Its customary to be looking back at this time of year and “The oil lamp” is going to be no exception. Our book covers economics, transport, food as well as energy issues seeing them as all interlinked. What’s happened in these areas this year?
Economically looking back the picture is best mixed with the European Union still very depressed. The US has staged a recovery but politicians keep arguing over the budget. In the Autumn there was a showdown with a government shutdown for weeks. China still bounds along of course. The UK has suddenly made a strong recovery, although is it based on house prices and borrowing? Depressingly though all the politicians are bound to old thinking about growth. Only recently have students at University of Manchester asked for some fresh thinking. This call has been taken up by some leading economists and students at other universities, offering some hope that someone might start asking the questions required. On a personal note I’m struggling to get anywhere in my job hunt like many others.
Looking back at transport, most of the year was a quiet one in the UK until the whole high speed 2 controversy kicked off after the summer with a parliamentary vote looming on the issue. The government have not handled this issue well and this was something this blog had a look at. In principle this blog supports high speed rail but not without concerns about the route. In the last few weeks Heathrow and the third runway have been in the news. Its a real pity that both these issues cannot be examined through the prism of peak oil. Internationally the airline industry survived oil prices that are still high by international standards, despite fuel making up about 50% of their costs.
Looking back food looked like being the dominant issue of the year (in the UK and Europe). At the beginning of 2013 we discovered that horse meat had been found in a variety of processed meat products. This caused huge outrage and was indicative of everything wrong with our food system. Poor quality food, sourced from anywhere low cost with unsustainable supply lines and lack of regulation. There was a lot of discussion about what to do about it. Whether people have really changed their buying habits against such processed food (as polling suggests) is debatable. This scandal is probably only sleeping and will be back in the future. Another reason food looked like being a dominant issue was due to the If campaign which ended in success at the G8 summit in June.
In the second half of the year the rise and rise of food banks was increasingly in the news. My prediction is this will be one of the big news stories of 2014. On personal note, for us this has been a year of eating record amounts of local produce. Chiefly from our own garden. I also volunteer with a local urban food growing project, which for me has been fun and interesting. As some encouragement more people in the UK are preparing fresh food themselves and local food interest continues to grow strongly thanks to the “Great British Bake off” and “River Cottage” on the TV.
Energy, looking back the year started quietly. The oil price has done very little this year. Its only slightly higher than it was at the start of 2013, although still high by historical standards. This blog will attempt some anaylsis over oil price early in 2014. The big news in the summer was on fracking in the UK, with big protests at Balcombe. A huge discussion took place in the press with commentators lining up on either side depending on their politics. The protests and opinion polls suggest that fracking is only popular as long as its not near me (no surprise there). The latest data on the shale oil story in the US suggests as we suspected its going to be relatively short lived phenomenon.
However, this was just the warm up and Ed Milliband the labour leader of the opposition lit a political fuse in September on the issue of an energy price freeze at his party conference. The big six were just waiting to the conference season to end to raise prices. When they did the issue exploded. The government panicked moving some of the green levies to general taxation but at the same time cutting them. Energy has not been out of the UK news since (kept in play by some big six scandals). The government’s discomfit was compounded when they announced a deal with EDF and the Chinese to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset with the agreed price for the electricity at double todays figure. This does not seem to imply they see the price of electricity falling over the next 10 years. The EU has called in the Hinckley deal to consider its state aid implications and the Irish government may take the issue to court. This author still thinks it unlikely any new nuclear plant will ever be built without direct government money.
Meanwhile the issue of power cuts is in the news with very large numbers of old plants closing in the UK. Wind and solar has had a reasonable year in the UK but is still not going in as fast as old capacity is coming out. Germany and Japan powered ahead especially on solar power. Japan is determined to get as much renewables onto the grid as soon as possible, in Germany debate has taken place over the costs of solar and the problems of integrating it into the grid. In Japan the nuclear clean-up has lurched from disaster to disaster with evacuees being told something I could have told them from the start. They will probably never be able to return home. Expect pretty much all the above to keep returning to the news next year. Despite the free publicity our book sales have been solid rather spectacular. There is still plenty of work to do to make Christians take this issue at all seriously…
Have a happy Christmas and see you next year.