This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.

Monday
Nov112013

A Simple Message from Mr Frack

Last week I attended a conference in London called 'Energy Live.'
I was there as a guest speaker and felt out of depth the moment I entered the venue.
This was a gathering of leaders in the field of energy supply and distribution, massive gas and oil corporations, industrial scale solar and wind companies, the national grid, renewable investment funds, you name it, the big guns were there.
It was a day of seminars and panel discussions ranging across all manner of topics related to the future of energy, where it might come from and how we distribute and use it.
Just before I was due to appear a rather scowling but hugely enigmatic and entertaining man called Chris Faulkner took to the stage.
Mr Faulkner is the Founder and CEO of the Dallas-based Breitling Energy Company. They frack. They frack like hell, if there's one thing Mr Faulkner loves, it's fracking.
He was forceful, funny, dogmatic, dismissive and enormously entertaining.
His obvious dislike of environmental activists was exposed with charm and wit, this guy was a brilliant speaker, a fantastic figurehead for an industry with a fairly severe PR problem in the UK.
He argued the case for fracking as well as anyone possibly could, the enormous economic benefit the American economy has experienced since fracking was introduced on a truly massive scale.
The decrease in coal burning at power stations, the increase in manufacturing and jobs in all sectors. The vast amounts of tax the fracking companies have paid to the government both at a state and federal level.
Due to the success of the process the cost of gas has fallen through the floor, so much so that's it's currently not worth a company like Mr Faulkner's investing in new drilling sites in the USA.
So guess what folks, they want to do it here.
I was surrounded by a lot of people who work in the fossil fuel industry in one way or another, you would think he was preaching to the converted and although he got laughs, won rounds of applause it didn't seem like he'd fully convinced people.
He left the stage to tumultuous applause and he deserved it, he was a Texan showman bedecked in Cuban heeled boots and rhinestone cufflinks.


There is no denying it, Mr Faulkner is exactly what a Brit audience wants from an American oil man. No punches pulled, shoot from the hip, speak your mind, fracking is the future people, get used to it.
Then I was introduced, a bumbling wet liberal electric car driving, solar panel owning middle class English pillock.
As I said to the audience when I took the stage, 'back in '87 I had to follow Robbie Coltrane at a big benefit concert in Edinburgh where the audience was 99% Scottish, I thought that was a tough gig!'
Believe me, that was nothing compared to following Mr Fracker.
I did my best, he'd set the tone, he'd raised the bar.
It was all or nothing, instead of bumbling and being apologetic went in six shooters blazing.
I suggested that while the immediate economic benefits of drilling and burning were undeniable, we might be at a pivotal point in the great human story where we needed to stop burning stuff.
While it might be possible to safely drill through the water table and pump highly toxic fluids deep underground to desperately try and extract the last vestiges of hydrocarbons from the planet, there just might be a longer term downside.
While it is foolish not to consider all the options available to us after the chronic failures of all governments over the last 25-30 years to prepare for the energy gap we are now facing, maybe fracking should be put on the back burner for now.
Now I'm not going to pretend I can remember everything I said, I know at one point I talked about drilling in my garden and fracking the hell out of my home and shitting all over my grandchildren's lives, I now recall that moment with some shame.
Yes, it got a laugh but that kind of cheap reaction to the massive and powerful industry that Mr Faulkner represents is not constructive.
Thankfully I also suggested we concentrate instead on developing massively distributed, local, individual and community owned power generating networks, grid level storage and and a non drill and burn attitude to sustainable energy production.
I may have mentioned that 97% of new power generation capacity in Germany is not owned by  mainstream utilities, meaning quite simply that it's owned by the people who use the power.
A distributed system like this is more reliable, more robust, less vulnerable to attack or mass blackouts, more able to adapt to new technologies, the list goes on and on.
What was truly encouraging was the response my rather unfocused and over emotional tirade got from this very professional and well informed group.
It felt very positive.
Maybe they were just being polite to an old bloke but I think there is something bigger going on.
People in the industry and particularly engineers understand that we need to start doing something radically different to the old model.
I can only hope that they succeed.
But seriously, respect to Mr Faulkner, the simplicity of the model is undeniable.
Frack, extract gas, sell it cheap, make a shit ton of cash, screw Mr Putin, screw the Saudi's and experience an economic boom.
Hell, you only live once.
Drill and burn baby. Drill and burn.

Saturday
Sep212013

News v Ideas

There are times when I hear directly one-to-one  or read Tweets or reports or blog posts from people who are slam, bang right up to date on the latest news stories and I feel right out of the loop.
I do occasionally read online versions of newspapers, I listen to radio news but it’s a bit like paddling in the incoming tide of a particularly polluted beach.
I feel obliged to know about all this stuff and a bit guilty when I realise I’m way behind.
Then suddenly you chance to hear something and it all clicks.
A man called Evan Williams recently said something along the lines of;

 “…we are addicted to news when we should be addicted to ideas.”

I’ve had a root around trying to find exactly when and where he said this, but then I remembered that’s not the point. That would be news, what I’m interested in is the idea. Maybe I should explain what Evan Williams has done in his life but that would be pointless as you'll all know far more than me. That Twitter bloke will suffice.

Evan Williams


It relieved me of, I admit, a fairly lightweight burden of anxiety. I felt some low level social guilt when I didn’t know Miley Cryus had danced in an apparently sexually provocative way in public, but at the end of the day that’s just news. Dull, uninformative, locking the human race into set patterns we should all be trying to shed like dry skin.
I am interested in ideas, in ways of thinking, in concepts that challenge my world view.
I know  I enjoy challenging other people’s world view, engaging in dialogue that could, in the very long term, start to improve on the human condition.
News doesn’t do that, sure, you need to know what’s going on but that is the starting point for ideas.
It’s the ideas that are important, not the news, news is the rubble, the waste material that needs to be crushed into aggregate to use as the firm building base for new ideas.
We tend to fiddle about with news as if that’s it, the beginning and the end. This obsession plays directly into the hands of the big power brokers.
The more they can keep us focused on the constant stream of events in the world, the wars, disasters, marriages, divorces, shaking bottoms, shocking crimes the less we think.
The less we question the status quo and accept that the way the world is now, with a miniscule collection of ultra rich people who just get richer and a huge mass of poor people who are just getting poorer, the longer we will think this is ‘normal.’
Nothing is normal, we need to think, have ideas, talk about ideas, argue about ideas, challenge the status quo with every breath, use news as base aggregate, distrust the source, question the accepted wisdom and rise out of the mire of the corporate, coma inducing 'news cycle.'

Friday
Aug162013

Snot Nosed Russian Bigot

I heard a young Russian athlete on the radio this morning and suddenly I felt like I was back in about 1983.

It’s the curse of age you see, there comes a point somewhere in the early 50’s where you start to hear people, generally young people, spout the same ignorant, unthinking bollocks you first heard 30 years ago.

This vile little bigot was of course talking about sport, and Russia, and how they didn’t want people ‘promoting’ homosexuality to young people during what ever sporting event that’s about to take place there.

As you may be able to judge, I know nothing about sport or what sporty thing it is they’re doing, but none the less she got to spout her ignorant hatred without let or hindrance.

Eeer, hello, this is 2013 calling, can you send your ignorance back.

How do you ‘promote’ homosexuality? How on earth do you encourage a young heterosexual person to ‘try being gay?’

It is utter, trite nonsense.

Take for example, a wonderful gay man called Harvey Milk.

Okay, he was shot by a rabid Christian nutter but before he was murdered he once said;

‘I was born into a heterosexual family, I was taught by heterosexual teachers and surrounded by heterosexual school mates. I lived in a world where everything and everyone was heterosexual and yet I turned out gay.’

There was plenty of heterosexual ‘promoting’ going on in Harvey Milk’s life, along with every other gay person. The church, the state, Mr He-Man Putin, he promotes some kind of spooky weird hetero-shit with his shirtless antics. At least I assume he’s straight, mmm, maybe there’s something in that?

Anyway, how on earth can anyone be ‘made to be gay?’

Okay, so you can try and pull Harvey Milk’s statement apart, a gay teacher who tries to seduce a young man in his charge, I would call that abuse, sexual assault or rape which is of course a crime. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but that’s not what we’re talking about.

This stupid young Russian woman was talking about ‘promoting’ homosexuality, i.e. suggesting that it was possible to turn a perfectly well balanced young heterosexual into a raving screamer just by gay people merely existing.

In my youth it was suggested to me on numerous occasions that I was ‘really gay’ and I just didn’t know it.

This came from both straight women and gay men I suppose simply because I didn’t conform to what was expected of heterosexual men.

I was a bit fey, I had long hair and was apparently ‘pretty,’ hard to believe now.

However through all that I never for a moment thought I was actually gay, I fancied women, simple as that.

I liked gay men, they made me laugh, they were great fun to be with but no amount of ‘promotion’ was going to change me.

So all this bollocks about Russia and sport and promoting homosexuality is such tired old nonsense.

Thankfully in a large section of the rest of the world no one gives a stuff any more, gay, straight, do what you like. But the feeble and weak men of Russia can’t deal with it, it’s frightening so they tell their young athletes to spout such hate filled crap, suggest they use the word ‘promote’ and explain why they don’t want gay athletes to attend their butch sporting events.

Well, here’s a well thought out, balanced response to that.

Piss off Russia, you archaic, homophobic tossers.

… and relax.

 

Oh, one slight ammendment suggested by @MootReeper on the Twitters. 

Not all Russians are homophobic morons, very true. Some of the most caring, non judgemental, sweet natured, well read and intelligent people I ever met were in Russia. Worth mentioning.

Saturday
Aug102013

Angry Boys

Young men are generally very angry, massive generalisation with many caveats but there’s undeniably some truth in the statement.
I know I was and angry young man but for some reason I'm now trying to understand and maybe even communicate, I wasn't angry about women, homosexuals, immigrants or people who had a different skin colour to mine. 
I was angry with powerful people (let’s face it, white men) who had a genuine influence over the laws that governed my life. 
I was angry with big international corporations who were above mere national laws and behaved in any way they chose with no consequences.
I was angry with politicians of all parties who were crudely influenced by these corporations and did their bidding while lining their own pockets.
I wasn't angry when a young woman explained to me that using the word 'cunt' as an expletive, as in, 'don't be a silly cunt' or 'you dirty cunt' was offensive to her. 
I understood the thinking behind the plea, I understood the male fear of female genitalia and the power possessed therein.
The gut wrenching contradictions a man can experience between love, tenderness, lust, fear, hatred and weakness is a dizzying concoction that takes years to come to terms with.
It made sense to me not to use ‘cunt’ as I had been doing and the word did not pass my lips from mid 1975 until fairly recently, even now I very rarely say it.
I don't feel oppressed by women, I don't feel I am unable to express myself because I’ve been told by women not to say cunt, I feel I understand that the thought process behind the use of such a word is ‘sexist’ or indeed ‘misogynist.’
I am a white man, part of my DNA is without question misogynist, I have misogynist reactions regularly. 
‘Bloody mothers mollycoddling their sons who then turn into deeply misogynist bastards who threaten to rape and murder women they’re scared of on Twitter.’ Might be one such reaction.
I stop myself when I have a thought like that, I have to think through the emotional reaction in a step-by-step logical way. 
I’m a bit thick, I’m talking emotional intelligence, it doesn't come naturally, I have to take it slowly.
I work out that blaming the mother for creating the son who could express such clench fisted hatred is just a continuation of the patriarchal mind-set we are cursed with.
When men behave like tragic sad-acts it’s not women at fault, no matter their involvement in that man’s life. Mother, sister, Auntie, Grandma, wife, lover.
The fault is entirely and without exception the man’s and of course other men who support such bigoted hatred.
What these recent news stories have highlighted is the thrashing fury of powerless young men who have aimed their anger at the easiest, least challenging target. 
These young men are very lost and very, very easily manipulated by a male power base that has, for at least the last 100 years, felt under attack.
As more and more women rise to prominence, proclaim their right to be independent, free thinking individuals who are very skilled at expressing themselves, I fear this kind of ranting male violence will only increase.
It is vital therefore that men who aren't quite as pathetically weak step up to the plate and confront such moronic impulses. Not with threats of violence or retaliatory trolling, however tempting that is.
No, we need quiet, logical and carefully thought mentoring, a gentle suggestion that possibly, it’s not these women that pose a threat to our masculinity or power, but the truly dangerous and far more insidious old male power base which keeps us locked in the pain of our existence.
It is possible to be a man, to be strong, protective and brave and not hate and fear women. It is possible to be a man alongside strong women, not crushed and oppressed by their emotional skills, but equal and unthreatened by them.
It’s not easy achieving such balance, I’m 57 and I’m still struggling to get close but it’s a much better, more positive and life enhancing experience than blaming women for our own failings, weaknesses and errors.

 

Monday
Aug052013

HERE COMES THE FRACK

A few days ago I posted a link to an old video on YouTube that once again asked some difficult questions about fracking.

It contained interviews with a few scientists who don’t wholeheartedly support the rush to ‘cheap, bountiful energy’ and who have studied the data coming out of the USA which could make us more than a little concerned.

One of the responses I got back on Twitter was

Try reading reports by qualified people & avoid hard left propaganda.’

Which I take to mean, go with scientific fact rather than an emotional response based on a biased gut reaction that neatly fits in with your world view.

Fair enough, I had to stop and think for a moment.

Suddenly, such a suggestion pinged a couple of little memory bells

Ping, ping, ping they went.

I was confident I’d heard this argument before.

Could exactly the same be said about the small but noisy and extremely well funded lobby groups suggesting 95% of scientists concerned that burning fossil fuels at unprecedented levels is having a direct, negative effect on our climate?

Surely one could legitimately suggest to such ranters;

Try reading reports by qualified people & avoid hard right propaganda.’

Here, of course, is the big difference.

The massive majority of scientists and well informed people of the world accept, albeit reluctantly, the ever growing body of evidence suggesting it really is human activity that is having an adverse effect on our climate.

The nay-sayers are uniformly funded directly or indirectly by the big fossil extraction companies.

So no one with any political leverage to gain is funding the former, and the most powerful, most short sighted, most profit focused group of people ever to have existed in history are telling us everything’s fine and we should keep burning their products.

Fracking is no different.

There is growing discomfort with this last ditch desperate attempt to ‘stave off the end of fossils’ and it’s coming from all parts of the political spectrum.

No one stands to financially gain from holding back fracking, but the Cuadrilla’s of the world stand to loose billions in potential profits if they don’t drill and burn like a madman on a bender.

The pro fracking lobby has some of the world’s biggest, wealthiest corporations and individuals pumping billions into the debate, bribing politicians, ‘entertaining’ journalists and opinion formers, belittling what could be perfectly legitimate concerns that fracking could have some serious long term side effects.

Surely history has shown us fairly unequivocally, fossil fuel extraction and the uses we put it to has a bit of a down side.

I’m not opposed to fracking because it’s ‘despoiling the countryside’ or the drill rigs and 24 hour flare pipes have an impact in a once beautiful field in Sussex.

I’m not even that concerned about the process and possible earthquakes, the poisoning of the water table. Sure, if you live in the local area this can be fairly devastating, but on a global level, it’s no big shakes.

What is a big shake is it’s still fossil fuel. It’s extracting an inert and inactive substance from deep underground, releasing it, treating it and burning it.

Okay, ‘natural gas’ may burn slightly ‘cleaner than coal’ but that’s like saying burning old socks is cleaner than burning tyres.

You’re still burning stuff, the resultant gases are still going into the atmosphere.

It’s desperate, it’s utterly profit oriented but most importantly it’s lazy.

Continuing to find more and more barking mad ways to extract hydrocarbons stops people innovating, stops investment in methods of large scale renewable energy generation, keeps people locked in the mind set of there ‘being no alternative.’

Fracking is a disaster, there are alternatives, we don’t need to do it.

Only Haliburton, Cuadrilla, Exxon, BP and their buddies in government really need to frack things up as their very existence depends on constant ‘growth,’ ever increasing profits, and massive, gut churning bonuses for the handful of white men who control these behemoths.

For the rest of us, it is without doubt, lose-lose.