We’ve been short of good news recently. The world has been looking distinctly grim. Not only that but we’re going into unknown territory. I think that there was a general feeling that when Putin invaded the Ukraine, the war might last a week, and then after making a few token gestures of disapproval, we’d go back to business as usual.
The problem is that the Ukrainians didn’t roll conveniently over. They fought back and the dead civilians in Bucha, bodies lying in the street, in shallow graves, or in cellars, have explained exactly why the Ukrainians were so keen to fight. I saw it pointed out in a paper recently that a lot of Ukrainians, some still in the armed forces, served in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They know what happens when it’s felt that a civilian population needs to be taught a sharp lesson. They were determined that it wasn’t going to happen to their people, their families.
So now what? A month ago, I could have imagined that the gas taps would be fully on and trade links would be resumed. Politicians with insincere smiles would have kissed and made up. But now things are different. Even if the politicians want to kiss and make up (and too be fair to most of them, they realise that that time has long past) there are already war crimes investigations starting. Already evidence is being gathered, witnesses are being interviewed. Will this just be brushed away with a wave of the hand? It will be difficult to have the investigation under UN auspices because the Russians can just veto it, but there are other bodies who can ensure that cases come to trial.
Even if the Russians pulled out completely, tomorrow, Bucha and so many other places have left their scars on the psyche, on prime time TV. The electorate is not going to unsee this even if our political masters wanted to ignore it. The gas doesn’t burn properly, contaminated with innocent blood.
So the problem is that from now on, whilst the current regime is in power in Russia, the sanctions will continue. Already various people are biting the bullet. The Germans are obviously assuming the situation is not going to improve, they’re already planning the rationing of gas for next winter. The opposition in this country suggest that we ought to be doing the same. It’s a valid position to take up.
So where does that leave farmers and consumers in the UK. There is talk that milk will have to increase by 50% in the shops. It will, either it’ll increase because nobody can afford to produce it, and you have scarcity; or it’ll increase in an attempt to ensure production stays up. It’s the same with the Glass House industry.
As early as last September, the price of gas was hitting the Dutch industry
In the UK a few days ago it was reported that in “Southeast England, vast glasshouses stand empty, the soaring cost of energy preventing their owner from using heat to grow cucumbers for the British market.
Elsewhere in the country growers have also failed to plant peppers, aubergines and tomatoes.”
“While last year it cost about 25 pence to produce a cucumber in Britain, that has now doubled and is set to hit 70 pence when higher energy prices fully kick in, trade body British Growers says. Regular sized cucumbers were selling for as little as 43 pence at Britain’s biggest supermarket chains on Tuesday.”
Remember industrial users have not had their gas price capped, last year producers paid 40-50 pence a therm for natural gas. Last week it was £2.25 a therm, having briefly hit a record £8 in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
Obviously some of these greenhouses will probably plant something when the warmer weather comes, but forget out of season vegetables. They’re going to be expensive.
With regard to the staples it’s estimated that the price of bread could go up by 20%, pasta by 50%, potatoes by 30% and beer by 15%.
The problem is that this comes on top of an increase in the price of domestic gas and fuels such as petrol and diesel. People are inevitably feel the pinch as summer turns into winter. There again we’re not as badly off as those in North Africa and the Middle East who depended on Ukrainian grain and similar. As the price goes up we will see a lot of genuine hunger around the world. Not just a few less unseasonal veg on the supermarket shelves.
But how bad could it get here? If we have fuel rationing, if factories have to close because they cannot use gas on three days and cannot afford to use the gas on the other four, what is going to happen to jobs. People will already have been laid off from the glass house industry.
We have a lot of people in this country on the edge of hunger as it is. When I googled for a picture of men queuing for a soup kitchen, I wanted the one at the top of the page. But all the pictures I initially got were from the UK. We already have a ‘flourishing’ soup kitchen sector.
In one way we’re lucky. The churches and other voluntary groups have built up a pretty solid foodbank and soup kitchen sector. We’re well provided. We’ve got a good solid foundation on which to build.
But in another way we’re unlucky. Government, with our agreement, poured an unimaginable amount of money into dealing with covid. They weren’t alone, a lot of other governments did it. But it does mean that the government is going into the crisis pretty much on its uppers. Also if unemployment grows and interest rates increase, governments will get less tax income, and have to pay back more on the money it borrowed.
What is going to happen? God alone knows. Personally I suspect it’s going to be a good and bad time to be an environmental campaigner. Good in that there is a very major push to renewables and nuclear. Bad, it that if you start lecturing people about cutting back, you’d be wise to do it from a safe distance, that way they’ll only laugh in your face.
One big issue could be social unrest. If we have a bureaucratic class who are still ‘working from home’ and agitating for inflation linked salaries, I can see people losing patience with them. There is only so long people are willing to sit on hold with a repeated message telling you that ‘because staff are working from home you might hear unaccustomed noises in the background.’
But at least, working from home in a nice suburb, you’ll not have to pass the queue for the soup kitchens.