Tohoku earthquake & tsunami at Fukushima Square

How going green can turn a drama into a crisis 

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SOME VERY ODD THINGS are happening at the moment across the Western World. In fact, it feels like a dam has been breached.

Only last Friday, Jean Castex, the French Prime Minister, announced that 38 million people, who earn less than EUR2000 net per month would receive EUR100 to help them against inflation – printing more money to relieve “inflationary pressures” as it were.

Across the Rhine, in Germany, there is talk of a “bottle neck” recession. Business confidence is at a near decade low. Severe disruptions on the global supply chain are blamed.

Inflation is also mentioned. Officially at 4.1%, it has reached levels not seen in three decades.

As a result, three quarters of retailers are experiencing difficulty in getting goods, the Ifo research institute in Germany found.

To the South, we read in Austrian newspapers that the country is short of 20,000 drivers – in a country of around 8 million. Adjusted for our UK population, the Alpine country is missing an astounding 91% more lorry drivers than Great Britain.

As Brexit cannot be blamed for the shortage in Austria, the latter is blamed on working conditions and, wait for it, inflation. These two things are of course related.

Salzburg Nachricthen, Salzburg’s daily broadsheet reported that “weekly purchases, which also include fuel and services, were 6.8% more expensive”.

In September, the United Nations reported that food prices increased by a third in a year. It said that the “Food and Agriculture Price Index rose 32.8%” in the 12 months to August 2021. The rise was largely driven “by higher prices of most cereals and vegetable oils” it said.

Throughout 2021, our experts at Central Banks across the Western World repeated authoritatively and ad-nauseamthat inflation was “largely transitory”. Having set their store on “transient” inflation, they are now retracing their steps, equally as authoritatively.

The Federal Reserve is now saying that inflation might turn out to be “a little stronger than they forecast for a little longer than they had forecast”.

Whilst prices are rising across the board with no compensatory interest rate to offset purchasing power losses, energy is the field to watch.

Pump prices for petrol and diesel are at or near record highs. The BBC reported that “it is global oil prices, rather than supply chain disruption” to blame, adding that “a barrel of crude oil has doubled in the past year”.

Indeed, a barrel of crude oil now stands at around $85. It was $39.90 the same time last year.

However, for those with longer memories, a barrel of oil was $132 in July 2008. That same month that year, a litre of petrol at the pump was 119.7p.

Pump prices are now nearly 20% more expensive at 140p with crude oil nearly 40% cheaper than they were then.

In other words, prices are getting higher for retail when the costs of production in that field are broadly in line with historical median prices.

An area of investigation, of course, could be the large oil producers. This would be the usual thing to look at and productive it might be too.

However, the other area to look at is public policy.

Everywhere, in every western countries, on every official’s lips we hear of the need to transition to Green Energy. Among other things, it is the alacrity and the intensity of the insistence that is so eye-brow raising.

Boris Johnson recently mentioned that the United Kingdom would become the “Qatar of Hydrogen”, adding at around the same time that we should turn ourselves into the “Saudi Arabia of Wind”.

Across the English Channel, in the European Union, Germany’s new incoming administration promises to focus laser-like on Green Energy as well.

Annalena Bearbock, the easily irritable leader of the Green Party, has made it clear every aspect of life will be gauged against climate change goals.

The issues however are three-fold.

Firstly, as Manish Singh, Chief Investment Officer at Crossbridge Capital, a multi-billion Pound wealth manager, reminds us: “the world economy is over USD 90 trillion and it depends on fossil fuels for over 84% of its energy”.

Secondly, whilst the promises made for Green Energy have something quixotic about them, the costs implied if the promises fail to deliver will be existential.

As first mover in the field of self-harm, Germany moved away from nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear accident that followed the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

At the time, to keep her mighty industry going, Germany turned eastwards for gas into the embrace of a welcoming Russia. Turning herself and most of the European Union into “a hostage of Russia” in the process.

The effects of so doing, a decade ago, led to an increase in Germany’s manufacturing costs on her soil. To remain competitive, and to reach abstract climate targets, she chose to hurt her own workers by outsourcing jobs to her manufacturing rival, China.

Having thus gambled, now the new administration is promising to double down. Almost daily Miss Bearbock is promising to accelerate Germany’s transition from an industrial state into a museum (with no lights).

Thirdly, centralisation of decision making on such issues has left the door open for powerful lobbyists. Which Green solutions will be picked-out as industry standards? Who will benefit? And can we trust those who will make these fateful choices?

For instance, the European Union decided to phase out palm-oil based biofuels, a key component to biodiesel. Palm oil is known to be at least 10 times more efficient than any other oil crop, such as rapeseed, soybean, olive or even sunflower.  Nature Plant, a peer reviewed scientific journal, says that expanding palm oil production would require around 36 million hectares of additional land, 500% less than other alternatives.

No matter how sustainable, however, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea’s palm oil solution does not seem to have the “influence” reach of their rivals.

In cases such as these, paying lip service to the Green agenda but choosing solutions based on the power of lobbying could easily turn a taught transition into a crisis.

At the moment, these changes are manifesting themselves in price rises. These are making life for the majority of our people decidedly more uncomfortable. In the near future, if the policy makers fail on their bets, we will have a combination of price rises and  black outs.

As Manish Sign writes: “Let us hope the renewables will be able to fill the gap in time and if not we will have to take up knitting. Woolly knickers, vests, scarves and jumpers. Sustainable, renewable, a bit scratchy…  but warm when energy supplies fail”.

It is a huge gamble, pushed with absolute certainty, by people who are perennially wrong.

If it does go wrong, the future will be dark indeed. In that case, will they be forgiven or forgivable?

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Photo of the aftermath of Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima in Japan by Fly and Dive by Adobe Stock

 

 

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