breaking news from the world of ideas

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 23
September 2022
Idea
16:15

Hard times call for flat beer

Real ale may be the solution to Britain's CO2 shortage

If there’s an overall theme to the events of the past few years, it’s the proof that the increasingly interconnected global economy has embedded within it new vulnerabilities to sudden unexpected shocks. A crisis at one end of the world may have unpredictable results at the other, leading to shortages in completely unexpected areas. And among the unintended costs of the rising energy prices brought about by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a threat to Britain’s millennia-old social lubricant: beer.

In bad news for drinkers of commercial lagers, brewers have warned this week that the country is facing a beer shortage, as supplies of CO2 needed to give lager its gaseous fizz have suddenly dwindled. Why? Because commercial CO2 production is a byproduct of the fertiliser industry, and industrial producers of ammonia are shutting down their production due to rising wholesale gas prices. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Monday, 29
August 2022
Debate
10:30

Insulate Britain was right all along

Not insulating homes now looks like an own goal for the government

Given the astronomical rise in energy prices announced on Friday, which are only set to get worse in an energy crisis that may last a decade, former government advisers are now briefing that “ministers are increasing the risk of a supply shortage by failing to tell the public to save energy and should embark on an emergency program of insulation [my emphasis] and efficiency to reduce demand.”

No wonder: Britain’s antiquated housing stock is among the leakiest in Europe, better at heating the climate as a whole than our homes. 63% of domestic energy use in Britain is spent on heating homes, and mostly wasted, while the reliance on gas for heating — in around 90% of homes— means that Britain consumes what is now precious and ruinously expensive gas at twice the European average. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 19
August 2022
Idea
16:37

Firewood: the premodern solution to Britain’s energy crisis

Biomass is already our greatest source of renewable energy

Winter is coming, and it’s going to be tough. With energy prices rocketing, affluent Western European countries like Germany and Belgium are beginning to echo previously crisis-struck nations like Greece and Lebanon as ordinary people prepare to return to heating their homes with firewood, just to keep warm. In Germany, Google searches for firewood have gone through the roof as anxious consumers stock up for winter; and sales of woodburning stoves have been so robust that Germany’s undergoing a shortage, as Europe’s industrial powerhouse returns to pre-industrial survival methods. 

But mankind’s oldest means of keeping warm isn’t just for ordinary householders. Most people don’t realise that a decent chunk of Britain’s electricity — around 6.5% last quarter — comes from burning biomass, mostly wood, centred on the vast Drax power station. In fact, despite all the attention given to wind and wave power, biomass is Britain’s greatest source of renewable energy at around 40% of the total, the same percentage as in the EU where biomass heats 50 million homes. As the president of the World Bionergy Association, Christian Rakos notes, wood-dominated biomass already makes “a greater contribution to Europe’s renewable energy goals than all the continent’s wind and solar output combined”. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 12
August 2022
Seen Elsewhere
13:00

Does the U.S. actually want to defend Taiwan?

War has gone from a remote scenario to a fearfully plausible one

Does the United States actually want to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion? As speculative questions go, this one’s looking a lot less speculative after Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island state. As the eminent American strategist Elbridge Colby (whose book on the necessity of defending Taiwan to preserve American imperial hegemony was recently reviewed in UnHerd) observes, “A war with China over Taiwan has gone from what many regarded as a remote scenario to a fearfully plausible one.”

In his latest essay for Foreign Affairs, Colby observes that America’s strong rhetoric on defending Taiwan has so far not been matched by any meaningful action. After all: ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Monday, 25
July 2022
News
15:17

Viktor Orban sees a ‘decade of dangers’ ahead

In a fracturing world, the Hungarian PM calls for a new Europe

On Saturday, Hungary’s recently-reelected leader Viktor Orban gave another of his showpiece speeches in neighbouring Transylvania, reviving what has become an annual tradition after a two-year Covid hiatus. While much of the foreign coverage naturally focussed on his emphatic rejection of both Western Europe’s racial heterogeneity and of Western sanctions against Russia, the most interesting part of the speech — its stark geopolitical content — has received far less attention. 

As Orban observed, “the general feeling is that the world is steadily deteriorating. The news, the tone of the news, is getting ever darker. And there is a kind of doomsday view of the future that is growing in strength.” Looking forward, “the decade that has now opened up before us is clearly going to be a decade of dangers, of uncertainty and wars… we have entered an age of dangers, and the pillars of Western civilisation, once thought unshakable, are cracking.”  ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Wednesday, 20
July 2022
Debate
15:26

What the Right gets wrong about Dutch farmers

They are defending a globalised and hyper-intensive form of agriculture

Moving on from Covid, the conspiratorial wing of the populist Right has a new cause célèbre on which to hang its fears of global governance and the Great Reset purportedly being plotted by Klaus Schwab from his Alpine lair. This time, it’s Dutch farmers, whose protests against their government’s plans to force them to curb their use of nitrogen-based fertilisers and lower the polluted runoff from their farms has seen them lauded by Right-wing commentators across the Anglosphere as some form of modern peasants’ revolt.

As a recent UnHerd explainer made clear, the Dutch government may have handled the process badly, but the problems are clear enough: the Netherlands’ hyper-intensive form of agriculture is ecologically untenable, severely harming the tiny country’s biodiversity and locking the country’s agricultural sector into a system of overproduction of livestock for export. This entails dangerously low profit margins for farmers themselves, and a system reliant on imports of chemical fertilisers. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Tuesday, 28
June 2022
News
13:15

Top general: Britain must prepare for war

Sir Patrick Sanders says we face 'a 1937 moment'

The war in Ukraine is not a brief and bloody spat in a faraway country of which we know little. Instead, as the new Chief of General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders warned in a historic speech at RUSI today, “This is our 1937 moment,” as “we are living through a period in history as profound as the one that our forebears did over 80 years ago.”

The harsh reality is that “the visceral nature of a European land war is not just some manifestation of distant storm clouds on the horizon; we can see it now”.

As a result of major state-on-state conflict on our home continent, at a scale vastly beyond our current capacity to sustain, including artillery battles with “ammunition expenditure rates that would exhaust the combined stockpiles of several Nato countries in a matter of days”, Britain therefore has no choice but to rearm: “Mobilisation is now the main effort.” ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 17
June 2022
Spotted
13:30

Macron embraces Nietzsche’s civilisational vision

The President is seeking to unite the continent against Russia

In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Friedrich Nietzsche mused on the possibilities of the Russian threat to unite Europe into a great civilisational power, beyond what he saw as the petty nationalisms of the day. Only the threat posed by “that monstrous empire in-between, where Europe, as it were, flows back into Asia,” he wrote, would allow European civilisation “to acquire one will… a protracted terrible will which would be able to project its goals millennia hence”, ending “the long drawn-out comedy of its petty states”.

Whatever his own Nietzschean qualities, Emmanuel Macron appears to agree. Always a civilisational thinker, endlessly returning to the idea of Europe as a great civilisational power standing between the fading American empire and the rising Chinese civilisation state, Macron’s new-found commitment to Ukraine’s European destiny seems to stand within this vein of thought. ...  Continue reading

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