Jeremy Warner’s @DailyTelegraph’s list of “ten most seismic [business] events” of 2015 – three are #energy

energy Neste Oil Helsinki 715.JPG(Helsinki port area, 2015)


The events are:

  • Declining oil prices
  • Climate change breakthrough
  • Iranian detente (which will lead to “another substantial boost to oil supply”)
  • China slowdown
  • European QE
  • Greek stand-off
  • Migrant mayhem
  • Rise in [US interest] rates
  • UK continuity
  • An amazing profit [at Amazon]

So, three of Warner’s ten events have an energy aspect.

Antony Beevor on Christmas Eve during the battle of the Ardennes (1944)

In Bastogne, the less seriously wounded [besieged Americans] received rations of brandy and listened to the endlessly repeated song ‘White Christmas’ on a salvaged civilian radio. North-east of the town in Foy, German soldiers packed into houses and farms to get warm. A young German soldier quietly told the Belgian family in whose house he was billeted that he intended to go home alive: three of his brothers had already been killed. On other parts of the perimeter American soldiers listened to their enemies singing ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’… Some of their luckier comrades to the rear attended a midnight mass, such as the one in the chapel of the Château de Rolley, packed with refugees and the family of the owners. In most cases, they also sang ‘Silent Night’, thinking of home. In Bastogne, about a hundred soldiers assembled for mass in front of an improvised altar lit by candles set in empty ration tins. The chaplain in his address to them offered simple advice. ‘Do not plan, for God’s plan will prevail’.

Sergio Fabbrini on #EUdemocracy

Fabbrini argues that it is necessary

“to acknowledge the key difference between a nation state and a union of states.

This is the difference between a federal state (emerging from the disaggregation of a previously unitary state) and a federal union (created by the aggregation of previously independent states). Empirically speaking, federal states like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Australia have all adopted a parliamentary system of government, but none of the federations by aggregation (or federal unions, such as the United States and Switzerland) have done so. Federal unions have adopted, at the horizontal level, a specific brand of separation of power, given their need to prevent the formation of a strong and centralised decision-making centre – a need genetically less relevant in federal states…


The EU cannot adopt a parliamentary form of government due to structural, rather than contingent, reasons. Regardless of the parliamentary rhetoric celebrated in the Treaties, parliamentarism cannot give a feasible answer to the two main systemic constraints within the EU: the demographic asymmetries between its member states and the national differentiation between the latter’s citizens. Given these systemic constraints, it would be unacceptable to recognise only the European Parliament as the source of governmental authority in the EU, if not as the source of the EU’s democratic legitimacy.

If this were to occur then the representatives of smaller member states (currently around three quarters of the total) would consistently be in a minority, given the national differentiation between citizens cannot be regulated through the same ‘left vs right’ axis that exists at the national level. It is no coincidence that federations by aggregation have adopted a decision-making system based on separation rather than fusion of powers. Separation of powers offers a mechanism for guaranteeing multiple access points to the decision-making process: a setup that protects small member states and prevents the formation of permanent hegemonies by larger ones.

Certainly, in systems that fuse powers, it is much easier to take decisions, as long as the government enjoys the political confidence of the majority of the legislature, and it is also much easier to identify who is responsible for what. This is not the case in systems based on a separation of powers, where the government is a process, not an institution. However, a union of states is not a nation state. In complex situations, simple ‘solutions’ can worsen the problem, rather than solving it.”

I find the concept of systems “where the government is a process, not an institution” interesting – and not only in the EU context.

(I worked for Reading Borough Council at a time when it had complicated relationships of powers with Berkshire County Council. For example, we owned the municipal car parks and set their tariffs – but these had to be approved by the County. I remember thinking that this absence of absolute power did not only have disadvantages.)

However, I am not convinced by the historical argument at the start. Of the five examples, at least three – Germany, Canada and Australia – were to my mind “created by the aggregation of previously independent states”. This undermines one implication of the piece – that the EU and the US have no choice but to make decisions in slow and patchy ways.

Parliament central Nairobi 813.JPG(Parliament building, Nairobi, 2013)

my #waterheating #control

We have solar water heating at home. We recently had a new meter fitted because the old one broke. (The cost was €200 plus labour – only worth it because as an energy person, I have a kind of academic interest in the readings.) The display exemplifies either the general incomprehensibility of building controls (which have so much potential, but need to make sense) or my particular incompetence in understanding them. You decide!


I have three questions:

  • Is the indicator of watt-hours a measure of what the solar panels produce or of what we consume?
  • Does the term “heat quantity” refer to the watt-hours display (which would seem logical) or the two temperature displays (as its location suggests)?
  • What do the two temperature displays describe? Or rather, what is the relevance of the thing that they describe?

(Winter watt-hours per day average 1, compared to 40 or more in the summer. Over the year I estimate that the solar heating gives us half our hot water.)

reading #KarlOveKnausgaard

Knausgaard will be talking in Brussels next month so I read A death in the family (2009, tr. 2012), the first in the My Struggle series.

So when my father raised the sledgehammer above his head and let it fall on the rock that spring evening in the mid-1970s he was doing so in a world he knew and was familiar with. It was not until I myself reached the same age that I understood there was indeed a price to pay for this. As your perspective of the world increases not only is the pain it inflicts on you less but also its meaning.


The night Vanja was born she lay looking at us for several hours… She looked like something from the forest lying there on Linda’s stomach, staring at us… There has never been so much future in my life as at that time, never so much joy. Now she is four, and everything is different. 


public writing DON'T DROP RUBBISH Vitebsk 815.JPG(Vitebsk, August 2015 – Don’t make rubbish where you live) 

The house was a 70s build, the plot unworked, full of stones, uncovered rock, with a broken swing, a pile of wood under a tarpaulin, a wrecked car and some tyres. I didn’t understand why they [William’s family] lived like that. Didn’t they want to live like normal people? Or couldn’t they? Didn’t it matter to them? Or did they in fact think that they were living like normal people? The father was kind and gentle, the mother always angry, the three children always dressed in clothes that were either too big or too small.


I was four years old and nothing was incomprehensible, everything was connected with everything else.


 I had this from my mother, right from the time I went to school I used to carry on long conversations with her about people we had met or known, what they had said, why they might have said it, where they came from, who their parents were, what kind of house they lived in, all woven into questions to do with politics, ethics, morality, psychology and philosophy, and this conversation, which continued to this day, had given my gaze a direction. I always saw what happened between people and tried to explain it, and for a long time I also believed I was good at reading others, but I was not, wherever I turned I only saw myself, but perhaps that was not what our conversations were about primarily, there was something else, they were about mum and me, that was how we became close to each other, in language and reflection, that was where we were connected, and that was also where I sought a connection with Tonje [his then wife].

What do I think about the book? Remarks stay with you, you expect them to be explained later. E.g. that in Malmo he doesn’t know anyone and that’s fine by him. The stuff about death at the beginning. Themes repeat. Understanding people. Living in a chaos house. Language and reality. I didn’t think “that’s great writing” and eg the description of spring was the opposite. But I want to get down to Waterstones and get the next one.

#ChristmasDay (and a poem my father used to recite)


This is the first Christmas we’ve spent at home in Brussels for several years. At ten I head off with the dog to the Solbosch bakery, open on Christmas morning just as it used to be. I am too late for pains aux raisins.


I walk back through the park. A tree has been decorated by people who live nearby; the Amis du Parc will organise a drink around it on the morning of new year’s day. It’s raining and I think of a poem my father used to recite:

It was Christmas Day in the workhouse,
The snow was raining fast.
A bare-footed man with clogs on
Stood sitting on the grass.
He went to the pictures tomorrow
And bought a front seat at the back.
A lady gave him some chocolate.
He ate it and gave her it back.
He fell from the pit to the gallery
And broke a front bone in his back.
He hired a taxi and walked it.
And that’s the way he got back.