Every story paints a picture

Oliver Valves sounds like a minor character from a Goon Show episode  In fact, it’s a manufacturing firm in Cheshire.

The Telegraph asked the boss for his thoughts on yesterday’s budget statement. He liked less corporation tax and more help for exporters.

Then he got on to energy:

“While the Prime Minister is talking rubbish about wind farms, I’m also really pleased the Chancellor is talking of shale gas. If you drill part of Lancashire, you can have enough gas and oil coming out of shale extraction to run Britain for the next 65 years, so why are we mucking about with wind farms?”

Lordy. And he has the cheek to accuse the PM of talking rubbish.

At first I thought these were the opinions of yet another all-round business person whose natural over-optimism had been stimulated by the tall tales told by the shale fairy.

Then I checked out his business and realised he is simply talking his book. Oliver Valves sells stuff to the oil and gas industry.

Shale is the perfect pitch for suppliers. Rapidly-depleting wells lead to frenzy of drilling and piping as gas companies run faster and faster just to maintain production. Crap economics for the producers but great business for their supply chain while it lasts.

By all means give shale gas in Lancashire a try. But don’t make us laugh by trying to pretend that punching a couple of holes will put Britain straight for 65 years. More like 6.5 years – even if Lancashire and many other places get punctured like pin cushions.

Still, if there’s a prize for summing up the shale gas canard in 100 words or less, the Telegraph piece should make it on to the short-list.

Sadly for all of us in advanced industrial countries, the high oil and gas prices that make shale economic in the short term are slowly killing demand for oil and gas. In turn, that is slowly killing our iteration of high tech industrialisation.

You’d think we’d be trying all the options. Wind farms included. But hell no. It looks as though we’ll ride the technologies we know all the way to the bitter end.

Final scene from Dr Srangelove

The Permanent Low Growth Disconnect

Pundits popped up on Radio 4 this morning to drop passing mentions of the UK’s permanent low growth outlook into their previews of the Autumn Statement.

Their hints bobbed across the breakfast airwaves as we digested the news that George Osborne will have to ‘extend austerity’ for another year to 2018.

I guess many people took away the thought that that means it will take even longer for things to turn round.

But that’s not what they said. When you cut the drug of hope with the talc of the truth lurking in that word ‘permanent’, the actual implication is that things won’t get better at all. Come 2018, we could find ourselves exchanging austerity for something more astringent.

We’re being softened up. The future won’t be the happy, shiny place we allowed ourselves to believe it would be. Or the one ‘they’ promised us if you took the politicians’ mantra of endless growth as a pledge they could somehow deliver.

Writing this at my PC in a warm room, central heating working and electricity flowing, streaming classical music over a 20MB web link, there’s no obvious connection between my blissful life and the bad news on the radio.

But the roll-over from increasing to decreasing net energy is not an abstraction. It’s real and it’s starting to trash the easy economic dogmas of the past 70 years.

UK industry hit by costs and ‘dying’ supply chain” reports today’s Telegraph business section. Yup. Not merely ‘inefficient’ or ‘under-invested’ but on the way to the knacker’s yard.

This is what happens to a highly technology-dependent society when its most important input – cheap fuel – goes away.

Life doesn’t suddenly change. Chaos doesn’t erupt. Hairline cracks appear. Then big ones. And even some of those – like the pensions breakdown – can be papered over for a long time.

But it gets clearer and clearer that we turned a corner five to 10 years ago. “Where’s the demand gone?” muttered one of Radio 4’s pundits this morning. That’s the connection. Welcome to the century of unaffordability.