The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Britain’s Bare Produce Shelves

The Daily Mail had an article on this, and it’s worth reading.

A dig down in this reveals two main factors (the Daily Mail was pro-Brexit and discounts that factor).

First, increases in energy prices.

Tony Montalbano, a director of Green Acre Salads in Roydon, Essex, typically produces a million kilograms of baby cucumbers a year, but his glasshouses were empty last month.

He delayed growing his crops to avoid rocketing winter fuel bills of up to ÂŁ500,000 a month. He expects his production to be cut by up to half this year.

‘It’s sad and frustrating but I can’t afford to grow,’ he said. ‘I must make a profit. If I don’t, there’s no point in me going on. Lots of growers are closing their doors and selling up.’

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, added: ‘Up and down the country, we’ve got empty glasshouses. People who would grow two or three crops of cucumbers a year may cut that to just one, because they want to avoid using more expensive energy.’

Eggs are also being rationed as farmers cannot afford the costs of keeping laying hens warm in energy-guzzling sheds.

Second, crop failures due to poor weather (aka. climate change) in Spain and Morocco have had a big effect, as Britain imports a lot from them.

Now, the thing about energy prices is that they have been raised far more than fuel prices have. The UK system has producers of energy, suppliers (the people who run electricity lines and ship fuel to retail customers) and the retail customers of energy.

Let’s take oil:

Unveiling its latest results, Shell said the price of the barrels of oil it sells rose from $62.53 a year ago to $101.42. Gas prices rose from $4.31 to $13.85 per thousand standard cubic feet over the same period.

So, their costs increased about 62%, and they about tripled the prices they charge.

In electricity, there is a price cap. The companies are not allowed to earn more than thirty-five pounds more than they sell the electricity to households. That cap, however, only applies to households, it doesn’t apply to business. So on the business side, they’ve been massively raising prices.

Thus the empty green (glass) houses, which grow far more than just cucumbers. Likewise vertical farms have been hit hard. If you want produce during the non-harvest season you have to buy from other countries or you have to grow in controlled environments. Add in climate fluctuations from climate change and high energy prices making it impossible to make a profit growing produce and you have shortages.

Price increases from Russia, in other words, are only an excuse to raise prices, not the reason for most of the price increase.

The solutions have been discussed even by the mainstream press: either re-nationalize the energy sector or put in a windfall profit tax so they don’t get to keep excess profits. And it’s worth noting that many energy companies did go under due to increased costs when they were regulated to be unable to pass them on. Some companies made way more than their increased costs, while others went under.

In the post-war liberal era private utilities were highly regulated, but a cornerstone of proper regulation was that they would always make a decent profit: enough for proper maintenance, which had to be done (remember all the fires in California because the privately owned utility won’t maintain power lines and poles), and to expand capacity as necessary. Utility stocks were “widow and orphan stocks” because they would make the same every year. Genuine price increases were passed on, but profits could not either rise or fall.

So, if you want to keep them private the best way isn’t so much a windfall tax, which is a response to a crisis, but proper regulation. Or you can just make them public again.

Energy prices in France have risen far less than in Britain for the simple reason that France owns its own generators and grid.

The other obvious factor is that if you have a cap on households for political reasons (they vote) you need a cap on the costs to farmers and to industry. But if you’re going to put all these caps in place, it’s better to just move to proper regulation, and a flat cap makes little sense, it should always be in percentage terms. When prices went up 60%, someone has to pay that. That either means end-users, or it means the government subsidizes. Those subsidies could be broad, if the increase is expected to not last long, or they could be targeted at specific industries and people with low income.

While generally means targeted subsidies are a bad idea, there are specific cases where they make sense, and this is one of them.

Anyway, Britain doesn’t have bare produce shelves “because of Russia” it has bare produce shelves because energy companies gouged the customers they could gouge using Russia as an excuse and because the government refused to step in and ensure prices which allow the “free” market to work properly, because there is no free market and never has been, and it always requires intervention to keep it working.

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The Basis Of All Law


Open Thread


  1. Feral Finster

    European shelves will be stripped bare, Europeans will starve and freeze before European leaders dare stand up to their American master.

    In Britain. questioning Muh Special Relationship is a faux pas akin to interrupting a High Papal Mass and loudly demanding that the person who just farted please stand up and identify himself. It doesn’t matter that a little old lady thought she heard the sounding of the trumpet of an angel, an altar boy just passed out flat to the floor and a cardinal puked into his miter from the unholy all-conquering stink.

    You Just Don’t Do That. And Europeans are all about The Done Thing. It’s why they are so meek and easily managed.

  2. Ché Pasa

    Britain has done this and much more mischief to itself. My sympathy is not entirely boundless given Britain’s long history of emptying the shelves of other peoples elsewhere. It might help for Britain to let go of more of the legacy of imperial overreach and pillage. Let go of an educational system that reinforces classism and exploitation, arrogance and theft in other words. Let go of the pretense that Britain is or should be the example to follow. Let go of the notion that Britain need not be tied to the rest of Europe but can go it alone, forlorn on the periphery, led by cretins, forever consigned to impoverishment and empty shelves.

    There is another way, yes. May be too late now to reverse course — so many crises at once, don’t you know.

    But even so, there is another way. Will the Brits choose it?

  3. Eric Anderson

    But politicians bowing and scraping to their donors are left with only one tool: Boogie-Man Nationalism.

    Capitalism is not synonymous with Fascism. But it rhymes.

  4. anon y'mouse

    UK has at least twice as much population as they can support with food they grow themselves, if not worse.

    UK could be using relatively lower tech geothermal battery greenhouses instead of fossil fuel, and also not inculcating the idea that humans who live above the 50th latitude should be able to eat tomatoes and cucumbers in February. basically, leafy greens grow throughout winter.

    promoting a “mediterranean” lifestyle in a non mediterranean climate, and promoting too much population to live in a place that doesn’t grow enough food to feed everyone seems much more responsible than Brexit, at least when it comes to foodstuffs. heating greenhouses to grow food in winter rather than letting the plants (mostly) take care of themselves while heating the people so they can live through winter is another one of those diminishing returns boondoggles that humans seem to love falling into because “technology”, always forgetting that energy and materials are needed to make technology possible.

  5. Willy

    That’s why I support public options. When big pharma monopolizes insulin to where they can price gouge so obscenely that Newsom threatens a public option, Eli Lilly cuts prices. Amazing how that works.

    As for Russia, the travel, culture and lifestyle influencers I see Youtubeing from there sure seem able to live with much less than their western counterparts do. Maybe NATO should’ve factored that into their sanction plans.

  6. different clue

    If there are any British with a sense of humor, this might be a fine time for them to make thousands or millions of little signs to put on or in every empty shelf. The signs would say things like . . . ” UKIP Memorial empty shelf” . . . ” Nigel Farage Memorial empty shelf” . . . etc.

    If/when entire stores go empty or close down for lack of anything to sell, people could put up plaques and markers saying things like ” Nigel Farage Memorial empty store” . . . ” Nigel Farage Monument” . . . etc.

  7. different clue

    @Feral Finster,

    The NATO countries of EUrope ( and Britain too) can dissolve NATO anytime they want to.

    They just don’t want to.

    EUrope could create its own North East Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NEATO) anytime they want to. Wouldn’t that be neat? Hey, NEATO!

    Any time they want to. They just don’t want to.

    Millions of Americans would like them to. Millions of Americans would like to bring Europe”s captive American soldiers back home.

  8. Purple Library Guy

    @Feral Finster Wait, wait. Europeans are meek and easily managed? Compared to who? If we in North America rioted and demonstrated as hard as the French, things would be a lot better here.

  9. Joe

    The U.K has a considerable amount of internal cultural strife. Brexit has exposed the cavern between the classes. Age based perspective has played heavily into the matter also exposed by Brexit. In my observation the usual bread and circus escape tools are heavily applied to keep the whole pot from boiling. Recent strikes are threatening the whole carefully balanced structure.

  10. different clue

    @ anon y’mouse,

    I don’t know whether I am supposed to find this depressing or inspiring. Since I don’t know, I will choose to find it at least provisionally inspiring unless and until someone gives me reason to think it should be depressing.

    It does make me wonder if a cheaper greenhouse could be made for even less money and still keep just warm enough that citrus would stay alive through the winter. But since I am not a builder, not even amateur, I don’t know how it would be done. I can imagine things like footings and foundation reaching a couple of feet deeper than the deepest possible frost line, face it South, have the transparent greenhouse roof angled for best sun intake in Winter, have the North wall be several feet thick thermal mass to contain and uptake even more of the sun-generated heat, paint it black and find a way to reflect some of the intaken sunlight onto it, etc.

    But those are just thoughts.

    There was a nun on Martha’s Vineyard ( I would just have to suppose the least expensive and least fashionable part) who designed a live-in greenhouse-homehouse and lived in it. I gather others have taken up the work and carried it forward. Here is a website.

    I can imagine ten million or a hundred million personal or family Separate Survival greenhouses/ greenhomes that could end up preventing the emission of more carbon than their initial building would cause. If they were built to last and work for decades.

    But trying to make millions of acres of commercial-industrial greenhouses for citrus all over Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, etc. would just turn the concept back into a gigantic fossil fuel suckin’/ carbon dioxide blowin’ monument to pointless futility.

  11. anon y'mouse

    the citrus is that guy’s demonstration project, and selling his farmer’s market wares. i believe he runs another geothermal greenhouse for his foodstuff production. lots of people aside from this old guy are already attempting to use the concept outside of Nebraska.

    the UK article cited the inability for UK producers to afford heating their already existing greenhouses because of the rise in fuel prices.

    if they had built them like the Nebraska farmer, they wouldn’t need to worry and could keep production of something edible during the winter. although i wouldn’t recommend that be tomatoes and cucumbers. altering what is currently there to do this would require some earthworks, fans and piping although it’s probably much better to do it before you made the building.

    there are tons of “old tech” ways of extending ranges and extending seasons that didn’t require fossil fuels. and they don’t require robots, artificial lighting, blends of manufactured nutrients to bathe the roots of vegetables in, etc. just use dirt and sunlight, as that’s what it’s for.

    the more people can grow near to them, the less perishable produce needs to be rapidly shipped around the globe, and the less water and topsoil destruction can be conducted “from afar”. countries exporting foodstuffs are essentially robbing their environments today to feed people outside of their countries produce those distant people probably shouldn’t be eating except rarely, and usually out of season to boot.

    the more people conduct the “business” of their own lives/living near to them, the less capable of abstracting away the misery and environmental costs they will be. it will still be done, of course just like the wretched homeless are allowed to roam where they will when they aren’t being harassed by cops, while the imported slaves pick all of the produce for California’s Land Barons, but it will be less able to hide these negative exernalities behind computations on a spreadsheet and GDP figures.

    far be it for me to induce mass naval orange production above growing zone 8, but a family might take it on like some people in northern zones grow coffee plants–as a conversation piece. that’s mostly what the old man did.

    as for the landscape “covered” with this nonsense, if it’s between this and the “vertical farms” where all inputs and outputs are produced and regulated by humans manufacturing something and expending energy, i think this wins on simplicity alone. if people can make money building greenhouses, build them they will and HAVE. people will do anything to have food. but if the option is between the two of those, i know which one should be considered to grow food vs which is a boutique curiosity for fancy restaurant arugula.

    the landscape of Europe used to be absolute covered with windmills, waterwheels and oddly enough, eventually the optical telegraph.

    lots of stuff can be done before we turn to pouring propane in the tank and firing it up. my suggestion is to start looking, hence natural human ingenuity can begin to take hold and do their reinvention on these pre-fossil ways.

  12. anon y'mouse

    another point i failed to make about this, because it just naturally follows but i will make explicit here:

    if it can be done for plants, it can be done for homes. will it keep people toasty 78 degrees when it’s -15 outside? probably not but it can keep the pipes from freezing and reduce the need to burn more stuff.

    and it doesn’t necessarily require fancy condenser units or whatever they’re claiming they replaced Freon with.

  13. different clue

    @ anon y’mouse ,

    There is a website which you may already know all about but which others may not, and might find very interesting. It is called Low Tech Magazine. It is about those various old ways and old tech which may become very useful to our present and future situation.

    It has a “sister” magazine ( sister in spirit if not in fact) called No Tech Magazine. It is just called that to grab attention. What it really is is least-needed energy-input tech and fewest complications tech.

    There is also a long standing hardy-perennial website called Journey To Forever.
    It offers lots of best low tech approaches and information and solutions.

    We need a catchy word to make looking to the past for technologies which can be successful in the present. A word that makes it seem hip, cool and groovy. I offer the word . . . ” retrovation”.
    ” Let’s retrovate”.
    “That’s very retrovative”.

  14. mago

    Cucumbers? Cucumbers and tomatoes?
    Green house grown in the Blighty wintertime?
    Makes as much sense as nukes and war.
    Make waste and hasten demise.
    CooperaciĂłn for the welfare of all? Nah. Better to flog the dog.

  15. mutitude of poors

    Thanks for the spotlight on deadly gouging Ian. Further, I love the better greenhouse dialogue between different clue and anon y’mouse, a bright spot, and stepping stone, on one of many bleak days for so many.

    (Another bright spot was the SVB (Silicon Valley Bank) CRASH.)

    gotta run …

  16. Ché Pasa

    Wow. Britain as a rule is much warmer than Nebraska in the wintertime. Thus of course, solar/geothermal would enable plenty of greenhouse growing in old Blighty. They know this. Some do it but I guess it’s relatively few. When natural gas was cheap, as it should be over there, the expense of solar/geothermal heating was probably too much by comparison. Business, don’tchaknow.

    Now? Maybe not.

    As long as they’ve got greenhouses, they should use them. But there is a valid question about the need for them in the first place. Are Mediterranean/tropical crops necessary in Britain? I’d say they are desirable luxuries, but beyond that?

    As for not being able to sustain a population more than half the size of Britain’s current one, the refugees might be able to spread out over Europe where there are supposedly too few people and millions upon millions of refugees have been brought in. Or even Russia, hmmm?


  17. multitude of poors

    That remark I made above about SVB was a very asinine thing of me to say, as I now ponder just how many little people that’s going to affect. For one, I’m wondering about the effect on major temporary staffing firms like ManPower and Robert Half (which is HUGE and Global). Too bad the damage couldn’t just fall out on the major VC Billionaires; the Major Ahholes who ran the bank; Gavin Newsom’s PlumpJack Winery (Daily Mail has a piece on how the major wineries in California used SVB ) etcetera.

    I know better than to knee jerk like that, on that large of an issue, I’m ashamed I wrote it.

    gotta run …

  18. different clue

    @ anon y’mouse,

    I apologize for missing the big honkin’ obvious fact that you already know all about the Low Tech Magazine site. If you don’t already know about the other two sites also, I hope you find them interesting.

  19. StewartM

    Eric Anderson

    “Capitalism is not synonymous with Fascism. But it rhymes.”

    That’s a keeper. Especially someone needs to tell this to one particular Youtube historian who blathers endlessly in five-hour (!!!) long videos about the Nazis really being “socialist” (based on Austrian economics propaganda).

    (Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him ask for donations, or money, and he obviously does not have to work a job as he has time to admittedly read various historians, learn and source material, while learning German to boot, plus spend hours on graphics making his videos….so maybe he *is*being paid well?)

  20. Trinity

    There’s another low tech option for food in the winter, including tomatoes (but not fresh ones). It’s called food preservation. I draw the line, however, at bashing the entire English public for past colonial nefarious behavior. They are suffering, we are suffering. They are propagandized, and so are we, etc. We have much in common, in other words. The enemy of my friend is also my enemy.

    multitude of poors, I just read that the CEO of SVB may have sold his own shares right before the news was announced. Hopefully they’ll go after him. But I also read that the FDIC shut down all access to the funds until it’s all sorted out, and several account holders couldn’t make payroll this past week.

    And SillyCon Valley VIPs are of course asking for a bail out.

    Matt Stoller has a nice no-paywall write up:

    “In 2018 banks under $700 billion of assets succeeded in lobbying Trump and a Republican Congress to get out from bank rules, like needing to have enough cash on hand to pay back depositors easily, known as a liquidity requirement.

    The Fed then implemented those rules in a bank-friendly way, contra the wishes of then-Vice Chair Lael Brainard, who warned of potential bank problems like SVB in 2019. That’s likely one reason SVB got into trouble, because it used its political power to eliminate the regulations that would have forced it to have enough cash on hand to stop a bank run. (SVB CEO Greg Becker sold his bank stock just before the collapse, so the sleaziness hasn’t stopped.)”

  21. anon y'mouse

    and yet Stoller tosses in that The Answer to all of this is central bank digital currency.

    gee, who does sound like?

  22. anon y'mouse

    yes, food preservation is one of those things. if you aren’t going to move to the food where it is naturally occurring along with the seasons, you have to get it to come to or stick with you.

    so growing enough during the growing season to see you out the rest of the year, along with growing what you can during winter under sheltered conditions (mostly leafy greens).

    not inducing people to “eat mediterranean diet” year round when they don’t even live in the Med. any of us who have N. euro ancestors should know that they wouldn’t exist at all without our ancestors learning how to preserve pork, make cheese, eat bread and boil kale. that’s an incredible simplification, but it’s essentially true (i think the Scots relied more on seafood, game birds and deer, then sheep for obvious reasons plus oats). but, we must beware as even cans are now lined with plastic.

    my new bugaboo, however is noticing how much water we ship around the world under the guise of “food preservation” and “keeping stuff clean”. this seems like almost a pure waste of energy, and also necessitates tons of plastic, or plastic lined materials. cleaning solutions, shampoo, and the absolutely unnecessary soda pop (which used to be mixed locally at “soda fountains”) in addition to regular drinking water. another diminishing returns type situation we’re not even paying attention to.

    i have decided that there isn’t any hope though. why? because even our excrement and our bodies can no longer be reabsorbed into the cycles of the planet without harm. if you can’t use human excrement (eventually) as compost and humans are full of embedded human-created toxins that destroy the soil when allowed to leach out, then perhaps we had better jet off to Mars and stay there where actual living things derived from natural processes we still struggle to understand won’t be absolutely ruined.

    we no longer qualify as living organisms from this planet if our wastes and remains can’t be reabsorbed so that the cycle can continue. it seems that all ends with us, and a bunch of microplastics and pharmaceuticals, and other chemical compounds that everyone says we “can’t live without”.

  23. multitude of poors

    Trinity, re:

    I draw the line, however, at bashing the entire English public for past colonial nefarious behavior.

    Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly with this drawing the line premise in general.

    I’m always disturbed at how routinely people write off an entire group of people who generally have no say so as to where, or when, they were born (e.g. the whole Boomer Hatred bit which I’ve always suspected was deliberately propagandized by the powers that be), or got stuck; nor whether they live in a red or blue state, etcetera. For that same reason I think most, if not all, wars; and political sanctions—whether against other countries, or against predominantly Red™, or Blue™ states, for example — are evil. As if both parties don’t have the same opaque masters at the end of the day. Ultimately the only ones who suffer are those who are stuck those countries, or states, without Second Homes™ in safe places.

    As to The CRASH™, the people who really are going to suffer the blow out of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapse, will be the little people. E.g. those on payrolls, like temp workers barely able to make their rent, and or the working homeless, which is what makes what I noted above so horrid of a knee jerk on my part. Lack of time contrains me from further commentary on it, but the ripples will be horrid for those who can ill afford it.

    gotta run …

  24. different clue

    @ anon y’mouse,

    Humans are composting humanure back down into bio-cycle system feedstocks all around the world.

    Here is a book about managing/composting one’s own humanure in a detached house for ultimate garden use. ( I don’t see how this could be done in multi-story urban cinder-block ” concentration apartments”).

    And this second site also mentions the author’s second book, The Compost Toilet Handbook, which describes how to turn poverty-country latrine situations into compost-toilet latrine systems. ( He describes some very successful systems he and some helpers installed here and there in poor countries for very little money even as various NGO’s pretend to be working on the problem without ever solving it so they can keep collecting money by solving the problem forever while making sure they never get the problem solved.)

    ( If one were to do this in a Canadiamerican detached house, one would have to keep it secret from everybody until Canadiamerican society is so poor that it becomes accepted as a better alternative than starvation. Until that day, better to also maintain a decoy “normal toilet” so that nobody knows what you are doing in the privacy of your own family).

  25. anon y'mouse

    i am familiar with that compost toilet guy. after you go into a sewage treatment plant (one of our enviro science class’s field trips), you can never look at defecating into drinking water the same again, and you go looking for alternatives. that doesn’t change the fact that almost everyone you meet is micturating out a pharma-hormone stew, some of which is persistent. and, that’s another one of those examples where i may do the “environmental saving” measure to ease my own conscience, but a zillion people are still going to have their effluent treated with giant dewatering devices, biodigesters, and then released with a hint of chlorine into the waterways with their drug stew mostly intact. very few of us can get away with just an outhouse.

    as for the optimism expressed in “some of us will make it and we won’t utterly collapse, and gee the population is levelling off”—that’s nearly irrelevant if the population is already at too high a level to both provide the “goods & services” humans need to live and also those they want to have, for everyone on the planet.

    if the population is already at an unsustainable level for living at a techno-industrial society when 7/8ths of the population is not even truly and fully living at that level, and yet all want to and in theory have just as much of a right to as those who do, then the changing of the imperialist guard for the “multipolarist” guard will not matter all that much to the earth except that more governments will strive to do what ours did, trying to get that “western” standard of living for their own. which they indeed have just as much of a right to do, planet be damned.

    if the earth can only handle 1 billion (just a number throwing out there for demonstration purposes) living at a techno-industrial manner and all 8-12 billion are going to strive for it, what is going to be the outcome?

    what i see underneath all of this multipolarity talk (aside from the good things about peace and sovereignty and humanitarian concerns, which i’m not belittling) is that the true and serious fossil fuel producers (Iran, Saudi A., Russia, Mexico) are agitating for their regime over the purely guns and dollars regime of the US —because theirs represents the true engine of human society, thus their control naturally follows—. in theory, from reading, that means allowing the rest of the world a chance to develop up to some level beyond what the western imperialists have allowed them to do until now.

    as for how fast a society can fall, i believe Rome did not have an equivalent population to that of imperial times until the late 1800s, and at one point, we lost the capacity to make bread (hence gruel). a structure on a higher tower has farther to fall but is a lot more tenuous than that based on non-fossil fuel use and electrical lines. the fact that the people were able to carry on doing with a bit of political re-entrenchment might in itself be a testament to the fact that their society’s material basis was still within ecological limits, based on wood, stone and water.

    it’s a lot easier to fall and recover from such a short height when it just means that instead of paying tribute to Rome, you pay it to your local lords & bishops. look at the instabilities produced with not even half of the people on the planet on pseudo “lockdown” for Covid.

    i’m just saying—this mass techno-industrialist striving becomes even less ecologically sustainable under that “peaceful” regime of mutual development. unless it is accompanied by massive disparity (only the Select living the techno-industrial high life and the rest taking the crumbs, yet arranged with a somewhat different cast of winners v. losers than now) and/or a program of enlightened de-population to permanently lower levels (which capitalists, even Chinese ones, will never truly allow).

    and yes, i know about the fact that the higher up the chain people go (in accordance with education levels increasing), the fewer kids they tend to have. it’s just not enough, and not fast enough and under the wrong system to be saving the ecosystem as we all grew up knowing it.

    if it works out that we have to set aside 50% (number from my bunghole) of the earth to “do what it does naturally” in order to have clean air and water and wildlife and the web of things we have lived within more or less throughout human existence (sans wooly mammoths & co), where does that leave the billions of people who want an electric car and a cell phone in India, China and Africa?

    especially as full circle resource reuse/recycling is still almost always only an ideal we preach and don’t follow, for our own waste products. almost everything is still going straight to a landfill. even solar panels.

    sorry if i mixed up paragraphs. i don’t edit outside this window and barely edit at all anyway. my eyeballs can’t stand it, usually.

  26. Astrid

    Just ran across this video on greenhouse cucumbers production in the Netherlands.

    No cheap natural gas heating and it all goes away.

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