Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stabbing the Beast

I spent a while last night reading David Holmgren’s latest essay Crash on Demand (read the PDF here). Back in 2007 Holmgren, who is one of the initiators of the concept of Permaculture, wrote a series of possible future scenarios in which he posited a number of different scenarios that could play out with regard to civilisation and the environment. I won’t go into those scenarios here but suffice to say that this latest essay represents an additional one - and a new way of thinking.

The two civilisation destroying situations we face are peak oil and climate change. Holmgren goes into some detail about why his perception of these has changed, concluding that peak oil has not yet turned out to be as bad as expected (for various reasons, notably financial) and climate change is likely to now far exceed our worst expectations, with a 4-6C degree scenario now likely in a BAU scenario.

This change in thinking was the result of an observation of the way energy and economic issues are panning out, plus a deeper consideration of the role of finance courtesy of systems thinker Nicole Foss. The gist of it is this: we are rapidly losing the chance to persuade policy makers to take the risk of global warming seriously, and given that the course we are now on would likely wipe out nearly all of humanity and make life considerably worse for millions of other species over the coming millennia, then the only sensible option for us is to crash the system of global growth-based capitalism.

If that sounds radical that’s because it is. Holmgren points out that the last few decades of environmental protest have failed miserably. The dominant paradigm of ‘economic growth at any cost’ grinds ecocentrist concerns into the dust. A quick survey of the news headlines should convince anyone of the veracity of this. And although we are now living in an age of limits, where the quantity and quality of the fossil energy sources available to us begins to diminish, the system is perpetuated by the financial system which continues to magic credit out of thin air without any basis on a claim in the real world. Witness the shale oil boom in the US, a vastly inefficient and polluting operation that only makes economic sense due to the distorting wizardry of Wall Street financiers.

Furthermore, he rightly observes that the vast majority of people in the industrialised world could not care less about destroying the basis for life on planet Earth. As the global economic bubble deflates - something it has been doing since 2008 - most people in our overdeveloped economies are too busy trying to hold down a job or are too influenced by the growth-perpetuating mantra of politicians and the media to give much thought to the wider world. This is unfortunate, but at least it demonstrates the pointlessness of trying to gain political traction in a system that is rigged against anything other than limitless growth. Any concessions the system makes to preserving the biosphere tend to be largely symbolic, such as increasing bottle recycling rates, or charging a levy on plastic bags, while the real business of exploitation on a planetary scale continues apace.

Furthermore, the plateauing of oil production has not seen the rapid uptake of clean-tech that its proponents suggested would happen as soon as oil prices climbed. Instead it has seen a switch to dirtier and more dangerous to extract fuels, aided and abetted by the fossil fuel sector and its financial backers. So instead of moving into a ‘green tech’ future we are in practice moving into a ‘brown tech’ one. And although the financial instruments used to boost the production of shale oil and gas are by nature Ponzi schemes and cannot last, Holmgren argues that they may indeed last long enough to make a controlled powerdown situation impossible, as well as missing the window to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

However, given that the economic system is only being held together by an almost-hallucinatory perception of continued growth and stability which is held by the majority, perhaps this is also the key to seeing its Achilles heel. Holmgren says that a sudden whole scale implosion of the global financial system is really the only hope of curtailing our carbon emissions and cutting them to a level that would avoid runaway global warming. He estimates the chances of a global economic collapse happening ‘naturally’ at 50% over the next five years.

But then he goes on to advocate giving it a good shove in that direction.

An estimated billion people on the planet live middle class lifestyles and use up the lion’s share of energy and resources. Holmgren says that if a section - he reckons 10% - opt out of the growth at any cost paradigm and massively downscale their involvement with the global system of capitalism, then this might be enough to send it into a terminal decline faster than it is already in. This might be easier than it sounds, he says. A majority of people are now disillusioned to some extent with bankers and politicians, and this number can only grow as promises continue to be broken and the wealth gap continues to widen. Actions could be as simple as withdrawing all your money from the bank and storing it as cash - after all, take £100 out of the bank and you are starving the system of £1000 of credit that it would otherwise use as part of the fractional reserve system. He goes on to advocate turning ones back on corporations, shopping locally, growing your own veg and all of the other things that Permaculturists and Transitioners do as a matter of course. This, he insists, is a positive thing to do that offers the only real hope of making a difference.

Adopting local currencies, bartering, avoiding paying tax and using the copious quantities of materials lying around as leftovers from the current waste-based economy would be ways of hastening the demise of the planet-destroying system, while simultaneously acting as a good model for late adopters, many of whom would want to ‘join up’ as the current system of industrial production begins to falter. This, he concedes, would also hasten the demise of a good many worthy and progressive projects, and would likely make enemies with those on the left of the political spectrum who rely just as much on the growth of the industrial system as those on the right. Nevertheless, he says, this is a bitter price that must be paid.

Would this be enough to starve the beast? Nobody knows, but it might represent a better expenditure of energy rather than waving a banner outside a climate conference. The system, he maintains, cannot be reformed. Instead it must die and be reborn. He is quite aware that advocating such a view would vilify him and others who could be accused of trying to collapse the economic system, but maintains that we have a duty to protect life on earth by any means necessary from a rapacious class of human being and a system that has got out of control. This is best done by building an alternative parallel economy - one that is not predicated on endless growth.

By a strange coincidence, after I had finished reading David Holmgren’s essay an email popped up in my browser. It was just telling me that Collette O’Neill - the Irish blogger who lives at Bealtaine Cottage - had a new post. I clicked on it and was greeted by a series of pictures and text that are a living example of everything David Holmgren was advocating. It summarised how she herself had turned away from ‘the machine’ and how this had allowed her to build her permaculture cottage and lead the kind of life that many dream could only be possible by, say, winning the lottery. See her example here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Skilling up for the Future

Greg demonstrates how to turn a branch into a longbow

As the end of another year hovers into view and the long dark evenings invite reflection we naturally start to ask ourselves what the next year will bring. On the economic front, things don’t look as rosy as we are told they are. The global economy is still running on the fumes of smouldering credit notes and the only difference now is that political and financial elites are telling us via a compliant media that the economy is fixed. Yet debt levels in all sectors are continuing to rocket and the feeling remains that this fragile economy is like a huge and intricate sculpture made of glass and could shatter with the slightest tap. Where will the tap come from? Will it be a China/Japan war? Will the ascendent Islamic militarism spill over from Syria and Iraq and come home to haunt the perpetrating nations? Or could it be a relatively minor black duck event, such as Slovenia’s credit collapsing and causing a cascading failure?

Who knows, is the short answer, but things cannot keep on grinding along as they are now. I now find myself wishing that things would speed up a bit before it gets much worse. With the signing of the latest ‘free trade’ agreements last week we now have the spectre of trans-national corporations being able to sue national governments for ‘lost profits’ based on national policy. A few have been quick off the mark to launch legal suits against countries and just in the last few days we have seen a Canadian gold mining company sue the Costa Rican government for protecting its rain forests, Philip Morris  suing Australia for trying to stop teenagers from smoking and the nuclear power industry suing Germany for phasing out nuclear power. 

It will surely only be a matter of time before the likes of Monsanto sue European countries for protecting their citizens from the failed experimental poison that is GM food. Signs that they are getting ready to do so are evident if you look for them in op-ed articles in the press. So, to me this seems like the end game of out-of-control capitalism. People might be meek and compliant in the United States but in many corners of Europe, South America and Africa this is decidedly not the case. Might we soon see the whip back as people, indebted and impoverished, can take it no longer? Is a revolution on the cards? I’ve been reading about the history of Poland recently and that country would seem to be a contender for launching a revolution - the Poles don’t take much crap.

These are big questions and it’s interesting to speculate on the weighty matters of our age - yet it’s easy to get caught in the headlights, transfixed on ‘the news’. But from a personal point of view, being well informed about world events doesn’t amount to much of a survival strategy - we need to do other things too. Knowing the intricate details of how hedge fund managers are looting retirees’ pensions might be interesting on a cerebral level but it won’t feed you or keep you warm.

And so I find myself reflecting on what I have done and learned that is of practical value in 2013, and what I need to do next year.

Firstly, a big part of my year has been taken up with my piece of woodland. Having only owned it a year I’ve done what all good permaculture manuals tell you to do: I’ve observed it. This has been useful. I now know which bits get the sun at different times of the year, what kind of soil I have (good, with a ph of 7), where frost pockets form and what kind of animals and plants thrive there. This has all been very useful but I couldn’t just sit there looking - time is pressing! - so I was also doing and learning. I’ve learned an awful lot about trees and the art of coppicing, and I’ve learned about soil and how to enrich it on the one acre field that forms the centre of the woodland.

But what should I do with all that wood? It is mostly oak and chestnut, so it is far too valuable for firewood. Instead I have been learning to make things with it and thus add value to it as much as I can. I went on a bow making course last week with my friend Greg Humphries. He showed me how to use an axe to sculpt a piece of ash into a flexible bow. I also learned how to use a shave horse, a drawknife and a froe - and I’ve had a local blacksmith make me up a set of these tools that should last me a lifetime.

A longbow is potentially useful (and very dangerous!), although for the time being I’m sticking to my .22 air gun for the rabbits and squirrels which ruin everything I try to grow there (my descent from mild-mannered ex-vegetarian to ‘take no prisoners’ small mammal hunter was swift). As someone put it to me ‘You can either have squirrels, or you can have a woodland.’ And given that I am planting at least a hundred trees - mostly fruits, nuts and berries - next year, I can’t afford to share them with invasive rodents no matter how cute they look. Especially when they taste so good in stews. 

Next year I am planning to learn how to make charcoal with the offcuts. I’m also planning to make rustic garden furniture, fence posts and a set of trestles for my wife’s upholstery business. Furthermore, I’m inoculating some piles of logs with different types of fungus to sell to local fancy restaurants, attempting to plant mistletoe seeds into the boughs of some large oak trees to sell at Christmas, and about 20 other small money making ideas that I’ll detail later on.

I’ve learned to identify locally edible wild plants thanks to the delightful Rachel Lambert, who has taken me on a couple of coastal forays. She also showed me which seaweed is edible and I figured out for myself how to harvest and cook mussels and limpets, of which there are millions here. I haven’t been out mackerel fishing yet, but that’s something I plan to get up to speed with next year, along with learning to sail.

I’ve ramped up my home food and drink production this year, making several different wines for the first time (the dandelion was a great success, but the plum was a disaster). Next year I aim to make 100 bottles - not only are they good to drink but they make great barter items and presents. I’ve also made sauerkraut for the first time, and have been experimenting with different sprouting techniques for pulses and beans. I’ve also been experimenting with making cheap, nutritious food using as little energy as I can, and spend at least two hours a day cooking. Next year I’m making a straw box for slow-cooking (I have also picked up an old pressure cooker and a recipe book from the early 1980s). I've given up eating wheat after reading Wheat Belly - probably the best thing I have done in ages as it has cured all manner of ills at a stroke.

Community is probably more important than anything else when things start going wrong, so I’ve been trying to get to know as many interesting people as possible in the nine months I’ve been living in Cornwall. I’ve joined the local Transition group (Transition Penwith) and can count on meeting people who ‘get it’ through that. I have met some interesting people through our children’s school and have been a member of various other groups, such as a Tai Chi club. Furthermore I’m now working in a shop one day a week at the local organic farm - Bosavern Community Farm - and was even nominated to be a board member there (but decided to pull out - long story). This part of Cornwall is packed with people who are making their own - often unusual - way in the world, which is why we chose to live here in the first place.

Furthermore myself and the folks who own the woodland next door to ours have put together a network aimed at connecting woodland folk in west Cornwall who are interested in reviving coppicing and orchard arts. We were partly pushed into this by local NIMBYs, suspicious of what we ‘hippies’ are up to in the woods, but it has got off to a great start. At our first meeting we thought only a couple of people would turn up, but in the event there were 16 - and a further 50 expressing interest! It seems that there are a lot of people out there who are keen to see a revival of woodland work as part of a more sustainable future.

All of these networks, activities and groups eat a lot of time, meaning that I haven’t been able to devote much to another trans-national project that has kicked off - the SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Project - initiated by RE at the Doomstead Diner along with a few of this blog’s regular readers and commentators William Hunter Duncan and Lucid Dreams. This is another exciting JDI (just do it) project that isn’t encumbered by bureaucratic red tape or idealogical orthodoxy. 

All of this relates to another skill that has been more or less forgotten by most people in this day and age - democracy. For a democracy to work properly it has to be made up of informed and engaged participants. Yet most people today think that democracy is something clever and smart that we export to the oil-rich countries we have just invaded, a bit like Burger King and KFC. Indeed, it has become almost interchangeable with 'capitalism'. This idea of democracy has to be rooted up and thrown on the weed pile along with the other weeds such as ‘technological salvation’ and ‘ infinite economic growth’ and 'efficiency'. Being part of a group and/or participating in local political debates is therefore of prime importance if we want to have a better future. It should be something they teach at school.

So, there are lots of skills to learn, and the thing is that you can’t learn them all. Anyone who tries to become completely self sufficient will either have to be very very capable indeed (and still will have to live a very frugal life) or will learn the hard way that no woman is an island. 

So, those are my skills, tell me yours.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Avoid Being Eaten Alive

This last week I have had my eyes and ears assaulted every time I suffered accidental exposure to the mainstream media. It’s easy enough to ignore radio and television, but the internet is a different kettle of fish, and it was mostly via this that I learned about two major new consumer events that we are expected to partake in. The first is Black Friday. First came the emails telling me that certain bargains could be had on this auspicious date. Then came the overheard snatches of radio, and finally, last Friday, the internet went into fever pitch talking about this ‘Black Friday’.

But what is it? Neither I nor anyone else I spoke to had heard of it before. You probably already know. It’s when Americans, stuffed to the gills with undigested turkey and various chemical pseudo foods, fight one another to buy cheap Chinese junk on credit. People are often injured and sometimes killed in the melees that ensue - and now our political and media overlords would like us to get involved in the action too - cue a million and one ‘Black Friday’ adverts.

As if that weren’t enough, people barely had time to rip through the semi-impenetrable plastic packaging on their junk before Cyber Monday was upon us! Yesterday was the day when we were being urged not to even bother getting off our backsides to fight other consumers - we could do it all online! Cue a million and one Cyber Monday adverts.

Does this all sound just a little bit desperate? If it does then I’m afraid you’re in the minority because the UK is ‘booming’ don’t you know. Personal credit has now expanded to record levels, manufacturing is ‘on track’, the stock market is thrusting through the upper atmosphere and once again people are treating their houses like giant brick boxes that defecate bundles of cash. “Greed is good,” says the mayor of London and “Greens are evil,” says the “environment minister”. It’s like the 1980s all over again but without the shoulder pads.

What’s more, the season of uber Consumption is upon us. One recent newspaper op-ed I spotted opined “Chistmas is that exciting time when everyone gets to find out which new Apple product has been sitting under the tree for the last month.” It wasn’t even said in mirth - it was a serious article.


Perhaps it’s time for a dose of reality. Here are some random unscientific off-message things I noticed recently:

  • UK personal debt is now so high that if it were £10 notes stapled together end to end they would stretch to the Moon and back 26 times 
  • The Nobel winning economist Nouriel Roubini has noticed that big scary housing bubbles are popping up in all the usual places - two years later than practically everyone else whose blogs are listed down the right hand side of this page 
  • Our government is selling everything that is not nailed down. To the Chinese. Or anyone with cash, really. They just sold the 500 year-old Royal Mail postal service. Kerching! And the future of our energy supply. Kerching! Today they are selling 40% of their Eurotunnel holding. Kerching! The (amazingly good - for now) National Health Service will be next. Double kerching! They are even selling our pig semen to the Chinese. Kerching! 
  • Food poverty has reached a ‘public health emergency’ level. In my area alone a woman has set up a soup kitchen and the soup is made from the leftovers of perfectly good food that has been thrown out by supermarkets 
  • The Royal Bank of Scotland has become a predatory asset stripper and is forcing small companies to go bust so that it can liquidise them and sell the assets to prop up its own ailing balance sheets 
  • The once-proud Cooperative Bank, admired for its ethics, has been taken over by a couple of US hedge funds. They insist they will still be ‘ethical’ and anyone who believes this is welcome to send me £20 in the (privatised) mail which I promise I will donate to good causes 

Just one word floats to the top of my consciousness when I read and hear about these things on a daily basis: cannibalism. Although probably an early non-pc slur on the good character of the Carib people, cannibalism is defined as “The act or practice of other humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other humans.”

Okay, so outside the occasional gruesome story about real-life cannibalism, usually involving mild-mannered basement-owning Belgians, there probably isn’t much actual munching of human flesh going on as we speak. But elements of this human society and economy that we have constructed seem to be doing a very good impression of it. As the ability to make an honest profit out of anything recedes into the rearview mirror, how else can a profit be made? The material limits to growth have been reached and we have done our damnedest to pretend this isn’t so. We have predated upon other continents in the form of invasions and colonisations, predated upon the biosphere of the planet by way of industrialism and consumer culture and various other isms and we have predated upon the next several dozen generations by building up huge financial and ecological debts. Who else is there to predate upon?

Yes, there are still a few resources to plunder that haven’t been converted to cash and toxic waste yet. Just by raising my head I can look out over the bay and see the occasional beam trawler coming back into port after several days at sea catching and killing every life form that happens to have ended up in its nets. And there are still large portions of the rain forests not yet monetised - just as there are still oil wells to exploit and people who have yet to be enslaved by free trade deals.

But the fact of the matter remains, as the tide goes out not all boats fall equally. Those in power - let us call them the core - quite like the position they are in and have no desire to relinquish it. Nothing surprising there given our genetic lineage, you try grabbing a chunk of recently killed meat out of the hands of a wild chimp and see how he reacts. To keep our elite in the manner that they are used to means that, just like the slave traders of yore, they need to figuratively sell us down the river. Which is why the prime minister David Cameron and a bunch of his favourite corporate lobbyists are in China (again).

I don’t know about you but the sight of a bunch of grinning semi-elected toffs, who claim to represent the interests of the British people, shaking hands with Chinese billionaires and gibbering on about nuclear waste and pig spunk has put me right off my breakfast (hold the bacon). And you’d at least think the Chinese would be happy with all this free money and pork juice; maybe they are, but this is what they really think of us, according to the China Global Times:

"The UK is highly replaceable in China's Europe diplomacy. The UK is no longer any so-called 'big country'; it is an old European country suitable for travel and study abroad with a few good football teams.”

Ouch! The truth hurts, doesn’t it? I'm not even sure they are right about the football teams either, because they run on foreign money.

So, selling as much as we can for short term gain but very long-term misery to the currently cash-rich Chinese for a fistful of remninbi is now government policy. But the real pot boiling comes in the form of what they are doing on the three fronts that matter most: energy, food and health. This can be summarised as follows:

Backing the wrong energy horses and hobbling the right ones. The guvmint will only consider energy projects if large sums of money can be made out of them by corporations. The more technical, complex and centralised the better. Hence our ‘new nuclear century’. We will apparently need 30 new nuclear power stations in the next seven years if we are to avoid the lights going off. Of course, this is never going to happen, and given that the prime minister has said he wants to ‘get rid of the green crap’ it’s unlikely that renewable energy is going to be anything other than a punch bag.

Meanwhile, healthcare is being gutted. The NHS is a remarkable system and whenever I encounter it I am always impressed by the dedication of the doctors and nurses - but it’s also a product of the oil age. It’s already creaking and groaning like a geriatric lady who has fallen out of her hospital bed and the last thing it needs is a bunch of idealogical bovver boys putting the boot in as it writhes on the ward floor. What’s more, the NHS is infected with superbugs who suck off the system in the form of huge consultancy fees like some kind of blood sucking parasite. Given a bit more time we might indeed be returning to an earlier form of blood-sucking medicinal practice: leeches.

And food. The conquest of the supermarkets is complete and they have managed to obliterate every last high street (the few shops that survive only do so because of the diehard group of prescient people who refuse to shop in supermarkets) and given everyone the impression that the only way food can be delivered to your plate is in a vast truck that has travelled hundreds if not thousand of miles. The supermarkets are now thankfully cannibalising one another - my local (smallish) town of Penzance now has nine of the beasts. Something’s gotta give.

So what do you do if your government is selling off the state’s assets, building a future famine machine and placing explosive nuclear detonators around your homeland? One option is just to give in. Abandon modern life as a bad idea, take off all your clothes and walk back into the sea like Reginald Perrin (see picture above which Blogger refuses to place in the correct narrative spot).

Admittedly this does hold some appeal, but a far more practical action would be to stop allowing negativity to overwhelm you and get on with creating an alternative reality. I’m a believer that actions speak louder than words. Words, of course, speak louder than thoughts, and thoughts have their uses too - so an ideal approach would involve all three: actions, words and thought.

Angels and Demons

All of us have some control over our lives. Sometimes it may not feel like it, but it is, in fact, true. Here’s an exercise. Turn off the TV, radio, computer and the microchip implanted in your brain by Google and get a piece of paper and a pencil. At the centre of the piece of paper draw a circle that represents yourself (or a square, if you’re a technologist). Down one side of the page write up a list of Demons. These are the things that want to put you in their cannibal pot, broil the flesh off your bones and eat you up with a helping of barbecue sauce. They are the negative things in your life and the things that hold you back from the goal of having a positive effect on the world (a goal which also tends to make you a happy, balanced person too). You can be inventive here and your list might look something like this - although it can be as long as you like:

  • The Job Centre staff are always insulting my intelligence
  • I can’t stop smoking
  • I get migraines
  • I have negative thoughts that keep me awake at night
  • The government is trying to destroy everything and it depresses me
  • My unscrupulous landlord is like a toad squatting on my life - he stores broken down washing machines in the bathroom because he can’t be bothered to move them

When you have made a list of Demons, make a list of Angels i.e. things that you are grateful for. This can go down the other side of the page and might include:

  • I love walking in the local woods
  • I’m fascinated by taking things to bits to see how they work
  • My parents are very supportive of me
  • The memory of watching the sunset in Spain with my ex-girlfriend, drinking a glass of delicious red wine eating some amazing smoked ham still inspires me
Now the crucial bit. List the things that you have control over in your life - the things that you can use to better your position and achieve the goal of happiness by integrating the patterns with your life with the natural rhythms of nature. Why integrate with the natural rhythms of nature? - because that's all you can rely on in this life, and it's also hugely satisfying and won't contribute to destroying the ecosystem that surrounds you. You can voluntarily limit the parameters of your physical life to tie in with the solar energy budget that is provided free of charge to every organism on this planet. The cost is very little but the rewards are potentially unlimited.

To start with you might not have a very long list, but write down the factors and objects you have control over and draw a line from the circle at the middle of the page to each one. Here are some examples of things you might have control over:


  • Your health
  • Plenty of free time (you are unemployed because your degree turned out to be worthless)
  • A battered 1986 Ford Fiesta
  • Your desire to lead a better life
  • A box of tools someone is giving away on Freecycle
  • A rented flat in a poor part of Birmingham
  • An Amazon gift voucher from your aunt 
One could look upon this as a pretty sorry state of affairs, no?

Or, viewed another way, perhaps it is a chance to buy a book on washing machine mechanics, learn how to gut them of electronics and re-tool them to run on lower tech for a salvage industrial future and in the process create a niche career (with great prospects) that will no doubt launch you on a path that may well end up in 20 years’ time with you owning a piece of forest land with a straw bale-built workshop on it where you and your two grateful apprentices, who happen to be your own teenage children, fix up broken consumer era products as large spotted pigs roam around outside (quality, acorn fed smoked ham, produced in mini-smoke houses bodged from some scrap office filing cabinets is one of your several other lines of income) and a small hand-carved wind turbine sits on the roof trickle feeding a battery that you and your lovely wife (who was attracted to you because of your positive attitude to life) use for lights and music in the evenings as you both enjoy a glass of home-brewed elderberry wine and a morsel of your choicest smoked ham.

Which situation would you prefer?

The point of exercises like these are to focus the mind on what, realistically, we are able to control, and what we can do with that to achieve a better life. Anyone who begins to think in this manner stands a much better chance of weathering the substantial chaos heading our way as the financial and ecological screws tighten more and more. At its essence is the recognition that the industrial system that delivers shiny new products to us as if by magic every Black Friday is not going to continue forever. And when it winds down completely the majority of people are going to realise that they have a very long list of Demons down one side of their page, scant few Angels (except, perhaps, fond memories of Cyber Monday 2013) and very few things that they can realistically claim to have control over.

Translate thoughts into actions and take back the control before it is too late. Don’t put it off - the clock is ticking!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Our Army of Invisible Helpers

A human power station from the BBC's 'Bang Goes the Theory' where human energy slaves were made to power a single household for 24 hours

When I started this blog almost three years ago it had a different title to the one you see today. Scratching my head for a good name for it I decided to call it the Peak Oil Dispatch. My idea was to provide a kind of online resource for peak oil news and other articles relating to the decline of industrial life and catabolic collapse. After all, I was unemployed back then and had plenty of time on my hands for such a project.

This idea didn't last long. Once gainfully employed again I found I didn't have time for such a project, so I decided to change the name and stick with the traditional blog format. I used the quote from Colin Campbell as a title. There was something about the number 22 that attracted me - I lived in flat number 22 in our block, my phone number started with '22' and so did our car registration - and there is irony in the Catch-22 situation our industrial societies find themselves stuck in in that we have to burn more oil to keep growing the economy which will eventually consume all the oil and destabilise the climate.

Colin Campbell, when giving a talk to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) had said that every day oil provides humanity with the equivalent energy of 22 billion human slaves - or 'energy slaves'. These slaves do our bidding silently and are unnoticed by the masses, and the way he arrived at the figure, I am told, is by taking the total amount of conventional oil produced each day and dividing it up into 'drops'. Each drop of oil represents the work of one human in one day, and there are around 22 billion drops of oil produced each day.

Alexandre de Robaulx de Beaurieux, a geologist and board member of ASPO Germany, provided me with the following quote from Colin Campbell from the 2013 edition of Campbell's Oil and Gas Depletion:

"It was as if oil provided us with an army of unpaid and unfed slaves to do our work for us. It has been calculated that a drop of oil, weighing one gram, yields 10,000 calories of energy, which is the equivalent of one day’s hard human labour. In other words, today’s oil production is equivalent in energy terms to the work of 22 billion slaves. Financial control of the world has led to a certain polarisation between the wealthy West and the other countries which find themselves burdened by foreign debt as they export resources, product and profit. Many people have come to think that it is money that makes the world go round, when in reality it is the underlying supply of cheap, and largely oil-based, energy, that has turned the wheels of industry, fuelled the airliners and the bombers, and generally acted as the world’s blood stream. Midas-like wealth flowed to those who find themselves having a controlling position in the System."

The energy slaves in question were assumed to be involved in work that was the equivalent of lifting a ton of sand 2m into the air. This was all very well but I couldn't help thinking that the number of energy slaves seemed a bit on the low side. After all, if driving an average 120 horse power car down a motorway were to be done with the power of human slaves alone, you would need upwards of 500 human beings to pull you along (assuming they could run that fast!). And with around a billion cars in the world at present, plus millions of trucks, aircraft, ships, trains etc. the figure of 22 billion would seem very low indeed - and that's not even taking account of all the other uses for fossil fuels that we have, from heating to electricity generation and so on.

So it struck me that we should consider all fossil energy sources when trying to arrive at some figure of how much assistance we are getting from hydrocarbons. Given that I'm no Einstein when it comes to mathematics I asked for help in arriving at this figure, promising the one who could come up with the best answer a box of Cornish fudge. What I wanted to know was the answer to the following question:

If all the energy we currently derive from fossil fuels alone (i.e. not including nuclear or renewables) was suddenly unavailable, and we had at our disposal a few handy nearby planets populated with well-fed healthy adult human males that we could capture as our 'energy slaves', how many of them would we need to allow us to enjoy the same lifestyle currently being provided by fossil fuels?

Of course, this being an entirely imaginary exercise, we would have to overlook the fact that the slaves would need to be fed, and furthermore we would have to assume that they produced energy close to the point where it was needed (e.g. a coal power station would be replaced by serried ranks of energy slaves on exercise bikes fitted with power-generating dynamos). A further assumption is that a slave would only be able to work for 12 hours at a stretch.

Of the responses I received three stood out - and they all come to somewhat similar conclusions despite using different methods. 

Daniel Hägerby from Sweden, taking his data from the 2013 BP Statistical Review, concluded the following about how many slaves we would need per capita:

"Total amount of primary fossil energy consumed was 10848 Mtoe in 2012. Multiply by 42*10^6 to get the number of kilojules. Then divide by 3600 to get kWh (which I find easiest to think in terms of). Then divide by population, I used seven billion. That gets you a total of about 18 000 kWh per capita per year. 

Then we assume that each slave works 12 hour per day 7 days per week. We can also assume that each slave can yield 50 watts of productive power. With a human power efficiency of 20% that means each slave would consume 50/0,2*12*365 = 1095 kWh per year. 

Divide the two and you get about 17 fossil energy slaves per capita. I think ignoring the efficiency of human power conversion is cheating - because engines and power plant also have big thermal losses. So, if our slaves could eat fossil fuels and have no energy expenditure to survive (only to work for us) - we would need 17 slaves per capita, working 12 hour per day all year round. 

Then we can of course study the UK separately. That would give us around 30 fossil energy slaves, using the same method.

So that means that with around 17 energy slaves per unit of population, we would need a total of 119 billion energy slaves to keep things ticking over as they do today.

Also from Sweden, Gunnar Rundgren, who writes the blog, pointed out that he had already made such a calculation for his book Garden Earth. He relates the following:

"We can contrast the energy content in human beings with the external energy sources conquered, to give us an idea of the importance of the development of external energy sources. Let us do a back-of-the-envelope calculation.  A human being needs around 2500 calories per day (2.9 kWh ). We use around 80% of that just to stay awake, think, eat, sleep, breathe, etc. So a bit less than 600 Wh is perhaps left for work. Hard-working people could perhaps use 800 Wh, but they will also eat more. On a yearly basis, the average person consumes around a million calories, which corresponds to 1.16 MWh. 

The average American uses 7.71 tons of oil equivalents (toes) of energy (the average British 3.8, the Swede 5.65 and the Senegalese 0.25), which corresponds to 90 MWh, that is, the energy in the annual food consumption for 77 persons, or if we calculate on the basis of the 20% that we actually use for work it would correspond to roughly 380 persons. On the other hand, energy losses also occur for the conversion of external energy to useful work. If we assume that this is 40%, we arrive at a figure of 150 persons.

So, depending on how we count, each American has somewhere between 75 and 400 ‘energy slaves’ working for him or her, and the richer ones have thousands. The global average energy use is of course lower, and represents figures between 18 and 90, which translated to the total population would mean somewhere between 120 and 600 billion energy slaves. From this perspective, it is certainly no surprise that human beings have taken over the planet!

Another way of looking at it, from an economic perspective, is that a barrel of oil represents the energy of 25,000 hours of human toil, that is, 14 persons working round the year with normal Western labour standards. The cost for pumping the oil is not more than a few dollars per barrel, and even with an oil price of many hundred dollars per barrel, it is very cheap compared to human slave labour. The beauty of the oil slaves is that they don’t have to be feed at all. The slaves of the past, even under huge oppression and extortion, used a lot of the food themselves just to survive. From this perspective, our current wealth can be easily understood and demystified. Even hundreds of years ago, long before industrial society and capitalism, the person who had hundreds of others working solely for him or her could lead a comfortable life.

Any comments? I guess a difference is if you calculate in-energy or output energy for both fossil and human labour?

As Gunnar points out, the calculation is necessarily a very rough one due to the nature of the underlying assumptions. There is no real way to substitute human labour for coal or oil, but his shot at estimating the true number of energy slaves is illuminating.

Finally, Alex from ASPO Germany, who is mentioned above, provided his own calculations, and brings EROEI and the energy subsidy provided by past slaves (i.e. what quality of oil is Colin Campbell assuming in his calculation?) into the conversation. Alex's way of looking at it uses a different way of arriving at a figure, but the conclusion he reaches is somewhat similar to the first two:

"  [T]he party with unconventionals is suddenly over as soon as you stop drilling more and more only in order to stand still [Red Queen effect]. So what we have is the good stuff with EROI-ratios over let's say 30:1 already gone. Now what the Americans do is trying to substitute conventinal oil with low EROI-sources below 10:1 à la tight oil or tar sands at home ...  So, just to project it over my thumb, I would say that if Dr. Campbell used let's say a ratio of 30:1 for his calculation and if you try to keep the same work done using the "sweet spots" of unconventional sources aka with a net energy surplus 5 times smaller, you are at ca. 100 billion energy slaves. I think this calculation should be done on a per-country-basis to get a better picture, but it will still be only about oil.

Now if you compensate some losses in conventional AND unconventional production [think of the decline-rates an order of magnitude higher than in conventional fields] by trying to incorporate "renewables" that are not renewable, not new and require oil from A to Z, I think you will need additional hundreds of billions of slaves. But this would depend on your conventional/unconventinal-ratio and also on the type of substitutes used. On the other hand, "renewables" are no substitutes for liquid fuels anyway [except local methanol on a small scale perhaps], and I remember a blog-post by Dr. Tom Murphy about algae fuel, comparing its EROI with that from old newspapers being fished out of a pond, dried and burned.

So let's take "renewables" again out of the equation and only keep liquid fuels from conventional and unconventional sources. If the minimum EROI required to fuel the most simple tasks in society is 3:1 [and I'm not talking about the military-industrial complex here with drones], and we had a ratio of 30:1 for our 22 billion slaves, this gives us a theoretical 220 billion "unconventional" slaves. All else being equal, if we consider that much over 90% of all transportation in the EU27 was based upon oil in 2006 ... and will still be at about 90% for a certain time to come, I think 200 billion pure "unconventional" slaves would be the maximum upper limit.

So although Colin Campbell's figure of 22 billion energy slaves looks safe when you consider decent EROEI conventional oil only, taking into consideration all of the other forms of fossilised life that we are currently extracting as fast as we can, we get much higher figures. Just to recap, these are the likely figures:

Daniel - 119 billion energy slaves
Gunnar - 120 - 600 billion energy slaves (average 360 BES)
Alex - 200 billion energy slaves

Taking an average of the above three results would give us a theoretical figure of 226 billion energy slaves.

What would 226 billion energy slaves look like? Humans occupy around only 2% of the surface of the planet, so assuming our energy slaves are distributed close to us rather than arrayed in horizon-filling ranks in the Gobi Desert or Antarctica, we can expect an energy slave population density as follows:

196,939,900 square miles - surface area of planet Earth
3,938,798 square miles - surface area of human populated areas
226,000,000,000 - number of fossil energy slaves in total (not including 'nuclear slaves' or 'eco slaves')
53,378 fossil slaves per square mile 

That's an awful lot of invisible men running around in your neighbourhood! The only question remaining for me now is whether I should change the title of this blog ...

PS. Tak to Daniel and Gunnar and danke to Alex - you'll all be getting some Cornish fudge in the post.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

India and its Incredible Problems

In the year 2000 I spent several months in India. I love India and it was my third visit to the subcontinent. Anyone who has spent time there either ends up loving it or hating it - the sheer in-your-facedness of the whole place, combined with the manic religious devotion that forms a part of everyday life force you to face up to who you believe yourself to be. Yes, India is life with the volume turned up to number 11.

I saw a lot of unsettling things in India. I saw a young woman being burned on a funeral pyre, and afterwards the dogs snuffling through the ashes and running off with morsels of meat. I met sadhus - holy men - who had forsaken the material life and devoted themselves to asceticism, I saw the bullet holes in buildings where British colonial soldiers had massacred Sikhs, and I went to a school high up in the Himalayas where the Dalai Lama was the acting headmaster. And I also met a thousand hucksters and conmen whose ingenious trickery knew no bounds.

I have a fantasy of one day going back to India and living there for good - if it survives the onslaught of pollution, nuclear madness and dam building. Perhaps this will be when I 'retire' (ha ha!). As far as I'm concerned, there is no place of Earth like India for sheer oppositeness to our western culture, although Sri Lanka and Nepal come a close joint second. I'd live in an adobe shack in a fishing community in the deep south. My small sailing boat would be moored nearby and I'd use it to 'commute' between the ancient world (India) and the old world (Europe) to collect my state pension cheque, which would be enough to survive off for another year (in India).

Beat that for a retirement plan - it's not exactly golf and cruises.

Anyway, for all the talk of India becoming an advanced industrial nation like the US or European countries I say: no way. That will never be. The limiting factors that describe the scale of the problems she faces are just too constrictive. It's not just economics that is not on their side (and far too often these days debates are just about economics and nothing else - don't people have any other idea of how to look at the world?) there are so many other factors to consider. This is what I wrote in my travel diary when I was there 13 years ago. I haven't been back since, but other than in tech-happy enclaves such as Hyderabad, I can't imagine it has changed all that much.


December 2000, Tamil Nadu state, India

People say that you can not merely 'see' India but are forced to experience it to a greater or lesser extent. This sore fact is now quite apparent to us and I hope to be able to give some impression of the confusing emotions that have been aroused.

The primary and most obvious facet of Indian life that is unavoidably obvious even to the most casual visitor is the level of abject poverty. Any romantic notions of the existence of some sort of genteel poverty are soon dismissed when one sees the desperate plight that many people face in this country. Beggars are commonplace even in so-called prosperous towns and much of the begging is done by ragged children and leprous adults. The pitiful sight of the man dressed in rags sat in the dust holding out an outstretched fingerless hand or the barely-alive young woman lying in the middle of the road whilst her child sits sullen-eyed beside her and monstrous Tata trucks thunder past only inches away are not uncommon sights. It is impossible to walk in the streets without attracting the attention of the more mobile beggars, mostly children, who will hold out their hands or else crowd around you and tug on your clothing. This kind of scene prevents a moral dilemma for the westerner who, by comparison with these people, is rich beyond imagination.

Even the most penny-pinching backpacker who eats only bread and uses the most dilapidated and cheap transport, though he may not readily admit it, has a kind of wealth beyond the dreams of these dusty figures for he can afford the elite luxury of foreign travel and does not have to devote every ounce of his energy to earning enough rupees just to keep himself alive. Assuming that the potential donor acknowledges this fact the dilemma that is presented is multi-faceted. Firstly, even if one were to choose to do so, one cannot give change to every beggar. On the streets of Old Delhi, for example, one would be forced to hand out money every few seconds. Secondly, the act of giving to beggars, conventional logic tells us, perpetuates the problem further. Although this argument is most commonly used by people who feel the need to justify their meanness in the face of overwhelming poverty there must be some truth in it.

Although it would be very difficult to gather 'proof' of such a theory (you simply can't go about asking beggars what made them decide to 'go into begging') it was clearly apparent in the hills of Nepal where children now routinely skip school to demand sweets and pens from passing trekkers, enough of whom oblige to keep the scourge alive. Thirdly, stories abound of adults mutilating their children (or the children of others) in order to arouse the sympathy of others and thus increase the takings. Whether these stories are true or not it is difficult to say but the image of the young boy sitting in the gutter minus a foot is far more likely to get people to dig into their pockets than the same boy with both feet attached. Whatever moral dilemmas westerners tangle themselves up in when it comes to giving their 'hard earned' money to beggars the fact remains that, by ignoring the problem and not giving them anything, they will not simply move into some other 'profession' or fall back on some non-existent charitable fund or government scheme. Most of them, one imagines, would simply die quietly to be replaced by others.

Another immediately obvious problem faced by India is the ruination of the natural environment. At times it can seem that entire towns and their outlying vicinities can be several inches deep in biodegradable and non-biodegradable rubbish. As is occurring elsewhere, the rush to become a consumer society has made no allowance for the correct disposal of the trash that it generates. In times past, one imagines, this problem would not have existed as all waste would be composed of such material as banana skins, crushed sugar cane, wood carvings and vegetable waste. This would be routinely tossed out into the streets where the famous holy cows would devour the majority of it (surely the real reason these beasts are allowed to roam freely). Whatever was left would be swept up by the untouchables, put into carts and dumped into the nearest river, pond or creek. This practice doesn't seem to have changed much and travelling through Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab, I don't recall seeing a single pond that wasn't stagnating with plastic trash or a single stream that wasn't oozing pollutants with more and more cartloads of waste being taken to their banks and tipped in. These squalid scenes are normally populated by scavenging dogs of such obvious ill health that it seems a wonder that they are alive at all. Neither does it help that any open space, whether in town or country, is used as an open toilet which , in some instances, creates a slick of evil-smelling slurry.

In addition to the despoilment of the land and the water there is the serious problem of air pollution. In Delhi, for example, the air around the old part of the city was so polluted a single trip through it in a rickshaw during the evening rush-hour had us coughing and blowing black soot out of our noses until the next day. Motor vehicles, of which there are many, are in the main not fitted with the slightest modification to prevent thick black plumes of smoke issuing forth from their exhaust pipes. As if pollution from vehicles were not enough there is a similar lack of control over the emissions of factories and power stations which can be seen belching thick smoke into the skies. Added to this is the habit of setting fire to piles of plastic and cardboard waste in the streets as a way of 'getting rid' of it. In fact, it is said that living in Delhi subjects one's health to the equivalent of twenty cigarettes per day. The rickshaw wallahs are the most likely casualties of this pollution as they are normally of the lowest caste and social status and therefore least likely to benefit from any healthcare system. It is they who have to sweat through the polluted air, day in day out, breathing the poison deep into their lungs.

Many of India's problems arise from the sheer number of people who live here. A billion people now live in this country and this number is rising at an alarming rate [about 200 million more now live there since I wrote those words 13 years ago]. A night-time satellite view of northern India shows a relative paucity of light pollution when compared with many other countries. The Netherlands and Japan, by way of example, are so built-up and industrialised that it is as though their entire countries are floodlit. Northern India, despite a population density that rates as almost the highest in the world, is dark by comparison. The reason for this, of course, is the relative unavailability of electricity to such an over-stretched region. In fact demand can be so great and the supply so temperamental that power outages are commonplace and industry is forced to shut down regularly as a result. Any business that needs to present itself as reliable and modern in these difficult circumstances is required to install some sort of backup power generation, usually in the form of a noisy diesel generator and a heap of car batteries. When the power comes back on these same batteries must recharge their cells which then create another excess demand for electricity which will in turn cause the whole system to become unstable and so on and so forth.

So far the picture I have painted of modern India is a bleak one. But for every man-made disaster that India faces there must surely be a man-made solution. Unfortunately though, for the common Indian, there seems to be little prospect of hope from the politicians. The incumbent ruling party, the Hindu nationalist BJP looks to be keener on spending resources fighting Pakistan over Kashmir and developing nuclear weapons than implementing far-reaching policies of poverty alleviation and education. What efforts they do serve up in the name social advancement appear to be white elephants, normally in the form of giant dams, which many claim merely serve self-edifying politicians and consolidate the power of water distribution into the hands of a few. The huge Narmada Valley dam project that is currently being constructed in Gujarat will irrigate a large region and provide a source of power at the cost of the displacement of a million marginalised Indians who do not posses a strong enough voice to block the decision to build it. It will also be costly in terms of the amount of land it will inundate. Gerald Durell, the late English naturalist and captive breeder, once challenged the Indian government over the decision to flood a large area of land for economic gain even though the area was considered to be of great importance for wildlife. The minister in charge of the project rounded on him saying ' we in India can not afford such ecological luxuries'. Indeed it was Nehru who, in the 1950s, delivered a speech saying that 'dams are the new temples of modern India'. Today, despite widespread condemnation from within and abroad, there appears to be no letup in the persual of this received wisdom.

[The Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy (author of 'The God of Small Things') has written a nice polemical pamphlet on the social and environmental cost of the Narmada Dam Project entitled 'The Greater Common Good' for those interested]

In any picture of modern India it is impossible to leave out religion and the caste system of discrimination. The beliefs of Indians holds a huge sway over the population and their daily decisions which certainly can not be ignored. The government, whilst claiming to be modernist and therefore religiously neutral are clearly, as Hindu nationalists, not going to go to great lengths to improve the lives of Muslims, Sikhs, Jains or tribals. I am not able to relate to a starving beggar refusing food from me because, me being a non-Hindu, I would have spiritually polluted it. And the concept of holy animals (cows, monkeys, elephants) on the basis of some mythical association with the Hindu pantheon seems anomalous whilst at the same time the streets are full of starved-looking and badly-whipped horses and donkeys (who, when they die from exhaustion or are hit by a vehicle, are tossed into the nearest ditch to be torn apart by dogs and vultures) and the rivers are polluted to the extent that all life is eradicated. One thing is clear however and that is as personal wealth grows there is a diminishing of religious belief. The Indian television adverts almost universally feature light-skinned wealthy Brahmin types (I've yet to see a dark-skinned Indian advertising a Business Class plane seat) who live in Beverley Hills type surroundings and drive sports cars and wear expensive suits. These modern role models for the Indian elite and nouveau riche show no outward signs of religious belief other than in some cynical consumerist way ('Bring a new surround sound Philips flat screen home entertainment system this Diwali'). Basically speaking then, religion, the consoler, is for the suffering masses who have little control over their lives. Religion, after all, doesn't cost anything, financially speaking.

It seems that for India the solution to the great problems of today can not be expected to come from politicians or Big Business. India is a vast nation of a few big cities and thousands of villages and small-scale schemes seem to often be the most effective. Soon, the Indian Post Office will be training their postmen in the science and philosophy of effective contraception. In Indian society the postman does not just deliver the mail but quite often reads it out to illiterates and his advice may be sought on matters pertaining to it. He is therefore a trusted ally of the people and will be a useful weapon in the war against rampant population growth. One also reads of micro credit schemes where ordinary people are able to lift themselves out of abject poverty by receiving a small loan to start up some small-scale activity, such as making baskets, that they are able to do.

India, most marketing people seem to agree, is an overwhelming of the senses. The potential holidaymaker might be expected to imagine walking through a teeming bazaar full of smiling women in brightly-coloured sarees selling technicolor mounds of tikka powder in silver dishes whilst the whiff of sandalwood and incence drifts up into the clear evening sky as the giant orange ball of the sun sets over the Arab dhows on the Indian Ocean. The reality is a little less prosaic. India is certainly a land of smells, not all of them pleasant, and anyhow the 'magical pink light at dawn in Varanasi' is only a result of the industrial pollutants hanging over the Ganges. The coffee table book that contains glossy pictures of a colourful and spiritual India tells only half the story. Tales abound of people planning trips of several months or years in India only to find themselves travelling on the first plane back home after two illusion-shattering days in Delhi. India, for sure, demands a lot more of her visitors than most countries but, in turn, offers a lot more food for thought.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Who'd have thought ...?

That when the revolution came it would have the comedian Russell Brand as its spokesman?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ruled by Goons

Okay, so I don't normally dip my toe into the foul and fetid waters of politics, after all one Endless Growth party looks like the next to me and it's been hard to tell the difference most of my adult life. But times seem to be changing because it is becoming increasingly clear that here in the UK we are RULED BY GOONS!

Most people these days might think that a goon is a kind of thug - and that would probably work here as well - but the definition I had in mind comes from the old radio comedy classic The Goon Show. So, according to the Urban Dictionary a goon can be a 'stupid or oafish person'.

Yep, we're being ruled by stupid or oafish people. You might think there are stupid and oafish people in Washington right now, but they are mere amateurs alongside our group of unintentional comedians. Seriously, slapstick would be a high art form in comparison to the high jinks our London lot get up to. Here's a list of things they have got up to in the LAST WEEK. Yes, in just a week (or maybe slightly longer in some cases, but no more than two weeks), they have been hard at work putting on their cabaret show with the following list of performances:


1 - Top of any Goonshow list has to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Yes, this former Oxford graduate, former member of the riotous male-only dining clique the Bullingdon Club (the entry requirements of which include burning a £50 note in the face of a homeless person) is still telling us that the British economy is growing and that the worst is behind us.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne before he grew up (left) and now

This week George was on a trip to China, trying to woo them. He met lots of Chinese students and businessmen and then told British people that we were to stop treating them like factory drones and show some respect. Oh, then he offered to waive the visa rules for ultra-rich Chinese businessmen and furthermore offered the Chinese the chance to run 100% of Britain's future nuclear power stations.

As if the prospect of this was not scary enough, we were also told that we could soon be policed by foreign police forces - our own presumably being too expensive. So, we can imagine, when some Chinese tycoon decides to build a nuke down the end of my road, I can expect ex Red Army policemen to clobber me and any attempt to protest.

Other Osborne moments this week include the demolishing of his housing bubble inflator policy instrument 'Help to Buy' by the newly minted Nobel economist Robert Shiller. Read all about it via the Automatic Earth here.

2 - Second in the Goonshow hit parade is Envrionment Secretary Owen Paterson - the man charged with looking after the environment - saying that climate change was 'not all bad'. Yes, there are bright spots, according to him. It will be warmer, chuckle, and we won't have to fly to Spain for holidays. What's more, he said, not so many people will die of cold in the winter (see below) which, for some reason, he seems to think is the 'leading cause of death for humans' (?). He also revealed that some people take it all too seriously and should just try and relax a bit and have some fun.

3 - And Owen Paterson is in third place as well. The long protested-against badger cull has been proceeding now for some weeks, with many of the furry mammals beloved of Beatrix Potter and Queen's Brian May having been forced to eat hot lead in order to appease the Tory-voting farming unions. Alas, when marksmen failed to notch up enough black and white corpses the 'scientific cull' was deemed a failure.

Who is to blame for this debacle?

The badgers themselves, of course. Mr Paterson says the creatures 'moved the goalposts' - presumably by resisting being genocided. Scientists all along had said that the cull was pointless and unscientific, but farmers wanted 'something' done about the spread of TB into their herds of cattle.

4 - In fourth place - although he usually deserves to be a lot higher up - is our leader and fellow Bullingdon Club goon Mr David Cameron. Mr 'C3PO made out of Spam' rattles off any number of jaw-droppers every time he opens his mouth, but what clangers has he come up with recently? Well, there's that picture of him asleep on a bed with his secret red box that was posted on Instagram by his sister in law as she was getting dressed (!).

The man asleep in the background runs the UK. Or thinks he does.

Then there was the repeated claim that shale gas drilling is beneficial for the UK following the 'amazing' success story in the US.

And then there was the woeful privatisation of the Royal Mail overseen by his government this week - reminiscent of the lowest 'greed is good' days of the Thatcher era. The Royal Mail, which is approaching its 500th birthday, was sold off dirt cheap, with the lion's share going to big City firms. Little investors were also eager to grab some shares and cash them in, and the Daily Goonagraph - sorry Telegraph - even had a moving share ticker as its headline, showing how much dosh 'the little man' was making minute by minute.

Today, fearing for their jobs (and rightly so), workers at the newly privatised organisation voted to go on strike.

Finally, still with Cameron, following today's announcement by British Gas that it will raise its prices another 10% or so - even though many people now cannot afford to eat and heat their home - announced that people should ditch the company. Never mind that the, er, competitors will all follow suit and that his own government revealed that it is cutting money set aside to insulate poor people's homes.

Let them eat snow flakes!

This fuel poverty message in Manchester gets the point across about energy firms in the UK

Oh, and one last thing, Mr C using his most threatening growly voice has said the Guardian newspaper should be 'investigated' for publishing NSA revelations. This follows on from the new press charter that is being put into place that will severely restrict what newspapers are allowed to say about our illustrious rulers. Here's Private Eye's (ever welcome) take on it all.

5 - In fifth place is the entire Foreign Office, who with perfect timing, announced that the UK is to become the 'hub' for drilling the bejesus out of the Arctic to get at all the oil and gas there. Yes, just days after 30 mostly British members of Greenpeace were arrested and slung into the Gulag by Russia for protesting against Arctic drilling, and only weeks after the IPCC reconfirmed that we are going to hell in a hand basket unless we stop burning fossil fuels the FO deems it a good time to make this bold claim to getting a 'piece of the action' up north. It's great to know that the government is concerned about the climate.

6 - In sixth place is our favourite parliamentary clown Owen Paterson again. This time he really pushed the boat out by saying that opponents of all that nice genetically modified food stuff that his big business pals want to force upon the world are 'wicked'. Yes, that would make people who oppose GM food evil. They are apparently guilty of 'killing millions of innocent children'! Well I never.

Owen Paterson conducting some experiments on genes in his home lab

7 - No list of Tory goons would be complete without London's 'Lord' mayor Boris Johnson aka BoJo. He doesn't have to do anything other than just continuing to exist to be included on any goon list, but here he is, saying that all English school children must now learn Mandarin rather than French. To force home this point, he flew over Hong Kong in a helicopter earlier today having being voted 'England's most patriotic politician' - thus the Churchillain repose.

'BoJo' - apparently 'England's most patriotic politician'

Boris Johnson on fracking:

"The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately need them. And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal. What, as they say, is not to like?

In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news. Beware this new technology, they wail. Do not tamper with the corsets of Gaia! Don’t probe her loamy undergarments with so much as a finger — or else the goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge. Dig out this shale gas, they warn, and our water will be poisoned and our children will be stunted and our cattle will be victims of terrible intestinal explosions."

8 - In eighth place a joint award goes to 80% of the UK population who failed to notice any of the above because they have become obsessed with a) A TV programme about baking cakes, b) A TV programme about celebrities doing ballroom dancing and c) A TV programme which features a couple having sex in a box in front of an audience which is then analysed by a panel of 'sexperts'.

Oh, and the football was on (England won).

Sex Box: takes voyeurism to a whole new level
Ever feel like the kids are in charge at the kindergarten?


As George points out in his comment below, I forgot to include the Education Secretary Michael Gove.  No gallery of goons would be complete without the man who is pushing through such draconian - and frankly pointless - education reforms that teachers refer to him as the 'school bully' and even went on strike against him yesterday.

And finally …

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who publicly told a woman who had been historically abused to "Adjust your medication," after he refused to help her out.

Pickles: Adjust your medication

Okay … that's enough (I know, I should have mentioned William Hague)!