Some more details are beginning to emerge on the Prime Minister's new "food security" theme, which he has just been debating with other big-league politicoes at the G8 summit. Mr Brown and his fellow overlords were also concerned with Zimbabwe and various other things, but seem to have spent most of their time on the "triple …
... so thanks for that, but I think the rising cost and increasing scarcity of energy is likely to make domestic food production more important rather than less so.
Energy used transporting food, whether by ship from Africa or by road/rail across Europe, is largely energy wasted. It doesn't affect the energy required for fertiliser and cultivation. These remain more or less a constant regardless of where the food is grown. Transport costs will become an increasingly important element of the price of food as oil gets scarcer and its cost rises, particularly as in transport terms food is a low cost, high volume cargo. Hence, transport makes up a relatively large proportion of the end-user price.
If you take all this into account it makes sense to minimise food transport, which means growing, processing and distributing food close to those who eat it.
What exactly did the EU do to stop Zimbabwe's food exports, other than knighting a loon?
"*Ethiopia and Eritrea were able in 1999 to indulge in quite serious air-to-air combat, both sides using Russian jets and missiles. Famously, a female Ethiopian pilot, Captain Aster Tolossa, reportedly shot down her old Russian flight-school instructor, serving as a mercenary on the Eritrean side."
I think we can assume from that that the plane was destroyed, but did the pilot survive?
A small but significant detail, whenever the aircraft is so easily replaced with printed money and no more than a few internal reports and some dented pride to show.
A thoughtful article recognising that the world is a complicated series of interdependent shades of grey? It's an outrage!*
ular fan of the current government, it's going to be very hard indeed to get through the next few decades without some considerable darkening of our collective trouserings. Frankly I think all governments will turn out to be damned to a greater or lesser extent, whatever they do. The really good politicos will be the ones who can successfully distinguish tin-foil-hattery from sober and realistic assessment of probable threats to national well-being, and as this article demonstrates that's no easy task, even for those of us in the peanut gallery who like to feel we're always right about everything.
One minor point - Lewis is quite correct that a small fraction of our total energy consumption goes on food production, but that doesn't mean that significantly higher food prices won't be deeply unpopular and liable to cause, uh, political unrest, regardless of whether that inflation's imported or not. Economic pain is largely relative (when people are forced to chuck out there half-a-dozen plasma screens and replace them with a single family LCD model because of the power bills, they will moan about it.) "Prejudice burns brighter when it's all we have to burn" as someone once said, so my only prediction is: expect to see a big uptick in the more thuggish flavour knuckle-walking flavour of anti-immigrant / open borders / EU in the next decade or so. :(
Mine's the thick woolly one with the built-in earmuffs...
So it's all the Russians' fault?
Let me guess - are we compelled to nuke them then steal their energy supplies?
Do Mr Page's articles give anyone else "Dr Strangelove" flash-backs?
"...even if you don't worry about climate change."
Well ever since the Reg found a couple of IT consultants who told us it's all a big scam I've slept a lot easier I can tell you.
Miss Brown the next Miss World
"He has always wanted to seriously tackle world poverty, insecurity and inequality."
Can most definitely wait to see him in a bikini.
Some food has to travel (if we want to eat it, that is). Things like coffee, tea, bananas and other tropical fruit, rice etc. don't grow well locally.
Growing food organically is an often overlooked way of keeping fuel related costs down on these products. No oil based agrichemicals, minimum machinery used and oil based packaging (plastics etc.). Organics are showing higher yields in the southern hemisphere as well, proving more drought and pest resistance.
Many organically grown flowers from Africa have a lower carbon footprint than those from Holland, even with travel included.
Food prices, security & environmental impact isn't always about distance, the method of production can have a huge impact too.
Disclosure of bias : I run a Fairtrade & Organic certified tea and coffee merchants (OxfordEthical.co.uk).
Food by Sail
Why can't tropical/exotic food stuffs be brought by sailboat - you know those boats that the British Empire used quite successfully to establish themselves as a global power? Sailboats create lots of jobs and don't exactly use a lot of energy to move, and modern sailboats are much, much faster than older traditional boats. Plus it'd be cool - sailing could be a career again and it'd give people real jobs while potentially cutting down on the number of consultants, software programmers, faceless bureaucrats, and bloggers.
@Food by Sail
Yar....I be thinking this is a great idea. Cause once again being a pirate would be a valuable career choice. Away from all these pesky ninjas!
Mines the one with the 2 pistols and the cutlass, and yes thats my parrot drinking all the rum.
Good article Lewis, but do you really have a gas-powered washing machine..?
Spot on. We hear everyone getting steamed up about "food miles" without considering the energy which goes into "local produce". I *do* like the beef/pork/lamb from our local producer, and I like to keep the money in the area, but I don't kid myself that its necessarily an environmentally friendly choice.
It is only in the last 50 years in the developed world that food has been plentiful: almost every culture has some variant of the Horn of Plenty which was the antithesis of grinding, enduring hunger, which was the norm. In many parts of the world this hunger is still the norm, and the average shopping trolley from Tesco/M&S/LIDL would be an unattainable fantasy.
Everything depends on everything else, and there are often unintended consequences of the best intentioned actions. However, we do know that where developing countries move into cash crops, and the cash goes not to the grower but to a despot, starvation will follow. To those who work in the fairtrade movement to ensure the money benefits the growers ... I salure you.
As a Kiwi, I have always wondered at the EU's continued reliance on subsidies for its farmers.
Yes, like the Africans, when we market meat, veges, wool and butter to the UK and Europe we have to transport it thousands of miles to your supermarkets. Independent surveys show that the total energy input involved with growing and delivering the our products is a small fraction of that involved with European farming practices. To be green, you should eat more African/Australian/NZ/South American produce!
Seriously though, the idea of a fortress implies an ability to be totally self reliant and isolated, but Britain was never stronger than when it relied on its friends around the world.
As much as I hate to say it, I agree with Gordon on this one. Strength comes from comunication, commerce and communion with others. Despite what bloody drop-kicks they all are :-)
Notes from a conservative libertarian hippy.
Without doubt, the biggest energy drain is that caused by bureaucracy and government; much of our effort is spent satisfying the various departments that everything we do is above board and legal (according to their ever increasing portfolio of shit laws!).
Add to the above, the fact that they start ALL of the wars, and build ALL of the useless weapons; as the author suggested, the most effective weapon is the low-tech Kalashnikov, and I would add that a chainsaw is pretty dangerous too. Against the might of the American empire (which I actually support, even though they are specialists at muddled thinking (intelligent design anyone?)), the Afghanis and the Iraqis seem to be holding their own.
Ergo, get rid of Mr. Bean and all of his unproductive mates and we will be able to bath in spare energy. These morons can keep their subsidised wind energy, their nuclear energy, their wars, their weapons and their taxes, and go and boil their bottoms. If by some miracle, we managed to sideline these cretinous pygmies, we would probably only need to work for about one or two days a week, and be able to spend some of our new found spare time, growing non-intensive crops at home.
Notes: The Adam Smith Institute have stated that our overall tax burden is at least 75% of our effort, I think it is more (nearer 95%), because as I suggested above, we expend much of our energy on satisfying the government that everything we do is kosher. The Joseph Rowntree Trust has pointed out that since the Attlee government, (which was really the start of ideological and energy sapping government), the whole basis of their existence has been a waste of effort; the gap between those that are relatively rich, and those that are relatively poor has widened significantly.
Nuking the Russians
Great idea considering the rhetoric now coming out of Moscow and its rep at the UN that we in the UK are interfering in Zimbabwe's internal affrairs so it proves that nothing much has changed in Russia then and that similar (and sometimes worse things) go on there and lets not forget the business of the US defence shield which they seem to have a real beef about (it probably wont work very well anyway but the Russians are concerned that it just might and so render their arsenal rather useless for the moment at least)
Only trouble is, the Reds by another name control so much cash now that the weapons program is as we speak in overdrive along with more covert measures.
Just think about that poor guy that they poisoned over here (his name escapes me at present)
I fear that Russia is probably developing weapons more devastating than Trident could ever be.
Think we do indeed need to develop our own energy sources, pull up the drawbridge and get Aldermaston and Porton Down working on the next gen of nuclear and biological deterrents.
Food and energy
...are closely related. We burn (in the West) about ten calories of fossil fuel energy to put each calorie of food on our plate. We all know oil is in short supply (hence $147/barrel on Friday) but gas and coal are also failing to keep up with demand, globally, and we know there is yet another 40% rise in gas prices for us in the UK before years end. These prices are feeding directly into our food prices by raising costs, but the effect in the third world is different, There, the farmers are simply priced out of the market for fertilisers and diesel fuel for tractors and transport. The 'green' revolution which avoided mass starvation 40 years ago is going into reverse. Add in large scale crop failures from climate change (drought, if you prefer) in places like Australia, and you have global food shortages that are only going to get a lot worse. Already the early signs of widespread malnutrition are appearing in Pakistan. They have a huge population, strong grass roots support for Al Qieda and nuclear weapons...
"Moscow uses the cash to sustain the only military-industrial complex which can give the Western one a fight, meaning that the West must keep spending money on staying ahead".
My that was a good one (wiping tears from my eyes).
So the only reason the USA spends more on its armed forces than all the rest of the world put together is because it is afraid of the big bad mean Russians? And here was I thinking it was so the Yanks could make the rest of go on doing whatever they want.
@Steven Peperell, @james Pickett
Steve: That would directly address the true cause of global climate change; the dramatic fall in the numbers of pirates since the 1800s (www.venganza.org)
James: The hot water used by your wasing machine and either your dishwasher or your good old fashioned washing up generally comes from your boiler, and most of us have gas boilers. Some washing machines and dishwashers will heat the water or further heat it if it doesn't come from your boiler hot enough, but I would imagine that the efficiency of these heaters is limited.
Why can't tropical/exotic food stuffs be brought by sailboat
Because they go off whilst waiting to pass through Biscay in the winter. You're thinking of an era when the good people of Britain ate turnips and salt beef all winter.
>modern sailboats are much, much faster than older traditional boats
Yes, but you'd be hard pressed to match the 20-30 knots of a modern freighter.
The energy isn't transport, it's making fertilisers and insecticides, ploughing fields processing food from threshing to shrink wrapping.
some numbers and arguments
presenting the case that small holdings are more productive then big industrial farms. There is a related lecture by Noam Chomsky, if you google "chomsky automation" (sans quotes).
Also, why the verbal blowjob for Brown?
"All his political career, Gordon Brown has hated this sort of thing. He has always wanted to seriously tackle world poverty, insecurity and inequality. He spent ages at the Treasury building up funds to do so, and was reportedly quite miffed when a lot of the cash got sidetracked into paying the extra bills of the Iraq and Afghan wars.
He has always wanted to end the EU's protectionist farming regime, too, which would give the Third World a much fairer shake"
Has he really?
Subsidised produce from the EU is putting african farmers out of business. I remember reading, although I fail to find the article right now, that one of the conditions of the Gleneagles G8 debt writeoff was the removal of trade barriers, allowing more EU subsidised food into those countries.
To see what Brown reneged on within weeks of the Gleneagles G8 summit, and how some of what was reported was actually misreported and mis-represented ("Gordon Brown dropped a bomb. He admitted that the aid package the G8 leaders had promised “includes the numbers for debt relief.” The extra money they had promised for aid and the extra money they had promised for debt relief were in fact one and the same." for those too lazy to read the article)
Come on, Lewis, I like El Reg's broader view, but why the unbiased fluff job for brown? you sound like a faggot to Browns prefect "well, he spent just ages at the treasury trying to do so, and was reportedly quite miffed".
Must try harder.
"I salure you"
Thanks...I think...my GCSE french tells me "salure" is the measure of salt in something...you therefore wish to measure my salt levels....it's good to have people looking out for my health! :)
@ Stephen Jenner
Right on, all we need to be able to do is to be able to recycle the wasted hot air, carbon and other energy and we would all really be better off.
Why are we scared of the Russians again?
"Moscow uses the cash to sustain the only military-industrial complex which can give the Western one a fight, meaning that the West must keep spending money on staying ahead."
So? Putin's Russia may not be a land of milk, honey, democracy and a genuine free market, but it's not the Soviet Union anymore, even if its air force still has red stars on its planes. The Soviets were a threat because up until Gorbachev just enough of their leaders still believed their own propaganda or at least felt they had to pay lip-service to it.
Putin's Russia doesn't have that sort of ideological baggage. Yes they want to be left alone to run their "managed democracy" as they see fit without Western interference, and yes they're grinding the heel on the Checens, but that's because rightly or wrongly they see Checnya as part of their territory.
If Putin really did want to restart the USSR, he could have absorbed Belarus in a moment any time in the last eight years - but he hasn't, much to Lukashenko's disappointment. And as for the idea that the Russians might want to head west again - why on earth would they when - as you say - we're such excellent customers for their oil and gas. It seems to me that the more we buy Russian gas the safer we are from them as they're hardly going to threaten their best markets.
I think your'll find most of the tropical/exotic fruits now travel by AIR.. Cargo A380's should bring the price down a bit but with the advent of high fuel costs that will negate the savings.
So.. Scrap your 20-30 knots and replace it with 400 knots-ish
Very useful article, thanks.
They have to be seen to be doing *something* about the threats they are trying to cow is with. So we have ID cards and 42 days and all that stuff. I think they know in their heart of hearts that it's all nonsense, but it gives them something to point to.
I would even go so far as to put up with all this scaremongery if I thought they might actually achieve something about world poverty and so on. But I don't. It's just another way of being seen to be doing something.
I'm with the comment about getting rid of the useless parasites and letting them do something useful with their time.
Sailboats - yeah, well if they can't get round the cape we'd just have to start eating seasonally again, wouldn't we?
@Tomothy Slade re. Electric Heater
"Some washing machines and dishwashers will heat the water or further heat it if it doesn't come from your [gas] boiler hot enough, but I would imagine that the efficiency of these heaters is limited."
I'm sure that the efficiency of an electric heater is 100% when used to directly heat an amount of water for use, whereas the efficiency of a gas boiler is less than 100% even with a modern condensing boiler. Since gas boiler heated water is usually stored in a hot water cylinder, this leads to further losses through the day, before it's used.
The overall cost of providing a washing machine load of hot water, by different methods, is something I've never tried to figure out.
Most washing machines only have a cold water input, dishwashers too.
<smug> We run our washing machine via a wall thermostat/mixer into the 'cold' (only) inlet using solar or wood pellet fuelled hot water. (and begin extra anal - turning it down for rinsing) </smug>
I'd be surprised if many modern freighters ever hit 20 knots, never mind 30. The relationship between speed and energy is generally non-linear in the bad way. Even the military don't go racing around unless they really have to, since they don't want to run out of fuel in the middle of the ocean.
Cruising at ~30 knots is a challenge for anything without a nuclear powerplant.
So off topic its not even funny
Unless your washing machine is so old you have to crank it by hand it will be a cold feed machine.
These machines only have one water inlet hose which you connect to the cold water pipe, the water is heated entirely by the electric heater within the washing machine.
I believe this is partly due to the fact washing machines are designed to not waste water so they dont really draw enough water for the hot water to make it through to the machine (the stuff in the pipes will be cold)
It is therefore simpler to just fill with cold water and heat it with leccy.
Mines the anorak
Nice attempt at an analysis, but the biggest issue is over-population.
Maybe we haven't yet reached that point, and maybe we have, but sooner or later we will, so in many ways, lack of food is a good thing, as it has a much more direct effect than invisible pollution.
The perfect storm
Peak Oil, Peak Gas, Peak food.... Fuel wars, food wars?
Some fun times ahead and coming to a planet near you soon...
Just to point out that the subsidies that go to EU farmers does not enrich them. It goes to cheaper food prices and higher profits to the agrichemical business.
Typical return on capital of a farm in the UK is MINUS 5-10% for the last 7 years!
When the Kiwis removed subsidies farmers made just the same money!
The air-ship kind, not the old fogey colonels. I am reading information on a Canadian initiative, underwritten by Boeing, about stable, controllable air-ships aiming mostly, I believe, for winching up and down and short-distance transport (Skyhook is the name of the company), but helium-aided movement of goods also seems like a good idea for global shipment of food. Cheap to run, could be reasonably fast, given that they can fly 'direct' rather than have to worth through straits and pinch-points such as Panama, and cheap to build, too, I think.
We can't close off part of the world from another. We're all in it together. We need to think globally purely for selfish reasons, if for no other. Lewis Page talked about the hungry hordes that could be at our gate. I would rather think of an equitable way to share energy, wealth, and food than to have it taken from me at the end of an AK. In a lifeboat, it doesn't matter how much money you have.
@ James Pickett
If your washing machine has a hot inlet hose and you have a gas-fired water heating system, then it gets its water heated by gas. Theoretically. What actually happens in practice is that the (by now stone-cold) water in the pipe from the water heater to the washing machine is almost enough to fill the machine (modern front-loaders don't actually use very much water; the outer tub is barely bigger than the inner drum). It then has to warm this up with its own electric water heater.
Electric water heaters are actually very efficient, turning 100% of the electricity supplied to them into heat. Unfortunately, about 300% of that much energy has already been wasted at the power station, in the form of heat pumped out into rivers and the atmosphere.
All dishwashers that I have ever seen have only a cold supply, because these use even less water than a washing machine.
Re: Food subsidies
If true, I suspect that the problem is one (or both) of:
a) Fear. A change is not nice because you could be worse off
b) Other subsidies would be affected. Such as BSE payments (three years after the MBM ban for cattle feed, farmers were STILL using it because it was cheap)
It could be a few of the bigger beneficiaries (agrochem business) are lobbying, though.
My washing machine has hot and cold inlets, and doesn't heat any water itself (if there is no hot in the water storage tank, it washes cold), Robin, and I don't crank it by hand. It is slightly more then 5 years old. I was under the impression that it was more efficient to use gas to heat water directly then to use electricity when the whole picture is looked at (ie the efficiency of generating the leccy remotely, using gas/coal/etc to heat water, turning that into leccy, and transporting it to the home) The only dishwasher I have ever seen the plumbing to (at my parents house, when I was a kid) had a hot water inlet. So maybe my knowledge is out of date.
Oh, and it's 'Timothy', not 'Tomothy', but Tim will do.
I agree with Dave about over population.
Well my washing machine is not that old and it has cold & hot water feeds. The move to just cold water feeds is because it's cheaper to manufacture. It is a great deal more efficient to heat the water locally with gas (about 85% efficient on the best boilers) rather than burn gas in a power station and produce electricity at 35% efficiency (all in with transmission - pumping gas also uses power, but then it has to be pumped to the power station too).
As far as the article is concerned, the relative thermodynamic inefficiency of electricity generation versus buring direct to produce heat is built into the laws of thermodynamics. Using low-grade waste heat for things like agriculture or district heating can improve the overall efficiency, but that requires infrastructure and for electricity generation to be local to domestic properties. The real need here is to improve domestic thermodynamic efficiency.
As to the comment about organics being more energy efficient, well that is not universally true. Studies show that for some crops then organic is less energy efficent due to the larger area of land that has to be cutivated for a given yield. Also, as far as I'm aware, organic agriculture still uses tractors for ploughing, muck-spreading, seed-drilling, harvesting, food processing and transport. The organic movement bears close relationship to a religion at times, with unquantified and unverifiable claims being the norm, and opposition in principle to some technologies, such as GM, rather than analysing issues on their merits.
As to the market with food security (or any other such issue), then the heavy interdependency of different parts of the world can be good in the sense it makes everybody have some interests in the welfare of other parts of the world. However, should that trust ever break down or lead to tensions or give some despotic regime control over key supplies then heaven help the world.
The market driven stuff about Africa feeding Europe if only trade barriers were torn down is, I feel, the triumph of economic rhetoric over reality. Zimbabwe is not in the parlous state it is because of trade bariers or EU subsidies. I for one don't much like the idea of being dependent on food supplies from corrupt regimes any more than I like the idea of being dependent on energy supplies from them.
There was an article in the New Scientist a few months back which dealt with the issue of the fragile interdependencies that we build into modern societies and economies. In a very real sense the societies and economies we have are much more vulnerable than those of the middle ages. Local self-sufficiency meant that the consequences of central supply failures were not so serious to individuals. Modern economies and societies are being built on ever more complex lines with break points. We need to think very seriously about the market drivers that are required to build more inherent robustness into the system of at some point there will be a catastrophic collapse. All through human history apparently strong and thriving civilisations have imploded due to internal and external events. Out one is not immune, it just has further to fall.
we're such excellent customers for their oil and gas. It seems to me that the more we buy Russian gas the safer we are from them as they're hardly going to threaten their best markets.
And they would use this as leverage, so for example, Mugabe decides he wants his own nukes defend himself 'against the British colonialists' and you could be sure Russia would be first in line to be willing to supply him.
Meanwhile, we are completely dependent on Russian oil/gas but decide that we aren't happy with that policy so raise a motion at the UN calling for sanctions, Russia is miffed by this so decides to throttle our supply, just look what they did to Ukraine, you don't really think that had anything to do with pricing now did you?
What about water?
A far more pressing problem (especially in the Middle East) is where is the water to support the next generation going to come from? Countries like Israel already have terms like "water security" seeing as most of the water in their acquifers starts its journey in neighbouring and hostile Arab mountains. And then, the Palestinians are reliant on the Israelis for water, and likely to be for many years. The Jordanians already have strict laws around water wastage, and Egypt is a "shimmering jewel" only within five kilometers of the Nile. That is unless they all get nuke-powered desalination plants like the Saudis plan, and do we really want people like Hamas with access to nuke technology? Even European countries like Greece and Spain face water shortages in the future. Extrapolate this to Africa, where the old tribal divisions even in "stable democracies" like Kenya seem to reappear only too easily, and we have the prospect of serious water wars as regional populations continue to grow and adopt water-wasteful western lifestyles. Someone tell Mr Brown, quick - we all need water rationing too!!!!
/mine is the "I live by a river" blazer...
An Excuse for Rationing Cards
This could be an excellent excuse for the universal introduction of rationing cards instead of identity cards. This would solve the "Obesity Problem" by rationing the allowable calories per week per person with "smart chips" on the ration card. Food bought over the ration would be perfectly admissable but subject to 100% VAT, and of course there would be an annual revalidation charge to amend your calorie allowance as you progress from baby to the grave.
It's no good you know. However cleverly you put forth the argument, they won't build you a zeppellin. The bastards.
An added element...
is the political situation in Africa. Some of the nations with millions of starving people didn't used to be (Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, etc.) Stupid, mostly pro-Communist takeovers and subsequent collectivization are what crushed the ability to produce food in those countries. Just throwing more Western aid over the river isn't going to fix the trouble.
"For ships in the size range of up to 1,500 teu, the speed is between 9 and 25 knots"
"The most popular speed for the 1,500-2,500 teu ships is 18-21 knots"
"In the 2,500-4,000 teu range, 90% of the ships have a speed of 20-24 knots."
"80% of the ships that are larger than 6,000 teu have a speed of 24-26 knots."
Well, yes, 30 knots is perhaps a tad generous, but I did give a broad range.
Apparently the worlds fastest:-
1. Hanjin Bremerhaven Specifications
- 58,000 DWT (Dead Weight Ton)
- Container capacity: 6,655TEUs
- Engine output: 93,000 hp
- Width: 40m; Length: 304m
- Twice as large as a football field
- Operation Speed: 27 knots (50 km/h); The world's fastest super-high speed container vessel
good job it's raining otherwise there'd be riots
So, being reliant on Russian gas is "worse than giving money to Gulf oil states" ... how does that work then? Have we become inexorably embroiled in some dubiously initiated hideously expensive terrorist rebuffal of discontinuous Moscovite cells after spending decades funding and training their religiously fanatical followers too?
Time to forget politics and look at Issues
We in the UK waste about 98% of our effort deciding whether all the problems in the world are due to Liberals or Tories or fascists or Almighty Bob that we have no energy left to actually face up to the problems and deal with them!
Time to leave politics aside methinks and stop blaming whoever it is you normally blame for everything which is bad (I blame earwigs personally!) and take a good, hard look at what's going on, what needs to be done and do what we need to do, not complain about Brown or whoever you choose being a fool.....solve the problem and fight the urge to blame someone else.....
alien because the above concept will be to many..
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