BY JIM WEBSTER
It was back in the 1990s, and I knew several farmers who decided to give up their agricultural tenancies and get out of the industry. At the time they were somewhat nervous as to how they were going to make a living. After all, this wasn’t retirement. I’m not sure if any of them got out of the industry with enough to buy a house, so getting a job wasn’t something they could put off until they were in the mood.
But a couple of years later I was talking to them and they were doing pretty well. One thing they discovered was that firms hiring delivery drivers, especially firms supplying agriculture or doing rural deliveries, were preferentially hiring farmers. There were several reasons. Firstly, they were, to quote the jargon, ‘self-motivating’. They didn’t need to be chased – give them the list and they’d deliver.
Secondly they weren’t too worried about hours. After all, given a lot had been self-employed, milking cows twice a day for over 360 days a year for twenty or thirty years, a thirty-five-hour week was barely a full-time job and a boss who paid for overtime was a novelty.
Thirdly, they did the job, but often brought in trade. Retailers discovered that their farmers would mention special offers to mates still farming.
Now it looks as if a lot of other people could be looking for jobs. A lot of tech companies are shedding staff. We face a lengthy recession, apparently. Facebook could be cutting numbers by 10%. Amazon has 100,000 fewer employees around the world than it did have (although given the high staff turnover in some roles that probably didn’t take much doing). Tesla is getting rid of a lot of office jobs but is hiring factory/production workers. And we all know about Twitter.
Then there is the whole Cryptocurrency industry. Blockchain.com is cutting 25% of its workforce (which to be fair is only 150 people) but the rest of that industry might be descending into an FX style death spiral.
Meanwhile developers in West London have been told they face a potential decade-long moratorium on any new homes because there isn’t the electricity supply. Apparently the Greater London Authority told developers the volume of electricity used by data centres had effectively taken up excess capacity in the system. It said:
Disposing of cryptocurrencies could help with our energy problems, estimates I have seen indicate that Bitcoin consumes electricity at an annualized rate of 127 terawatt-hours (TWh). That usage exceeds the entire annual electricity consumption of Norway. With Germany and others contemplating rationing energy, do we even need to waste energy on cryptocurrencies that the vast majority (94%) of the UK population would never miss?
So as the year draws to an end, people are already making serious decisions. What temperature to set your central heating? The Energy Saving Trust recommends heating your home to between 18 to 21 degrees Celsius during winter. And The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests 18 degrees is the ideal temperature for healthy and well-dressed people. Never having lived in a house with central heating I’d suggest you set it to stop the house freezing and heat a couple rooms. Well, it works for us.
And now people are voting with their wallets. Sky has seen sales fall in Europe as people are just abandoning the broadcaster. Netflix lost a lot of subscribers. Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, has commented that households are starting to cut back on buying alcohol in supermarkets and pubs. Indeed, I’ve talked to bar staff who reckon that whilst the early evening can be a reasonable trade, by 9pm the bar is empty and everybody has gone home except for them. These are more jobs that will be going.
Now I don’t want readers to think it’s all bad news. There are jobs, indeed whole industries on the horizon. I looked up a firm called Highview Power. Basically they have a scheme where you take surplus electricity from windfarms (from when we’re actually paying them not to put energy into the grid) and solar, and use it to liquefy air by cooling it. Then when you need power, you slowly allow the air to ‘boil off’ and the pressure of the air will drive a turbine. It’s a clever use of old technology. Even the idea isn’t absolutely new. At Kendoon in Scotland they had a hydroelectric plant which was powered by water held back in a reservoir. When electricity was full, they pumped water back uphill into the reservoir, and then when there was peak demand, they just allowed water back down through the plant again.
We can be cleverer yet.
These jobs aren’t there yet, but they’re a lot closer than they were before Putin finally killed long term reliance on gas when he invaded the Ukraine.
Perhaps, ironically, in thirty years, they’ll look back at Putin as the one who inadvertently saved the world from global warming?
But what about jobs now?
Well, I saw one company offering ‘all year-round work’ has been posted online with one company picking and packing vegetables. They were offering a salary of up to £30-an-hour. Obviously it was piecework but for those who were good enough, it would amount to £240 for an eight-hour-day. Cutting broccoli in the fresh air is bound to be better for you than being cramped up in a windowless office mining for cryptocurrencies.
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.