Number of the Month

September  2009

Time: the future

A clear starry moonless sky looked down upon a frozen Britain . A deep depression had passed through and deposited unprecedented quantities of snow on town and country. Snow ploughs and gritting vehicles had cleared a way through on the major routes, but footpaths and side roads were still not negotiable. A stationary high had now settled across the country and in the windless air the temperature was plunging steadily, already below -10C. On the hills giant wind turbines stood motionless in the still air. They were giant impotent icons of a failed religion and stark monuments to onerous and now pointless taxation over many years. In the gloom they seemed to point accusing fingers up into the sky.

At the control centre of the national Power Grid there was a nervous quiet, punctuated by short bouts of hushed conversation. They knew the crisis would occur in an hour’s time, at about 7 am. They had already made the dreadful decision as to which towns would be made to experience suffering and death by being deprived of power. This was a different world from the last time there were serious power cuts in 1970. It was now totally dependent on computer and related technologies. Owing to decisions made (or, to be more accurate, not made) in the first years of the century, the nation was grossly underpowered for such a circumstance. The domestic demand was already high, as almost everyone had left the heating on over night.

Some people had managed to get through to places of work. Cleaners turned on the lights and the great machines of industry began to hum. The power consumption crept up towards the critical point.

As it happened, pure accident relieved the men of the Grid of the responsibility of decision. In a remote rural area a giant high voltage transformer had not received its scheduled maintenance, as an indirect effect of the pressure on energy prices. Although worldwide energy was cheap and plentiful, ever-increasing green taxes, coupled with political instability, had made it otherwise. In that transformer, now working at full load, partial electrical discharges were producing solid debris and potentially explosive gases from the increasingly contaminated insulation oil. Suddenly, a bridge of conducting particles formed and a spark occurred. Into the arc poured the power supply for a whole area. The explosion was spectacular, showering the surrounding area with molten metal and blazing oil.

The adjacent area, also working at full load, experienced a surge and the automatic circuit breakers dropped out. So the dominoes began to fall across the country. By chance, an astronaut in the Spacelab was looking at a Europe whose shape was beautifully picked out by the street lights, when a black stain appeared in the middle of Britain . It spread rapidly and the entire island seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.

The first to die were among the elderly and infirm. As temperatures plunged they did not know what to do and gradually sank into a hypothermal coma. Next were younger people with disabilities such as breathing difficulties. People with gas and oil central heating suddenly had the realisation forced on them that, without electricity, their control systems did not work. Virtually untouched were people in remote rural areas, who had wood and coal burning stoves and plentiful supplies in store. Many people turned on their gas ovens and rings to try to obtain some life-giving warmth, but in consequence of the demand the gas pressure went down steadily and the distributors began to cut off supplies.

Water froze in the pipes and most households were without drinking water or sewerage. The trappings of modern civilisation, which only hours before had been taken for granted, now seemed as illusory as a mirage in the desert.

Some brave souls went out to seek supplies from the shops, but the shops had not opened. Without electricity the tills did not work and even the few who had staff who could perform mental arithmetic could not maintain accounts and stock control. Looting spread, as normally law abiding people saw the lives of their families under threat. The men at the Grid desperately tried to restore power area by area, but the consequent instant increase in demand foiled their efforts.

In hospitals emergency power generators switched in to protect those in intensive care, but some failed due to poor maintenance and the patients died. Emergency services were hopelessly overloaded and telephone networks began to break down. As local doctors’ surgeries began to open they found that they could not access patient records, which were all on computer. Seasonal flu again became a fatal disease as patients in high fever could not be kept warm.

So death and disease marched across the land. The economy collapsed and anarchy reigned.

And it was all due to a Government White Paper in 2003 entitled Our energy future – creating a low carbon economy.


which leads us to 


Your bending author is a fairly placid sort of fellow, usually taking the whips and scorns of time and all that as they come. There are, however, certain phenomena of the modern world that stir him into intemperate rage. One of these is the use of spin to cover up Governmental insouciance in the face of inevitable disastrous consequences of its own perverse (or even absent) policies. There are two areas of policy that Number Watch has been banging on about since its birth. One is  debt (of which we have just begun to experience the consequences) and the other is energy. Over the same period it has also been repeatedly warning about the coming energy crisis and the inevitability of power cuts. With a few honourable exceptions (including, of course, the sainted Christopher Booker) journalists have largely ignored the subject, while politicians make only pious asides and do nothing. You can bet your sweet bippy that they will all be wise after the event.

The basic requirements of a sound energy policy are so self evident that it would seem unnecessary to state them. Yet Government continues brazenly to ignore them (see, for example, Power mad). This is an age of political obscurantism. The EU deliberately rewrites its unacceptable constitution in a way that it now cannot be understood. Members of Congress vote for gross increases in taxation via lengthy bills that none of them has read. The Blair Government, however, was unique in that it had deception woven into its structure from the outset. The two abstract nouns we have most associated over the years with Tony Blair are insouciance and chutzpah. These characteristics have been most in evidence over energy policy. Look at this as an example of chutzpah. Even more startling than that came this quotation a year later in May 2008:

Britain faced the prospect of being largely reliant on foreign gas imports for its future energy needs and it would be a "dereliction of duty" if he failed to take long-term decisions.

The "dereliction" had, of course, occurred five years previously. Meanwhile, the appalling and disruptive plague of giant windmills spreads across the once beautiful landscape, now forced on us as one of the many dire consequences of the treachery of the political class in sacrificing our hard-won democracy to the new soviet in Brussels, breaking a firm promise to conduct a referendum before such action.

Wind power is a delusion. Take the example of Texas. It is no coincidence that this state is the first to experience power cuts because of a drop in the wind. The only thing you can guarantee about wind power is that is will not be available during in extremes of temperature, which are almost invariably associated with a windless stationary high. Denmark, littered with giant windmills, claims to get 20% of its power from that source. The reality is considerably less than half that amount, while the consequent taxes and charges make it the most costly energy in Europe. A yield of less than 20% of installed capacity  would mean that to meet the EU target of 20% of energy from renewable resources (which for most, in effect, means wind) the installed wind capacity would absurdly have to be larger than the total energy requirement. The reality is that absence of wind, as occurs at the extremes of temperature associated with stationary high pressure zones, coincides with the highest demand. Most countries are not as fortunate as Denmark in having near neighbours with more controllable hydro-power. Furthermore wind is subject to short term random fluctuations, making control of the distribution grid a herculean task. The real result of this is major and spreading power cuts.  In the modern world, extensive power cuts mean suffering and death.

So the western population is threatened with the Green Death and there is little they can do about it

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Beyond satire

Sometimes it eases the boredom of dealing with institutional inanity to take a satirical approach. For example, confronted with the effrontery of the posturing at the CRU, Number Watch founded the PRU and has featured its pronouncements from time to time. In this demented age, however, the danger of satire is that it can be quickly overtaken by reality. So we have the story of the moment about how The Dog Ate Global Warming. The squirming of the CRU over requests for access to its primary data is one of the most remarkable chapters in the tortured history of the global warming fable (perhaps almost matched by the contortions of the editor of Nature in trying to avoid printing a just confutation of the Hockey Stick).

There are just three possible interpretations:

  1. They are incompetent
  2. They are liars
  3. They are incompetent liars

They have lived in the comfort of knowing that they have protection in high places, but the theory they espouse now has a political life of its own, so “The Science” is no longer so important. More to come?

There is a sentence  that deserves a place of honour in the Dictionary of Quotations:

“We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

It is not only astonishingly puerile, but it demonstrates that the writer, Phil Jones, does not have the slightest idea of how science works.

And what satirist could have dreamed up the Baroness Scotland affair? An unelected senior member of the Government pushes a law through Parliament that imposes draconian fines on people who innocently employ an illegal immigrant and one of the first individuals to be caught by it is the pusher herself. She says it was just a “technical breach”. The case illustrates two facets of current Government policy. First, if you have failed to control something, put the onus on ordinary people. Second, base the scale of fines on the experience of the political class on the value of money. A ten thousand pound fine is nothing to someone who has a high and ever-increasing salary plus substantial fiddled expenses. For most individuals it would be a life destroying event. Furthermore, this might be just a technical offence, but, for example, leaving your recycling bin ajar gets you a criminal record. You would be better off bashing old ladies over the head for their purses, getting only a court reprimand. There are thousands of new offences including Orwellian thoughtcrime and envirocrime. Blair certainly transformed his nation.

Then there is Professor Prescott. Number Watch is lost for words, but would have loved to see the expression of the face of the Chinese translator.

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Number of the month – 2

2 is the number of soldiers who have to share a civil servant in the UK Ministry of Defence. This is obviously the cause of low morale in the service. How would Bertie Wooster have managed if he had had to share Jeeves with Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright? The record of the MOD in areas such as equipment procurement is unmatched anywhere in the world. No doubt if Gordon Brown is successful in the next election this deficiency will be removed. After all in the NHS, of which we are so proud, there are now five beds per manager, when only a few years ago there were twelve; all thanks to the huge sums of taxpayers’ money that Gordon has poured in – just another of Gordon’s great success stories. How are beds supposed to cope when they have to share managers on such a frugal basis? It is bad enough that they are subject to constant interference by medical staff and patients. Can there be anything worse for national morale than an undermanaged bed? But, as our Poet in Residence magnificently noted almost seven years ago, Gordon is always right; though he also, all that time ago, advised us to abjure the mention of National Debt, so we won’t. mention it.

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