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Get ready for blackouts as we achieve full membership of the Third World 

It will not be long now before sensible people, and sensible businesses, start buying their own private electricity generators. The time is soon coming when power blackouts will be common in Britain, in the way they already are in the Third World.

They will be much worse than in the Third World, because we have become so dependent on electronics for everything we do.  Our whole commercial system, our phone network, our banks and our transport will simply come to a halt, for long, unpredictable periods each day, and probably cease to function in the middle of the night as well. As a result we will become poorer and more disorderly, and less able to cure the problem.

More well-ordered nations will begin to understand in detail that 50 years of demoralisation, egalitarian de-education and living beyond your means will eventually do irreversible damage. We will cease, with startling rapidity, to be able to live on the reputation for competence and reliability which it took our forebears two centuries to obtain.It is a sign of just how useless our political leaders are that they have done nothing to avoid this danger, being obsessed instead with the questionable problems of allegedly man-made global warming.

A request here: those who want to argue about man-made warming should go and do so with Lord (Nigel) Lawson, who has written much that is excellent and level-headed about this pseudo-religious mass panic. I claim no special knowledge on the subject, only the freedom to doubt what cannot actually be proved, to acknowledge that 'science' is not an infallible oracle and that scientists disagree on this subject; also the freedom to doubt the point of preparing expensively for something that may well not happen. 

What is not in doubt is that this country faces a real, measurable problem with generating electricity.  Several of our most important coal-fired power stations will soon have to close because they no longer meet European Union regulations on emissions, itself a reflection on what it means to lose your independence, and control of your own laws.

Many of our nuclear stations are already worn out and must close before long for more serious reasons. Much of the rest of our capacity depends on increasingly expensive natural gas, which will in coming years be subject to erratic supply and steeply rising costs, as demand increases and as Russia becomes Europe's main producer.

We also gather that the privatisation of electricity generation has also led to the loss of important companies specialising in power station construction, so that we will now have to import know-how and equipment which we once possessed, and even exported. How typical. The silly windmills which ruin so much of our hill country and moorland are absolutely no substitute for these things.

 The wind doesn't blow hard enough, or constantly enough,  to generate power all the time. Even if it did, the cost of building enough windmills to power this country (already adding greatly to electricity bills)  would be hopelessly high. They are so unreliable that conventional stations have to be kept running on standby, to kick in the moment the wind drops.

WE do not say these things because of a general hostility to renewable energy. We have some time for wave power, which would produce a considerable amount of renewable energy all the time, ideally suited to an island nation,  but for some reason the authorities seem uninterested in any serious large-scale wave-power development. It would take too long now.

It is just possible for us to avert this grave approaching power deficit, but only by an extraordinarily urgent and costly programme to build nuclear power stations on a  similar scale to those in France. This would probably need to be coupled with the construction of several clean coal-fired stations, fuelled by coal dug from reopened British pits. There's a bit of talk, but precious little action. And yes, I'd cheerfully live close to a nuclear power station (and I suggest we do as the French did, and offer subsidies to cities which accept them nearby).

Any major road is far more dangerous. The problems of waste disposal exist, but are soluble if we are reasonable about the possible risks. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were both avoidable events, not fated, inevitable dooms.Energy policy is as decisive, and as interesting, as defence policy in determining the fate of a nation.

It is our unwisely heavy dependence on imported oil (which was always a choice, and never forced on us) that has governed much of our foreign policy for the past century. The Abadan crisis and the stupid overthrow of Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran were both caused by it. We, and the whole civilised world, pay to this day for the clumsy Anglo-American putsch which installed the Shah - a putsch involving Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA (Grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, cousin of FDR) and Monty Woodhouse (later Tory MP for Oxford) of the SIS.

This led, eventually, to the Iranian revolution and the rule of the Ayatollahs, which we now resent so much.Oil, and the fear that we should not be able to guarantee our supply from the Gulf, also lay behind our silly adventure in Suez  - though as it turned out the development of Supertankers meant the Canal did not matter as much as we had thought. And, despite unbelievable denials all round, oil was without doubt a motor in our involvement in Iraq,. and our increasingly troubled arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

We should also mention the Nigeria/Biafra problems in the days of Harold Wilson.I have never myself seen why it should be considered so wrong to go to war for oil, since we would perish without it, thanks to our unwise decision to become almost totally dependent on it. Much of the most decisive fighting in World War Two was aimed at securing or obtaining oil, or denying it to the enemy.   

I just prefer honesty on this score, and suspect that there are better ways of securing supplies than clumsy diplomacy followed by armed force.As a sideline to this, I think more people should know the astonishing story of the development of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, beginning with the  fascinating meeting between Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud aboard the cruiser USS Quincy in February 1945 (which may have involved that unbelievably strange figure Harry St John Philby, father of the traitor Kim Philby) . 

Beautiful Arab carpets covered the cruiser's steel deck for the picturesque occasion. This encounter, one of the last important acts of Franklin Roosevelt's life,  led to the creation of the USA's real 'special relationship' . It also led to the establishment of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington as part of the 'permanent government' of the USA - and presumably a reciprocal arrangement in Saudi Arabia which might explain the USA's constant foreign policy bias against Shia Iran, much loathed by Wahhabi Saudis.

Then again, it seems increasingly that our own North Sea Oil, which could have been used as the basis for a complete retooling of our economy and society, has been squandered on short-term measures and will be regarded by historians of the 22nd century (probably Chinese) as one of our greatest national lost opportunities.But I digress.

One of the main functions of government is to ensure that the country has reliable supplies of the strategic materials needed to keep its economy functioning. One of those is energy.This policy also involves ensuring that the country does not become too dependent on unreliable or expensive imports. It is a mystery to me that we have made our transport system so wholly dependent on supplies of oil from one of the most politically and physically unstable parts of the globe, where most petroleum supplies are controlled by despots who care little for us, and whose way of life and beliefs are entirely different from ours.

This has unbalanced our foreign policy ( our feeble, creepy failure to oppose Arab terrorism against Israel, when we were the originators of the Balfour Declaration, most especially) . It has also helped create the hideous and irrational mess of our transport system, where motor cars - ideal in widespread semi-rural communities such as those of the remoter parts of the USA -  have become the dominant mode of transport in a dense, highly-urbanised , intensively-farmed landscape for which they are entirely unfitted.

This crazed policy was tolerable in the fool's paradise days of cheap oil which made it possible. Now that a tankful of fuel is enormously costly, it makes no sense at all. But town planners have resolutely designed cities around the motor car, making them actively hostile to the pedestrian and the cyclist.  Great featureless, shelterless highways sweep about the place, with barricades on the edges of them to protect drivers from the risk of actually encountering a human being. 

Homes lie at impossible distances from work, walking and bicycling are made hopelessly impractical . Road casualties these days mostly occur when pedestrians manage to escape from the corrals and dripping underpasses in which they are confined.  Meanwhile the general health toll , in obesity and  heart disease caused by lack of exercise, and bad backs caused by endless sitting in cars, is the single worst avoidable health problem in our population, apart from the cancer and heart-disease consequences of cigarette smoking.

Users of public transport seldom if ever do so from free choice. They can only bear it because they have no choice. Rural bus services have a lofty, condescending  'take-it-or-leave-it' character, infrequent, at odd hours, likely to be cancelled at no notice. They appear to have been designed by people who think it a moral failing not to drive a car, and desire to punish those who do not do so. Urban services are unreliable (because of car congestion)  and their mile-for-mile fares compare unfavourably with Concorde. 

It is also generally assumed by designers that the bus passenger deserves and expects a far lower level of comfort than a car passenger. Trams, making a major comeback in France, are deemed uneconomic and resisted by planners who (missing the point) say they will get in the way of cars. This, of course, is what they are supposed to do.

They are the only form of street public transport that can insist on priority over cars.  That is why our car-loving, oil-guzzling  planners got rid of them in the 1950s. Railways, a form of transport developed here because they are so suited to our narrow landscape, are run on the principle that as soon as they become popular, fares must rise to drive passengers away - as the alternative would be to run more trains and open more lines and stations, which a government in the hands of the road lobby persistently refuses to do.

Newspapers occasionally run silly stories suggesting that major new lines are to be built, but these always turn out, on examination, to be based on thin air. Meanwhile huge subsidies and tax breaks are given to the roads and to air travel, despite official green ideology, which would - if taken seriously - mean that both these methods of transport should be severely discouraged. 

I think there are good rational reasons for switching subsidies from road and air to rail, but the truth - that the government don't believe their own green propaganda - is most clearly revealed in their continuing support for cars and planes. I would be interested in a proper analysis of the economic benefits of switching, over the next 25 years, to a public-transport rail and tram based system, largely powered by electricity which could be generated by nuclear stations and home-produced coal.

Plainly, a large number of cars, buses and branch-line trains would still run on oil-based fuels, but I suspect our dependency on imported oil (and gas) could be cut by enormous amounts.At the same time we would develop an independent, long-lasting power generating system, which could be exported when it produced surplus power and would assure a measure of national independence in an era when ( as is increasingly plain) energy will be a major weapon of international diplomacy. 

Russia has already used its gas reserves to place pressure on Ukraine and Belarus and will soon be able to do the same with Germany. The Caspian gas and oil bubble has already led to a pipeline war between Russia and the USA, which lies at the back of the current rumblings in the Caucasus. 

China's increasing need for Iranian gas, and Sudanese oil, has much to do with its attitude towards Iranian nuclear development and the Darfur massacres. Under these circumstances, a country that does not even know how it will light its homes 20 years from now is asking to be weak and vulnerable. 

 

 
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