The Law of Unintended Consequences

BY JIM WEBSTER

I don’t often apologise to the government of the People’s Republic of China but I confess I have been somewhat sceptical about their sincerity when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. But apparently they are trying. The government laid down strict limits on the amount of energy that could be used in various provinces. But when lockdown ended, there were a lot of orders to fulfill and a big backlog to clear. So in a lot of places they went gung-ho to get production back on track. After all, the lackeys of the imperialist running dogs needed their cheap clothes and trainers. They were obviously worried we might have to go naked into the coming winter. But their self-sacrifice was for nothing. It appears that twenty of the thirty provinces and regions in China massively increased their energy consumption.

The National Development and Reform Commission which monitors these things is cracking down. Local officials will be held responsible (now that is an enlightened attitude that could do with spreading) and in some places plants have been ordered to close. A lot of other plants are working at a lot lower throughput, using less energy.

This sort of thing knocks on through the world economy in two ways. On a Facebook group I sort of follow, somebody posted a photo of empty shelves in a shop selling the spray paints that he uses for his craft work. He is from Michigan. The people joining in the discussion came from around the English speaking world and the EU. All had noticed the same shortage. But then the paints probably came from the same factory.

Given that the Chinese aren’t selling, they’re also cutting back on their buying. German exports to China have fallen. China was Germany’s second largest market (after the EU) so this is serious. Fortunately for the Germans, sales to the USA increased, making the USA Germany’s second largest market.

The drive for greener energy means that the Chinese are moving away from coal, so they’ve been shifting to gas. Apparently, “Chinese state media quoted Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday as saying the country will secure its energy and power supplies following a series of blackouts and shortages that have forced a large number of companies to restrict output.”

It seems that word has come down from above that state-owned energy companies are to secure supplies for this winter at all costs. So if you’re worried about the cost of your gas central heating, the price of gas isn’t going to fall at any point in the near future.

But this web of interconnectivity links us all. Chatham House is doing some interesting work.

A lot of our food not only travels a long way, but passes through a lot of choke points where it could be seriously delayed. Whilst our grain might not pass through the Suez Canal or the Bosporus, should something block them for any length of time, the countries who do rely on that grain are going to be scrabbling around trying to ensure they don’t go hungry. They’re going to be in the market, bidding the price up to ensure people don’t starve. It’s not going to be pretty.

But then the World Bank said:

“Global food security relies increasingly on international trade. Production of grain is highly concentrated in just a handful of regions – principally the US Midwest, the Black Sea region, and Brazil. Together, these breadbaskets supply the majority of the world’s wheat, maize and soybean and, crucially, provide the principal source of staple food supply in the most food-insecure countries of the Middle East, North Africa and East Africa.”

Things are getting fragile. Unfortunately it seems that when faced with Covid, received wisdom meant the governments just switched the economy off and switched it back on again. This might work with a computer, but it takes the world economy a lot longer to boot up that even a multi-updated Windows 10. Not only that, it looks as if it’s going to reboot in a subtly different format.

I think it’s probably time for people to adopt a more global view and realise that current problems are not caused by the political party they dislike in the country where they happen to live.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.