Monday, October 3, 2016

E is for EROEI

Understanding EROEI - or Energy Return On Energy Invested - should be on every school curriculum, but isn't. Simply put, it's the amount of energy we as a species can play with. Back in the days when you could poke a hole in the ground and oil would gush out of it skywards, getting hold of plenty of energy was easy. In fact, for every blob of oil you used for locating, drilling and transporting the stuff, you got between 100 and 200 similarly-sized blobs of the same quality back. The way this energy value was expressed was by way of EROEI; thus, sweet onshore crude oil could be said to have an EROEI of 100 to 200. These were the low hanging fruit days that made the 20th century boom.

Once all the low hanging fruit was gone we had to move a bit further up the tree. Oil and coal and natural gas were still abundant but they needed more work to get at. They also needed more processing, transporting and all the rest of it. Because of this, the net energy (i.e. energy return minus energy expenditure) available to us was lower. We invested one blob and got considerably less than 100 back. In other words, the energy we invested in unlocking fossil fuels needed to be higher just to get the same amount back that we were used to, meaning the EROEI was falling.

Of course, fossil fuels aren't the only forms of energy. Nuclear was thought to have a high EROEI, but once you took into consideration the entire process of building the power stations, mining the uranium, decommissioning the plant and storing the waste, the EROEI shrivelled up like dead fish in the sun at Fukushima Beach.

Renewables also have relatively low EROEI values compared to early oil. Note, however, that EROEI has nothing to do with money. Getting EROEI mixed up with EROI (Energy Return on Investment) is a common mistake. One deals with the immutable laws of physics and the other deals with the infinitely manipulable world of finance - and only one of these sets of conditions is negotiable.

So what would be the average EROEI value of oil discovered today? Unfortunately nobody can seem to agree on an exact figure, but you can be sure that it's a lot lower than 200. 20 perhaps. In fact many insist that fracked shale gas and tight oil have such a low EROEI they are only viable as a commercial operation when financed by Wall Street Ponzi schemes. Biofuels, such as ethanol, have disastrously low EROEI numbers - in many cases they are less than 1. When you put more energy into something than you get out of it then it can no longer be regarded as a fuel source. Nevertheless, biofuel volumes are often added to 'total liquids' figures, implying they are an oil substitute when clearly they are not.

People will often say that 'the world is awash with oil' because they see it on the news all the time. They see no reason to think scarcity exists - everywhere they look they see abundance. However, there's a problem with this kind of thinking, and the problem is that our net energy levels are shrinking. Yes, shrinking! We can cover the world in wind turbines, solar panels and fracking wells, and we still can't escape the shrinkage problem. We might be producing, say, ten million barrels of oil per day - which looks great on spreadsheets and in news articles - but what good is that if we are then spending the bulk of it to do more drilling to get at more oil that will have an even lower EROEI value?

Which leads us to the crux of the problem. The modern world was set up to run on high EROEI energy. Take a look around. All those roads, airports, microproccesor factories, mechanised agricultural systems, globalised supply chains and space programmes require a huge throughput of energy. But we are running out of high EROEI energy, and will soon have only low EROEI energy to play with. Which begs the question: at what average level of net energy will the modern world cease to be a viable option? In the past, when high energy fossil fuels were abundant, you could always throw more money and energy at problems and expect them to go away - and usually they did. But this option itself is now going away. What will we do?

Here's a chart showing estimated EROEI values for different energy sources (source unknown).

Proponents of renewable energy will say that we can simply swap out the old system for a new 'clean and green' one. We'll all drive electric cars, live in solar cities and our lifestyles will not be much different to what they are today. This vision ignores many of the other limits to the system, and would still permit the continued destruction of the planet's life support systems, albeit in a more 'green' fashion. That's not to say that renewable energy isn't extremely useful - especially in a locally-distributed way - just to recognise some of its limits.

On the other hand, fossil fuel dinosaurs claim that we should just go all-out for oil and gas and coal. If there's such a thing as EROEI or global warming or acidifying oceans then they don't want to hear it. We should be fracking the living daylight out of the planet, building pipelines and fighting wars to get 'our' oil out of the Middle East. These people are a type of modern day cargo cult and as such, are quite dangerous. Many of them are politicians and leading businessmen.

There's a third category, too. The techno cornucopian optimists insist that a new technological breakthrough is just around the corner that will allow us to live like we do with no interruption to service. Haven't you heard there's a government conspiracy to cover up the availability of free energy? Or that if we can send robots up into space to mine comets for uranium we can have endless energy? Selling dreams is a profitable business, and the most successful of these people have MBAs and hire the best PR staffers. I myself once pretended to be one just for fun and have had several requests for an investment prospectus from people with money.

So what is likely to happen as these groups fight it out amongst each other while, all along, the needle on the global EROEI fuel tank moves into the orange zone? Perhaps it will be like the hand of God slowly turning down the dimmer switch on industrial civilisation. Because the more energy we USE simply to GET energy, the less energy is available for the rest of society to use. And this manifests itself in many different ways, but it all comes down to lower available net energy. Already we are seeing demand destruction and lower energy use as the former consumer classes struggle to be able to afford as many goods and the corresponding energy they use. Heavy goods vehicle traffic levels have fallen over 6% across the UK in the last decade, councils are turning off streetlights at night, and homeless levels in the US are spiking. Sweden is encouraging its citizens to refurbish goods instead of buying new ones, malnutrition in children is becoming common in the developed world and 30-something Britons possess half as much as 30-somethings did only 10 years ago [*See links below]. These are just some signs that the big squeeze is on, and it's getting tighter and tighter with each passing year.

Links to articles:

HGV traffic levels falling across UK
Councils turning off streetlights
Number of homeless people over 50 in US spiking
Sweden encourages goods refurbishing
Malnutrition in UK children
30 something Brits have less than half of 40 somethings at same age
UK hits "Peak stuff"
If you're under 30 - bad luck - you're screwed

Monday, September 26, 2016

D is for Degrowth

Or it could also be for Depletion or Dieoff, which are related topics. The human species has been expanding rapidly since the Industrial Revolutions, but really took off in the 20th century. Masses of cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels allowed us to mine and exploit the planet's mineral, animal and plant resources as if they were infinite. We measured all of this activity by giving things a monetary value and measuring the rate at which primary goods (raw materials) were turned into manufactured products, supported by a web of services. We called this system of measurements "the economy".

Because we had an economy we had to have economists. These were the technicians and theoreticians who claimed they knew how to make the system function and grow. If the system was growing then material prosperity - or at least the promise of it - could be made available to more and more people. Banks made loans and lent money, governments issued bonds and initiated works of infrastructure, generals grew their armies and waged wars, and the common person got a credit card and a mortgage to buy a house. All of this economic activity went into the melting pot and was used to calculate a country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

This all worked well until the limits of growth were met. However, by that point, the system had evolved into one with no reverse gear. Booming populations, exponentially rising debt and an infrastructure designed and built on the assumption that there would never be any limits to growth had painted us into a corner. The economists, being only concerned with economics and not ecology, failed to recognise that the human economy is merely an artificially created system existing within the wider ecology of planet Earth. As a result of this minor oversight ecological systems are breaking down at an alarming rate. The planet is running out of capacity for dealing with the rising tide of waste from the human species,  just as it is running out of fresh water, fertile topsoil, biodiversity and a climate amenable to continued human civilisation.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Standard neoclassical economics says that when one good becomes scarce the free market will step in and - as if by magic - a substitute good will be found. This hasn't happened in the case of our biological life support systems and represents the ultimate market failure. But this hasn't worried the true believers, and the concept of infinite substitutability has now been taken to its logical conclusion ad absurdum with serious talk about moving to a new (as yet unlocated) planet.

So, given the huge footprint of the human species on a finite planet, there can only be one logical solution to save ourselves: to degrow the economy. This is not a popular option. For an economy geared for growth, and only growth, any backward step to a smaller and less complex state of affairs is calamitous. Financial ponzi schemes collapse, asset bubbles burst, people lose their jobs and governments find themselves unable to supply basic services. All of this tends to lead to riots, revolutions and wars.

And yet we don't have any choice. Given the basic mathematically impossible concept of continued growth in a finite space, it is inevitable that limits will be reached sooner or later. Yet we have engineered a system whereby continued growth is suicidal, and the opposite will be very painful. But given the choice between an outcome that is certainly fatal and one that is likely very painful but not fatal, most rational people would choose the latter, all other things being held equal.

But what would degrowth look like in practice? Imagine, for a moment, the existence of a far-sighted and benign government that wanted to look out for and protect its citizens (I know it's hard to do these days). It might, for example, make cars prohibitively expensive and invest in public transport and cycle lanes instead. It might pour subsidies into researching and developing more benign technologies for generating energy and it might equally focus on energy conservation. Young citizens would be taught at school how to conserve energy and how to decode advertisements. Far fetched? This is exactly what Denmark did in the 1970s following the oil shocks. Alas, being one of only a very small number of countries attempting to unhook themselves from fossil fuel addiction, it was always going to be difficult. Yet its efforts could act in some way as a template for a wider programme.

Is this going to happen? Common sense says it doesn't look like it. Any imposition of degrowth policies by governments would likely be viewed with extreme suspicion - the suspicion being that the brunt of any degrowth would be shouldered by the masses while the rich and powerful minority continued living with wild abandon. This would likely lead to outright rebellion and revolution, or at the very least a new government would be elected on an anti-degrowth platform.

But that doesn't mean individuals, families and groups can't attempt to wriggle free of the economic suicide belt. Sure, it might be difficult to do so, but it has its merits; increased resilience and empowerment being but two. After all, there is no choice in the end. Degrowth is already happening but they just haven't told us yet. All that is left of the world economy is a series of get-rich-quick schemes backed up by asset bubbles, crooked economic figures, a rising tsunami of unpayable debt and ponzi madness. Strip all of that out of the equation and you're left with an economy that is struggling for breath as it sinks beneath the waves, dragged down by falling real energy availability and an increasing complexity that has long since passed the point of positive marginal returns.

The only real question that remains is whether a chaotic and unplanned degrowth scenario will leave the planetary biosphere in an inhabitable state by the time we have returned to a state of sustainability. That, to an unknowable extent, is up to us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

C is for Control

The future will be about a loss of control in our daily lives. Some of it will be big stuff that will affect you, such as your pension fund going bust or your country experiencing hyperinflation, and frankly there's not much you can do about it. On the other hand there are other things that you can control, and it's best to get a handle on them now while the going is still good(ish).

Health is one of the most precious things that you can have. To remain in good health for as long as you can without the need for hospitals and drugs and doctors is a worthy aim. For the average person, a healthy diet, a moderate amount of exercise and the avoidance of too much stress will suffice. A scary proportion of people are hooked on medicines dished out by doctors, as well as any number of other harmful substances. Try to get rid of any harmful addictions while help is still available. Likewise, get dental procedures and the like out of the way while the health systems are not collapsing. Assuming you are able bodied and of sound mind, nobody is responsible for your health except you.

Finances are another area where you can take control. Avoid all debt, if possible, and at least avoid all unpayable debt. Being in debt means that other people and entities have control over you. Downsize as much as you can in the expectation that if you don't voluntarily downsize you will be downsized involuntarily at some point. Live within your means - it's good practice for the future. Stop wasting money of takeaway food - learn to cook instead.

Make your home as resilient as possible. Insulate it, fix the roof, get rid of unnecessary energy wasting appliances and do what you can to cut down on its running costs. Have an energy holiday one weekend (i.e. no electricity or gas) and see how you get on. Get rid of any unnecessary clutter in your home by selling it or giving it away - it'll make you feel better. If you wish to hoard food and other dry goods at least put them somewhere out of your immediate living zone.

Try and get control over the essentials of life. This means water, food, warmth (or cooling, depending where you live) and shelter. Play what if games. What if the electricity went off for a month? What if the taps stopped running? What if the heating breaks down and it's minus 30C outside? In this way you will be prepared. If you don't do it already, learn how to grow food. If you have no space for growing food then volunteer at your local organic farm. Make friends with them and help them out so that they'll help you out one day. If you are well prepared for hard times then put aside a little extra to help others.

Taking back control is empowering, but try not to get too carried away with it as nobody has total control over their life. If and when a major disaster or shortage occurs one of your greatest resources will be your friends, family and neighbours. Make yourself indispensable to them and they'll do their best to look after you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

B is for Brexit

Brexit [a contraction of British Exit (from the EU)] is the 'cat among the pigeons' event that future historians may see marked the end of our love affair with globalisation. When, in June 2016, people in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were given the chance to vote in a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, or to leave it, the majority chose the latter. The 'Leave' camp won in spite of a media campaign of epic proportions to convince people to stay.

Discourse, if one could call it that, was heated and often venomous, with 'Leave' voters subjected to much ridicule and accusations of being fascists. On the other hand, 'Remain' voters were framed as clueless metropolitan liberals - the kind of people who would willingly have rolled over for Hitler and his Third Reich.

In the aftermath of the vote there was much fallout. Many high ranking politicians, including the prime minister David Cameron, found themselves at the end of their political careers. Such had been the level of fear whipped up over what was likely to happen in the event 'Leave' won - including Cameron and his chancellor warning of a market crash and a Third World War - the aftermath felt like something of a damp squib. To date, the only measurable effect has been a smallish downward correction in the value of the pound, and better than expected GDP growth figures.

Media organisations who backed the 'Remain' camp are still in a state of denial. The Guardian, for example, immediately chose to run with the narrative of a wave of hate crime being unleashed across the country - a phenomenon of which there is scant proof. Brexit supporters are routinely labelled as 'misguided', foolish' or 'racist', and are compared to supporters of Donald Trump in the US. Yet the majority of Leavers, when questioned, cited concerns with globalisation as the main reason they chose to vote the way they did. Globalisation, for them, had become something of a disaster in which their jobs were exported overseas and, in return, waves of immigrants moved into their communities and put further strain on the already over-subscribed public services and infrastructure. Put bluntly, as one interviewee stated, "If you've got money you vote 'Remain', and if you've got nothing you vote 'Leave'.

The referendum revealed a split in the nation that ran between social classes, right through the middle of communities and even between friends and family members. For some, voting Leave had little to do with politics and was merely a chance to spit in the eye of the powers that be. Likewise, for some voting Remain, it was like casting a penny into a well and making a wish for a better, fluffier world (albeit a world backed up by punitive EU trade deals, turbo capitalism, non-democratic supra states using NATO's firepower to keep the dispossessed from their borders). There was very little common ground on which anyone from the two sides could agree.

However, some have pointed out that despite the furore the UK has not so far left the EU and may never do so. They assume the EU will continue to grow in power and size and that no prime minister will ever dare trigger the article needed to exit the EU club. But perhaps that misses the point. The world of business and politics runs on sentiment. The one thing they hate, we are told, is uncertainty. The UK has stated its intention to leave - an unutterably offensive thing to do - and thus shattered the looking glass. All bets are off as to how this will play out, although other states will likely follow in the UK's footsteps as the internal and external pressures on the debt-burdened EU continue to mount.

So if there's one lesson to be learned by the globalists from the Brexit debacle it's that the disenfranchised and angry should not be allowed to vote.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A is for Alternative Media

The alternative media has exhibited an exponential growth pattern in recent years due to the digital revolution and the unsatisfactory narrative offered by traditional media. The ease with which new media ventures can be incubated and by which information is distributed has broken the stranglehold the mainstream media (MSM) has enjoyed in terms of setting the narrative agenda in society. In a recent survey it was found only 6% of Americans have a lot of trust in the MSM, and that figure is likely to be repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, across the industrialised world.

This rapid growth of the alternative media has occurred in parallel with the diminution of trust in the MSM. Since the early 1970s - when the rich economies of the West began to depart from a reality based upon physical productivity and currencies backed by precious metals - the MSM has caused ever-growing levels of cognitive dissonance in its consumers. However, the widespread ownership of computer technology which has occurred in recent years has allowed the vacuum to be quickly filled by thousands of YouTube videos, blogs and alt news sites, all distributed at lightning speed via social media, email lists and RSS feeds. The cumbersome business model of the conventional media has found itself unable to compete with this networked and distributed onslaught and faces a lingering death as its cash reserves and lines of credit deplete. All it can do is dig itself into an ever deeper hole as it desperately tries to rescue its own credibility, but finds it is unable to do so without compromising the power structures behind it.

One way in which the MSM and its supporters are attempting to fight back is by discrediting all alternative media. Due to the anarchic nature of the alternative media arena a wide range of controversial topics are addressed in a range of tones. Some of these are singled out as conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the entire phenomenon of non-hierarchical information disbursement and the old maxim of slinging mud at a wall in the hope that some of it sticks applies here. This tactic in itself seems to be backfiring as one 'conspiracy theory' after another is proved to be reality; a phenomenon that has turned the tables and appears to be inducing cognitive dissonance in the MSM itself. A prime example of this is the Washington Post's simultaneous championing of the ex-NSA computer analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the paper simultaneously supported to earn industry plaudits, whilst subsequently calling for his arrest due to the existential threat he posed to the establishment.

The MSM is acutely concerned by its shrinking power but does not appear to be able to repel the swarm attack. If it mimics the alt media it shoots itself in the foot, but if it ignores it it further erodes its own self-defined relevance. Instead it repeatedly doubles down on failed strategies and expects them to succeed. With so much capital invested in their enterprises the controllers of the old media have yet to figure out a way to compete with alternative media sources. The new media is unbound by any editorial and political constraints and willing to offer up their services for free, whereas the old media must play by the old rules and is forbidden from 'rocking the boat'. Thus, in the face of this existential threat they are churning out more and more 'news' in the form of entertainment, mixing commercials with supposed reality in the form of sponsored content and retreating behind paywalls that nobody wants to pay for. This has created a negative feedback loop for them and, in fact, without the help of generous benefactors or cash engines strapped onto their media enterprises, we could see the death of the MSM within a few short years. Reports of social media sites censoring alternative media material are only likely to quicken the erosion of whatever trust remains in the MSM.

What emerges from the wreckage is unclear but the issue of trust has been thrust to the fore. In the same way that not all MSM content is 'bad', conversely, not all alternative media is 'good'. The same shady array of forces harbouring murky intentions and blatant attempts at propaganda remains, and we can be sure it is desperately attempting to reconfigure itself in new ways for it to continue to control the narrative and perpetuate the status quo. Perhaps, as the collapse of industrial society intensifies more local forms of media will rise in relevance and importance. This would be one way the trust horizon of information providers could be verified. At the same time, in a deglobalising world, people may find they do not have as much time to follow world events from their own home. Instead, they may be too busy raising chickens and growing vegetables. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Great Divide

Well, that went well didn't it? I stayed up all night watching the results of the EU referendum come in. I hadn't meant to, because we had been told there was almost no chance 'Leave' would win it. But win it they did. It was around 1:30am when the result from Sunderland came in, showing a shock 61% in favour of leaving the EU. The BBC - that turgid voice of the senile elites - seemed unsure what to make of it. Surely this is just an aberration? I decided I'd better make some coffee for what promised to be a long night.

The birds had already been chirping for a couple of hours when the stunning result was finally announced. 48% had voted Remain and 52% had voted Leave. Hardly a huge victory, but a victory nevertheless in the teeth of the biggest domestic propaganda campaign in living memory.

And then the fallout began.

It's fair to sat that the reaction from those who didn't like the result has been somewhat disappointing and doesn't bode well for future crises. Now, 10 days later, with the rubble from the initial collapse is just beginning to stop bouncing, it appears that a huge chasm has opened up in Britain and the people are left standing on either side of it. The quiet hopeful dignity of most of the Leavers is in stark contrast to the shrill anger of the more vocal Remainers, for whom the sky has fallen in. There are demands for a second referendum, demands that the result be overturned and demands that the legal system be used to prevent the status quo being upset.

People are gnashing their teeth and wailing. I've heard of some holding grief parties, and others proclaiming that we now live in a fascist state. There is a frantic scramble to move to Scotland or Canada or some other state that is perceived to be 'tolerant and open'.

More sinisterly, in the immediate aftermath a media narrative has been allowed to flourish that a wave of race hatred has been unleashed by the vote. I don't buy it. Of course, you will get some racist idiots in any situation, and the videos of them I have seen tend to show drunk young men on public transport mouthing off. Does it make a difference to the statistics when newspapers such as The Guardian exhort their readers to send in their clips of racist/xenophobic attitudes and an app has been developed to capture such taunts? Would it make any difference if I said I had a friend who had openly talked on Facebook about travelling in a group to meet the returning England football fans from the ferry and provoke them into doing or saying something nasty for the benefit of the cameras. The temptation to be agent provocateur seems too tempting to some people.

To get an idea of the size of the gulf that's opened up it is instructive to watch these two short videos, one after the other. In the first one, Leave voters - who are more or less characterised as universally racist and/or stupid by Remainers - explain their reasons for doing so. The second video shows a woman in London explaining her fears following the referendum.

Video 1: Why we Voted Leave: Voices from Northern England

Video 2: Woman breaks down following Brexit vote

I'm not exactly a huge admirer of ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson - who spearheaded the Leave campaign (seemingly without much of a plan of what to do if victory ensued) and then quit when he won - but I'll finish off this short post by quoting what he wrote yesterday about the kind of feeling this referendum has unleashed in young people. Of course, Johnson is a buffoon and a joker and he revels in being offensive, but then jokers can say what they want and get away with it, so perhaps they deserve to be listened to sometimes.

"On Friday I heard a new dawn chorus outside my house. There was a rustling and twittering, as though of starlings assembling on a branch. Then I heard a collective clearing of the throat, and they started yodelling my name – followed by various expletives. “Oi Boris – c---!” they shouted. Or “Boris – w-----!” I looked out to see some otherwise charming-looking young people, the sort who might fast to raise money for a Third World leprosy project.

They had the air of idealists – Corbynistas; Lefties; people who might go on a march to stop a war. And so when they started on their protest song, I found myself a bit taken aback. “EU – we love YOU! EU – we love YOU!” they began to croon. Curious, I thought. What exactly is it about the EU that attracts the fervent admiration of north London radicals? It was the first time I had ever heard of trendy socialists demonstrating in favour of an unelected supranational bureaucracy.

In the old days, the Lefties used to dismiss the EU as a bankers’ ramp. Tony Benn thought it was unacceptably anti-democratic. Jeremy Corbyn used to vote against it in every division. Why has it suddenly become so fashionable among our nose-ringed friends? I tried to think which of the EU’s signature policies they were so keen on. Surely not the agricultural subsidies that make up most of the budget, and that have done so much to retard development in the Third World. They can’t – for heaven’s sake – support the peak tariffs that discriminate against value added goods from Sub-Saharan Africa. Nor can they possibly enjoy the sheer opacity of the system – the fact that there are 10,000 officials who are paid more than the Prime Minister, and whose names and functions we don’t know.

They can’t really be defending the waste, the fraud – or the endless expensive caravan of crémant-swilling members of the European Parliament between Brussels and Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Are they really demonstrating in favour of the torrent of red tape that has done so much to hold back growth in the EU? It seems an odd sort of campaign theme: what do we want? More Brussels law-making! When do we want it? Now!

Naturally, Lefties might want laws to protect the workforce – but they would surely want those laws to be made by politicians that the people could remove at elections. No: the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. It was incredible that these young and idealistic people should be making a rumpus about the euro – the key policy of the modern EU – when that project has so gravely intensified suffering in many southern EU countries, and deprived a generation of young people of employment.

Perhaps, I mused, it was a general feeling that the EU was about openness, tolerance and diversity. But they must surely know that the EU’s rules on free movement mean a highly discriminatory regime, one that makes it much more difficult for people from outside the EU to get into Britain – even though we need their skills.

So what was it about? People’s emotions matter, even when they do not seem to be wholly rational. The feelings being manifested outside my house are shared by the large numbers of people – 30,000, they say – who at the weekend came together in Trafalgar Square to hear pro-EU speeches by Sir Bob Geldof. There is, among a section of the population, a kind of hysteria, a contagious mourning of the kind that I remember in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales. It is not about the EU, of course; or not solely. A great many of these protesters – like dear old Geldof – are in a state of some confusion about the EU and what it does.

It is not, as he says, a “free trade area”; if only it were. It is a vast and convoluted exercise in trying to create a federal union – a new political construction based in Brussels. But, as I say, I don’t believe that it is psychologically credible to imagine young people chanting hysterically in favour of Brussels bureaucrats. The whole protest is not about the EU project, per se; it is about them – their own fears and anxieties that are now being projected on to Brexit.

These fears are wildly overdone. The reality is that the stock market has not plunged, as some said it would – far from it. The FTSE is higher than when the vote took place. There has been no emergency budget, and nor will there be. But the crowds of young people are experiencing the last psychological tremors of Project Fear – perhaps the most thoroughgoing government attempt to manipulate public opinion since the run-up to the Iraq War.

When Geldof tells them that the older generation has “stolen your future” by voting to Leave the EU, I am afraid there are too many who still believe it. It is time for this nonsense to end. It was wrong of the Government to offer the public a binary choice on the EU without being willing – in the event that people voted Leave – to explain how this can be made to work in the interests of the UK and Europe. We cannot wait until mid-September, and a new PM."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Leaving the EU is the Ethical Choice for People and Planet

As we near what is probably the most important vote any of us will ever cast in our lives the rhetoric on both sides of the debate over whether the UK should remain a part of the EU has been cranked up to 11. A debate that should have been about so much more has become a schism between two rival branches of the Conservative Party. Each side goes on television daily to spit out venomous insults and apocalyptic warnings while their backers in the media cheer and jeer these poor blabbering idiots. Go online and it's even worse, with keyboard warriors screaming insults at one another with all the decorum of two rival troupes of caged chimpanzees fighting over a bucket of EU mandated straight bananas.

Welcome to debating in 2016! 

Any sane person, who has so far managed to avoid being dragged into the melee, might decide to quietly make up their own mind and keep their decision as a secret to be shared only with the ballot paper and the pencil. While this might be a sound tactic from a personal point of view it doesn’t do anything to add to the quality of the debate that we are supposedly having. One of the major irritations of all this is its intense focus on factoids and irrelevant details. People might not have an opinion on – say – the way in which unelected technocrats were installed as leaders in Greece and Italy, but they sure as hell have an opinion on the comparatively paltry amount the UK gives to the EU every month and what it gets back in return.

This relentless focus on the little stuff doesn’t say much about our own leaders’ opinion of our intelligence levels. Perhaps it might be wiser to pause and think about the wider principles involved in this important matter of national sovereignty. How, for instance, does the larger system of the EU function? 

To get a little peace and quiet in which to think we’ll need to lock away the blabbermouths for a few minutes. Imagine, if you will, a large Monty Pythonesque hand descending from the sky and picking up all the noisy rabble and dropping them unceremoniously in a large sound-proofed box. There goes David Cameron, picked up by his necktie and dropped in the box. Boris Johnson is next, winched unceremoniously by his big toe and similarly chucked in, as is Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and all the other noisy politicians. But the hand doesn’t stop there. It scoops up great crowds of people angrily shouting “racist!”, “idiot!”, “liberal Islington elitist media whore!” and all sorts of other rude insults. Into the box they all go, squashed down together so the lid can be shut. We don’t know how they’ll all get on inside that box but at least it’ll quiet for a few moments on the outside.

Phew! The sound of silence.

Right, now let’s think about the EU. What is it? Well, it’s a collection of countries in a shared geographical area that have all agreed to be governed under a similar set of rules in order that it will be of benefit to them all. The objective in this case is increased political stability, steady economic growth and a shared European identity. Fair enough, right? Does this mean it’s all good, as many claim? No – of course not! By definition there will be good aspects and bad aspects in any system of governance of this size, although me mustn’t forget that the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are entirely subjective.

["Hmm. Well, I avoided being put in that box, but if he thinks he can change my mind he's very much mistaken. I hope this isn't going to take long.]

What's that? I can hear some of you talking at the back. I'll take questions afterwards in the comment box below.

Okay, in the interests of disclosure you might have noticed from the headline - Why Leaving the EU is the Ethical Choice for People and Planet – that I am have an opinion on the matter. Good! I don’t claim to be neutral – anyone who does is smoking their shorts. On an important matter like this we must all individually construct our own model of realities, examine our own prejudices and reach a conclusion that is acceptable to ourselves and others. If you disagree with me that’s good too! To agree with every aspect of everything you read on the internet is not a good indicator of mental fortitude. I know a lot of people are sceptical but don’t worry – I’ll respect your opinion just so long as you respect mine.

Right where were we? Oh yes, the wonders of Europe.

So far so good – who could possibly object to a vision of a united Europe? Not I, for one. It’s impossible not to love Europe. Far more than just a medium-sized geographical peninsula tacked onto the western edge of the Eurasian landmass, the countries of Europe have it all. Here are some of the things that make Europe great: food, art, history, culture, geography, sport, philosophy, music, architecture, amazing food, language, the people, poetry, literature, delicious regional food, snow covered mountains and fascinating cities (did I mention the food?). You can drive, as I did once, from the frozen blue of the Baltic and keep on going south until you hit beaches lined with palm trees where the air is filled with the scent of orange blossom and the sound of cicadas. I fell in love with Europe whilst Interrailing when I was 17 years old. It all seemed impossibly romantic compared to life back in grey old Blighty, and in subsequent years I have found myself living in three different countries in mainland Europe, and running small independent national newspapers in two of them. I speak three European languages tolerably well, am married to a Dane, have relatives in Italy and think that Scandinavian noire beats all the other noirs hands down. It’s probably fair to say that nobody could accuse me of being anti-European.


(I can sense some of you tightening your sceptical fingers on the trigger.)

[“Here it comes – he’s about to reveal himself as a closet xenophobe!” ]

But the EU is not Europe.

[“Hold your fire. Just let him finish.”]

At one point in time the EU – or the EEC as it was called back in the day – might have aligned with whatever values of Europe it was supposed to reflect. Those days are long gone. Instead we have a bloated imperial project that has run out of steam and is feeding off its own internal organs to stave off collapse. To understand why we’ll need to turn to the dismal science of economics. I can hear some of you groaning but I promise you it won’t be too painful.

[“What does he know about economics? He’s just as full of it as all the rest!”]

I studied economics at university in London. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but at least it taught me a thing or two about how the modern capitalist world functions. I was sent to work at the H.M. Treasury on my student placement year (yes that Treasury), where I worked in the economic forecasting department. Norman Lamont was the chancellor at the time and I left there the Friday before Black Wednesday. It was during this time that I got my first lesson about the EU. My undergraduate dissertation was entitled The Prospects of Achieving Full Monetary Union in the EU (it was a real page turner). I got loads of books out from the library at the Treasury and read them in an attempt to understand the issues. But the more I read the less I understood. Eventually, flummoxed, I decided to go with common sense. It would be impossible, I decided, to get all those vastly different countries to dance to the same economic tune. How could economic diktats dreamed up in Brussels be relevant to both a fisherman in Greece and a desk jockey sitting in, say, Edinburgh? Surely you could not have one country that produces a sizeable chunk of the world’s car fleet (Germany) on an equal footing with one that produces mostly olive oil and oranges (Spain, at the time).

My tutor, when I showed him, shook his head slowly. “You will have to change your conclusions,” he told me. “I cannot possibly pass you unless you argue that full integration is not just possible, but inevitable.”

And so I went away, confused, and simply copied sections from books, even though I didn’t believe in what I was writing. My paper sailed through the marking process and was even awarded honours. I had had my first lesson in how EU integration is to be considered: inevitable.

Since that time, which was 1992, I’ve followed the workings of the EU with a half-interested eye. I was pleased when the Euro currency was introduced, simply because it made it easier to travel and because I liked the look of the notes and coins. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

But what might on the surface have seemed like a good idea in 2002 is now quite obviously a bad idea. Everything changed after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Up until that point, vast sums of money had been loaned to the countries of southern Europe in an effort to modernise them, thus standardising their infrastructure with northern Europe. I was living in Spain at the time and saw the relentless building programmes going on. To dare question whether it was all necessary (blasting away entire mountains to build a new motorway to nowhere? Pouring money into concrete business parks and airports that nobody needed? ) or how this money would ever be paid back was to invite ridicule. Across Greece, Portugal, Italy and France the same thing was happening: a tidal wave of credit, supplied by mainly northern European banks, covered the landscape with tarmac and concrete.  Every two bit olive and orange farmer was suddenly driving a new BMW and cities sprouted museums of modern art and Michelin restaurants like mushrooms coming up after rain You can’t stop the tide of progress, people said, it’s inevitable.

But then the financial crisis happened and everything changed overnight. When the mood switched from greed to fear, investors bailed out of the now obviously bankrupt countries they called the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), causing the yield on those countries’ government bonds (the interest rate on the IOU’s they sell to finance themselves) to skyrocket. Yield increases with risk, and all of a sudden it had become too risky to loan money to the PIIGS. Several years of crisis ensued, and the European Central Bank (ECB) was forced to step in and bail out the disaster zones with – yes – more loans. But they were not bailing out the actual countries, instead they were effectively bailing out the banks that had underwritten the bad loans in the first place.

But then it got even worse. Instead of making the banks take a hit for their own stupidity, austerity policies were imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the ECB on the countries affected. Pensions and benefits were slashed, investments shelved, national assets put up for sale on eBay and democratically elected governments were removed and replaced with ‘caretaker’ administrations. Greece was hit worst of all, suffering a fall in the value of its national economy of over 30%. Many people found themselves homeless and even starving, and the suicide rate went through the roof. Youth unemployment went up over 50% - unthinkable in modern times. Whenever dissent flared up the riot police crushed it and a succession of weak governments all caved in to the demands of the so-called Troika of the IMF, the ECB and the EU.

The message was clear: don’t mess with the EU.

And the problem hasn’t gone away, even if the media doesn’t report on it much any more. Debt all across the EU is growing, and the ability of anyone to pay it back is diminishing. But why don’t the ECB just force the banks to write off their debts and be done with it? The answer to that is simple: because it will force them into insolvency. If major banks start going bust in Europe then people – lots of people – will lose their life savings, there will be an epic recession and chaos will hit the European heartland. This is not a particularly popular idea for national policymakers and yet it underlines just how fragile the entire edifice has become. And so the countries of southern Europe are left to rot in what is possibly the biggest economic crime of the century.

Greece could have been set free. If it were allowed to leave the euro it could bring back the drachma at a much lower rate of exchange. Greek imports would surge (including tourism) and the economy would be on the road to being rebalanced. But this, under the EU, is not allowed to happen. The EU cannot let Greece leave the euro because if you let Greece do it then you also open the door to Spain, Italy, France and Portugal doing the same thing. The euro currency would not survive such a mass defection, and so Greece is held bent over in a neck lock, unable to move or breathe, while its assets are plundered (if you’ll forgive the expression).

Ah, but people might say, this is all a temporary phenomenon. When growth picks up again all the boats in the harbour will rise with it. The Greeks will get down off their window ledges, move back in from the countryside where they have been scratching a living on that dusty bit of land belonging to their ‘backward’ grandparents, and collectively crack open a bottle of Ouzo to toast the end of the nightmare. The good times will roll again.

Except this isn’t possible.

Mathematicians and bankers know all about compound interest and the exponential function. Put basically, the amount of debt that countries across the developed world have now built up is unpayable Yes, even with Chinese style double digit GDP growth, there would be no way to pay back all the public, private and company debt that has built up.  And in case you hadn’t noticed there is not actually any economic growth at all in the Eurozone.

[“He’s fibbing. I read in the FT that Spain and Greece are picking up.”]

Okay, okay, so there might be a tiddly little bit, but most of it is massaged into existence (remember, I worked in the economic forecasting department of the Treasury, right?). If anyone truly believed there is economic growth in the Eurozone I would ask them to tell me what the current rate of interest is.  I’ll give you a clue: it starts with Z and rhymes with Nero.

Interest rates are the lifeblood of capitalist economies. Without a positive interest rate there is no growth. And some economies (such as Denmark) are actually offering NEGATIVE interest rates. That means you can go and take out a loan for, say, a house, and the bank will actually PAY YOU more money than you borrowed. Does that sound somewhat insane or is it just me?

Anyway, without economic growth you can’t pay back debt. Debt is a gamble on future productivity. You have to have confidence that your future income will allow your debt to be repaid. This is why my Spanish neighbours, who earned no more than a couple of thousand euros a year selling olives, no longer own those shiny new BMWs. But if you’re a country and you find you can’t pay back debt … you have to take on more debt until the mystical growth genie appears again. But what happens if the growth genie refuses to appear, no matter how hard you rub the lamp?

That is exactly what is occurring right now everywhere you care to look because (DRUMROLL) our economies are overburdened with debt and the world is running out of fossil fuels. And in terms of energy availability, there is no substitute for fossil fuels – at least not anything that would leave our overdeveloped countries in any shape or form that we would recognise as ‘modern’. I know this goes contrary to everything you’ve read and seen on Facebook, but really, it’s true.

[“You see, I told you he was crazy!”]

There is no modern economy in the world that does not rely on a steady supply of cheap fossilised sunlight in the form of oil, coal and gas to power itself.  It powers everything from electricity generation and transport, to growing food and making iPhones. Now, this is a big subject that I’ve been writing about for years and – frankly – I could go on and on about it but I’ll save the arguments for another day and merely say that when the price of oil is too high it causes recessions, and when it’s too low it causes oil companies to go out of business. The fabled ‘Goldilocks zone’ in between these two extremes equates with the time period in which we built up all of the energy-guzzling infrastructure so central to the functioning of the modern world in its current configuration. It’s theoretically possible to build millions of wind turbines and solar panels (using fossil fuels) but nobody seems interested in doing so in the timeframe that matters.

[“I don’t believe him. I saw in Good News magazine that Denmark makes 140% of its own electricity using wind. He must have an ulterior motive that he’s not revealing.”]

Sorry, no ulterior motives, just a long hard reading of a lot of material and a dose of intuition.

Thus the EU has got itself into a terrible bind, not unlike a Mexican standoff. It can’t grow its way out of trouble and neither can it allow the weaker elements to break away – it must continue to preserve the power at the centre at all costs because the power at the centre (in this case the German economy) is the growth engine that is keeping the whole thing ticking over.

So, to summarize so far, taking things from the top:

-       A dwindling of the availability of highly concentrated energy, coupled with an overburden of compounding debt, has put the brake on EU economic expansion
-       The weaker countries, which are more heavily mired in unpayable debt, are being systematically asset stripped and their citizens economically brutalised by bodies such as the ECB, the EU and the IMF (there’s a term for this – it’s called ‘disaster capitalism’)
-       The system is stuck in a closed loop, waiting for growth that never comes
-       The longer it is stuck in the loop, the greater the suffering of the people whose lives have been put on hold

How does the EU propose to break out of this closed loop? Well, ex-Goldman Sachs banker Mario Draghi, who is head of the ECB, has vowed to do “Whatever it takes” to get out of it. To that end he has used the ECB’s money (which is really the banks’ money, which really only exists on spreadsheets and gets endlessly recycled round and round) to buy national and company bonds and bail out distressed funds. He has embarked on an asset purchase programme, spending €1.1 trillion in quantitative easing measures. Let me put that in English: Mario Draghi is spending €1.1 trillion of money that he doesn’t have in order to prop up the banks which loaned money to vulnerable countries in a way that makes payday lender Wonga look like a paragon of fiscal prudence. And so the ECB, under the aegis of the supposedly accountable EU, has control over the entire money supply.

Oh, and if anything goes wrong, we’ll all be on the hook for that €1.1 trillion. But nothing could possibly go wrong …

At this point I’d like to introduce two quotes that quite possible speak for themselves:

"Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes its laws." — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild


“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” — Herbert Stein (“Herbert Stein’s Law”)

It is perhaps worth mentioning that there are 30,000 lobbyists based in Brussels. It is these people’s (usually highly paid) jobs to spend day and night courting EU law/rule makers, treating them to champagne breakfasts and showering them with expensively produced reports that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the interests of the European people align 100% with an increased quarterly profit result for their corporation.

[“Okay, now he’s starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I’m off to read The Guardian, or some other place where I can get my daily fill of confirmation bias!”]

Do you want the laws of your country to be decided by corporations rather than people elected to represent you? What’s that at the back? You don’t care because that’s the way the world works in the 21st century so we may as well accept it? That our own politicians are just as corrupt so we may as well go with the ones who are culturally dissimilar to our own crooks?

Well, if that’s your attitude then we may as well all go home now.

But assuming you do care it’s not hard to recognise the pressure that’s on Eurocrats to cave into the demands of the lobbyists. The EU, after all, is the largest block of first world consumers on the planet, and there’s plenty of money to be made from us. The EU and the US are currently trying to get through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a grand-sounding name for a corporate wheeze. Information on what it actually contains is hard to get as it has been negotiated in secret and even Euro MPs are forbidden from memorising it and telling anyone what it might contain. If this isn’t the biggest corporate stitch up in the history of the human race then I don’t know what is.

Okay, so far I have painted the EU as an undemocratic supra-national body whose initial early promise has evolved into a Frankenstein’s monster that crushes weak countries under its heel and acts as a conduit for corporate power. Let’s turn to immigration.

[“Ha – this is the bit where he reveals his true colours!”]

Immigration and open borders are good, right? People moving round in search of a better place to live where they can earn more money?

Umm, it’s not that simple. Who knows,  maybe one day we will all truly be of one nation, one language, one religion etc. – but right now there are differences between one set of people from one country and another set from somewhere else. Generally speaking, people who have lived on a particular patch of planet Earth for hundreds or thousands of years have tended to develop their own language, cultural norms, dress code and all the rest of it. For right or wrong they tend to think of this patch of land as ‘theirs’ and they’re proud of it. When someone turns up from some noticeably different culture they generally welcome him and make him feel at home. It’s human nature to do so. Even when he goes away and comes back with his entire family, a bunch of friends and half the class he once went to school with, they still tend to get along with him and relations are good. Problems only start when the host community, who regard the area as ‘theirs’ feel they are reaching the limit of their (scarce) resources and that the settler had better not keep on inviting his friends’ friends’ friends because there will not be enough to go round. This is when problems start.

[“But, but, scarcity is a myth! If the Tories hadn’t slashed budgets across the land then we’d be able to build millions of new houses and hospitals and schools and we could go on building and building and building until everyone was happy!”]

Hmm, maybe up to a point. But how will we know when to stop? What about all the infrastructure that will need to be built? Who will pay for it? We already produce only enough food for a small minority of the population – anyway, you’re distracting me.

The problems tend to be worse if the cultures of the two different groups are quite different from one another. If the host community is a poor one – and it probably will be because the richer communities are less inclined to allow outsiders to settle there (unless they are Saudi billionaires or Russian oligarchs, in which case they are welcomed with open arms)  – their resources are likely to be scarcer. In the modern industrial societies of the west, basic resources include things like jobs, hospitals, affordable housing, schools and other public goods. The settler communities compete for these scarce public resources, making some of the hosts resentful. The wealthier people in the chattering classes, who generally don’t live in the poorer areas or have to compete for resources, then tut tut and call the poor people nasty things. Yet it is they who benefit from all the positive aspects the settler people bring (nice food, cheaper labour to do the jobs they don’t want to do themselves), without suffering any of the consequences of having to compete for scarce resources.

On the other hand, the businessfolk and politicians simply can’t get enough settlers. Not only do they work for peanuts on zero hours contracts but they effectively stop anyone else from getting a pay rise. It’s a wet dream of businessmen to achieve the holy grail of infinite labour substitutability. This means they can hire and fire people at a moment’s notice, pay them next to nothing (the government picks up the tab for the low wages in the form of tax credits) and generally treat them as if they were robots while they wait for the actual robots to come along. Likewise, the government loves settlers because they boost the country’s GDP as they open bank accounts, indebt themselves and buy consumer products. Lastly, the middle classes love settlers (as long as they don’t move in next door) as they create an additional pressure on the scarce resource of housing, boosting property prices and rental income and thus allowing them to earn money without working for it.

This might explain why it’s those at the bottom of the pile, forced to compete for the basics, who tend to have the biggest beef about squeezing ever more people in. That’s not a theory, it’s a reflection of reality that the insulated middle classes refuse to acknowledge – any ‘man on the street’ will be able to explain it in similar terms.

[“There, I told you he was a fucking racist! I’m out of here.”]

So giving everyone the right to be anywhere in the trading bloc we call the EU might sound like a fine and dandy idea, but during times of economic contraction it is the poorest who suffer the most: both the uprooted, who have to leave their families and homes behind, and the host peoples from the more disadvantaged classes who have to accommodate the settlers and share their scarce resources.

Lastly, I’d suggest that the very notion of the EU is insane. Here’s a confession: in the last election I voted for the Green Party.

[“Oh yegads! A bona fide nutcase! I told you so … “]

No, I’m not a shallow Green like the leader of the Green Party who is allied with David Cameron on Europe and was last week seen on TV with him driving around in a car talking about growth. Being a proper Green means that I’m neither left wing nor right wing. I care for the ‘magical’ hidden hand of market capitalism just as little as I care for the writings of Karl Marx. To me both are indicative of a 19th century attitude towards the way we treat our planet that is equally suicidal. In case you hadn’t read the news lately you might have missed several important pieces of information that are several orders of magnitude more important than both the EU referendum and the new Top Gear series PUT TOGETHER! I speak, of course, about the rapid acceleration of global warming, the massive forest fires rampaging across the globe, the great dieoff of the coral reefs and the diminution of Arctic ice so early in the year.

Let’s face it, unchecked industrialism has brought us to a point where we might not last out the century. Whatever else the EU claims to be one thing we know for sure is that it is committed to infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Think about it for a minute. All of the many problems that now confront us, the three main ones being access to energy, environmental degradation and population overshoot, are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Most of us would rather stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes than admit that we’ve screwed up and that there will be (are) consequences. We’ve got boatloads of refugees arriving on our doorstep fleeing drought and war – the consequences of global weirding and oil wars – and yet we pretend that we don’t have any responsibility to them. Quite the opposite, in fact. People, more and more,

Just. Want. Someone. To. Sort. It. All. Out.

We want scientists to come up ever more outlandish (and costly) ways of staving off collapse, be it genetically modified foods, ill-thought-out geoengineering projects to further mess with the climate or – as a last resort – a space rocket to get us to some other planet we haven’t yet wrecked.

This trend towards putting our faith in the hands of ever-greater powers doesn’t say much for the state of the human spirit I’m afraid to say. It seems to me an abnegation of our responsibilities to insist that someone else deals with our problems, but that’s exactly the attitude I see with supporters of the EU project. They may well talk about this or that EU project saving a wetland or rescuing a dormouse, but they don’t talk about the wholesale pillaging of the planet that the EU promotes and amplifies. I don’t believe that the solutions to our many problems will come from some Wizard of Oz type character sitting in Brussels and pulling levers. There won’t be a one-size-fits all solution to our continued shared existence, so why choose to disempower ourselves more than we already have? By getting ourselves out of it we’ll be restoring the balance of power some way in our own favour.

So next week we have the chance to throw a spanner in the works of the inevitable onward march of the EU machine. Both options will be painful and there will be plenty of hurt, but that is the corner into which we have painted ourselves. There will be unintended consequences - that is the nature of things. Here are two possible scenarios out of millions – it’s up to us to choose which one we want to bring into reality.

Remain Wins

The EU gets a vote of confidence from the UK and – emboldened – proceeds with plans for a federal one-nation Europe with much more robust and invasive policy making powers. Some kind of ‘trade’ deal is reached with the US which allows corporations to sue public bodies for lost profits, but otherwise life remains pretty much as normal in Britain – except for some noisy street protests and the huge boost for UKIP. All the while the debt continues to build up and ever more stringent austerity measures are imposed on member states. In Europe a bank or two collapses, causing others to soon follow suit. Widespread banking failures throughout the financial system ensue and the unpopular ‘bail in’ measures are enacted which see savings confiscated to prop up the remaining banks. Over the next couple of years depression-era scenes and radical violence become commonplace in once wealthy countries. Various extremist parties are voted into power on a wave of frustrated anger and the assassinations of bankers and politicians fill the newspapers. Eventually the EU collapses under the weight of its own internal discord and is dismantled with extreme prejudice by nation states. Years of dysfunction ensue but from the embers of chaos begins a new project to build a truly united Europe based on mutual respect for one another, ecological limits and social democracy, as opposed to the free market capitalism, corporatism and exploitation of the old project.

Leave Wins

The media are all aflutter with predictions of apocalypse, but most people are too busy having street parties to notice – as are many across the whole of southern Europe. The pound gets a sharp correction lower, and the price of gold skyrockets. The EU reacts furiously towards Britain but is powerless to retaliate for fear of damaging the German and French economies. Britain’s admittedly unpopular new prime minister sends trade delegations to the four corners of the world to strike trade deals with countries including Russia and China, much to America’s ire. Economic chaos reigns for a few months but people are at least happy they don’t have it as bad as they do on mainland Europe where Brexit has caused the equity markets and banking system to crash. Several other nations immediately hold their own referendums (Denmark, Holland, France and Poland) and the buzzword on everyone’s lips is ‘contagion’. The new UK government misinterprets its popularity and tries to force through some unpopular policies – including fracking in national parks – but the newly-emboldened Britons won’t stand for it, forcing a general election and electing a party on a platform of national unity. Despite a lot of bluster and bad will the EU is dismantled more or less peacefully as countries are once more allowed to follow their own monetary policy and set their own rules for trade. Nevertheless a few years of chaos and recession follow as a new system configures itself. From these shaky beginnings is begun a new project to build a truly united Europe based on mutual respect for one another, ecological limits and social democracy, as opposed to free market capitalism, corporatism and exploitation.


Okay, after that short diversion in the national debate we can now return to arguing about how much money the EU costs Britain and whether they will force us to eat straight bananas.

Open the box and let them out again.