  Continue reading “Greedy civil servants – stop robbing the young and work longer or pay more”

Home Office or giant squid?

After weeks of pain over prisoners let out, illegal aliens let in, and criminals let off, the perpetually distressed Home Office reacts to its plight like a giant squid, discharging vast quantities of a dark inky substance into its surroundings – that is vicious newspaper copy about the nation’s most hated species… see left. The Home Office (press release) has expelled 60 paedophiles from probation hostels located near schools (presumably to somewhere where children cannot be reached?) and promised to consider ‘Sarah’s law’, which would give public access to the address details of convicted and released sex offenders – responding to a campaign by the News of the World.

The possible negative consequences include: Continue reading “Home Office or giant squid?”

"Brown stays nuclear" is not a story

The government was always going to renew its nuclear weapons capability and despite the minor furore, the Chancellor was stating the obvious in his Mansion House speech (BBC story). Despite the obvious lack of an enemy, the obvious threats for which nuclear weapons are useless, and the obvious opportunity cost of not using the money for peace-making and peace-keeping, there is just a world-leader phallic thing about these weapons and it would have been startling if he had announced a national nuclear emasculation. What is now more important is exactly what this capability would be. There are many possible options (and costs) for the platform (air launched, submarine), missile system and warheads. The degree of firepower, independence from the US, and readiness (minutes, days or months?) are also variables. So what is a minimum deterrent? Virtually nothing was said on this. Continue reading “"Brown stays nuclear" is not a story”

EU funding – warped and unaccountable

A visit to Wales reminded me how bad the EU budget can be. Everyone knows the EU spends a fortune on agriculture, but there are also large expenditures on ‘structural funds’. These are monies that the EU pays for social or infrastructure investment in poor areas… sounds good? But it isn’t… The trouble is UK taxpayers pay all this money into the budget in the first place, only to find it returned to the UK with EU strings attached, and without much democratic accountability for this ‘tax and spend’. In round terms, we pay in about £8.4 billion and get back about £4.1 billion (2004-5). So anything coming from the EU to UK is basically UK taxpayers’ money rebadged (often with a little blue flag so that the EU can claim credit)

Why mention Wales? Continue reading “EU funding – warped and unaccountable”

33 years to go

The recent hot weather remined me how annoying much of the 21st Century is likely to be, what with climate change and everything. So I wondered how much of it I might have to endure. You can look up how long you are expected to live at the Government Actuary Department’s life tables. I’ve got 33.5 years to go from my last birthday – meaning I’m anticipating a statistical death on 21st August 2039. A party is planned. (Data for England)