Category: Environment

And The Consumer Rip Off Gathers Pace

And The Consumer Rip Off Gathers Pace

Inflation is increasing, meaning that month on month, prices for everyday goods and services that we need to live are increasing. Many people are finding that the wage that they receive is buying them less goods and services, and that each month they have less money left over, if any. But why are prices increasing? What’s happening?

Here are couple of ideas;

The energy sectors profits have escalated due to their pricing, the first company that springs to mind is BP. Between April and June of this year, they made nearly £7bn of profit. That is their second highest profit on record. Pretty much, all of the other energy companies are doing the same. And they’re sending a lot of these billions of profit to their shareholders. In a nutshell, the price that you pay for petrol and diesel, gas and electricity are linked to companies like BP. That’s why your fuel, gas and electricity are getting so expensive.

An interesting statistic is that according to experts at the UCL (University College London) and LSE (London School of Economics), over the last 50 years, the oil and gas industry globally has delivered £2.3bn a day in pure profit. It was put that the industry could have the power to “buy every politician, every system”. It may give an idea as to why we are where we are financially, and environmentally.

The thing that is particularly sickening about BP is the fact that it used to be owned by the UK Government, but was sold off in 1979 for £7.25bn. Imagine how all of that profit since could have been retained by the UK Government and used to reduce the tax burden on us all. Or even reduce our energy bills. It was sold for a song.

The energy sector profits are so obscene, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres referred to them as ‘immoral’ and stated that they were ‘being made on the back of the poorest people and communities and at a massive cost to the climate’.

That’s one big chunk of the inflation problem.

In UK, the majority of households use a supermarket for their day to day groceries. The big supermarkets have been doing particularly well, take the ubiquitous Tesco, for example. To the year end of February 26th 2022, their pre-tax profits trebled from £636m to £2.03bn. Every little helps, right? Well, a lot helps them. A lot. Another chunk of the inflation problem.

Still on the supermarkets, this time petrol prices. Last week, the RAC said said at the start of the week, the average petrol price at the big four supermarkets, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, was £1.74 per litre. Diesel was £1.86. Meanwhile the average for the delivered wholesale petrol price last week was £1.24, while diesel was £1.38.

After factoring in VAT, fuel duty and a “generous” retailer margin of 10p per litre, the RAC said “forecourts should soon be selling unleaded for no more than £1.62”. A couple of weeks later, here we are, it’s still not happening.

There’s a recurring theme here, prices are up, profits are up by record levels for the big companies. In fact, there was a brilliant segment on the Jeremy Vine Show in July where Eddie Dempsey from the RMT (you can watch it here) pointed out that the FTSE 350 top companies profits have gone up by 73% since 2019. To use his phrasing “The people at the top of the economy, they’re having a disco, and everyone else is being told that they’ve got to tighten their belts and carry the can. It’s not on”. Quite.

So, the main drivers of inflation are summarised above.

Back in February 2022, the Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey said he wanted to see “quite clear restraint” in wage demands from employees to prevent an inflation spiral. I guess what he was saying was okay, prices are increasing, but hey, just suck it up and put up. In the meantime, UK households are taking an enormous financial hit, probably the biggest for almost four decades.

As I’ve blogged before, Andrew Bailey earns £570,000.

Any wage increase you’re going to receive is unlikely to make a difference to the inflation figures, only to your ability to be able to afford to live, or even exist.

Britain is broken.

Water Doesn’t Work

Water Doesn’t Work

In the South of the UK we have a drought, we have hosepipe bans. The provision of water is a complete mess, we’re all being told to conserve water, and that we can all do our bit. The BBC are currently running a headline “England Drought: Everyone Must Rethink Their Water Use, Experts Say”. Unfortunately, they haven’t opened it to user comments, instead, on their news homepage, the only article listed as being open for comments is “Forest hold on to beat Hammers as Rice Penalty saved”. Really. They avoided allowing users to have their say regarding “Saudi oil giant breaks profit record with $48.4bn” or “Postcode search: How will climate change affect your area?”. Even “Green spaces across England parched in the heatwave”. No comments allowed.

Locally to me, Southern Water discharges raw sewage into the sea at will without challenge or penalty, without making public announcements very clear. It’s the height of summer and bathers are becoming ill, then realising that something is wrong with the seawater, then are making enquiries only to be told by Southern Water that “have a look at our app”, here’s one account; Couple who swam in sea at Herne Bay after nearby Southern Water sewage release suffer sickness and diarrhoea (kentonline.co.uk).

I thought that they were only supposed to discharge sewage in the event of flooding and we’ve not had any rain for weeks…..

On average, across all of the water authorities, they lose somewhere in the region of 20% of the water they collect; they lose billions of litres of drinking water every year due to their lack of investment in maintenance and infrastructure. They have dividended their shareholders somewhere in the region of £20 billion since 2010, and are still ripping the backside out of it to this day. They are saddling their companies with an awful lot of debt too, which is an extremely curious phenomena.

Rather than landing the consumer with the burden of water shortage by asking them to restrict their usage, maybe the impotent regulator (OFWAT) could turn its attention to the elephant in the room. Namely the problem caused by decades of profiteering and dividending, lack of investment, climate change (would that really be a surprise to you if you were in the business of supplying water, no? Well it certainly is to our water “authorities”), and an absolute contempt for the consumer, and for the environment.

The interesting thing here is that when you look on social media, and particularly The Daily Mail articles and subsequent user comments regarding the drought, even their normally pro-privatisation, pro-government die hard supporters are turning against them. Here’s a couple of the top rated comments that basically sum up the issues that we are facing;

I blame lack of investment in infrastructure and pure greed on the part of the directors. Modern infrastructure should be able to withstand dry weather ffs.

In answer to the headline “Water leaks DOUBLE during heatwave with firms blaming underground damage caused by earth drying out as drought continues to hit UK supplies 

Funny how gas mains haven’t been bursting all over the place despite routing through the same dry/heaving soil. Water companies have diverted our money to their management and owners pockets instead of investing in new pipes. BT invested in new network whilst being forced to cut their prices – how come Ofwat lets water companies put prices up without similar investing – incompetence or something else more ‘iffy?

Ouch.

How about these top responses to the headline “£3bn bonanza for fat cats: How investors (including the Chinese) took out cash that firms could have used to fix Britain’s creaking water network”

Its called Selling England by the pound, and its been going on for years and years. Hardly news

and;

To be fair this wasn’t a privatisation as there is zero competition – it was a sell off of state assets. The companies have continually failed to plan for the future and have acted short term in the interests of their shareholders. Renationalising them at enormous cost isn’t the answer I’m afraid – what they do need is new laws to oversee exactly what they do and how they operate and that they serve the consumers and the country failing which they should pay huge penalties.

That sort of brings me to a conclusion.

I can’t see that the government and the regulators are going to bring the water companies to heel, so that leaves another option; re-nationalisation. That could explain why the companies have been pulling so much money out and saddling themselves with debt. The good old UK taxpayer picks up the debt again.

A decade ago, I would have considered this situation impossible, but, looking at it now and if you look at the way that our government has spent our money over the last three years….. watch this space.

One question to myself…. how long do ‘they’ seriously think that they can get away with this? By this, I mean the transfer of money from the less well off to the incredibly rich in terms of overcharging for water, fuel, energy, food, all of the basic essentials required to exist. This last three years has seen the biggest transfer of wealth from the working classes to the rich that I’ve ever witnessed.

Something has got to give.

Council Tax and Waste Collection

Council Tax and Waste Collection

Normally I don’t pay too much attention to my waste collection at home, but I noticed this week that my recycling bin was getting full and I had a sort through it. There’s stuff in there from Christmas and today is Saturday 29th January, therefore it hasn’t been emptied for 5 weeks, and as of Monday, the stuff in there will be into its sixth week of residence.

Where I live, the waste is collected by the local authority (LA), in this case, Canterbury City Council. There are three types that they expect you to sort it into; General, Recycling and Garden. Now, I have only lived where I do for a year or two and my experience is that the General and Recycling and collected on a Tuesday, alternating weekly, and that the Garden waste is collected during the spring, summer and autumn months alongside the Recycling.

Knowing when your collection is can be fairly important as the convention appears to be that you put the correct bin for that weeks collection type kerbside and the operatives empty it. Sometimes they even replace it on your property after emptying. On the occasions when I have forgotten to put the bin out over the last year, often the operative has got it themselves, emptied it, and replaced it, which is kind and gratefully received.

Over the Christmas period the collections go out of whack when the collection day falls on a bank holiday or whatever, and how the the individual LA deals with this varies wildly. My last one seemed to be governed by the alignment of the stars and the tides. Well, that’s how it appeared to me.

I’ll be honest. I’ve not put my bins out since Christmas. Any of them. I normally use what my neighbours are doing as a measure of what I should be doing and on my Tuesday mornings before work, I have a look up and down the road, see what bins are out and copy. This has been a great guide over the last year, but over the last month it looks like my neighbours are as clueless as I am – it’s utter disarray out there. Less than half the bins are out, and the ones that are, are mixed. Maybe they use the same process for selecting which bin to put out as I do, in which case we are all screwed. At this point, as it is a dark and cold early morning in January I’ve just given up on deliberating which bin to put kerbside and go to work.

As I mentioned before, I don’t pay too much attention to this stuff, all the time that it is trundling along, mostly working, that’s fine by me. No investigation or energy is required. Perfect. I mean, I’m so out of the loop with this stuff which is a good sign, right? It’s only when stuff doesn’t work that it commands my attention, so I started looking at the situation. I was unaware that the LA had a pretty good web site with a good section covering waste, whereby if you supply your address, they can tell you the time and date of the last collection, and the date for the next one. These government sites have got a lot better since I last checked; they used to be static sites that were never updated…. I know, I’ve been living under a rock.

Now, generally I don’t generate a lot of domestic waste, in fact, I generate considerably less than the majority of people I know. This isn’t an opportunity for some irritating virtue signalling, the reason for my sharing this point is that it means that I am extremely fortunate, after 5 weeks without a recycling collection, to not be drowning in my own waste.

My General waste looks like it has been collected, so I am thinking that the crews that collect General and Recycling are different, and the General guys are far more forgiving and benevolent regards collections and placement of bins.

All of this got me thinking, we as a society are actually drowning in our own waste, we over consume, we buy, we throw, we buy again. Because we can. There is no incentive for reducing the amount of waste that we generate…..

The funding for my waste collection comes from my Council Tax (CT) bill. I currently pay £1,508 per year to Canterbury City Council for CT. There is nothing that I can find on their website that shows how much of that money goes on waste collection and management. I’ve done a quick search and there are reports from the last decade that estimate as much as a third (approximately £500) would be spent on this based upon Freedom of Information requests (FOI’s) looking at this question on a national basis. That is a heck of a lot of money.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if I generated less waste, and paid less? That would make sense, right?

Hold these figures in your head and have a look at my email to my LA this evening;

Hi There

My blue cardboard and glass recycling bin has not been collected since before Christmas.

I’ve just visited your website regarding future waste collection dates and past collection dates and times, and I am impressed. I was unaware that you made this information available and if it is as accurate as it shows, then I am really impressed.

I think part of the issue with my bins not being collected is not knowing when the collection was to put them roadside as it got out of step over the festive period; there was no collection on the usual days (which I put them out for) and looking at the placing of the bins on my road during this period, it sure confused my neighbours too. I think it still does confuse some of them even now.

I am guessing that the operative that collects the bins isn’t allowed to access my property if my bin is not by the road? It’s just three steps inside the boundary and just a step from the roadside and is easily accessible, so it’s surely got to be that you don’t allow them to do it, right?

Regards the missed collections, do I get a refund/rebate for this?
If you are able to divide down my annual waste collection charge to a weekly value and credit me back for the missed weeks, I will have no issues whatsoever. I will however be disappointed if you insist on charging me when no transaction has taken place.

At my work, I get the bins collected each week and they never miss a week, and I only pay per collection. My bin size is 1100ltr which is approximately 12-15 black bags up to 90kg. Per collection I get charged £15.00 plus VAT. I could probably fit at least five of your blue bins in there, so that would make my cost per bin approximately £3.00 each using my work costs. One bin a week (one week black, the next one blue, alternating), would be £156 per year. That would mean a collection up to every five weeks, which is a couple of weeks less than I will be up to with you when you next get the blue bins on 8th February.

I could even go a step further and see if my neighbours wanted to get involved, I live in a cul-de-sac, so I could organise the waste collection for the 14 houses.

I reckon I could do all 14 houses for £45.00 plus VAT per week, which is £2340.00 per year. This would also leave some spare capacity for an extra bin each week, something that you don’t allow for.

How much do I get charged for waste removal per year please? I cannot seem to find that data on your website. Is there a facility to opt out of your waste service and make my own arrangements if the company that collects from my workplace is cheaper?

Thanks in advance.

You can see where I am going with this. 14 houses in my road multiplied by the rough calculation for my waste cost comes in around £7000 for the LA to undertake, I could get it for £2340 plus VAT, which is around £2808. A potential saving of over £4000. Nearly £300 per household, per year.

If the LA are not able to accommodate this, surely they should be making provision for not charging for missed/not required collections, if not on fairness grounds, on environmental ones? Incentivisation of waste reduction can only be a good thing, surely?

I’ll update with the response when it is received.

UPDATE 31/01/22 – Response received to my email from a Canenco Helpdesk stating

Good afternoon

I will pass your correspondence directly to Canterbury City Council.

Kind regards”

This is a little awkward as a quick search reveals that Canenco is the short name for Canterbury Environment Company which is a private limited company owned by Canterbury City Council. I was unaware of its existence until just now. More research required and a response is still outstanding.

Storing Solar Energy

Storing Solar Energy

The Guardian has some excellent articles on the energy industry, often they initially contain errors, but these are usually quickly updated/amended as people start complaining.

A recent one which I enjoyed is regarding storage of surplus renewable energy when demand is low and what the current spread of options are, and where the research is leading us, this can be found here, first published in January 2022.

The section that caught my eye was Concentrated Solar Power Storage; it focused on the Crescent Dunes solar energy project near Tonopah in the Nevada Desert. Essentially, the project uses the heat of a solar farm which consists of concentrated mirrors to heat salt to temperatures of up to 560C turning it into a molten state. The salt is kept at this temperature until electricity is needed, the heat is then used to run a conventional steam turbine which generates enough electricity to power 75,000 homes into the night.

Whilst the project is pretty exciting, the article refers to the project as “pioneering” and “new”, which is not the case.

The Gemasolar Power Plant near Seville in southern Spain started operating on similar principles in 2011, and another outside the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate started operating in 2015/2016. Other solar power plants are available.

Late to the party or not, Crescent Dunes is a damned fine example of how to harness renewables to ensure a continuity of energy supply, this is exciting stuff and not to be sniffed at. When renewables get this good, you really have to ask yourself why bother with fossil fuels?

With a future this bright, you just gotta wear shades.

The McPlant Burger

The McPlant Burger

I had my first McPlant burger at the weekend, and it was a surprise. A complete surprise.

The McPlant has had a limited release in the UK within the last couple of months to much fanfare; it is a completely plant based, vegan friendly alternative to the standard McDonalds offering. I was aware of its existence, but living where I do, it’s not been available for me to try, and to be honest, I have been skipping the fast food scene for the last couple of months anyway as part of my live healthy, live longer phase. Kill me now.

So, at the weekend, I found myself driving in East London with a passenger that had a hankering for a fast food fix, so I duly pulled into the Bow McDonalds Drive-Thru to order. I was going to skip but the McPlant caught my eye, so I felt I had to give it a try.

I collected the order and pulled into a bay and got the box out of the bag. The size of the box was an immediate disappointment; it was roughly the same size as a Fillet o Fish box and the burger was roughly the same size. I was hoping for something of similar proportion to the Big Mac, alas, it was not to be. Upon opening and inspection, it looked like a regular burger; the patty, pickles, sauce, processed cheese and white bun, all looked reasonably normal.

Taking a bite, the taste was pretty good, I raised an eyebrow and started gibbering at my passenger in disbelief, I was expecting it to taste like crap. It wasn’t as far away from a regular burger as it could have been, the thing I really noticed was the texture of the patty, it was a fair bit mushier. Excitedly I kept waving the half eaten thing at my accomplice, offering it up to them to try some, saying that they wouldn’t believe how it tasted. They politely refused.

So, all in all, it is a more than passable effort. Okay, I was fairly impressed. Now the questions start to crop up in my mind; how the hell do they take bunch of plants, process it, and make a vegan product taste like one made from animal products? The mayo, the cheese, the meat substitute. Surely there’s a heck of a lot of layers of processing going on there? I just did a search for the meat substitute used in the McPlant, apparently it’s provided by a company called Beyond Meat. A few clicks shows what look like reasonably harmless ingredients, but a few more clicks shows that there’s a lot of strong opinions out there that they may not necessarily be as good for you as you would expect.

I’m not going to drill into this point, there’s no shortage of for and against opinions out there, and it will be one hell of a rabbit hole to disappear into.

We know that McDonalds isn’t good, wholesome food, we’ve seen films like Supersize Me, we’ve seen the hidden camera expose, we’ve seen the Jamie Oliver and his mate Jimmy’s documentaries, we’ve read accounts from disgruntled former staff about how the stuff is made. We know it’s nutritionally shit, we know it’s stacked with fat, salt and sugar, but because of this, it tastes amazing, and we know this. And for this reason, it is a guilty pleasure for millions of people nationally.

Things have changed over the last few decades, we’ve seen McDonalds stop frying its fries in beef tallow, and swap to vegetable oil, somehow, amazingly, they managed to keep the taste the same. Shocker. If you buy a Big Mac in the US that is made from US beef, then go to the UK and buy one made from UK beef, they taste almost identical. Shocker. There’s obviously some magic going on, what magic it is, I am not smart enough to work out, but it is clever stuff.

And now we have the McPlant, a pretty wholesome sounding name.

Until recent years, I have been a complete carnivore, I’ve not really given vegetarians or vegans much consideration. We were born with canines, right? Those lovely teeth for ripping flesh apart? This alone completely supported my position, meat is good, and it is an important part of the human diet. I’d walk across hot coals to get my hands on a perfectly cooked fillet steak.


A while back I was chatting to a vegetarian and they offered a compelling explanation as to why they choose to not eat meat, or flesh as they called it. I started to understand their position, and I got it. I won’t get into what that was, that’s for another time, but I got it. Since then, I have started to reduce my meat intake; I eat less, but what I do eat is better quality. It’s not been difficult to do at all.

This brings me to my point in an unfocused, meandering way;

These burgers, like the McPlant exist for a reason. People don’t want to eat meat, or animal products. But they are happy to pay over the odds for a highly processed product that is made to look like meat, smell like meat, and taste like meat, and it could possibly be less healthier than the meat alternative.
And it’s being served by an organisation that slaughters millions of cattle, pigs and chickens every year, and that has questionable environmental credentials.

Reflecting, I just don’t get it. If you’re going to go to all of that trouble, just eat the meat right? That’s what you’re hankering for, so stop the torture, just do it. Or don’t.

I don’t think I’ll be going back for a McPlant, as clever as it was. I don’t think I’ll be going back to McDonalds for myself at all.

Me and Mac’s are done. I can’t say that I won’t miss it, but it was fun whilst it lasted.

Why I Think Tesla Is Over-Valued.

Why I Think Tesla Is Over-Valued.

In the last week or so, Tesla hit a market cap of $1 Trillion USD which is a staggering figure.

This means that it is worth more than the combined market cap of the nine largest car manufacturers globally, in the month of October, it added the equivalent of another four Ford Motor Co’s which is incredible, and a testament to Elon Musk. But is it really worth it?

I don’t think so, for a number of reasons. I’ve felt this way for the last year or so, I think the tech is flawed. I’m not going to dwell on the financial side of things here, everyone is doing it. The valuation simply doesn’t stack up when you look at things like production capacity, number of cars sold etc.

The bullet points for my thinking are;

  • The battery materials are finite, there is simply not enough lithium in the world to replace all of the internal combustion engines with battery. And the way that the lithium is obtained is a huge environmental concern.
  • Not only are battery materials finite, they are nearly damned impossible to recycle currently. There are huge environmental concerns.
  • Competition from China is hotting up, they are catching up fast, their tech is good, their quality is better, and their price point will be lower. Tesla are renowned as being expensive (the margins are huge), and their build quality is renowned for being sub par.
  • And finally, and this is the final nail in the coffin for that gravity defying valuation, internal combustion hydrogen is the way forward, not battery. The energy for hydrogen can be generated using renewables and the only thing that comes out of the exhaust pipe is steam…. no getting kids to mine lithium, no piles of unrecyclable batteries, no brainer.

I’ve long discussed with friends (Steve C, Russ, I’m talking about you) about the benefits of hydrogen as a replacement for fossil fuels. I think maybe even as far back as 2008. Back then, even we identified that it would make sense for renewables to be used for creating hydrogen. All that is required is electricity and water. Imagine for example the areas of the Middle East and Australia that receive enormous amounts of sun every day, they could be hydrogen producing powerhouses. This could be done with PV arrays (solar panels), and the hydrogen generated stored and shipped. Heck, for the Middle East, this could easily replace oil, the infrastructure is there. And under these PV’s, crops could be grown as these areas are currently inhospitable and dead areas, barely anything grows or lives, but an environment that could sustain agriculture could be created. A double benefit.

With renewables such as solar and wind, one of the biggest issues is the storage of energy generated. With hydrogen, no longer would you require batteries or other cumbersome solutions, you could simply create hydrogen and ship it in a similar way to gas or oil.

Toyota in Japan has just signalled that it is starting to work on hydrogen combustion engines. Currently they are big into hydrogen fuel cell cars; these are cars that use hydrogen to generate electricity to power the motors. The problem with these is that they are extremely expensive. Their move is an interesting and significant one and I think it signals the start of a change away from fuel cell and battery driven vehicles. At this point Tesla should sit up and take note, very quickly, as should their investors.

COP26 Hypocrisy, We Tolerate This, Why?

COP26 Hypocrisy, We Tolerate This, Why?

So, hundreds of big hitters (politicians, leaders, their mates, and a few billionaires) from around the world congregate in Glasgow this weekend for a lavish gathering under the guise of meeting to discuss climate change. Over 400 private jets, dozens of helicopters, and thousands of cars later, they’re all prattling on about CO2 and other climate/environment issues.

Looking at the pictures, lots of our money is being spent, and interestingly, there’s no social distancing, and no masks. (Apart from the staff serving them)

Two words and one statement.

Get stuffed.

I’m doing exactly what the hell that I want until you a**holes start leading by example.

Bezos and Climate Change

Bezos and Climate Change

I’m really spending too much time on the Daily Mail site – the gift that keeps on giving. The home of great journalism. I love this headline – they must have published it deliberately. I don’t think the incorrect spelling of Lauren’s last name was intentional, though;

So, he takes a private jet to take a break to focus on climate change. Oh, the irony.

Whilst he’s lapping up the sun, he may want to also contemplate his company fuelling consumerism by flogging shonky crappily made plastic tat and avoiding tax in almost every country that they operate in. He’s got his work cut out, at least he has the time on his hands to do it now.

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