Friday, October 31, 2008

Travelling Less?

As I sit at Gatwick waiting to get a flight home and feeling guilty at the huge increase in my carbon foot print, I wonder about how much travelling we will be doing in the future.

Oil supplies will be constrained in the future, which will hit first - a shortage in the ground or problems getting it out and refined, it is not clear. The recently publish report from the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security estimate we have a 3-5 year window to make substantial cuts in our usage. The focus of this, and many other reports, is on doing what we do more efficiently - and this is great. But even without the cost factor, changing the car for the bus/train/bicycle etc. is also going to decrease our journeys simply because it reduces our ability to be spontaneous. At the moment, for a car owner, a quick drive down to the shops to get a frozen pizza because we have a sudden craving for one is just a case of jumping in the car and off we go. Without the car a bit more thinking has to take place first. Is it raining? When does the last bus leave? Is the local shop still open or do I need to go the bigger one further away? I'm going past the supermarket tomrrow anyway... At this stage the cravings for the pizza have passed and suddenly a bit of pasta made with ingredients in the cupboard looks a lot more attractive.

The ability for consumers to be spontaneous is a huge driver of spending - just put it on the credit card and worry about the bill later, 24 hour shopping - never go without a Ben & Jerrys tub of ice cream when you really need one, £1 flights to Budapest - lets just go. The freedom of the open road etc. etc. When freedom becomes more expensive and inconvenient we change our habits and I foresee a lot fewer miles driven as we plan our travel more carefully and combine tasks.

And it's not just people miles. Plastics are made from oil and a vast array of all that stuff we buy is made with plastic. Companies seeking to reduce costs will redesign products to last longer but with the ability to upgrade - ideally a software upgrade, meaning there is less stuff to ship around. As transport becomes more expensive, making and growing things locally becomes more competitative and again transport miles go down. As logistics systems become highly intelligent and adaptive, fewer vehicles travel with part loads, again pushing miles down.

By how much? And for how long? As we crack cheap energy and future cars become cheap to buy and run again will we want return to a country run by cars?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Oil Crunch

Attended the launch of The Oil Crunch, a report looking at what will happen if we fail to address the systemic problems we have with energy, and oil in particular, in the same way we ignored systemic problems in the finacial sector. For me this is the most comprehensive, clear and well written assessment of the energy situation yet produced including contributions from both Shell and Zero Carbon Britain as possible scenarios. The basic message is that the UK has a 3-5 year window to engineer a soft landing and their hope is that this report will put the arguments into context and stimulate a knowledgeable debate.

The four scenarios considered are:
Growth - becoming less plausible by the day
Plateau - Shell - growth in supply to 1015 and plateau into the 2020s
Descent - Zero Carbon Britain
Collapse - here be dragons
The taskforce favour Descent, although this is conservative compared the the current IEA forcasts leaked today in the FT which project a 6.4-9.1% pa!

A good question was asked about why businesses would not want to sell more, particularly utilities. Ian Merchant from Scottish and Southern Energy, jumped on this one saying it was not good business practice to sell people what they did not need. Much better to sell less and build up a larger loyal clientbase. Great answer! It seems as the mighty are falling, what was previously unsayable (if you valued your job or reputation) can now be said. Will Whitehorn from Virgin said that business growth for the sake of growth was not good either, although there would be opportunities for growth in a descent scenario.

Some other points that came out of the Q&A:
- the need for a policy around heat as well as energy
- the urgent need for a feed-in tariff (and this seems about to happen)
- a key question is how much energy do we, as individuals, need to fuel our lifestyle? This is about us using smart technology and making choices.
- there is an urgent need to look at the regulatory environment which is creating many roadblocks to progress such as planning restrictions
- Stagecoach have coverted some buses in Kilmarnock to run on waste oil such as chip fat. Custom has increased, and some travellers are bringing bottles of old chip oil to pay for their journey!

The Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security included senior representatives from Virgin, Solarcentury, Stagecoach, Scottish and Southern Energy, Yahoo, Arup, Foster and Partners and First.

Report at

A few ideas occurred to me during this presentation. I don't think there is much to be gained by trying to analyse exactly when Peak Oil will occur. The question is when will the symptoms associated with Peak Oil start to have an impact and the answer is that that is already happening. Symptoms include erratic prices as confidence evaporates and pricing oil becomes more difficult, oil producing countries starting to conserve supplies for themselves, significant investment moving to renewables and alternative energy supplies, increasing interest in the subject in all areas.

I would like to see a mega plan put together identify all the projects/changes that need to happen and what the timescales and dependacies are for each of these. From that we could draw a huge plan identifying the critical path and what changes need to happen to unblock sections of the plan (like implementing feed-in tarrifs, smart metering and DR).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

London Pics from the camera phone

Trees that caught my eye:

Still lots of building going on in the City. View of cranes (you can just about make them out) from Waterloo bridge.

Only a few days ago I was walking down the street in a tee-shirt. It just started snowing!

Zero Carbon Britain

Had an interesting chat with Paul Allen from CAT who has been working on the 'what to do about peak oil and climate change' for much longer than most. He acted as a consultant on the 'Oil Crunch' report due to be launch tomorrow. Lots of good stuff in the Zero Carbon Britain report, including details of addressing demand side management as well as the supply side.

Get the report here:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review of is a collection of videos of people talking about the big picture. Dipping in I found this Vandana Shiva talks about the idea that we are currently living in a representative democracy but an economic dictatorship and this chimes with the feeling I have, that we are the slaves of the economy, not the other way around. She suggests that we vote all the time, with our wallets, and we can use this power to bring about change. 132 speakers in all - share and enjoy.

Rated 4/5 on Oct 19 2008
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Tax As You Go

I hate doing tax returns. In fact if I could pay a bit of extra tax in order not to have to do a tax return I would! So here is a wild idea for making my life easier.

Tax as you go.

I sign up for a deal that adds 5% to every transaction I have with my bank that goes straight into my tax account. If I withdraw €100 from the ATM, €105 is deducted from my bank balance and €5 is added to my tax account. If I pay for €50 of shopping with my credit card, another €2.50 goes into the tax account. At the end of the tax year, the money in my tax account has interest added (which is above the rate I would receive at the bank) and is deducted from my tax bill.

When I pay may tax bill online I get to decide on where 50% of my tax goes and I can allocate it between health, education, public transport etc. There might also be special requests for funding - a hospital wants a new cancer treatment machine - and I can allocate some of my money to that. I can recieve updates on how that funding drive is going by text or email. The government gets to decide on what the pots are - we get decide how much goes in each pot. If we feel passionately that one pot is more deserving than another, WE can lobby our friends to put their allocation in that pot. Once a pot is full, the government MUST proceed with that project. This helps us feel part of the link between paying taxes and getting services which I know is missing for many of us.

There might also be some kind of gold star award we recieve when we pay a certain amount of tax that shows we are a responsible member of the community. People with gold stars are listed, so a wealthy person without a gold star is clearly visible to community and it is clear they are not contributing much to rebuilding the local school etc.

In the long term, I would like a pay as you go system to replace income tax and other forms of tax, removing loopholds and dodgy incentives. When what we want is more jobs and to use resources more efficiently, it makes more sense to me to tax stuff not people. So if I earn lots of money, I don't pay any tax until I spend it. If all transactions, including financial trading, were included, we would only pay a small tax, probably 0.5% on each transaction! Then there would be an end to tax returns - what joy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can I have a cappuccino with my goat's milk please?

This request is met with a wide range of responses, but the answer is usually yes. In fact the only place that could have done it but wouldn't was the deli in Bandon and they wouldn't even let me buy a black coffee and put my goat's milk in it myself if I was going to drink it on the premises! Needless to say, I have not been back since. Anyway, the reason for the blog post was not to winge but to make an observation as I sit here in Costa Coffee at the motorway service station near Taunton. I think I can see a difference between the UK and Ireland when it comes to paying. I have no problem in paying the full amount for my coffee. It's not a lot of money and the coffee shop has to cover their overheads. But interestingly, the British sense of fair play has often meant they have charged me much less for my coffee! A gut feel would suggest I pay full price about 85% of the time in Ireland and only 40% of the time in the UK. I look forward to trying this experiment in other countries, though it will require me learning a bit more than 'Do you speak English' in the requisite language!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Homes for the Future - Pod Living?

The Telegraph yesterday (11/10/08) had an article called Pod Squad about small modular homes.

From a cube on legs which can be craned onto the top of a high rise building from £63,000 -

To a micro compact home, only 2.6m3 but two double beds and two flat screen tvs for £26,000 from

or an M-House that fits the legal status of a caravan from £147,000

Or my favorite, an Eco Pod from from only £36,000

Anyone who knows me and my generous house full of 'stuff', not to mention barns and sheds full of 'stuff', will laugh at the idea that I could possibly live in such a small area. And I have to admit I only really fancy it if I could live in Zen like simplicy in my pod in the garden and keep the house for stuff and visitors. But imagine a future where many have lost everything - their homes and cars reposessed along with most of the trappings of the 21st century. And these might not be people falling off the lowest rung of the ladder, but falling off from quite a way up. So as the economy starts to recover, but energy prices making old, large, poorly equipped houses expensive to run, pod living might become fashionable, at least for singles or couples of small stature! This new chic makes a virtue out of simple, low cost living. And for the property developer, knock down that 90s house and put up 20 pod homes!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review of Personal Brain

I rarely get excieted by a new piece of software, but am completely bowled over by Personal Brain to the extent that I will be paying the $250 fee when the trial expires. While I don't plan to put my whole life here, for the brain storming/research phase of an idea it is perfect. I brainstorm the basic map, then go through writing notes and links to online stuff that might be useful, then I can sit down and write in one go.

It's one of those bits of software that is not really so different from much that has gone before, but by making it that bit easier to use and flexible it can change the way you work. Like my beloved TiVo, not so different from a video recorder but different enough to change the whole way I watch TV.

Here is a part of my Personal Brain for the next blog entry:

Monday, October 6, 2008

Future Tax

I will be doing a scenario workshop with the revenue later this month and looking at how taxation might change in the different scenarios.

I plan to investigate a transaction tax in the Enlightened Transition scenario. This assumes most transactions will be electronic by 2020 and a small commission from the both the buyer and seller will be sent to the revenue. The upside is the end to income tax and doing tax returns.

In Localisation, the revenue collect tax in both euros and local currenies and try to spend local currencies within the currency area.

If you have an ideas or challenges for how we can generated the money to pay for public services in the future, do let me know asap. All ideas welcome, the more outrageous the better!