Gordon Brown has said that there is no reason to fear that Britain will run short of gas during this uncharacteristically severe spell of cold and snow, which has been impinging upon us since before Christmas. Apparently we have six days worth of gas in hand compared to the French reserve of 120 days. Now the two countries get their gas from different sources, and Britain can no longer rely on the output of the North Sea fields, which are in steep decline, but needs to import more from its co-owner of that geological bestowal, Norway. Part of the recent concern over gas-provision was indeed due to some technical troubles in the supply of gas from Norway. France, along with other countries in mainland Europe obtains much of its gas from Russia, but it surprises me that there is so much gas stored in reserve.
This may derive in part from the fact that France makes 80% of its electricity from nuclear power while Britain makes 40% of its power from natural gas, and so the demand for gas is less. In Britain, around 100 companies are on interruptable gas contracts, meaning that they pay less for their gas but in times of crisis, like now, they must defer their demand on the national grid so that there are sufficient gas supplies to keep homes warm.
Being an island, once lauded as being Britain's source of protection, inter alia from French invasion, e.g Trafalgar, and a secure vantage point for the reverse, when Britain attacked France, e.g. Agincourt, Crecy and Waterloo, now appears rather vulnerable since we rely relentlessly on imports of fuel and food, and presently salt to grit the roads, since our own mines in Cheshire are unable to keep pace with demand, even suspending normal exports of it to Germany. Some of the imported salt comes from as far away as Egypt, and reserves are falling so low that local authorities are having to ration its use, e.g. by only gritting main roads, leaving the minor B-roads treacherous. There is a babble of complaint about this, but frankly what else can they do. When they do grit and snow falls, the effect is blanketed; and when the temperature falls below about minus 8 degrees C, the salt no longer melts the ice, for good and well understood reasons of thermodynamics.
We have been reminded of late too, irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions, that we will need to produce more of our own food over the next 20 years, as part of the blanket excuse of global warming. Well maybe, but the most immediate reason is to use less fossil fuel, particularly oil which I note is around $83 a barrel once more. Britain imports around a third of its food and this just isn't going to be feasible within 20 years and probably far less that that. "Peak Oil", is a term muttered out of the corner of someone's mouth but Global Warming is the main rallying cry. It matters not in the most pressing term since the same actions of burning less carbon both mitigate and buy time to re-adapt society from the global to the local, and maybe avert some of the worst cataclysms of GW, although some mathematical models predict that it is already too late to stop the planet from heating into the foreseeable future.
When we do suffer from such sputterings in the normally well-greased engine of modern life, I am reminded of the inevitability of change. That within a decade or two, we must completely change the way we live, powering-down to a society that doesn't need to use so much energy and move both goods and people around in the extent of the status quo. The transition will not be easy and maybe to quote Chinua Achebe in the title of his novel, "Things Fall Apart".
Meanwhile, Happy New Year!