Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s thoughts are summarised here. He asserts that the proposed Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria (site above), backed by Australian private equity group EMR Capital, has no commercial rationale and will be obsolescent before it ever opens. It was claimed at first that Whitehaven coking coal would supply Britain’s steel industry and displace imported variants with a higher CO2 footprint. But Tata Steel has since said the high sulphur content makes it mostly unsuitable for milling at Port Talbot. His comment:
Britain has sold its climate credibility for a mess of brown pottage.
He points out that if employment is the objective it might better be met by engineering and technical support jobs for the offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea. Each new gigawatt requires 1,500 workers. While this wind power will never be as cheap as Spanish or Australian solar, it will be very cheap and effectively free for large chunks of each 24-hour cycle, nicely adapted for green hydrogen production at prices that will outcompete Cumbrian coking coal.
Over the coming weeks, Alok Sharma, President for COP 26 (above), will strive to conjure a G20 consensus on a timetable or the total phase-out of “unabated coal power”, the bedrock requirement for a 1.5-degree world. But while he does so, his own country will be debating a brand new mine at Whitehaven Colliery, intended to produce coking coal until the middle of the 21st century.
A public inquiry into the Whitehaven proposal has now closed and the Inspector expects to issue his report by early January 2022. It will then be considered by the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision. Cumbria County Council has withdrawn its initial support, switching to strict “neutrality”.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard ends by pointing out that we are moving to a new world trading system of carbon border tariffs
ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steel producer outside China, is building a commercial-scale plant at Gijon in Spain, aiming for 2.6 tons a year of green steel from 2025 onwards. It will use hydrogen in a “direct reduction” process, drawing on the solar parks of the Spanish meseta where costs are near £25 MWh – getting close to free energy.
In order to replace old steel with green steel infrastructure governments are stepping in with blanket subsidies. Berlin has promised to spend whatever it takes to help ThyssenKrupp and other German steelmakers to make the switch.
Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, says the coking coal in British steel “could be displaced completely by 2035”, the date set for net-zero steel emissions in this country. The Cumbrian coal would be obsolete, sellable only to a diminishing group of climate pariah states. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard concludes:
“The Whitehaven Colliery is never going to happen. But the fiasco has dragged on long enough to leave Britain with an excruciating diplomatic embarrassment. Worse yet – unless you are a climate denialist – it has intruded on the delicate chemistry of COP26. One weeps at the ineptitude”.
Read the source article here (paywall).
Ben Marlow: “Private equity’s pandemic raid”
Foreign pension funds and infrastructure investors say they are interested in British port businesses because they are stable long-term investments.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak visited Teesport in Middlesbrough earlier this year
Australian and Canadian bidders are offering £1bn to control UK’s biggest freeport
Buyers will receive significant economic benefits from the freeport initiative championed by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, including tax breaks to companies in designated zones across Britain as part of efforts to level up the regions.
Teesside-based PD Ports, the company at the centre of Britain’s biggest freeport, is described as a 490 acre linchpin in Britain’s steel, petrochemical, manufacturing, engineering and retail supply chains. PD Ports owns 13 UK shipping terminals, including those at Hull and Felixstowe.
First-round, non-binding offers have already been submitted and final, binding offers for PD Ports to RBC and CIC, the advisers running the sale, are due in mid-November. Current bidders Peel Ports, Macquarie and the South Tees Development Corporation declined to comment.
Mayor Ben Houchen (above) is leading Tees Valley’s bid to secure control of PD Ports. The Teesside regeneration project is arguably the government’s flagship freeport plan:
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen’s development authority is bidding for PD Ports. Houchen wants the 4,500-acre Teesside freeport to focus on industries including offshore wind power, other clean energy and chemicals, creating more than 18,000 jobs.
The South Tees Development Corporation’s bid is backed by Legal & General, the Duke of Northumberland’s investment company, the Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC) and Credit Suisse. It is suing the company over its rights to use two of three access routes into the Teesport site, which is surrounded by the corporation’s land. The mayor’s officials have applied to the High Court for a declaration that PD Ports only has one legal access route,
Ben Marlow reflects:
“The scale of private equity’s raid on UK plc during the pandemic is deeply alarming. One day, we may look back on the crisis and wonder how a deal frenzy of such proportions was allowed to take place at such a critical time for the economy.
“The casualties of private equity ownership stretch far and wide from Debenhams and the AA to Saga, Pizza Express and Southern Cross.
“The dangers of allowing faceless financiers with short-term horizons to control swathes of corporate Britain are plentiful. That has been repeatedly proven during the crisis, with private equity owners cutting their losses and running for the hills when the going gets tough in a desperate bid to protect their interests”.
One reader objects to Macquarie, “Look at their record with Southern Water! They’re about one thing, repatriation of profits”.
Another comments: “Any company hoping to run a Freeport in the UK, with all its tax advantages, should be a British based company. Having left the EU (haven’t we?) we should be insisting on money generated here stays here and gets used here! Otherwise, what is the point of being a sovereign, independent nation?”
In brick-and-mortar shops alongside cash people swipe debit/credit cards, digital wallets and mobile phones for their purchases. This has been taken to the next stage with the emergence of shops which accept electronic payments only. But cash remains king for most Britons. 97% of the population carries notes and coins in its wallets and 80% of people pay taxi drivers, newspaper sellers, window cleaners and gardeners with cash. At times of crisis, people may want to hold a cash reserve. In a fully cashless society, that possibility would not exist. The global picture:
Cashless shopping: corporations chase higher profits by using technology
Electronic payments are very profitable for global corporations like Mastercard, Visa, American Express, PayPal and can speed up purchases, while traders say that it reduces the inconvenience of the daily banking of cash, risk of theft and the cost of business insurance.
In February, Professor Sikka recalls, Tesco opened its first cashless store on Central London and joins a number of bars, cafes and restaurants who do not accept cash. This trend is likely to accelerate as corporations chase higher profits by using technology and employing fewer humans.
Of course, electronic transactions are not perfectly reliable or safe.
- WiFi connections, computers and databases can be hacked.
- Cards and mobile phones can fall into wrong hands and even be suspended, leaving customers and traders with no purchasing power.
- Storms, floods and power outages can take down the whole systems, leading to economic hardship and chaos.
Cashless shopping poses big societal challenges
A cashless society requires everyone to have a bank account, debit/credit card, subscription to some payment platform or equivalent, and these are not always free. Some 1.23 million Brits do not have a bank account. Another report estimates that over eight million UK adults, and their dependents, would struggle in a cashless society. The elderly, infirm, poor, young, the unemployed, and people with difficult credit histories would not easily be able to secure access to electronic payments systems.
Migrants, refugees, temporary workers and homeless people won’t be welcomed by banks and given debit/credit cards. Some individuals with physical and mental health issues would find a cashless society difficult. A fully cashless society risks a form of economic apartheid – with a class of people shut off from the legal tender.
In a cashless society what privacy would there be for those sharing accounts – including those trapped in abusive relationships – if every transaction is visible to a partner?
To prevent social exclusions, San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have banned cashless retail trading in brick-and-mortar shops. The UK regulators should follow suit and ensure that cash is accepted by all brick-and-mortar retailers and utilities.
Professor Sikka warns: “The move to a cashless society would change political power in societies. Banks, credit card and digital platform companies will effectively control the entire money supply. Yet they are not accountable to the people in any way whatsoever – while the role of elected governments in managing the economy would be constrained”.
Prem Sikka is Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor to LFF and tweets here. Read his article here: https://leftfootforward.org/2020/02/prem-sikka-why-we-should-resist-the-rush-to-a-cashless-society/
Broken Britain 32: a shameful trade supplying the arms which wreck Yemen’s services, leading to famine, injury and death
We congratulate the Campaign Against the Arms Trade on their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
This death-dealing trade continues, endorsed by the British government, despite the UN warning that these sales are helping to create the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. Yemen has been pushed to the brink of the world’s worst famine in more than a century, according to the UN, whose recent report suggests that millions are just a step away from starvation.
Britain continues to supply the Saudi-led coalition, helping to inflict starvation, injury and death
Bodies covered in white plastic lie on the ground amid the rubble of a Houthi detention center destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes, that killed at least 60 people, in Dhamar province, southwestern Yemen, in September 2019
According to an ABC News article, the report by a United Nations panel of independent experts published on Wednesday found that at least 18,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed or wounded by Saudi-led air strikes since 2015. They cited the Yemen Data Project, which gathers information on all air strikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition. Reuters added that Kamel Jendoubi, head of the Group of Independent Experts, said in presenting its latest report last month that air strikes launched by the coalition “continue to exact a huge toll on the civilian population”. Since March 2015, Jendoubi said that it is estimated over 23,000 air strikes had been carried out by the coalition.
A joint statement by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Yemeni rights group Mwatana said that a Saudi lobbying campaign seemed to be intensifying globally in a bid to dissolve support for the Western resolution brought by countries including the Netherlands and Canada, due to be debated on Thursday in a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The resolution advocates extending the mandate of the U.N. investigators who have documented possible war crimes in Yemen, including by the Riyadh-led coalition.
Afrah Nasser, a Yemen researcher at U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “Saudi Arabia, a leading party to the conflict in Yemen accused of serious violations including likely war crimes, together with its coalition allies, is engaging in a tireless lobbying campaign to deter states at the Human Rights Council from renewing the (inquiry) mandate.”
If the Council bows to Saudi pressure and fails to extend the mandate by two years, she said, it would be “a stain on the credibility of the Council and a slap in the face to victims”.
A voluntary severance scheme has been launched in the rail industry under post-pandemic reforms which unions warn will lead to huge job losses.
Train operators employ about 65,000 workers, but no figure has been put on the number expected to leave, or how much money will be spent on the scheme, which will run for the next three weeks.
“This proposed job loss scheme across the rail industry has not been agreed with the RMT and we would call for it to be withdrawn before serious damage is done to industrial relations at this critical point as we emerge from the pandemic.
“It’s crystal clear that cutting rail jobs will adversely impact on passenger service, safety and accessibility”.
Manuel Cortes (right) leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “It’s ludicrous that with Cop26 just round the corner, the Conservatives are looking to cut thousands of rail jobs which will mean that services on our railways will not be returning to their pre-pandemic level”.
He added that you don’t decarbonise by cutting train services whilst keeping in place the most expensive walk-on fares in the world, and you certainly shouldn’t be allowing private operators to make profits at the expense of taxpayers and passengers.”
Cortes said that if Boris Johnson and his cohorts were serious about decarbonisation, they would be making it easy for people to switch from their cars and on to our railways.
The FT reports that Denmark’s Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, is diverting vessels away from the UK because the nation’s main port is rammed full of containers.
The situation at ports in the UK has been particularly severe because of its acute lorry driver shortage. Felixstowe port said a shortage of drivers meant that there was a delay of six days before cargo could be taken inland to be unloaded.
The Loadstar (logistics and supply chain news, comment and analysis) comments:
“Meanwhile prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday denied there was a crisis, but also said that the UK’s “world leading” logistics industry could fix it. One UK forwarder said the prime minister was “deranged”. “Bob the builder, I am not,” he added.
Britain’s waterways are an under-used freight resource and where possible, emissions and road congestion could be significantly reduced by moving goods along the twelve largest.
In the case of Felixstowe a new canal would be needed as the River Deben could not take large barges. A new canal large enough for barges adapted to take containers traditionally used on heavy goods vehicles would slash the number of freight trains that impede commuter services to the capital every day. Terminals built along the route will allow lorries to take containers off the barges to destinations away from the canal system. Hundreds of jobs would be created in construction, warehousing and support services
Journalist Jon Sergeant (Sussex Gazette) reported that a government insider said: “We’ll turn the clock back more than 100 years and use the water like the Victorians did, embracing a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly mode of transport. This will free up the region’s clogged roads, and leave railway lines for passengers rather than freight”.
There is a strong environmental, social and economic case to be made for moving some freight off the roads using the existing large waterways and building one or two new canals.
*Gazette readers welcoming the news were disappointed to find out that the article was ‘a spoof’.
David Lowe, chairman of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, calls upon the Government, which hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this autumn in Glasgow, to increase infrastructure investment in improving the nation’s waterways.
He commented that with all the news about HGV driver shortages, it is salutary to remember that the crew of a 500 tonnes capacity barge can move that cargo more quickly than if they each drove an HGV between Hull and Rotherham.
Even if all lorries were electrically powered, they would still create damaging dust particulates from brake pads, from tyre wear and from road surface wear. None of these problems arise with barges. “Using barges improves the environment and people’s sense of well-being,” he said.
Mr Lowe added that barge use also fits in with the de-carbonisation agenda as research has shown that barges have for years created lower emissions than heavy lorries – only 25% of that produced by lorries.
The barge industry is moving to use biofuels with hydrogen treated vegetable oil (HVO) being favoured. Barge companies have reported 90% reductions in net carbon dioxide emissions.
investment in waterways would reduce air pollution, road congestion, fuel use and motorway accidents.
Earlier this year journalist Ben Chacko (left) called for an honest assessment of how pornography and social media fuel misogyny and rape culture.
As economist and Green politician, Molly Scott Cato points out, “pornography is big business. The ten bestselling British porn magazines sell about two million copies a month, bringing in a yearly total of about £45 million (2005 figures)”.
Ben holds governments responsible for the material conditions of pornography’s entry into the market and its promotion through the private ownership of media and social media channels.
He concludes: “There’s no doubt in my mind that if Google wanted to put a stop to this tomorrow, the technology is there to do so”, asking:
“Why has the Government not made it happen? Are they really so weak and scared of the big boys in Silicon Valley, so desperate for their big shiny offices in the UK, that they’ve compromised the safeguarding of a generation of children?”
How many more youngsters’ minds will we allow to be warped by this onslaught?
As Molly Scott Cato (right) points out, “pornography is big business. The ten bestselling British porn magazines sell about two million copies a month, bringing in a yearly total of about £45 million (2005 figures)”.
Wikipedia lists the companies but not their owners and the names of banks who finance them are in the public domain. A spotlight should be shone on the owners of the companies responsible but they successfully avoid publicity.
For people in ‘60s-70s’ life in England’s towns and villages, though materially poorer for most, was free from the fears expressed nowadays. Exterior doors were not habitually locked at night and there was no fear of walking home in the dark. Children roamed freely and the term ‘stranger danger’ was unknown. Those stepping out of line were challenged and bad behaviour was nipped in the bud: an amorous dog-walker found a stiletto heel painful, a colleague was reminded about his lovely wife and children and reporting unpleasant catcalling at a local factory led to the workforce being turned out on the pavement at once and called to account. The top shelf of the newsagent held ‘naturist’ magazines and those who surreptitiously reached for them would see rather pitying smiles on the faces of other customers. In Birmingham just one cinema was said to show daring films but a visit there led to nothing more than the sight of interminable tennis games played by naked Swedes.
The downward slope: as transatlantic money makers began to influence successive weak-minded British governments, profit became the ultimate good/God.
Gambling conglomerates benefitted as sports were allowed on Sunday. On the seventh day for the first time shops and supermarkets opened.
In her statistics-based research for Counting the Costs (2005), Molly Scott Cato noted that pornography, particularly paedophile pornography, is now much more prevalent, perhaps due to the anonymity offered by the internet. Sixteen years later Ben Chacko expanded on this theme in an editorial:
“The social media explosion has made dissemination of pornography available to every youngster with a mobile phone. . . the circulation and consumption of pornography creates the climate for misogyny and rape culture . . . If there was no profit to be made then the availability of pornography would be greatly reduced.”
Naomi Greenway published an article: Parents understand what’s behind the school sex scandal… and insisted that it’s time the Government listened. She offered a solution: “The Government needs to make it illegal for pornography to be openly accessible online, then make age verification (via a credit card for example) mandatory. She advocates the prosecution of the tech platforms that enable the global distribution of pornography – from the darkest, seediest corners on earth – directly to our children. See her petition: Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Protect children from pornography online.
Ben Chacko ends: “Then we need an emphatic restatement of human values, a forceful campaign of enlightenment and a real commitment to change the world in which our children reach adulthood”.
Freed from European Union’s precautionary approach, but not from the pressure of vested interests, the government today ‘unveiled’ plans to protect the environment by changing the rules relating to gene editing, cutting red tape and making research and development easier.
GM Watch pointed out that this decision was taken despite the public’s response to the public consultation on its plans to deregulate gene. This revealed that out of 6,440 submissions to the consultation, most individuals (87%) and businesses (64%) felt that gene-edited organisms pose a greater risk than naturally bred organisms?
Will gene-editing be the latest potentially damaging technology in a long line of disastrous post ‘50s innovations such as synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, hybrid seeds and genetic modification?
The Gates Foundation is funding gene drive research and has an interest in using the technology to eradicate mosquitos by making the females sterile.
The US military is the top funder
In 2017, The Guardian reported that the first annual payment to America’s “gene drive” research project – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) – was $100 million. DARPA hopes to be able to protect a soldier on the battlefield from chemical weapons and biological weapons by controlling their genome (read more here). In 2019 the BBC reported that China, the USA and France were also hoping to arrive at some form of a genetically edited ‘super soldier’.
GOVE PLEDGES CHEAPER UNLABELLED, GENE-EDITED FOOD
In 2019 when apprehensions were rising about low-quality food entering the country post-Brexit, the Times reported that Michael Gove, the environment secretary, had announced that “Britain will lead an agricultural revolution with the use of gene editing” and pledged ’cheaper, unlabelled, gene-edited food’.
ROTHAMSTED’S SOIL SCIENTIST CHIEF SUCCEEDED BY CROP GENETICIST
An article in the Farmers Weekly, “GM crops ‘not the answer’ to UK food security”, quoted the words of Professor Achim Dobermann, the Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, an experienced soil scientist’ and agronomist.
He said that GM technology could be a useful tool in some areas, but growing commercial biotech crops in the UK would not bring huge benefits.
At the end of 2019 he ‘stepped down’ and was succeeded by Professor Angela Karp who has more than 35 years’ experience in crop genetics and breeding for food and bio-renewables’. Rothamsted Research announced in August 2021 that its application to run the first UK field trials of CRISPR-edited wheat has been approved by DEFRA.
THE UK GOVERNMENT’S ARIA, MODELLED ON DARPA
This year the UK government has announced the setting up of an £800 million, taxpayer-funded Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), modelled on DARPA; the organisation will focus partly on genomic research.
To the investors’ and speculators’ interests (buy six of the US top gene-editing stocks now!) must be added those of the range of academic research departments and institutions involved in gene drive research.
During the BBC’s World Service Food Chain programme one question was, “By putting their faith in technology, have scientists and companies overlooked other, simpler solutions to our food security problems?”
As Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the Soil Association, stressed: “The focus needs to be on how to restore exhausted soils, improve diversity in cropping, integrate livestock into rotations and reduce dependence on synthetic nitrogen and pesticides.”
COMMENT FROM SHROPSHIRE