Plotlands- learning from history

and the present housing crisis.

Housing crisis? Some would say that the UK has a housing shortage, less of a crisis but more a supply problem. Yet for many housing is at crisis point and something Shelter [the housing pressure group charity] and others have reported to government. Rents in areas where there is work are bordering on extortion [ a £2500 monthly rent for a 2 bed in Brixton, London, is normal] and with current average prices for buying a home around  £165,000 to £247,000 depending on which government agency is used affordable accommodation is at crisis.

A 40 or 50 or 60 something, homeowners may be the lucky ones who is able to sell up in one area and either upsize or downsize in another area but for those who are renting the choices are getting restricted year on year. The average wage is around £25,000 although there are plenty of people on half that- given that a 90% loan is 3 to 3.5 annual income for single people and 2.5 for couples the house price limit is £36-40 thousand for a below averaged waged single person, £78,000 for the averaged waged single person [or below average wage couple] and £120,000 for a working average couple. Many couples have children, not all, some I believe are same sex! or don’t want children! And children tend to mess up pre child arrangements. Add to this is that about a third of wages is spent on housing which has progressively got worse over the decades: after the WW2 around 20% or less went on the mortgage.

One of the basics of life is now a form of servitude in the UK.

Government is urged to build more social housing and urged to allow more private housing estates on greenbelt land. Yet for the last few decades the problem has been left to the free market which has restricted supply and pushed house prices and rents beyond many people’s income. Local authorities are financially restricted to raise the capital,  to build the houses, to rent out to those in need and with the ‘right to buy’ the best social housing has been sold off [at a reduced rate]. Developers wishing to build new housing estates on greenbelt land are met with local objection.

Developers are also looking to make a profit, hence the reason for anonymous – homogeneous – rabbit hutch estates, where a three bedroomed detached house is squeezed into the smallest space. As much as many of us with a hint of architectural sense may loathe the ‘Barrett Home’ many aspire to live on an out of town modern estate. And, all the time towns and cities a sprawling into the remnants of the countryside.

The solutions are all problematic: we want open spaces and countryside, and unlike many Europeans we don’t like apartments [unless they are in a particularly groovy part of a city overlooking some lake or docklands] but aspire to a little garden and three bedrooms in which the smallest would present problems swinging a cat. Smaller communities object to large estates popping up next to them and even ignoring the NIMBYS fear of their own houses losing a view and more importantly value, these communities have lost their local schools and economic infrastructure leading to new developments being dormitory.

One of the single biggest hurdles is obtaining land to build on- developers will sit on land until house prices have risen so as to make a profit, an issue that is currently being tackled by government but this is not the root of the problem.

Land values have sky rocketed- my own land is worth 20 times its purchase price in 20 years. Local upland which is fairly marginal sells for around £7,000 an acre- productive agricultural lowland is around £10,000 and more depending on location. For the average farmer the return on investment at that price is marginal- at best it is a tax loss and safer than the bank. With planning permission that £10 k an acre land is worth £800k or a million or more: a small plot with planning permission is a bargain at £70,000 although you would not get a mortgage for it. Just 3 or so companies offer mortgages for the self builder often requiring the land to be owned in the first place. With this is the simple lack of building plots most building land is packaged up into several acre plots which in turn is wrapped up into the complex world of local authority planning that secretly decides which areas will be open for development and which will remain greenbelt.

Building homes is not the expensive part, it can be but it can cost a few £1000 to connect electricity, water, and sewage. More remote locations with fewer or one dwelling cost more – up to £20,000 for water and electric and less with off the grid services or if there are several homes [customers]. My 100sqm cabin cost £2000 in materials and a further £1000 for the off the grid electric, but I do have a natural spring and space for a bio loo and reed water processing. Realistically £50,000 would build a fabulous  small home [visit tinyhouseblog for great ideas]. Across the spectrum there are options- in the 80s people bought old buses and took to the road and for a short while actually had a little control over their lives, for the conventional it is possible to build a family home for around £80,000 with most of work carried out by contractors.

The issue is planning and land.

The 1947 planning act had worthy objectives- the countryside needed protecting and people needed to be housed after the War and the act allowed local authorities to do both. The mission of the act is now in conflict with need. One of the first things to be reigned in were the almost anarchic ‘plotlands’

During the 1890′s, agriculture declined because of a series of poor harvests and cheap grain imports from America. Fields [especially marginal land with some along the coast ]were sold off to land agents, who auctioned them off as small plots.
After the First World War, the British Government promised ‘a land fit for heroes’ and building one’s own home in the countryside was encouraged. Later, the Depression of the 1930s drove people to settle in the Plotlands and build themselves a place to live.

For a more in depth article the Dabbler Blog is worth a read.  Plot lands were popular after both wars, it offered a new life and an opportunity to have control over it despite the lack of many services including surfaced roads. There are a few surviving plotlands- Bewdley overlooking the river Severn is a wonderful example of people architecture. Jonathan Meades the culture critic did a series on the BBC in 1990 called Abroad in Britain and features the ideals and architecture of this surviving plotland.

a photo collection of people housing on plotlands can be found here.

It is unlikely homeowners in the conventional sense would accept plotlands across the country- given the hostility to traveller camps, legal or illegal. There seems a widespread, [how to phrase it?] well make up your own mind- homeowners attitudes are ‘I worked hard to own a home why shouldn’t they?’ 20 to 25 years of a third of one’s income hardens attitudes. The view they have, the community they are used too are in there minds hard fought for. Housing which is a basic human right is a contentious issue whether it is ‘single young mums jumping the council house waiting list’ or outsiders illegally occupying land.

Curiously, one of the most popular Grand Designs [Channel 4] episodes is Ben Law who built his own eco home in the woods after living in a tent for years.

Perhaps if it is seen that ‘outsider’ or para-homeowners have earned their homes through hard work they can be accepted. So I propose a compromise- it is not the answer but it could be part of a broader solution. It even fits within the 1947 Planning Act.

Councils are allowed to lease land and allowed to compulsory purchase it and allowed to lease it out to developers. Their powers allow them to by land without planning permission and give permission. Land bought for £10,000 an acre remains the same value with planning permission- therefore the £80,000 budget to build a home available to working couples is possible. The lease can be specific to avoid profiteering with resale value being entirely the value of the actual building not its speculated value. It would have other benefits- provision could be made for DIY builders to build sustainable cheap homes and to avoid the danger of slum dwellings rental would be forbidden and resale limited. For local communities individual homes would have their own character influenced by their owner and avoiding the bland housing developments that use the same bricks, roofs, and 3 bed box design. Also, such ad hoc building would employ many more small building businesses and contractors.

It would stimulate design, it would stimulate empowerment of people to control their environment, it could stimulate a literal ‘cottage industry including cutting edge factory built prefabs aimed at the £50 k market. Allowing flexibility, and innovation in the planning system so certain restrictions are lifted -such as ‘being in keeping with the local architecture’ that often condemn new builds to copy unimaginative architecture – may actually start giving people the confidence to be bold and imaginative.  Their fear is and has been that given a choice the working classes will make the wrong ones- they will have little houses with Corinthian columns or fake beams, but so what? How are we going to find out what we want?

There are a host of other issues such as protecting the environment, sustaining local and rural economies as well as reducing the need to drive everywhere just to work and shop. Part of the solution to those problem is to have a rekindled frontier spirit, something that plotlands could achieve.

Homes, Green Dreams, and the Land of Rainbows pt 1

This is Part 1 of a series of articles and diary of building the green dream, but first the ‘gold standard’ the German ‘Passivhauses’.

Passivhauses is certified standard of house building that can increase the value of your home, reduce insurance but principally  reduce heating to the body warmth of the occupants and appliances. Cooking and hot water are the only big energy consumers with an air heat exchanger [costing around £20-£40 in electricity per year] conditioning the hot air from your bathroom, kitchen and other humid areas and exchanging its heat with clean cool air from outside. The Guardian article on how Passivhauses have changed peoples lives and heating bills has a simple diagram of the principals. It also stimulated plenty of comments of people living in Britain’s energy inefficient houses on how to retrofit the Passivhauses features into theirs.

passivhaus

The cost difference between a standard UK new build [with a build cost of £80,000] and a fully spec Passivhauses is £20,000- that may seem a lot [or little, and the coming blogs will investigate how much it costs to build a house] but given that UK energy prices have doubled since 2005 the savings are potentially huge.

Why don’t people get exponential growth? I wrote about it and it seems obvious now but not before. Fuel or at least good old fashioned fossil fuels are never going to be cheap again [unless we have a major economic collapse and demand crashes but then we won't have the income to buy it], the alternatives like nuclear isn’t getting cheaper and wind and solar may, but not quite yet [although not to be dismissed]. The latest wave of price increases by the Big 6 UK energy providers is around 10%, it is exceptional but with income only rising at 1% and general inflation at 2.5-3% even modest above inflation energy prices rises has long term implications.

The average UK household energy bill is £1400, but like so many ‘averages’ it hides the reality that poorer households in poor property are spending a higher percentage of income on keeping warm and possibly more than the average middle income family in a better insulated house with the best gas boiler. With a 7% annual energy inflation the average fuel cost will double in 10 years, and double again 10 years later. 7% inflation may be the high end, it may also be a low guess given that we have used up half the oil resources in the world and will consume the rest in decades and global population increase is demanding more energy. Assuming a 7% inflation [and only 1% increase in real income] means that over a 20 year period the average household will spend in the region of £60,000 to keep warm, have hot water and cook.

There is an old axiom that rich people buy once and save money [I can't remember the actual saying] poor people buy 10 pairs of shoes whilst the wealthy buy a good pair that last. Spending money now to save later is not always possible especially on a low income but it makes sense if you can to reduce energy consumption [and CO2] to do so.  As a builder and eco-enthusiast  I have been consulted on energy efficiency retro fitting as well as doing the tasks, and as I’m currently embarking on building the green dream [see the next blog when I download pictures on the current project] energy efficiency is a priority.

Recently I did the research and plans to renovate a 18th century town house to very high energy efficiency standards. A problem with it was that it is Grade 2 listed which requires a jobsworthy inspector overseeing renovation work to ensure the building’s character is preserved. Unfortunately pretty well everything suggested was considered to be almost vandalism and as a consequence the building remains on the market and unrenovated. It was was an interesting exercise in costing and planning a major retrofit.

Renovating and retrofitting compliment each other- if the roof needs removing and repairing then it is an excellent opportunity to fully insulate at little additional cost. Likewise is the ground floor needs lifting [the house had slate slabs that were damp and laid on to soil] then a new concrete slab can be laid with suitable insulation and then the original floor can be replaced again at minimal additional cost. However a problem in the UK is that builders are not familiar with efficiency measures and will skimp on material costs to keep their quote competitive. Knowledge is power and the homeowner needs to up their understanding of the options, a daunting task given the confusion over U values, R values, and Watts per square metre.

The principle is simple-

have an insulation barrier of 1 foot [270-300mm] of most materials [glassfibre, recycled paper, thermal blocks etc] or half as much of polyurethane envelop the entire building. Ensure there are no leaks – which requires wrapping the building [usually internally] in an air tight membrane before plaster board is installed- and making sure any punctures in the building such as pipes are sealed. Have draft free doors and windows and control the ventilation with a heat exchanger.

the practise is tricker.

The best advise is to DIY, or at the least fit your own loft insulation- glass fibre is cheap and laying another roll in the roof space will do no harm, particularly pay attention to the hard to reach eaves: drafts that come up around floor boards have there origins at the point the wall meets the roof.

If you are up for a challenge learn to plaster [and be able to remove skirting boards]. External walls can be insulated by removing skirting, window trim [pictures etc] – gluing either 100-150  of PU foam board or twice as much polystyrene sheets on to the walls, then gluing [there is a plasterboard sticky plaster for the job] plasterboard on top and then finishing the board with plaster. You can glue the skirting back on but it serves no purpose. To really do a good job, insulation [glass fibre] needs to be placed in the void between ceiling and floor along the external wall. The rooms will be smaller but much warmer- and you can do one room[ one wall] at a time.

A DIY project that is cheap[er] and effective is to insulate the ground floor. If it is a floating timber floor the boards can be lifted and insulation stuffed inbetween the joists- either staple fruit netting to the underneath of the joists and fill with glass fibre or use PU foam rigid boards. Whilst you are down there use PU foam in a can to seal any cracks in the walls. Buy the foam gun rather than the cans with their own applicator- they can also be used to fill gaps around pipes in external walls.

Concrete floors are more of a challenge- you could get a breaker, dig up the floor to a depth of foot, lay membrane- 6inches [150mm] of polystyrene, or 75-100 mm of PU foam board, include 50 mm upstand along external wall to avoid cold bridging, and replace the 125mm of concrete. If all of that sounds like a lot of trouble then laying 50 mm of foam board directly on the floor and then laying floor boards on top is the alternative. You will have to cut the doors down, remove the skirting and hope the electrical sockets are not too close to the floor.

Double glazing is pretty ubiquitous in most UK homes even old ones, as long as they are sound there is little economic reason to replace them. If they are up for replacement then it is questionable if triple glazing is worth the energy savings. A passive house- rather than a Passivhauses utilises the sun rays [in winter months] to enter the house through south facing windows and heat the interior- by installing triple glazing that heat is deflected to a degree so in latitudes of 50o it is questionable to install triple glazing in south facing windows. What I would recommend is removing the plastic trim around double glazed windows [it is stuck on with silicone that can be cut with a knife] and in the void between the walls and frame fill with expanding PU foam. when cured trim and replace the plastic strips with white silicone.

If you have been really diligent in insulating and draft proofing your house you will find mould growing everywhere. Bulk ventilation removes warm air which contains more water from breathing, boiling the kettle and having a shower- reduce the ventilation [or draft] and the water will condense and provide a home for mould. Even in a poorly insulated house the benefits of an air heat exchange unit have been proven in studies. A number of housing associations have done basic draft proofing, replaced the boiler for a new condensing gas boiler and installed heat exchangers- 70% of heat is recovered [less the moist air] and returned to living spaces. The biggest problem was changing peoples habits- windows need to remain closed- but not during warm periods- and the machine needs to remain on- and not switched off at night. In summer they are switched to a non heating mode and running costs are £20- £40 a year. With a fan[s] being the only moving part there is little to go wrong.

At around £700- £1000 the heat exchange unit is a simple machine that is easy to fit- the ducting is more problematic but if you like the industrial look it can be on show- I would chose galvanised duct. Otherwise it has to be installed through walls and between floors. Kitchen and bathroom extractors are removed and replaced with input ducts- you would also want to have a means to seal chimneys- at least whilst they weren’t used. You also have to install carbon monoxide detectors- by law. They’re cheap so buy 2 or 3.  If £1000 is too much to out lay in one go there are individual room heat exchangers that require a hole in the wall and cost around £300.

Personally, I have rented old leaky houses that were almost impossible to keep warm and that was when energy was pretty cheap. One of the simplest tricks was to open up the old fireplace and fuel it with skip diving activities. In the heady days of the 1980s and 90s the skips of towns and cities were brimming with furniture, parquet flooring, and builders timber- either furnishings, renovation material or fuel for humble rented accommodation. Living should be comfortable and a reason beyond saving money and reducing CO2- we mortgage our lives to live in a better [as in a pleasing] house, in a better environment, in a better neighbourhood and comfort including air quality shouldn’t be an afterthought. Smug and snug.

Next Part 2- building the dream in the land of rainbows.

Matt Ridley in denial about being in denial

Matt Ridley: 5th viscount Ridley no less, peer of the House of Lords, educated at Eton and obtaining a zoology degree at Magdalen [pronounced maudlin for you uneducated oiks] and currently a science journalist after his previous job as Chairman of Northern Rock [before the bank went tits up]. So he should be a clever man.

Matt Ridley claims he is not a AGW denier, rather that he is a true sceptic. He accepts AGW, he accepts the human driven release of CO2 has warmed the planet… a bit. He is definitely not a science denying weirdo like many on ‘t’internet’. Yet Matt’s last two journalistic outings on Climate Change would rather suggest he is a big fat fiber.

In September [28th 2013] Matt wrote an opinion piece for his regular slot in the Times ‘Global lukewarming need not be catastrophic’ – it is behind a paywall but he reprints it in his Rational Optimist blog. The title gives the clue, his opening paragraph-

In the climate debate, which side are you on? Do you think climate change is the most urgent crisis facing mankind requiring almost unlimited spending? Or that it’s all a hoax, dreamt up to justify socialism, and nothing is happening anyway?

Because those are the only two options, apparently. I know this from bitter experience. Every time I argue for a lukewarm “third way” — that climate change is real but slow, partly man-made but also susceptible to natural factors, and might be dangerous but more likely will not be.

Matt Ridley sets the scene: he is an outsider, hounded by both ‘sides’, but his middle way shows that rises above the debate. In the first instance Matt Ridley is firmly with the deniers as being on the ‘Academic Advisory Council’ of the GWPF [Global Warming Policy Foundation], a thinktank with the supposed agenda of offering balance but churns out the same old myths. Matt Ridley shares the Academic Advising with such denialists as Ian Pilmer, Dr Indur Goklany, Professor Robert Carter, and a host of other fake sceptics including the economist Professor Richard Tol. Do remember him.

Matt continues-

Yet read between the lines of yesterday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and you see that even its authors are tiptoeing towards the moderate middle. They now admit there has been at least a 15-year standstill in temperatures, which they did not predict and cannot explain, something sceptics were denounced for claiming only two years ago. They concede, through gritted teeth, that over three decades, warming has been much slower than predicted. They have lowered their estimate of “transient” climate sensitivity, which tells you roughly how much the temperature will rise towards the end of this century, to 1-2.5C, up to a half of which has already happened.

there are two issues here, that the IPCC has changed its position on the threat of AGW and mention of ‘transient’ climate sensitivity. Even though Matt is a scientist he doesn’t get TCS [transient climate sensitivity].

IPCC authors concluded that the global mean equilibrium warming for doubling CO2 (a concentration of approximately 540 parts-per-million (ppm)), or equilibrium climate sensitivity, very likely is greater than 1.5 °C and likely to lie in the range 2 to 4.5 °C, with a most likely value of about 3 °C. For fundamental physical reasons, as well as data limitations, the IPCC states a climate sensitivity higher than 4.5 °C cannot be ruled out, but that agreement for these values with observations and “proxy” climate data is generally worse compared to values in the 2 to 4.5 °C range. [from wikipedia]

IPCC AR5 physical science report has reduced the lower end of the “likely” equilibrium sensitivity range from 2°C in AR4 to 1.5°C.The 0.5°C drop on the lower estimate ‘most likely’ temperature increase is transient: a short term- i.e. up to 2100, temperature rise with the doubling of CO2 from 280ppm. Currently it is 400ppm and if business as usual continued the doubling would occur in 2050. To pretend that a 0.5°C is good news is to miss the point- it may simply buy a little more time. See here for more details of this long running misinterpretation.

The ‘stand still’ of global surface temperatures is just another denier talking point. There has been no cooling, or standstill and scientists are neither baffled or unable to explain the slow rising in Global Surface Temperature. Tamino followed up Ridley’s fellow GWPF academic advisor Dr David Whitehouse who pushes the ‘no-warming’ ‘failure of IPCC models’ denialist line, on his blog.

After another paragraph of denier talking points- the sea levels aren’t rising much, the Antarctic is melting- he ends

-Talk of tipping points is gone.

Talk of tipping points was not in AR4 either, but the report on mitigation which follows the report for policy makers did briefly mention tipping points- the point we have no chance of returning the climate in the long term to something like the way it was. In fact, scientists are critical of the IPCC AR5 for giving the illusion that change will be gradual.

Ridley then bemoans the fact that only if the IPCC [the hundreds of scientists that contribute papers, perhaps?] had listened to Wattsupwiththat, Bishops Hill and other denier blogs in the past then they would not be in this embarrassing position of climbing down from being doom merchants. The IPCC is more certain of the A in AGW and warns of the C- the complete opposite to denier blogs.

After taking on the victim stance that climate sceptics [denialists] are called names and evil and compared to Nazis he winds up the piece with.

Of course, the IPCC’s conversion to lukewarming is not the way it will be spun, lest it derail the gravy train that keeps so many activists in well-paid jobs, scientists in amply funded labs and renewable investors in subsidised profits.

Hardly a veiled version of the usual ‘AGW is a hoax’ ‘Climate change is a scam’ or ‘the UN just wants to tax us’ and other tinfoil hattery.

Bob Ward of the Guardian wrote about the campaign by the likes of GWPF [and it's academic advisor writing in the Times] to undermine the IPCC report even before it had been released.

Among many false assertions by Lord Ridley was that the IPCC had “lowered their estimate of ‘transient’ climate sensitivity, which tells you roughly how much the temperature will rise towards the end of this century, to 1-2.5C, up to a half of which has already happened”.

This was wrong because the transient climate response refers only to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels over 70 years, but as the IPCC report points out, concentrations could be much higher by 2100, leading to much greater levels of warming.

But Lord Ridley’s brother-in-law, Owen Paterson, the UK environment secretary, was clearly oblivious to the glaring error in the article and incorporated it into his speech at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, declaring: “I think the relief of this latest report is that it shows a really quite modest increase, half of which has already happened. They are talking one to two and a half degrees.”

Matt Ridley was not pleased and wrote a stern letter to the Guardian.

In his continuing attempt to polarise the climate debate into believers and deniers, Bob Ward has resorted to conspiracy theories and attacked me.

After reiterating that he was right in his interpretation of the TCS he changes the subject and mentions a paper by fellow ‘Academic Advisor’ to GWPF Richard Tol an economist. In a 2009 paper where he reviews 14 economics papers [one of which is his own and half being from the 1990s] Tol concludes that in the short term warming will be beneficial. The paper is free to download – and concludes that there a great many unknowns and fixing the right price for carbon is tricky to get right.

There is a strong case for near-term action on climate change, although prudence may dictate phasing in a higher cost of carbon over time, both to ease the transition and to give analysts the ongoing ability to evaluate costs, benefits, and policy mechanisms.

Which transforms into

[Tol] found that there is likely to be net global benefit to human or planetary welfare from warming till temperature has increased by 2.2 degrees from 2009 levels, which is about 3 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. This is before taking adaptation into account so it is conservative. That means probable net benefit from climate change until towards the end of the century.

So that’s ok? our children will be fine but the next generation will have to deal with the negative effects? The rest of the letter, like most climate change deniers then goes on to mention the poor people who suffer fuel poverty along with

hunger, malnutrition and respiratory ill health by today’s climate policies

A nod to those terrible wind turbines driving up home energy prices and the Third World who we stop from having a better life. But respiratory ill health? Pollution from coal power stations and diesel particulates is part of the fossil fuel world- what I expect Matt Ridley is saying is that poor people are being denied electric cookers and heaters and have to burn dung and wood in their huts. Ridley is a long standing care troll. The reason poor people burn wood and dung for cooking in unventilated huts or slums is that the electricity and gas companies don’t tend to offer that service, and besides electric hobs don’t come cheap on $1 a day.

Mr Ward appears to think they [poor people] should be ignored in favour of concern for the welfare of wealthier people in the next century.

Having failed to address Bob Ward’s article it does give Matt Ridley inspiration for his next article in the Spectator.

Carry on Warming

Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this.

‘Warming is good’ has been around since AGW became a serious issue in the late 80s with Sherwood Idso, the scientist for hire who was writing about how great CFCs were and how wrong it was to ban them back then was also churning out papers on CO2 on how it was ‘plant food’- ‘warming was good’- ‘warm is better than cold’. 20 years later Matt Ridley is spreading the same old myths.

The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity. It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths

The consensus opinion of these experts is rather limited to Richard Tol and his 2009 economics paper, and Bjorn Lomborg.

Matt Ridley’s attempts to be a genuine sceptic is the same fake scepticism that has been churned out by deniers for over two decades. Climate Change is happening- but ‘even the IPCC say they are only 95% certain that 50% is man-made, the rest is natural’, there has been no warming for 16 years, the models don’t work, they can’t explain the lack of warming, a warming world is good, CO2 is plant food, spending money on preventing carbon emissions is a waste, wind turbines are bad, combating climate change will make the poor poorer, and fuel bills more expensive, climate scientists are doing it for the money, sceptics cannot get their sceptical papers published,

and the list continues. Ridley is the same as Monckton who also believes CO2 is a greenhouse gas and there has been some warming. Admittedly Monckton also believes the UNs Agenda 21 on sustainability is about enslaving us in a UN Marxist totalitarian world government.

Why does Matt Ridley peddle the same old denier talking points.

the superabundance of shale gas and oil has postponed peak oil once again and is already driving down coal, gas and oil prices in the United States, with other parts of the world likely to follow suit.

Cheap energy or green energy -you cannot have both

The five myths about fracking -wind power does more environmental harm.

abiotic gas !

Abiotic gas and oil is the fantasy wet dream of oil never running out. Much loved by some climate deniers who also think shale gas is the answer to all our energy needs. Despite owning an estate of lordship proportions, and holding a wide variety of shares Matt Ridley has no business interests in oil or fossil fuel companies or power production.

More- George Monbiot on the errors in his book -the Rational Optimist- His Wall Street Journal article recycled in the Times debunked -

Oil and Gas Limits Underlie Syria’s Conflict

julesbollocks:

Syria is, of course a hot topic, I was going to blog after a very interesting article in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines
There are plenty of opinions concerning the causes of unrest and war in Syria- all with the exception of some Zionist conspiracy have an element of truth. But simply: too many people, diminishing resources, religious diversity/conflict and fear make for a frightening mix.

Originally posted on Our Finite World:

In my view, oil and gas resource limits are major contributors to the conflict in Syria. This is happening in several ways:

1. Syria is an oil exporter that is in increasingly perilous financial condition because of depleting oil resources.  When oil production is increasing, it can help an oil exporter in two ways:  (a) part of the of the oil supply can be used internally, to grow more food and to support increased industry, and (b) exports of oil can be used to provide revenue for governmental programs such as food subsidies, education, and building highways.  Syria’s population grew from 8.8 million in 1980 to 22.8 million in 2012, at least in part because of the wealth available from oil extraction.

Figure 1. Syria's oil production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Figure 1. Syria’s oil production and consumption, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Now Syria’s oil production is dropping. The drop between 1996 and 2010…

View original 2,151 more words

400ppm [and a climate changed by 330ppm]

400ppm CO2 in our atmosphere is significant because we have 10 digits but it is a collective milestone nonetheless. But the climate change we see now is not caused by 400ppm: the oceans cause a lag of around 40 years in human driven climate change. Quite simply we will not see the fruits of our industry today until 2053. The changes that are measurable today [no computer models needed] are effectively driven by 330ppm.

Greenhouse gas - slash co2 emissions

Curiously there was no need to highlight the CO2 levels in history that are affecting us now as the data collection process changed 40 years ago.

Popularism: the third threat

The rise of UKIP in Britain is an inevitable consequence of hitting limits to growth and after climate change and  peak oil they represent the next threat to humanity.  Obviously UKIP is not so powerful as to bring the destruction of civilisation to the fore and UKIP as a political entity is not important;  but if the horses of the horsemen of our self induced apocalypse had names one would be after your local popularist political party or movement.

In the US it is the Tea Party, in Britain it is UKIP and both have a language of ‘common sense’ that hides a frightening [although confused] agenda. Unlike minor but growing political parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece and the Popular Party in Spain with open neo-Nazis sympathies, new popularism politics is more subtle but just as dangerous and as close to fascism as you can get.

Fascism is a term banded about with such easy that its meaning has become obscured to be little more than an insult. It has been reduced to a caricature of totalitarian control that is used as an attack by left, right and fascists themselves against their enemies. If we discard the uniforms, the dictators, the theatre and dramatics of fascism and instead focus on its rise and actual politics the picture becomes disturbing in what seems an inevitable political outcome in governance and one we are slowly drifting towards.

Academics and historians have struggled to define Fascism, the Wikipedia entry is as good a place to start. Umberto Eco’s reasoning and definition appears to be closest to the mark, although there are many opinions to choose from

In a 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism”,[24][25] the Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco attempts to list general properties of fascist ideology. He claims that it is not possible to organise these into a coherent system, but that “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it”. He uses the term “Ur-fascism” as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism.

The features of fascism he lists (original number of features: 14) are as follows:

“The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).

“The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.

“Disagreement Is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.

“Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.

“Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.

“Obsession with a Plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson‘s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.

“Pacifism Is Trafficking with the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight.

“Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.

“Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because “it no longer represents the Voice of the People”.

Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

What I would add is that fascism is a response: it is reactionary politics for people who face transition in their everyday lives. It is a ‘common sense’ revolution. Given that 200 years of relatively stable growth on the back of fossil fuels is coming to an end – either because we have peak in extraction or will be forced to leave it in the ground to avoid AGW becoming catastrophic-  people’s reaction will ultimately be one of a state of shock.

UKIP, being the British example, has been little more than a fringe party with the single issue politics of getting the UK out of the EU. Founded in 1993 it has been a refuge for Euro-sceptic conservatives with a tiny support of just 3%, at most, in previous elections, however, since the economic crisis of 2008 [the first peak-oil shock] and the subsequent lack of economic recovery its support has grown with opinion polls giving it 12% and in some circumstances allowed it to overtake the Liberal party. Britain’s ‘first past the post’ democracy has meant UKIP will not benefit from its current share in Parliament but has made headway at a local level and in the European Parliament elections. Whilst the party can be dismissed at the moment the coming years of guaranteed economic decline will most probably lead to them forming a government.

It may well be that an internal rift will cause the party to implode or that it reinvents itself with a new name or the Conservatives split and form a coalition which is besides the point: what UKIP represent is popularism and it is this that will lead to fascism.

In the lexicon of scary words popularist does not rank alongside Hitler or Nazis or Fascism but it is this apparent benign nature that makes it so dangerous. Read the internet comments of UKIP supporters and a central theme is ‘common sense’. It doesn’t take long to find them- they are the Stupid White Men- who see alternative energy, peak oil and climate change as a hoax perpetuated by eco-fascist-loons in an agenda for world domination. At the heart of many of their arguments opinions is ‘common sense’: it makes common sense that CO2 being so tiny cannot be changing the climate, it makes common sense that if migrants are taking jobs then they are not available to nationals, and the EU is a dictatorship that wants to control our nation so it is a common sense solution to no longer be a member.

Humanity has been successful to a degree in controlling the influence of common sense with the adoption of science and critical thinking which has allowed our society to be free of an imaginary sky god controlling our lives via his selected law enforcers, but there is a prevalence in people that somehow we know best.  ‘I know what I know’ can  make us all armchair experts in everything from art to  managing a football team to climate science to the economy to law and order and such self belief is for a black and white world when the reality is full colour.

All political parties use popularism as do the newsmedia as it makes for an easy short-hand political messages, it is attractive by its very nature and is seductive to the voter: it appeals to our vanity. Where UKIP stray into fascism is making the exploitation of popular opinion or for that matter popular myth, a strategy, for at some point it only makes ‘common sense’ that we all can’t talk at once and that we must allow one leader to do the talking for us. That leader has to be like us but different but not like ‘career politicians’ who reside in ‘the Westminster bubble’ [or Washington Beltway which is the same as using the M25 motorway!] those kind of politicians are just self serving and are disconnected from the people they are supposedly there to serve. What is clear from UKIP supporter’s rhetoric is the threat is not just from immigrants and foreigners but the far more dangerous intellectual elite who let them in.

Nigel Farage  is no Hitler whose mythology was able to craft a careful balance between being ordinary and from a  humble background yet be an extraordinary as a leader, but Farage  does have charisma and his bawdy British humour and plain speaking evidently has appeal. The British popularists are more worrying because they are the Nigel Farages and Boris Johnsons who cover their right wing politics with a sense of humour and are ‘agreeable’. Just as criminals fail to carry bags marked swag so do fascists fail to wear swastika armbands.

Fascism is often equated with militarism, nationalism and the cult of tradition, and such a definition could be applied to the US which has an economy driven a by a war machine and a military to match, they also seem obsessed with the Stars & Stripes, their national anthem and an American identity which incorporates everything from the myth of the Wild West to the American Dream. Insofar as some would consider the US to be fascists it is not entirely an accurate picture as there are differences in that America has always been the land of opportunity for migrants. The US is currently the natural home of libertarianism evident with the emergence of the Tea Party movement, it is a philosophy that UKIP has identified itself with but it is a broad church and the politics of liberty includes everyone from anarchists to Republicans. UKIP want to double UK spending on military and like previous far right and fascist politics they have an obsession with law and order and want to double the number of prisons and police. In typical libertarian fashion UKIP have a confused ideology of both freedom for the common man, opposition to taxes and big government yet has policies that wish to impose more centralised control such as their education policy. However, picking individual policies doesn’t make a party fascist.

In the checklist of – is UKIP fascist?-  we have:

Cult of tradition- Check: the Pound, the British people and British values all have a special value.

Are these values and traditions being undermined? Check: the EU has stripped the UK of sovereignty, of self determination and of freedom. Just as the National Socialists were obsessed with the Treaty of Versailles so too is UKIP obsessed with the numerous EU treaties on closer integration. The other great bug bear is Multiculturalism: UKIP make no secret of their hostility to immigration but there is also the idea that ‘Multiculturalism’ has been imposed on the British people as an intellectual plot. In its most honest form a multicultural Britain is simply one where people have choice, of course it is not without problems [few are in favour of forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings as a cultural right] but UKIP labels it as having split society. UKIP stand on these single issues as the cause of our decline. Just as fascist Germany laid all the blame on the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles and the Jews who were able to be both lazy and poor and rich and absurdly powerful, so too modern Euro- nationalists are able to scapegoat minorities and single issues.

The cult of tradition also extends to a romanticised view of the craftman, the trader, and the hard working middle classes who are the backbone of morals and society. These people are then pitched against the academics, scientists and intellectuals who are an elite to be mistrusted. Despite supposedly being champions of the people UKIP is more than happy to ditch ‘uncompetitive’ working rights ‘imposed’ by Europe thus return British workers to competing with Chinese and Indians on low wagers and minimal rights. Such inconsistency makes no logic but the great thing with popularism is you can cry out for good change like cutting red tape [and who would be opposed to that] and not have to think the implications through.

Obsession with Plot, Check:- A read of the UKIP energy policy will demonstrate they believe that climate change is a hoax and that Brussels [a.k.a Eurocrats in the EU] is closing down British coal power stations for ulterior reasons. A strongly held opinion exhibited by supporters on comment threads on the internet [the Telegraph is a good place to start] is that there is a conspiracy by the EU – headed by an ironically Fascist Germany- to enslave the British as well as a New World Order of eco-socialism to bring about Agenda 21.

UKIP accepts that the world’s climate changes, but we are the first party to take a sceptical stance on man-made global warming claims. We called for a rational, balanced approach to the climate debate in 2008, before the extensive manipulation of scientific data first became clear. Polls now show a majority of the British people share this scepticism despite protests from another LibLabCon-sensus. UKIP now calls for an immediate halt to unjustified spending on renewable sources that has led to massive energy price hikes and fuel poverty

Conspiracy theory is central to fascism and supporters of UKIP follow this trend. Lord Monckton is a leading UKIP member and believes everything from Obama faking his birth certificate to Climate Change Hoax to the greatest New World Order plot of ‘Agenda 21′.  There are a lot fringe thoughts floating about on the internet including David Icke’s 12 foot lizard people but the similarity between the fringe and the mainstream like James Delingpole [who is now a UKIP supporter] is remarkably close with James being happy to be more open about his conspiratorial beliefs with fellow investigator Alex Jones

The National Socialists [as the Right point out the Nazis had the word socialist in its name] used the faked ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ as proof that there was a master plan to enslave Germany which has been replaced today with  Agenda 21 being reinterpreted as the UN [and the EU and the people hating greens] to be a means to depopulate the planet to enable totalitarian control. UKIP is not so crazy as to promote this junk but its supporters like Monkton are and there is also a hidden story in policy documents. In saying AGW is not an issue and that windturbines and other alternatives are completely useless, that ‘climatgate’ is real, and that 1000s of pensioners die because of the cost of fuel then therefore the EU/climate science/ greens and the government must have some kind of agenda, they open the door for more exotic theories.

The Nazis were active in rewriting science- it was essential to prove that the Aryan people were the master race and condemn others to be sub-human. They used all the latest science [as well as give Darwin a bad name], with a scientific community [free of free thinkers either leaving of their own will or being expelled] that complied with political requests. These atrocities are extreme but in principle UKIP has no problem selecting the ‘science’ on AGW from sources who agree with them. Fascism promotes its own reality- even if it is flawed: Shale gas, nuclear power, and even rewriting economics -where it is possible to reduce taxes and increase spending- are no obstacle.

Fascism has the ability to step outside normal left and right politics as it can become all things to all men. Some interpret the AGW hoax and alternative energy as a means for capitalists to make more money, some interpret it as a means for the state to take more control and tax and others see it as means for communism or fascism or totalitarianism to take hold of our lives. Just like climate fake sceptics who hold contradictory views that can never be reconciled they are united as an opposition. What holds them altogether is an inherent mistrust of government caused by a disconnect from personal determination.

The appeal to the middle class  is a definite check in UKIP policy equating to fascism: Becoming disenfranchised and disempowered is not restricted to the middle-class with any effort made to combat it being a noble cause but fascism exploits it. Fascism like UKIP will seek to lay the blame on simplistic issues and minorities and ultimately fail to solve the genuine concerns of their supporters.

The last few decades of economic stability have ensured that extremist politics  remained a fringe never representing more than a few %. Relative wealth has given the luxury of tolerance but it is when things get bad that people start to feel a personal threat and demand the need for action. UKIP labels the current politics as liblabcon- the old politics that no longer represents the voice of the people, and demands revolutionary immediate action to get Britain back on the rails to success. In the coming years AGW, peak oil and the ensuing end to growth will kick in and threaten more and more people. In Germany the Nazis had less than 3% support but leapt to 37% after the failure of mainstream government to recover from the Great Depression of 1930 and it should be added that the tolerant and cosmopolitan Germany of the 1920s was primarily wealthy because of borrowing.

Unless mainstream politics starts to address the politics of a post AGW, peak oil, post growth world they will fail. Left or right the old economics of either austerity or spending is not going to return us to those heady days of unrestrained oil powered growth. Even then the neo- fascism emerging through parties like UKIP will have appeal, already the groundwork is being laid: those who accept peak oil or AGW are condemned as haters of humanity, haters of modernity who wish to enforce population reduction and return to a primitive enslaved agrarian medieval lifestyle. UKIP offer hope where we can pay less tax and have abundant oil, cheap shale gas and a promise of better things to come. And given a choice who would you vote for- the doom sayers or the optimists?

And of course they will fail- UKIP policies defy any kind of logic and that is where the real danger lies. It won’t take much for a crisis of national emergency proportions to emerge and just as Hitler used the national emergency of the burning of the Reichstag so any failing political leader could also bring about special legislation to limit Parliament  and impose dictatorship within a democracy. You don’t have to look back far into history to see how civil rights have been eliminated by emergency laws to protect us from threat.   By then, getting the bastards out of office becomes even more tricky.

Transition to a low carbon future is humanity’s greatest challenge. We need optimism, and honesty and political giants. What we don’t need is popularism, and that also includes ‘green’ sympathisers who carry on consuming but because they recycle or drive Prius make them immune from reality. Popularism afflicts all parties and blaming Big Oil or Bankers or immigrants or Indians who have ‘too many children’ doesn’t get us very far and in its worst manifestation such as UKIP government would set us back so far we may not be able to recover.

There is one last facet to fascism which is a kind of narrative that leads to a destiny, it is a pseudo religious aspect of  of a once golden age that has been taken away by the enemy [be it Jews or bankers or indeed greens and communists] but destiny will return the people to a new age of prosperity.