Paying The Price

We are doing really well in this country in our drive towards net zero, at times over 50% of our electricity is generated from renewables, though applause for achievement does involve turning a blind eye to the shovelling of American forests into Drax. Solar is growing, the first steps are being made towards tidal power at scale and wind turbines are springing up like poppies in a field; a total of 25GW of offshore power is planned just for Scotland. Oil fields becoming wind farms, harvesting the air, pats on the back all round.

It seems that more congratulations are apparently due from the cutting of 1 million tons of CO2 emissions from British manufacturing in 2018, until you realise that CO2 emitted from the production of goods that we imported grew by 8 million tons at the same time. Is British manufacturing being sacrificed on the altar of virtue signalling?

Elon Musk observed that ‘CO2 is an unpriced externality’, where the emitter and the end user of the product, for example stuff from China, does not pay a price for those emissions at the time of purchase. The embedded CO2 is not costed into rectifying the problems it causes, or alleviating the effects, and so the cost of climate change is paid by everyone, though disproportionally by those more vulnerable to climate change and less able to avoid its worst effects.

Agriculture also creates problems because of the way we think individualistically, demanding what we want now at the cost of the future. The River Wye, one of our special watercourses, suffers from fertilizer run off, water extraction and toxic effluent from chicken farms, unpaid for at the point of damage. And, as agricultural top dog, we populate the our mountains with fluffy Mesopotamians which strip the ground smooth of vegetation, so rain sluices off and the cost is borne downstream.


It seems that too often, individual benefit trumps the collective good, however we do have the capacity to think and act together to solve problems, and there is beauty in our actions when we do. In The Last Enemy, by Richard Hillary, he recounts a conversation he had with his friend Peter several months before the author’s cockpit canopy jammed on his burning Spitfire, before he finally fell free beneath his silk parachute and before his still smouldering body was rescued from a field. The conversation took place on a train, Richard questioning Peter about why he felt such intensity and urgency for joining into battle.

Peter replied that ‘I would say that I was fighting the war to get rid of fear – of the fear of fear is perhaps what I mean. If the Germans win this war, nobody except little Hitlers will dare do anything. England will be run as if it were a concentration camp, or at best a factory. All courage will die out of the world – the courage to love, to create, to take risks, whether physical or intellectual or moral. Men will hesitate to carry out the promptings of the heart or the brain because, having acted, they will live in fear that their action may be discovered and themselves cruelly punished. Thus all love, all spontaneity, will die out of the world. Emotion will have atrophied. Thought will have petrified. The oxygen breathed by the soul, so to speak, will vanish, and mankind will wither.’

Peter’s commitment to standing against the growing firestorm from the east ended with him meeting the last enemy, death, in the skies over France. After a year of incalculable agony, Richard Hillary’s erased face and ruined hands were eventually reconstructed and he once again slipped inside the thin skin of a fighter, willingly, where he too met the last enemy.

Acting collectively to solve problems can achieve astonishing results but at increased cost where greater resources and commitment must be focused on overcoming issues which could have been avoided with forethought and planning. In war, so in business. When Airbus first flew the skies, the Boeing behemoth dismissed the upstart manufacturer, refusing to take them seriously, until it was too late and they came under pressure to launch a replacement for their ageing 737; which until then had been so successful that one took off or landed somewhere in the world every 1.5 seconds.

Anxious to keep the dollars rolling in to keep shareholders happy, and probably bonuses paid, Boeing decided to upgrade the airframe to the 737 Max rather than design a new aircraft, thereby reducing their development costs from $20 billion to $2.5 billion. However, to compete with the Airbus the 737 Max needed larger and more fuel efficient engines, but as they needed to be mounted further forwards on the wing they had a tendency to tilt the nose upwards, creating a potential stall. The solution was software to automatically keep the plane flying level, and to further save costs only one sensor was fitted to monitor the anti-stall.

By this time the FAA had become a captured agency, just as the FCC is for telecoms now, a lapdog which sat and did as it was told by its aviation and political masters, putting its paw print to the authorisations to fly and keep the foreign interloper at bay. System failure, two total losses, hundreds of people dead, a grounded fleet and repeated disgraceful attempts to blame pilot error followed, along with a deservedly ruined reputation.

Business and politics mesh in the current crisis between Ukraine and its powerful, pernicious mischief maker neighbour, Russia. With Germany and Russia joined at the wallet, the richest country in Europe offers little more than helmets and field hospitals to care for wounded Ukrainians and scant support for its more robust allies; whilst desperately hoping they can find an excuse to open the taps on Nordstream2. The excuse is that they do not export arms to conflict zones, so presumably the E9,347,000,000 worth of armaments they export all go to peaceful areas. There is understandable dismay from countries who have memories of the attentions which a rampant Russia visited upon them, reflected in former Polish Foreign Minister Sikorsky who threatened to kick the bear in the balls if it tried it on again with Poland.

Turning on Nordstream 2 also cuts Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine out of lucrative gas transit fees, and Poland was doubly miffed when a secret deal between Germany and Russia was revealed, whereby the former pays half the amount for gas that Poland does; so much for EU solidarity. Needless to say, it would be preferable to not import 40% of your gas from Russia, and even more preferable to burn fewer fossil fuel for power, however since the German Greens halted nuclear power development that has been tricky to do, particularly since renewable energy generation is not expected to hit even 60% of consumption until 2030. Ideology, business and politics pull against the resistance of morality, as Trevenian’s observations on fossil fuels in Shibumi are that a country’s ‘devotion to honour varies inversely with its concern for central heating.’

Let’s quickly return to agriculture. With Ukraine growing about 10% of the World’s wheat and Russia growing 20%, it would be an understandable concern to have one country controlling nearly 1/3rd of global supplies, particularly one unafraid to crush dissent internally and unleash cyber and chemical warfare externally. Energy, wheat and mischief, three exports of a dictatorship.

Whether it is climate change driven by CO2 emissions, or harm from dysfunctional agriculture, or chaos from a tyrant there is one thing in common, they all require considerable resources in order to correct once they have gained momentum. There is a price for everything and there is a price for taking action, but the price is higher the longer it is deferred and there may come a time when if all we do is talk and talk and talk, then nothing will stem the avalanche.