Thursday, June 24, 2010

Slovakia: a Sustainable Country?

The Icelandic volcano which prevented my travelling to Slovakia as planned last April, appears to have fallen sufficiently silent to at least provide a window through which I could pass, on my cheap Ryan Air flight to Bratislava from London Stansted at a cost of about "fifty quid" ("around "eighty bucks", I believe). Thus I was able to deliver two lectures on the World Energy conundrum, one at the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava and the other at the "University of Constantine the Philosopher" in Nitra. Constantine is better known as Saint Cyril, who along with his brother Methodius, devised the Cyrillic script which I believe was the first successful effort to inscribe as a written and unified language the many spoken tongues of that gargantuan region that for many years in the West we knew simply as "Russia".

It is of course far more than that, as is "Europe", as an admixture of cultures, philosophies, pains, joys and endurances that forge the individual character of each and all nations, but unifies us all in the spirit of the Human Family, when we realise by our communications with one another from across the world that our fundamental qualities, both good and bad are much cut from the same block of collective DNA.

Slovakia, unlike its sister, the Czech Republic, from whom it was estranged in 1993 in the carving-up of what was Czechoslovakia, converted to the Euro within the last two years. They may regret this now, as such a conversion came at a large fiscal outlay, and the value of their cash-holdings is falling as the Euro descends. The British Pound seems to be rising against the Euro but the truth is that both are in free-fall, and the Euro has fallen more rapidly of late, with an uncertain landing for either.

Given the uncertain aspect of world finance, there is little I can speculate on with the authority needed. That said, even my financial adviser is somewhat at a loss as to where it is all going but agrees that the joker in the pack in likely to be the availability and price of oil. The major oil companies appear to have come out of denial about the reality of peak oil, and would not do so had not their business interests been threatened otherwise, so the whole concept can be taken seriously and as real, whatever the outcome of it will be.

In my lectures, I stressed much of the ideas aired in this blog, which has been a challenge and recasting of perspectives that I had when I began writing it about five years ago, and I have periodically changed my mind, finally believing that optimism over the energy problem is at best patchy, and cheerier views of it are no more than occasional light-relief from despair while one contemplates an entirely different way of living, in the effort to use less energy rather than making relentlesly more or even propping-up the status quo with renewables and so on.

Peak oil in a nutshell impacts on three things: (1) a globalised world run on oil, (2) the whole of manufactured goods, (3) industrialised farming. To cut through and integrate the attendancies of this it seems that a nation like the UK, which is heavily industrialised and dependent on imports for one third of its food, is in a more vulnerable condition than Slovakia which is practically self-sufficient although it strains to industrialise, and is urgently building infrastructure, especially new roads, to join the global club. Slovakia has its own renewable energy projects too, for example at the STU in Bratislava, but if, as I believe we will none of us be able to match our colossal fossil and nuclear energy bill by renewables, to be in a condition of "less advancement" and hence lower dependency on provision of essentials such as food (not the latest I-pod etc.) brought-in by oil-based transport and farming methods, might prove to be a considerable advantage.

I am beginning to think that the enlargement nations of the EU, i.e. Eastern Europe may have much to offer over their western counterparts. As a Slovak colleague commented on the struggle for the British government as it slashes the bills here and there to get the national debt down, "well, we have always been poor in Slovakia". In the UK, we will be poor too, but that downward transition will be tough to bear, tumbling down from the "progress" we have been given as read. In a sense, Eastern Europe is the future image of Western Europe. It is at least a sustainable picture.


Mark said...


One minor correction. In referring to the dollar you used the term "bux." The proper spelling is "bucks." That term came to being during our colonial period when buckskins were used as a form of currency when trading with the native Americans.

Fortunately we now have a standard currency and using buckskins is no longer necessary. Just imagine trying to withdraw some "bucks" from you local ATM or using them to tip your waitress.

But the way you describe the future with dwindling fossil fuel resources we might have to go back to the old days and use "bucks" or some other barter system for everyday purchases.

Inconvenient indeed.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi mark,

I am mislead by a friend in Indiana who calls them "bux". Admittedly although he is married to an American girl he is from Scotland originally!

I'll change it as you say, and the origin of the word is fascinating. maybe we will need to trade in such things again.

The origin of the word "quid" for a pound is more speculative. I believe it comes from "quid pro quo", i.e. to give something for something, i.e. an exchange, but it's not certain.