Enough is enough

It’s not surprising people are turning to violence:

What began as protests over President Macron’s fuel tax has transformed into general anger at high living costs.

Mr Macron says his fuel policies are needed to combat global warming.

So global warming is an existential threat, is it? Okay, but:

France is heavily dependent on nuclear power, which Mr Macron pledged to reduce to 50% of the national energy mix by 2035 by closing 14 of the country’s 58 reactors.

If global warming is really going to kill us all within decades, the problem of nuclear waste disposal and fear of accidents would seem rather small indeed. That politicians are closing nuclear power stations is proof that even they don’t believe global warming is an existential threat, or even a serious one.

That is on top of the closure of all four of France’s remaining coal-fired power plants and investment of billions of euros into renewable energy.

And that’s what this is all about: elites in government making life more expensive for the ordinary citizen so they can virtue-signal to other elites and the wealthy, middle-class idiots who support them. Like I said, no wonder people are turning violent. I’m amazed it’s taken this long.

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Signalled virtue fails to save whale

So how did this happen, then?

A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 6kg (13 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials say.

Items found included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops.

The carcass of the 9.5m (31ft) mammal was found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park late on Monday.

I thought carrier bags had been banned from French supermarkets and bars in London no longer provide drinking straws, so how come we have a dead whale in Indonesia? Ah yeah:

Five Asian nations – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand – account for up to 60% of the plastic waste that ends up in oceans, according to a 2015 report by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

Nevertheless:

The European Parliament has voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans.

MEPs backed a ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks.

Next up: hosepipe bans in Surrey to prevent drought in Ethiopia.

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Une Manifestation

On Saturday, while trying to get on the A41 on my way to a seminar in Geneva, I ran into this:

One protester has died and more than 200 were injured as more than a quarter of a million people took to the streets of France, angry at rising fuel prices.

The female protester who died was struck after a driver surrounded by demonstrators panicked and accelerated.

The “yellow vests”, so-called after the high-visibility jackets they are required to carry in their cars, blocked motorways and roundabouts.

They accuse President Emmanuel Macron of abandoning “the little people”.

I was pretty annoyed, especially when one of them told me I had to move my car to the side of the road to let the bus behind me past, which was carrying children. I was tempted to suggest that, if kids languishing in buses are a concern, maybe they shouldn’t be blocking the f*cking road. They then handed me this:

The protesters were mostly aged between forty and fifty, rather too old to be subscribing to anarcho-communist ideologies which have no chance of success at the ballot box. But when I got home and read the BBC article, I thought they may have had a point:

The price of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, has risen by around 23% over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 (£1.32; $1.71) per litre, its highest point since the early 2000s, AFP news agency reports.

World oil prices did rise before falling back again but the Macron government raised its hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, as part of a campaign for cleaner cars and fuel.

The decision to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol on 1 January 2019 was seen as the final straw.

Diesel has always been cheaper than petrol in France, in part because French companies were early pioneers in diesel engine technology and the refineries were geared to meet the subsequent demand. But a decade or so back politicians across Europe decided CO2 emissions were the greatest danger mankind had ever faced and encouraged everyone to switch to diesel cars, which get a better mileage per gallon. So everyone did, only now the politicians are saying diesel is bad and have whacked up the tax, leaving millions of people facing rising fuel bills and with cars that in many cases will be near-worthless. An increase of 14.1 cents per litre in two years on a fuel the government encouraged people to adopt is extortion; no wonder people came out in protest.

Speaking on Wednesday, the president blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise. He also said more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.

So why not just borrow the money if it’s such a great investment? After all, aren’t we forever being told that renewable energy is now so cost effective it doesn’t need subsidies? In any case, why should motorists be taxed to pay for renewable energy generation? Why not charge the customers directly?

So we have a government invoking an idiotic fad to punish people for following an earlier idiotic fad, which nobody in power has taken any responsibility for pushing. At the same time we have a blatant cash-grab in order to fund white-elephant projects which make the government look good when it struts around on the world stage with other kleptocrats. Little wonder Macron is the most detested French president in living memory.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a poll by the Elabe institute backed the Yellow Vests and 70% wanted the government to reverse the fuel tax hikes.

More than half of French people who voted for Mr Macron support the protests, Elabe’s Vincent Thibault told AFP.

Annoyed though I was at being delayed on Saturday morning, I’m rather glad I’m in France and people are making a noise. Most other places, the population would just eat it up.

“The expectations and discontent over spending power are fairly broad, it’s not just something that concerns rural France or the lower classes,” he said.

Indeed. How many of those supporting lunatic environmental policies live in cities, smugly tell everyone they don’t own a car, and have no idea how the country is fed and the lights kept on? Once again, the wealthy, metropolitan middle classes are making life miserable for everyone else.

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UN-driven neo-colonialism in Africa

I’ve noticed that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals seem to get mentioned a lot in my presence recently, particularly when I’m in Geneva. It’s not so much that my university has a policy of pushing this stuff as Geneva being home to various UN bodies, hence is stuffed to the gills with do-gooders, NGOs, and busybodies who latch onto them. In short, it’s more by virtue of proximity than anything else.

Naturally, I’m unimpressed by it all. I sat in a seminar recently where various well-educated, pasty-white western folk living the high life in Geneva at taxpayer expense spoke about Africa as if it were populated by retarded children who haven’t yet worked out that gender equality will catapult their societies into a whole new era of peace and prosperity. If they’d been wearing pith helmets and talking about Christianity rather than gender equality I’d have thought I’d gone back in time to the peak of colonialism. I’ve decided I’m going to do a podcast on each of the UN’s sustainable development goals. highlighting the downsides and trade-offs of which their proponents seem unaware.

Anyway, yesterday a long-time reader and ex-boss sent me the link to this paper:

This research explores how female-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in semi-arid lands experience and respond to climate risk. MSMEs account for about 80% of employment in developing countries, are highly vulnerable to climate change and are limited in their capacity to adapt.

Female entrepreneurs can be key in promoting resilience at micro (e.g. household) and macro scales but how they experience or adapt to climate risks has been little researched. This paper addresses that gap with a case study of how female-owned MSMEs experience climate risk in the semi-arid county of Narok in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Findings suggest female-led MSMEs in Narok may face both additional exposure to climate risk compared with men, and additional barriers to adapting to that risk.

So in parallel to pushing more women to become entrepreneurs in Africa the neo-colonial missionaries have discovered these same women are now at greater risk from climate change. The reasoning is a veritable work of art:

The research found that strong social and cultural norms around gender roles, and resource use and access, confine female-led MSMEs to sectors that experience higher exposure to climate risk – most notably agriculture.

Society and cultural norms must be overturned to protect UN-encouraged female-led small businesses from climate change.

These norms also create pronounced barriers to women coping with climate risks and building business resilience, including reduced access to land, capital, markets, new technology and educational opportunities compared with men.

This seems to have very little to do with climate change.

The research identified examples of female entrepreneurs pursuing unsustainable forms of coping that may help in the short term but which reduce their capacity to adapt to climate change in the longer term.

Go on.

Coping strategies include selling business assets, e.g. reducing stock at times of water scarcity; diversification, e.g. into the charcoal business, which weakens long-term resilience by exposing agricultural land to erosion;

Clearly these are gender-related problems.

and land sales, which are usually carried out by men, with female-led MSMEs usually not receiving any direct benefit.

So climate change might lead to a female-led business having to sell land which, for some reason, is usually carried out by presumably random men and the woman will usually not receive any money. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced.

Adaptation tools appear to include social networks such as women’s groups and table banking initiatives, through which groups of women save, rotate funds and lend money. However, these funds appear unlikely to be adequate to protect MSMEs from the impacts of climate extremes.

If female-led businesses insist on excluding men from their financing operations they’re going to struggle, regardless of what the climate is doing.

Female entrepreneurs in this research suggested a strong dependency between household resilience and business resilience. Therefore building women’s resilience at the household level is likely to serve as a key route to enabling private sector adaptation among female-led MSMEs.

Okay, but when western countries build up women’s “resilience” we find a lot of them never actually get to run a household. Is this what African women want, increased “resilience” at the price of being single?

The research also finds that while Kenya recognises the need to support female entrepreneurs in various national policies (including in national climate change legislation), these policies are currently poorly implemented.

Why, it’s almost as if the government pays lip service to the latest western fad in order to keep the aid money rolling in but doesn’t actually implement anything. In Africa, of all places! Who knew?

The research consisted of a literature review plus focus group discussions and interviews with 17 female entrepreneurs, most of whom work in agriculture, and a workshop with other stakeholders including government and NGOs.

This is the basis on which they want to overturn African societal norms? Interviews with 17 female entrepreneurs? Meanwhile, a thread on Twitter provides the view of an actual African woman on such matters. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are the most poignant parts:

“The religious aspects of these secular movements”. I’ve written about this before.

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Flip-Flops and Carrier Bags

William of Ockham risks legal action over exclusivity rights to bring us this story about carrier bags:

In Australia, most states/territories, with the exception of New South Wales, have banned supermarkets from giving away single use plastic bags with shopping.

In response to this, the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths have removed said bags from New South Wales’ stores too. I’m sure this decision was reached for purely environmentally-righteous reasons and not simply because running two different processes and sourcing operations is inefficient.

Only a few days later:

Supermarket giant Coles has buckled to the backlash from its customers over paying 15 cents for reusable plastic bags and will now give them away to shoppers for free indefinitely.

A year ago the retailer announced it would phase out single-use plastic bags in its supermarkets by July 1, but appeared to be caught unprepared for the negative consumer response that followed.

So customers find carrier bags useful and prefer them to be free? Who would have thought? The hand-wringing middle classes didn’t like this though, among them the otherwise sensible Claire Lehmann, founder of Quillette:

Whereas I’d say it takes a lot more balls to reject pointless middle class environmental posturing than to go along with it. Good on Coles’ customers! Alas, my celebrations were to be short-lived:

Coles has done a double backflip on providing free plastic bags and will recommence charging customers for them after coming under fire from green groups and consumers for giving them away for free.

In a message to the retailer’s 115,000 staff on Thursday, Durkan said the ban on single-use plastic bags had been a “big and difficult” change for customers.

While customers had been growing more and more accustomed to bringing reusable bags, many were still finding themselves one or two short at the register.

So in the absence of a law banning free bags in New South Wales, who is driving this campaign against customers’ interests?

Environmental groups, including a vocal Greenpeace, and like-minded shoppers had heaped criticism on Coles for deciding to go back on its original plan to only temporarily provide reusable bags for free.

Ah yes. As usual, it’s a loud minority of wealthy middle class do-gooders via multi-million dollar lobby groups masquerading as charities. That Coles sided with them over actual customers says a lot about modern corporate management.

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The last straw? If only.

On the plastic drinking straws ban:

At the center of these conversations is a statistic: Each day, Americans use an estimated 500 million straws. The number has been used to illustrate the scale of the issue and modern society’s reliance on this ubiquitous piece of disposable plastic.

It turns out, however, that the number is imprecise and originates from Milo Cress, a young environmentalist who researched straw usage to come up with the 500 million estimate when he was just nine years old.

As a curious fourth grader who had just started an environmental project to discourage restaurants from providing straws by default, Cress decided to look online to find out how many straws are used each day in the United States. Not being able to find any statistics, he called straw manufacturers directly and estimated the 500 million figure based on numbers they provided him.

What I find most annoying is that the dubious origin of this figure has been known for well over a year, but rarely gets mentioned by those pushing for a ban on plastic straws. Of course, there’s a reason for this: banning plastic straws in developed countries is nothing to do with saving the environment and everything to do with quasi-religious virtue-signalling and prod-nosed busy-bodying. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the pious middle classes have seized upon a product they don’t use and called for it to be banned in order to smooth their passage to whatever they consider an afterlife. Note they don’t campaign for disposable nappies to be banned.

Religious fervour often causes people to behave strangely, and in this regard Californians are trying to outdo everyone else:

The city of Santa Barbara has passed an ordinance that will allow restaurant employees to be punished with up to six months of jail time or a $1,000 fine after a second offense of giving plastic straws to their customers.

The bill was passed unanimously last Tuesday, and covers bars, restaurants, and other food-service businesses. Establishments will still be allowed to hand out plastic stirrers, but only if customers request them.

And as the article points out:

Oh, and each individual straw counts as a separate infraction, meaning that if someone got busted handing out straws to a table of four people, he or she could end up facing years behind bars.

Bear in mind that California recently decriminilised the act of knowingly infecting a partner with HIV, several cities have refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and areas of San Francisco have turned into third-world slums festooned with used needles and human shit.

This business with the drinking straws isn’t an isolated incident, but part of a pattern which can be seen elsewhere. The ruling classes have neither the competence or incentive to tackle serious problems so instead involve themselves with initiatives which solve nothing but make them look useful. They’re further encouraged by a noisy minority of virtue-signalling puritans, almost all of whom work in government, media, or for corporations firmly engaged in moral posturing. In the case of the plastic in the oceans, part of the problem is western countries deciding landfill is evil so encouraging everyone to recycle. Only to get around their own environmental legislation the bulk plastic is shipped to Asia, where a lot of it ends up horsed in the river. Rather than examine their own stupid rules, or put pressure on Africans and Asians to stop chucking crap in the sea, it’s easier to launch social media campaigns clamouring for new laws which further criminalise ordinary people for mundane behaviour. Never mind disabled people rely on plastic drinking straws to consume fluids, as far as Metropolitan mothers groups on Facebook are concerned, they’ll just have to manage somehow.

I see a parallel here with the ludicrous campaign to ban upskirting. This was pushed by privileged middle class women and will consume considerable government resources which could better be spent elsewhere. Like putting a stop, once and for all, to the systematic and widespread abuse of vulnerable young girls in provincial English towns, for instance. Yes, this is still going on and nobody is interested, in part because inconvenient voices are handily drowned out by women demanding special laws because a drunken oaf supposedly took a photo up someone’s skirt in a festival. There is subset of western society which believes the role of government is to intervene on every minor issue over which they wring their hands, no matter how ignorant they are of it. Judging by my own social media feed, a lot this stuff seems to be driven by bored men and women who, lacking the time, talent, or discipline for a proper hobby, jump on these campaigns to give themselves a sense of purpose. Yet at the same time there is far less pressure to solve problems which are certain to have catastrophic consequences: mass immigration, uncontrollable public spending, unaffordable housing, and dangerous social divisions.

It’s often said that a sign of country undergoing improvement is a growing middle class. What I think we’re seeing now is what happens when the middle classes get too big and too comfortable for too long. It won’t end well.

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Burning Burberry

This is interesting from an economics point of view:

Burberry, the upmarket British fashion label, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year to protect its brand.

It takes the total value of goods it has destroyed over the past five years to more than £90m.

Fashion firms including Burberry destroy unwanted items to prevent them being stolen or sold cheaply.

Someone has obviously done some calculations and estimated the damage done to the brand’s image by selling their products at a discount is greater than £90m. So, it’s cheaper to burn it.

Burberry is not the only company having to deal with a surplus of luxury stock.

Richemont, which owns the Cartier and Montblanc brands, has had to buy back €480m (£430m) worth of watches over the last two years.

Analysts say some parts of those watches would be recycled – but much would be thrown away.

Better than being flogged second hand on eBay, obviously. Naturally:

Environmental campaigners are angry about the waste.

Those last three words feel superfluous.

“Despite their high prices, Burberry shows no respect for their own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to made them,” said Lu Yen Roloff of Greenpeace.

You can imagine the mental gymnastics they went through trying to put their knee-jerk objections into vaguely-coherent words, can’t you?

“The growing amount of overstock points to overproduction, and instead of slowing down their production, they incinerate perfectly good clothes and products.

Are they still producing the same line of clothes they’re burning? Unlikely. And since Lu Yen Roloff brought up thrift:

Maybe we can get Burberry employees and shareholders to comment on her lifestyle?

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BREAKING: Plastic found to be useful

This from the BBC is a surprisingly balanced and informative article on plastic use:

Located in the south Atlantic, on the fringes of the Antarctic, it is nearly 1,000 miles (1,500km) from the nearest major human settlement. Yet even here Waluda, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, is finding worrying signs of our throw-away attitude towards plastic. Regularly she finds seals entangled in this debris or albatross chicks coughing up bits of plastic film.

Of course, the BBC fails to acknowledge that almost all the plastic in the ocean comes from a handful of rivers in Africa and Asia: “our” throw-away attitude seems to belong to people quite different from me. But this aside, the BBC does a reasonable job of looking at the costs of foisting changes on western societies and highlights some of the issues the dim middle classes might have overlooked in their campaigns. For example:

While the cost of producing bottles can vary depending on the raw material and energy prices at the time, it is generally not that much more expensive to produce a glass bottle versus one made from PET – about $0.01 more, according to some analysis.

However, when manufacturers start transporting produce in glass bottles, costs start to rise. A 330ml plastic soft drink bottle contains around 18 grams of material while a glass bottle can weigh between 190g and 250g. Transporting drinks in the heavier containers requires 40% more energy, producing more polluting carbon dioxide as they do and increasing transport costs by up to five times per bottle.

“In many cases plastics are actually better for the environment than the alternatives,” explains Selke. “It is surprising until you look closely at it.”

There’s also the problem that glass breaks, meaning it needs extra protection.

A report by the American Chemistry Council and environmental accounting firm Trucost estimates that the environmental costs – which places a value on dealing with the pollution generated by a product – would be five times higher if the soft drinks industry used alternative packaging like glass, tin or aluminium instead of plastic. As governments seek to penalise polluting companies with carbon taxes and levies, these costs may be passed onto consumers.

“Food costs are going to increase – there can be no doubt about that,” says Dick Searle, chief executive of the British Packaging Federation, which represents the industry in the UK.

I shouldn’t imagine this worries the hand-wringing middle class evangelists in London one jot. As we saw with carrier bags, their disdainful dismissal of increased costs to the poorest in society would make a 17th century French courtier blush.

There are some, however, who warn that abandoning plastic after nearly 70 years of using it to package our food could have other far more costly, unintended consequences.

What may at first appear to be a wasteful plastic bag wrapped around your cucumber, for example, is actually a sophisticated tool for increasing the shelf-life of your food. Years of research have allowed plastics to push the time food lasts for from days to weeks.

“I think people underestimate the benefits of plastics in reducing food waste,” says Anthony Bull, professor of chemistry and director of The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

The claim that food and logisitics companies, whose margins are razor thin, waste money on unnecessary packaging was always ludicrous.

The shrink wrap used on cucumbers for instance, can more than double the length of time the vegetable can last, allowing it to be kept for up to 15 days in the fridge and cutting food waste in half. An unwrapped cucumber would last just two days at room temperature and 9 days if refrigerated.

Beef bought in polystyrene foam trays covered with plastic film will generally last between three and seven days. However if it is vacuum-packed in multilayer plastic, it can be kept for up to 45 days without spoiling. Environmental accounting firm Trucost estimate that vacuum-packing sirloin steak can cut food waste almost in half compared to conventional plastic.

Much of the food we now buy in supermarkets comes tightly wrapped in sealed plastic films and protective trays. This keeps fresh meat in an oxygen-free atmosphere, helping to prevent it from spoiling. Delicate fruit and vegetables are also kept safe from bumps that can degrade them, meaning they’re more likely to be sold. Putting grapes in their own individual plastic boxes has been found to cut food waste by 75%.

So packaging on food serves a purpose, eh? Who knew? Well, P.J. O’Rourke for  a  start: in one of his books he writes about how some researcher excavated landfills in both the USA and Mexico and found while Mexicans use about half as much packaging as Americans, they throw away twice as much food.

Plastic wrapping can also keep fruit and vegetables in their own little microclimates – known in the industry as modified atmosphere packaging – which can help to prevent them from ripening too quicky.

It’s almost as if the companies shipping fruit around the world know more about packaging than self-righteous housewives in Islington, isn’t it?

While some believe that single-use plastic packaging has actually led to an increase in the amount of food we throw away by encouraging a culture of disposability, many in the plastics industry argue that without plastic packaging, the cost of food waste could rise.

Who to believe? An industry which can demonstrate the utility of its products or new-age evangelists using woolly terms like “culture of disposability”?

In this light, it might not make sense to ban plastics altogether but instead make plastics better.

“Rather than going back, it is perhaps more useful to look at innovation,” says Eliot Whittington. “There are more and more companies that are reinventing plastics with additives that help them break down or making plastics that are biodegradable.”

Another bioplastics leader is Coca-Cola, which two years ago launched the PlantBottle, a PET partially made with Brazilian sugarcane.

A burger box made from sugarcane for instance, is almost twice as expensive as one made from polystyrene. A biodegradable takeaway fork made from plant starch costs 3.5 times more than a basic white plastic one.

So is tearing down thousands of square kilometres of Brazilian rainforest in order to grow this sugarcane better for the planet than simply sticking with plastic? Or don’t we worry where the stuff comes from, just how we dispose of it?

But Anthony Bull sees other problems with the widespread use of biodegradable packaging.

“It treats the symptoms, not the disease,” he says. “If the disease is our throw-away society, making packaging biodegradable only encourages people to throw more away.”

Instead, he suggests another solution: use more plastic.

Heh. Good lad.

And as many countries seek to introduce new laws that will put new levies on plastic bags and ban certain types of single use packaging, refillable and reusable options may become more attractive.

For Claire Waluda, whose team is monitoring the levels of plastic waste in South Georgia, the price of making these changes is one worth paying.

“We are seeing wandering albatross parents feeding plastic to their chicks,” she says. “Anything that can reduce the amount of plastic debris in the environment is a step in the right direction.”

And even if it doesn’t – and it won’t – you have signalled your virtue. Might I suggest you start attending church or, if you’re really concerned about plastic, have a word with the Africans and Asians who are chucking it into their rivers? Or does your religion not work that way?

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McStork Happy Meal and SIM Card Combo

This story is amusing, and so very African:

A Polish charity has received a huge phone bill after it lost a GPS tracker that it had placed on the back of a stork, it’s reported.

According to official broadcaster Radio Poland , the environmental EcoLogic Group placed a tracker on the back of a white stork last year to track the bird’s migratory habits.

It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact.

EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls.

Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.

I strongly suspect the stork was cooked and eaten, too.

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When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

Via Twitter I came across the graphics Edinburgh City Council issues to households to let them know on which day their bins should be put out for collection. Here’s an example below:

Only a modern government bureaucracy could come up with something like that for the once-simple task of emptying the bins. And as someone on Twitter asks, where is each household supposed to find the space for five separate bins?

This is what happens when state bodies become employment programs, entirely divorced from the customer when providing a service.

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