The Long Road

gc2smOff the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on September 10, 2015

Refugees walking northwards towards Sweden along a motorway in Denmark


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For the last few days hundreds of Syrian refugees have been trudging northwards up Danish motorways trying to get to Sweden. Right now, in Europe, if you’re a refugee you want to be in either Germany or Sweden as these are the two countries that have the most lenient asylum policies. Basically put, they won’t write a number on your arm, stick you in a detention camp or clobber you with nightsticks.
Judging by images on the news it’s a surreal sight. Denmark is a land of orderly neatness and happy conformity where the ugly reality of the ‘outside world’ is kept at bay. This is no place for unsightly groups of refugees. Long term readers of 22 Billion Energy Slaves will remember that I used to live in Denmark where I worked as a journalist, and moved to the UK two and a half years ago. Before that I lived in Spain, and before Spain I lived in Denmark again. As an EU passport holder I can flit from country to country and call myself an ‘expat’, and nobody calls me an immigrant or a refugee or an alien. It’s my privilege – I’m one of the lucky ones.
But the refugees don’t have any such luck. They drew the short straw of being born in the wold's most unstable region, and now they want to get out of it, even if it means crossing the sea in a leaky dinghy and risking their lives. Most of them don't actually want to be in Denmark. If a bridge could be built that passed right over the country you can bet that it would be filled with Syrians trudging from Germany to Sweden. Basically, they are unwelcome in Denmark. Fetegan Altorek, a 26 year-old Syrian yesterday remarked “It’s obvious to see they [the Danes] don’t like us. They spit on us and fight us.”
Perhaps they had not seen the adverts put out by the Danish government in recent weeks telling them they they were not welcome in the World's Happiest Nation (TM).
Travellers at the airport receive a different welcome
But not all Danes are like that, of course, and some have been stopping to offer lifts to the bridge that separates Denmark from Sweden. However, this is regarded as ‘people-smuggling’ and carries the risk of a three-year prison sentence. Some do it anyway, reminding their forgetful compatriots that Danish citizens once helped Jews flee to Sweden during the Second World War. “At the time we were occupied by the Nazis, but this time we voted them into power,” quipped someone on social media, referring to the current government and the resurgence of the far-left nationalists the Danish People’s Party.
Apart from the lure of not being incarcerated or deported, why do so many Syrians want to get to Sweden? To live in peace and join family already there, they say. I had a chance to see some of them doing just that when I went on a walk to a Swedish forest last year. I wrote about it in my book The Path to Odin’s Lake, in a chapter I called The Far Flung People. This is an excerpt, in which I had just emerged from the forest into a small rural town in a bucolic setting, and had found a hotel in which to get some breakfast:
The girl on duty, presiding over an empty breakfast buffet, was accommodating if a little frosty, although in all probability I did look as if I had been dragged through a hedge backwards. Which was half true. I poured myself a coffee and sipped the sweet black liquid, savouring its restorative effect as I gazed out of a window at the empty streets. By the time I had finished my second refill and also eaten a Danish pastry (also called Vienna bread in Sweden) people in the outside world had begun to wake up and give some life to the town.
But something was odd. One might have expected the people walking the streets in a tiny town in rural Sweden to be, well, Swedish. But almost everyone I saw looked to be from the Middle East. Women wearing headscarves pushed prams, men sat on walls idly fingering worry beads and olive-skinned teenage girls giggled and chatted into their mobile phones. Among them was the occasional obviously Swedish person – an old silver-haired woman here, a blonde boy on a moped there – but the majority were clearly from somewhere else. They were all smart-casual dressed, as if they’d just stepped out of an H&M store. “What’s going on?”, I asked the girl behind the breakfast bar who, in other circumstances, could have been a catwalk model and perhaps was. “Are these people refugees?”
“Yes,” she replied sparsely. “There is a centre here.”
I asked where they had come from. “Mostly Syria, from the war”, she explained. “Some from Somalia.” I thought back to the man I had seen earlier at the lake, about how his eyes had been so wasted. I didn’t think Somalis liked to drink.
“There is nothing for them to do here”, said the girl. “They are not allowed to work, so they just hang around. Some have bad habits.”
I wondered if this was causing problems. Sweden, famously, is the most accommodating country in the world when it comes to taking in refugees. Its liberal policies dating back to the 1960s have been the envy of progressives the world over, and many of the Swedes I had met over the years were justifiably proud of them. But decisions about refugees were made in faraway Stockholm, and such an influx of people from a different country, with a different religion and culture, was bound to cause tension, I thought. The girl seemed to read my mind.
“Some people say there are too many for our town – we are only 800 people but we now have to support 400 refugees.”
“Is this a problem?” I asked.
But the girl just shrugged. “No problem, really”, she said. I tried to ask her more questions but she became tight-lipped, indicating that the matter was closed, so instead I asked her how much it cost to stay the night in the hotel.
Röstånga in the afternoon wasn’t much different from Röstånga in the morning. The lumber trucks still rolled southwards on the Riksväg 13, the occasional moped or Volvo stopped at the petrol station and the streets were still scattered with bored-looking refugees. They milled around listlessly in small groups; a bunch of pram-pushing women here, a row of men sitting on a wall there. Their presence in this rural Swedish hamlet was incongruous and they seemed like actors in a movie who had turned up on the wrong set. It was as if they were waiting for something to happen, a bus to arrive, or a concert to start.
During half a lifetime of travelling the world I had noticed that in most countries people’s lives are played out in public places. From Madrid to Istanbul, Guatemala City to Mumbai, it is on the streets that social interaction takes place, news is passed on, gossip is blathered, deals are done and emotions are vented. Not so in Scandinavia. The streets here are infrastructure – cold boulevards for the conveyance of people and goods from A to B. Scandinavian life takes place in private behind closed doors, and perhaps that’s why these people seemed out of place.
Passing a few women on the pavement I tried to make eye contact with them. Most blocked me out but one made the briefest of contact before looking quickly away, as if embarrassed. Another group, this time teenage girls, gave me the same response. The groups were always segregated by sex. It was a curious thing, this business of casual greeting. During my perambulations around the forest, I had often come across other walkers. In Britain, nine times out of ten, walkers crossing paths in a forest would greet each other with a cheery ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’. In Denmark, I had found the opposite to be true, but here in Sweden it was really a 50/50 situation. On the one hand you could take the initiative and boldly say ‘hi’ only to be met with that steely Scandinavian look of horror that a stranger is trying to make contact with you, but on the other hand there was an equal chance that the other party would take the initiative just when you had decided it wasn’t worth making yourself look a fool. After a few days of this I had learned to settle for some brief eye contact, a quick head-nod and a short ‘hi’ at the ready on my lips should they greet me. It was best to hedge one’s bets.
But with the refugees it was a different matter. There was a barrier there; something protective was in place. I was interested in speaking to a few of them, curious to find out their stories. But it seemed that the newcomers inhabited a different world to the Swedes – a kind of parallel universe separated by a vacuum across which communication was difficult. Eventually, after wandering around the village in circles, I decided I had better find out what time the bus would come the next morning to take me back to Lund.
At the bus stop two men were talking animatedly in Arabic. They looked to be in their mid-twenties, one heavily muscular and with a crew cut, the other thin and bearded. I guessed they were friends. As I stood there studying the timetable the muscular one asked me if I had a light. He stood there with an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips and mimed striking a flint lighter with his thumb and clasped hand. I rummaged in my bag and found one, proffering it to him. He took it and lit his cigarette and then that of his friend, handing it back to me between hands pressed together as if in prayer. I asked them where they were from. “Syria”, he said.
“What do you think of it here?”, I asked, meaning Sweden.
“Good life”, he replied, inhaling the smoke. “Good people.”
It was a stupid question. I asked him another stupid question. “Why are you here?” He immediately said something to his friend, who it was clear did not understand English, and they both laughed. “Assad”, he said. He thought for a moment and added “War bring us here. When Assad gone, I go back, rebuild my house”. He turned back to his friend and they continued with their fast-paced conversation and I, having noted the time of the buses, left them to it.
Granted, it wasn’t much of an insight, but the thing that struck me the most was how deeply separated the hosts were from their refugee guests. And with the refugees being unable to work or better themselves, isn’t there a risk of them going stir crazy? Scandinavians love to talk of ‘integration’, but that would seem to be quite a tall order when such a barrier exists. In any case, I suspected, integration really means ‘forget who you are, be like us’.
Yet at the moment, despite all the media hysteria, it is just a trickle of refugees arriving. It’s a given that there will be more. Currently, like everything these days, their appearance is highly politicised. You’re either for them or against them. Currently, if one is a right-wing ‘realist’ you will talk about building walls and fences and dropping more bombs on the countries they are fleeing. Bombing is always offered as a solution to violence. On the other hand, if you’re a compassionate liberal you talk about opening up the borders, giving them all somewhere to live and allowing them to invite the remainder of their families over too. I suspect that this second point of view will sadly have a limited shelf life as things progress further down the road and people begin to grasp the sheer scale of the problem. 
And the rhetoric on both sides is rising, which is unfortunate if not entirely unpredictable. The unpalatable truth is that the Middle East and North Africa is becoming uninhabitable and not fit for human habitation. 100 years of oil exploitation, imperial plundering and ecological mismanagement has led us to here. In the case of Syria, as this article in The Ecologist points out, disastrous land management practices initiated in the 1960s turned most of the Syrian steppe into a dustbowl. Global weirding, in the form of droughts, followed by downpours and epic dust storms, destroyed much of the remaining topsoil. Millions of farmers and pastoralists were disenfranchised – ideal recruitment fodder for jihadist militias.
So a proxy war between Russia and the USA over control of the remaining energy resources was all that was needed to tip Syria into total chaos. The population is caught between their own crazy dictator dropping barrel bombs on them, and the murderous thugs of ISIS cutting and raping their way across what’s left of their country. Is it any wonder they want to get to Sweden?
The wider picture is no less unappealing. The age of oil that allowed for the greening of the desert is drawing to a close. Nitrogen fertiliser was first synthesised using fossil fuels after the last world war, meaning that vast swathes of desert could now be irrigated and used for growing crops. At the same time, selling their oil wealth has permitted countries such as Saudi Arabia to import massive amounts of food from the more fertile areas of the world, and to create a generous social security system for its people. Predictably, in light of this, the birth rate shot up, meaning there are now an order of magnitude more people living in these fragile desert regions than the ecology can support. As the oil crutch is kicked out we’ll find out the hard way that you can’t bargain with nature.  So it goes.
And so pretty soon we can expect hundreds of thousands more from Syria. Turkey currently puts up two million of them, but as other nations prevaricate and squabble, its patience is wearing thin. There are said to be twelve million Syrians displaced. And after Syria we have Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and a few other places that we have meddled with. That’s not a political statement, it’s a simple fact. Where else will they go other than the smallish, wealthy and fertile western Eurasian appendage knows as Europe? There are 381 million people living in the arid regions fringing Europe, and it has the fastest-growing population of any of the planet’s major regions.
Last year I had a conversation with an historian who knows a thing or two about mass migrations. “It starts off as a trickle,” he said “but then, as things collapse, all of a sudden it turns into a flood. When you have entire nations full of people suddenly deciding to get up and leave, there is literally nothing anyone can do about it.”
“What about Europe?” I asked.
“Italy, Spain, Greece, France, a few other places … toast,” was his reply.

That’s the predicament we’re in. It won’t be pretty and our only guidance is compassion, not fear. The great change is already upon us.

Do it for Denmark

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on March 10, 2015

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Tune in to the full list of Diner Rants & Interviews on the Diner Soundcloud Channel!

Featuring interviews with Steve Ludlum, Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi, Nicole Foss, David Korowicz, George Mobus, John David Hughes, Albert Bates and many more….


…In the last rant, I went ballistic on the Economista Clowns & Jokers who must be Smoking Crack to come up with the numbskull ideas of impoverishing people to stimulate growth and lending more money to already bankrupt borrowers as a solution for economic collapse. This was inspired by the FACT that one of the World Class Economistas currently making policy on the global level, one Douglas McWilliams of CEBR was documented on camera really smoking crack in a London Crack house, wasted to beat the band. today, the latest in hilarity is the Danish Ad Campaign, “Do it for Denmark”, designed to encourage Danish girls to start getting PREGNANT! They are supposed to go out on Vacation and find willing foreigners to inseminate them and then return to Denmark to bring new Great Danes into the world, so that they can pay taxes to support the current crop of aging Great Danes! LoL.

Charitable folks that Diners are, several have already stepped up to the Plate as Volunteers here to keep Danish social security programs solvent. Given our aging demographic, we also will purchase our own Viagra to make this possible! It’s a gift to the Danish People, and hopefully the cost of the Viagra can be deducted from the income tax as a Charitable Contribution to needy Danish Girls. LoL…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Here’s the last rant on Crack Smoking Economistas, in case you missed it…

It’s the ENERGY, Stupid!

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on March 22, 2013

Goodbye Denmark. Eight years is a long time to live somewhere.
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And so begins my second attempt at becoming a free-range organic human being. We arrived in Cornwall last week after two grueling days of driving and one night spent on a ferry in the North Sea. On it we had a cabin with a porthole and I found myself waking in the middle of the night in one of those ‘where am I?’ panicky moments. I looked out at the dark sea beneath a mantle of stars and could see that we were sailing past some oil installations which were lit up like Christmas trees. It was strange to see them out there in the dark as they looked so peaceful and benign, but in my bleary-eyed state my mind began to play tricks and they morphed into aliens straight out of H.G.Wells, come down from the inky reaches of space to suck out the lifeblood of our planet.
‘What was I doing?’ I asked myself. ‘Was I crazy?’. Regular readers will remember that I quit my comfortable and well-paid job as a copywriter in Copenhagen and decided to buy a piece of woodland in the extreme southwest of Britain in a bid to distance myself and my family from the vagaries of the industrial system before it grinds to a halt and causes widespread mayhem and misery. I fell into a restless sleep and awoke in the grey dawn and lay there for some time thinking about what lay ahead.
It had been a pleasant drive the previous day across Denmark from Copenhagen to Esbjerg, on the west coast. The sun had been shining and everything was crisp with ice. The car struggled a bit with the huge trailer it was pulling, so I kept the speed low to try and conserve fuel. The port was like everything in Denmark; clean, efficient and quiet. We drove onto the ferry and parked up on the cargo deck next to a truck full of pigs bound for slaughter in England. My youngest daughter looked through the metal bars at the worried-looking creatures and has since refused to eat even the tiniest morsel of meat.
When we hit Essex the next day the contrast was stark. The weather was foul; wet and windy, and for almost the entire day we battled across England’s tired and overloaded road network, dodging potholes and managing to frustrate drivers who wanted to overtake us. On one section of motorway a number of signs had been erected asking ‘See anything suspicious? Ring this number …’. Motorcycle police were buzzing around and stop and searches were taking place. Was this kind of thing now routine in the UK? After 13 years of living abroad it would be interesting to find out what else had changed.
We drove around a section of the notorious M25 London orbital motorway, eager to get through the crushing over-developed southeast. The kids needed to use the toilet so I had to pull in at South Mimms service station – an unpleasant experience and a reminder of how commercialized and crass things had become. It used to be that when driving on a motorway – a public highway – that a sign would alert you to the presence of the next service stop. It would be a simple icon of a petrol pump, and if you could grab a bite to eat there it would also display a knife and fork icon. This has now been changed so that the name of the chain restaurant and oil company is displayed. So, if you really want a Burger King, you know you’ll have to drive an extra 30 miles to get to the next one. It avoids disappointments. If there is a hell, it will look a bit like South Mimms service station, with all its smiling ‘eager to help’ shop assistants, its constant announcement of ‘buy one get one free’ deals and its tables of porky human beings absent-mindedly pushing burgers into their mouths as they play computer games on their iPads.
Driving on through the driving rain we eventually escaped the gravitational pull of London and began our trundle down to the southwest. By evening we had just made it past Bristol and then, a couple of hours later, Exeter. Regarded by many as the beginning of the back of beyond, it certainly felt like we were heading into another realm as we passed over the windy sleet-lashed high moors and drove ever onwards towards where the sky was dark and the signs of human life became increasingly scant. Powerful cars with private number plates – Audis, new model Range Rovers, sports cars – roared past us as we traversed those bleak moors in the night. Who were these people? No doubt they were second home owners, heading down from London for the weekend to stay in their idyllic cottages with sea views that locals can no longer afford.
It felt strange to return to this, the land of my birth. For all the deadweight of crass consumerist culture that had infested the land, all the ugly cheap housing estates, the soulless motorways, the bottomless banality of the national discourse, the wasteland of popular culture – I knew that beneath all of that the layers of history and the sacred hills and towers and places of great wildness and peace existed still. This is what I was looking for on my return. I also know that there are people here – many people – who have simply had enough of all this plastic culture and have said ‘stop’. Perhaps there aren’t quite a hundred monkeys yet, but we might be up in the mid-seventies in some places.
It would be easy to lament the fall, but then that’s a tiring game and it doesn’t leave you a winner. Britain as a modern energy-rich nation, it seems certain, had peaked and was now on the downward trajectory and picking up pace. In Denmark there had been few signs of anything being out of order in the wake of the financial crisis, but in Britain the signs are everywhere and they are not possible to ignore. I’ve only been here a week, but a week is long enough to hear the shrill voices of alarm. High streets are shuttering up, companies are folding, people are worried about their savings and their retirements, poverty is getting worse. People shop in a place called Poundland – which is like Walmart but not as classy.
I sat through the Budget on Wednesday, watching it on television as I nursed one of the most savage episodes of flu I’ve ever come down with (‘High quality germs are the only thing we British still do well,’ quipped a friend). For those of you who don’t know, the government’s annual fiscal planning announcements are a spectator sport on a par with the American Superbowl in terms of press coverage and popular discussion. The chancellor, George Osborne, didn’t offer anything new. More giant infrastructure projects, tax breaks for gas fracking companies and, for the masses, a penny in the pound off pints of beer. The opposition jeered and heckled – so much so that the deputy speaker almost had to throw some of them out of the chamber – and then Ed Miliband gave quite a rousing counter speech attacking the government on its economic record. The expected GDP growth figures had been revised down again for the umpteenth time and now the Labour Party were enjoying their position as taunters.

It was enjoyable watching Miliband attack the assembled bunch of privileged millionaires on the opposite benches – the rough and tumble of British politics is in stark contrast to the staid and bland Danish version (even if it is merely a sideshow) – but the really funny thing was that if his party had been in power the economic growth figures would be more or less exactly the same. It should be clear by now that with persistently high oil prices, a Eurozone economy in recession, phase two of the financial crisis popping up in Cyprus, a host of massively over-leveraged large companies in the UK who are soon to face hiked interest rates, maxed-out consumers etc, etc, no amount of austerity easing or borrowing is going to continue to sustain the unsustainable.
Speaking of unsustainable, no sooner had I arrived here than the government gave permission for a massive nuclear power station to be built down the road from me. Okay, so Somerset isn’t quite ‘down the road’ but it would be the closest such large nuclear facility to where I live. It will cost £14 billion to build (and then some, probably) but the French utility EDF wants a guarantee on the price of the electricity that it will produce. It’s a safe bet that they want quite a high price for many decades, and if the government grants this then it will lock the country into paying a French company huge amounts of money into the far future, all the while endangering the surrounding land and seas. Local news stations have been giving it a positive spin, swallowing the hype about ‘5000’ jobs being created and interviewing a local dairy farmer who said he expected to sell ‘20% more milk to the thirsty power station workers.’ That’s if anyone will be buying his dairy products at all after the first inevitable leak occurs …
If Britain had an energy gauge you would now see the needle heading into the orange area. Nobody, well hardly anybody, is willing to face this uncomfortable fact. Indeed, it is being reported in the news today that Britain will run out of natural gas next week. Yes, you’d better re-read that. A cold front is coming in and covering the country with snow and quite simply, there ain’t enough gas in the system. Gas-fired power stations may also have to shut down, potentially leading to blackouts. But rest assured, the government has told us that we can just ‘go shopping’ for some extra gas in Russia. Hmmm, isn’t Russia currently blackmailing Cyprus over its gas reserves in exchange for bailing out its bloated and corrupt financial sector? How long before that big bear of a country has Britain in a similar head lock? I’ve written before about the coming energy crunch that is due to hit Britain, but I’ve barely unpacked my suitcase before the first wave seems due to strike.
But anyway. I’m not focusing on what’s dying, right now there’s just too much to point a stick at. Every end is a new beginning for something else. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Cornwall is an area rich in local producers, crafts people and artisans. Especially right down the end where I am now living, in Penwith. Tomorrow I’ll be attending my first Transition meeting at the town hall, which is but a five minute walk from the house we are renting, and I’ll be getting to meet some kindred spirits who gravitated here for similar reasons to me.
Then, if the weather clears up (it was sunny the first few days and has been raining non-stop since) I’m planning to plant a few fruit and nut trees over at our woodland. I have sent off for some replacement worms for my wormery after the last team were euthanized by

Denmark Goes Nuclear

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on January 30, 2013

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Okay, so it’s something that has been bothering me for some time. In response to my last postsome readers, on various sites, have said things along the lines of ‘Denmark is a great place to be because everyone pulls together and is environmentally-minded, and it would be a big mistake to leave and go back to decrepit Britain.’Well, bull and red flag. That got my brain boiling and I have three things to say on the subject of Denmark before I never mention the subject again. EVER!If you’re only interested in what’s mentioned in the title of this post, skip straight to point three and ignore the rest.

Some explanation is needed.

One. Denmark does not ‘pull together’. The people of Denmark do as they are told to do, think what they are told to think, and never question authority. Minds are controlled by state propaganda, and the janteloven, which I mentioned in the previous post, keeps people servile and compliant. One cannot expect any help if something bad happens to you, as I was reminded a couple of months ago when an American student was attacked on a bus here in broad daylight and beaten up for being a ‘Chinese boy’ while every single passenger turned a blind eye.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. I myself had a bike accident once and lay bleeding on the road for several hours, unconscious. When I came to, people were sat at the nearby bus stop listening to their iPods as if I didn’t exist. Nobody offered to help me, even though I had a huge gash on my head and was liberally covered in blood. Thanks for the help guys.

A close-knit community. Did I mention that after five years of living in this block of flats I’ve only spoken to one neighbour out of eight? I mean, I’ve said ‘Hello’ and got either a grunt in return, or more likely, some passive-aggressive silence. I’m not counting the old woman next door, who rang the doorbell to call me something horrible based on my non-Danishness. Or the person who reported me for ‘introducing a bio hazard’ with my worm compost bin, leading to me having to get rid of it and euthanize my beloved team of red-wrigglers.

Two. Denmark is not the best country in the world, as if there could ever be such a thing. Almost every week there is a report saying so in the media. Danes believe their flag is descended from Heaven and that they are the chosen ones. The country supposedly has the best restaurant and food, the happiest people, the smartest society, the most environmentally friendly civilization on the face of the planet, the best city in the world to live in. I could go on.

They have been talking about this for a long time, as the narrator of this video clearly states:


The reality is that a majority of people in the world have never heard of this pipsqueak country. Please, Danes, stop it. You are embarrassing yourselves and will only regret it later!

(Is it impolite to mention also that it’s also the cancer capital of the world, has a huge problem with alcoholism and suicide, is Europe’s second most wasteful nation and is addicted to coal and has the fourth largest environmental footprint of any country in the world?) Is it a case of ‘we think OSDS’?

Three. Relating to two. This week – and I just have to share this with someone because nobody really in the international press outside of specialist international policy websites has reported it – Denmark flunked out of pretending to be green! Yes, you read it here first. Extra, extra! Greenland, which ahem, is kind of independent and allowed to do what it wants as long as Copenhagen agrees to it, is being sold to the Chinese! Well, not all of it, just the bits that contain uranium. This, apparently, would make supposedly anti-nuclear Denmark one of the biggest exporters of uranium on the planet.

They don’t want it in their back yard – they want it in yours!

But it’s not just uranium. Eco-friendly Denmark wants a slice of the oil pie too. Denmark’s version of the-historical-German-party-whose-name-cannot-be-mentioned-in-polite-company- said that ‘Future generations will not forgive us,’ if Denmark does not go for the massive oil and uranium grab on turf that it controls. And the main parties all seemed to agree.

Greenland’s deputy prime minister, the eminent statesman Jens Frederiksen, gave the matter some deep thought and after a profound philosophical enquiry stated: “If everybody else can sell uranium, then we might as well. There’s a lot of money in it.”


Denmark’s avowed social-liberal prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is known more for her Gucci handbags than her policies, has become tight-lipped and is refusing to answer any parliamentary questions that contain the word ‘Greenland’. Apparently she says it is ‘not appropriate’ to talk about Greenland’s ‘private affairs’.

This is Denmark’s prime minister showing off her hoard of designer swag. No, honestly – I’m not joking.

So there you have it. When Denmark put out all those press releases about it being the greenest, most sustainable country on God’s fair earth – it didn’t really mean it. Apparently it’s okay to tell big fat pork pies if that’s what everyone else is doing. Especially if it keeps the money taps open and the investment cash rolling in. You can’t expect having one of the highest standards of living in the world to just pay for itself, you know.

Now where was that writer from who wrote the story ‘The emperor’s new clothes’?

This particular blogger is tired of stating the bleeding obvious and will welcome spending his time doing something more positive than thinking about these matters from now on. ‘Nuff said.

By the way, a big thanks to everyone who is continuing to read this discursive, peculiar, iconoclastic, mildly subversive blog of mine. This month, for the first time, I’ve hit the 10,000 page view mark – and it’s going up by 10% a month – which is leading me to think that I might actually put some more effort into writing these posts.As it is, I hammer them out whenever I have a spare moment at the kitchen table. Over the next couple of months I’ll be ‘in transit’ back to England, so will be posting a bit infrequently, but when I get settled I’m planning to start writing in a more structured way.That’s what you can do when a full-time job isn’t getting in the way.

Staring at the Sea

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on January 21, 2013

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I announced recently on the pages of this blog that I would shortly be leaving Denmark with my family and moving back to the UK, where I am from. This decision was a long time in the making and the past couple of years of agonizing could be neatly summarized by The Clash song ‘Should I stay or should I go?
In the end, of course, we chose to go back to England, where at least one of us is from (my wife is from Denmark and our two young daughters were born here). Without wishing to be too reductionist about this decision, I took into consideration all the factors that I think will be defining in an era of depleting net energy and social unrest that I think we are now entering into. When all was said and done, however, I had to go with my heart and what common sense told me. It’s long been a hunch of mine that one of the most important things about positioning yourself in preparation for the great Stopping of the Music is to make sure you will be somewhere where your face fits in and the people who surround you share the same cultural values. So, no moving to Outer Mongolia or darkest Peru for this WASP.
Perhaps the most agonizing aspect of this decision was the fact that land and farmhouses in Denmark are dirt cheap compared with Britain. I had fallen in love with the island of Møn, an idyllic island in the south of Denmark, covered in ancient Neolithic tombs, and populated by small villages filled with the kind of chocolate box thatched cottages you see on postcards. Here one could buy a 200 year old farmhouse in excellent condition with six or seven bedrooms plus outhouses, a couple of acres of land and probably an orchard or two along with some woodland and still have change from £150,000 (or $235,000). The same property in the UK, where the bubble is still rampant, would set you back up to a million pounds – around six or seven times the price in Denmark.
But, tempting as this was, when we really considered all the factors, the UK seemed like the better option FOR US.
So, without further ado, these were the factors that were taken into consideration in deciding which side of the North Sea to live on. It goes without saying that these are not the ONLY factors – but these were the ones that stuck out in my mind the most.
1 – Energy. When it comes to comparing the UK and Denmark, neither comes out very well in terms of future energy supplies. Both largely rely on oil and gas from fields in the North Sea which have double digit annual depletion rates. Neither country has much of a manufacturing sector (and what remains of Denmark’s is becoming increasingly uncompetitive due to high labour and energy costs) with high energy requirements, so most energy is used for transportation, heating, agriculture and leisure.
Denmark’s energy policy, at least officially, is geared towards a high-tech ‘green’ future of wind turbines (of which there are already many) and solar panels to power a smart grid and a transportation system based on electrical energy stored in batteries. The country at present meets most of its energy requirements from burning coal, natural gas and post-consumer waste, with some imported power from Sweden, which produces nuclear power. Denmark has no nuclear power itself, although Sweden’s Barseback nuclear reactors are sited just across the Øresund Strait, easily visible from where I live. [Both reactors have now been decommissioned but still contain nuclear waste, and plans are afoot to make the site a short term nuclear waste storage facility as Sweden winds down its nuclear power programme.] Around a quarter of electricity currently comes from wind power, and the plan is to increase this to 50% by 2020. Denmark may be able to achieve this by trading power with Norway, which has the topography to allow for storage in the form of hydro power. Whether it does or not is a different matter. The country is aiming for 100% renewable power by 2050.
The UK doesn’t really have a coherent energy policy. Sweeping pronouncements are periodically made by ministers but these usually run into problems before anything is implemented. With the windfall from oil and natural gas now winding down serious problems are now on the horizon and rolling blackouts are likely by 2015/16, according to no less an authority than the UK energy regulator Ofgem. The country has several ageing nuclear reactors and there is a strong nuclear lobby that favours building more, despite robust public opposition.
Renewable energy, which is bountiful in the form of wind and wave power, was growing well due to a favourable investment climate and a generous FIT for home owners, but has stumbled of late due to widespread ideological opposition by the right-wing press, and cuts due to the implementation of austerity measures. Furthermore, politicians have jumped on the hydro-fracturing bandwagon, with breathless announcements of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in the rock formations beneath Britain, which has further pulled out the rug from beneath the feet of the renewable industry. The fact that this fracked gas has a very low net energy level and lies beneath privately owned and heavily populated land (unlike in the US, the UK government does not have the right to extract minerals from beneath privately owned land) does not seem to deter the enthusiasm of the fracking advocates.
Given that nuclear plants won’t be ready in time and are probably unaffordable, oil and gas is running out, the renewable energy industry is being strangled by ideologues and fracking is a mirage, it does seem likely that the lights will indeed be going out in Britain sooner rather than later. There is some coal left in the ground, although much of the capital for its extraction was laid to waste during the Thatcher years, so the best that Britain can hope for is favourable terms with Russia, as it imports natural gas at the end of a very, very long pipeline.
2 – Transportation. Neither the UK nor Denmark are particularly large countries (and the UK is set to get a whole lot smaller if Scotland opts for independence, as seems likely), with land masses of 94,060 and 16,562 square miles respectively. Both have excellent transport links, with numerous roads, functioning rail lines and sea ports. Denmark, famously, has an excellent infrastructure for cycling owing to policy decisions made after the 1970s’ oil shocks, and its relatively flat topography. At the city level around half of all trips are made on two wheels.
The UK is considerably less cycle friendly as the powerful motoring lobby has very effectively made sure that money is funnelled into road projects suited to cars rather than bicycles, and local councils have haphazardly implemented cycling infrastructure that in most cases doesn’t connect.
Nevertheless, Britain is criss-crossed with canals from its manufacturing days, and there is no reason why these shouldn’t go into full time use again. Furthermore the tow paths alongside these canals in many cases already double as cycle lanes. There is a national bicycle network, and things can only improve for low speed forms of transport as the number of journeys made by car continues to diminish, as it has been doing for some time now.
3 – Food security. Neither Denmark nor the UK has much in the way of food security. At present both countries rely on very long supply chains and just-in-time delivery systems to get food into shops. If both countries had to rely solely on what was available to them from their own soils and seas then mass starvation would quickly ensue. The last time Britain was tested in this respect was during the Second World War, when a mass mobilisation of the population to grow food just about managed to feed the nation (although many were away fighting in other countries). Then, there were around 30 million residents, whereas today there are over 63 million (Denmark has about a tenth of that number). Furthermore, it must be assumed that 70 years of mechanised farming has considerably reduced the capacity of the soils to grow food, and relentless overfishing has reduced fish stocks drastically as well. In terms of wild game, there is not much that would survive more than a few short years if the population was in a state of extreme hunger and short term crisis management.
The one bright spot in this otherwise dismal picture is the rise of organic farming and local food networks. These have grown enormously in recent years as people put less trust in the corporately-controlled food web and opt instead to eat more local and more healthily.
Denmark, similarly, has a food problem. Despite a much lower population, the relatively fertile soils cannot yield the heavily meat-based diet to which Danes have become used to. Technically, we are told, Denmark is a net food exporter, but in my local supermarket the only things I can find that are grown here are potatoes and apples, so I’m guessing that there is some statistical figure fiddling going on there.
Farming in Denmark is in something of a crisis at present due to many farmers taking out large Swiss franc denominated loans on government advice with which to buy new machinery and other capital. Servicing these loans has now become unaffordable for many as the Swiss franc has appreciated due to its supposed safe haven status. Furthermore, food production is geared towards the production of 25 million intensively reared pigs a year and cash crops, especially rape seed, although much is also given over to wheat production. Local food coops do exist, but they are relatively few compared with the UK. Nevertheless, consumers do tend to opt for organic food, with even the cheap supermarkets stocking a good range of food grown without chemicals (although often it is imported).
3 – Governance and society. There are clear differences between the UK and Denmark when it comes to governance. For historical and cultural reasons Denmark is governed well and the UK is governed not quite so well. Both are democratic societies hung on the framework of a monarchy, with the royals enjoying almost universal adoration in Denmark, as opposed to ‘only’ 82% in the UK. Both countries have coalition governments, although only Denmark has radical factions representing parties founded on both Marxism and ultra-nationalism enjoying any power.
Denmark is characterised by its homogenous native population and has sometimes been described as ‘more of a tribe than a nation’. There are few social strata within Denmark’s famously classless society (although I would question this assumption) and politicians must appease the entire nation, rather than one particular power group within it, and are held accountable as such. The social contract in Denmark is very strong and rigid and has been aptly described by the half-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandemose as the ‘Jantelov’ – a set of unwritten codes of conservative behaviour by which Danish people unwittingly live out their lives. The codas are effectively anti-individualistic in nature, requiring that the common man or woman suppress their own personal desires and ego for the common good of the state.
The other side of the bargain is that rulers (political and monarchical) must be trusted to ensure the stability and survival of the state. Any digression from this bond of trust is treated with public opprobrium. As a result, Denmark has a very progressive tax system and it is said that ‘nobody is poor and nobody is rich’. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact remains that allowing everyone to enjoy a comfortable middle class lifestyle, while enviable to liberals from less progressive countries, nevertheless rests on the assumption that there will be a continued abundance of cheap fossil fuels and favourable trade deals with poorer nations. In other words, it can’t last.
The UK, by contrast, has something of a class war going on. Although the old system of inherited caste privilege is dying out, a new breed of ultra-wealthy people sit at the top of the ladder and use the resources of the poor to further advance their wealth advantage, and in doing so hollow out the core of society and make it more prone to social upheavals. At the centre of this black hole is the hyper-power known as the City of London (not to be confused with the actual physical city of London), a vast Ponzi scheme that holds a large amount of power over the government. The City, which enjoys very little regulation, is said to be ‘too big to fail’ although its activities have caused the UK economy to be hugely unbalanced in favour of unproductive financial derivatives at the expense of the ‘real’ economy of goods and useful services. Unfortunately, when it does inevitably fail, the likely results will be catastrophic, which brings me onto the subject of …
4 – Finance and economics. Denmark and the UK are similar in that they both hold ‘world records’ in the debt stakes. Denmark has the unenviable position as the country with the highest household debt. At something like 400% of annual income – and growing at an alarming rate – Denmark’s consumers have been spending money over the past few years like drunken sailors who just washed up on the mythical shores of Consumerlandia and found the streets to be paved with gold VISA cards.
Maybe it is the widely-held belief that nothing bad can happen to them and that the government will ride to rescue that has caused all of this, but it is was certainly also the case that this cheap credit was pushed onto those least able to afford to pay it back as well. As ever, it takes two to tango. Cultural factors may also play a part. Danish people like to think of themselves as ‘virtuous’ and ‘deserving’ and the Lutheran religious values of purity which are buried like undead zombies under the floorboards of the nation’s psyche, have crawled up to manifest themselves as people who live in flats where everything is painted white and decked out with expensive designer furniture. A weekend in New York to pretend to be one of the characters from Sex and the City, or a quick holiday to Thailand in the deep of winter to top up your tan is considered normal behaviour in this virtuous zombie culture. Is it any wonder that Denmark is routinely quoted as ‘the happiest country on Earth’?
Many people took out 100% mortgages in the last decade, and opted to pay only the interest rather than any of the capital. Now, with several small and medium sized banks having already crashed, lenders are forcing borrowers to pay back some of the capital – and many of them are suddenly finding they cannot afford it. A popular prime-time TV programme in Denmark is Luksusfælden – or ‘fall from luxury’ – in which insolvent families are visited by some hard-nosed financial advisors and put on a tough economic diet, which sometimes they cannot stomach. Notable episodes have included a woman who thought that denying her children designer clothes was tantamount to abuse and broke down in tears when confronted with some perfectly good second hand clothes, which was all she could afford.
Denmark may well be a nation of superlatives. Not only does it have the world’s highest household debt, but it also has one of the world’s largest public sector (for a ‘free’ nation, continually vying with Sweden for first place) and the world’s highest tax rate. It is calculated that the marginal tax rate is as high as 70% – meaning that by the time you have earned and spent your wages, some 70% of it has gone back into the public coffers in the form of income tax, VAT and various other taxes and charges. Not that Danes seem to mind – on the contrary, opinion polls repeatedly show that given the choice between lower taxes with fewer public services and higher taxes with a greater safety net, people will always opt for the latter. It drives foreigners living here nuts, especially the Americans.
The UK, similarly, is a nation of debt junkies. Although personal debt is nothing like as high as Denmark’s, the national debt is stratospheric. The country as a whole owes about a trillion pounds, split between government debt, financial debt, private debt and business debt. The government debt is growing at a rate that makes it impossible to ever repay, no matter how much ‘austerity’ the government imposes on the bankrupt populace. This is, of course, the same situation that every European nation finds itself in after three decades of monetary expansion based on cheap credit and fairy money, but more so. With diminishing tax revenues from North Sea oil, a growing budget deficit, an elderly and retiring work force and huge financial and property bubbles there is simply no way that the UK can avoid going spectacularly bust. When it happens it won’t be pleasant.
5 – Climate change. This is already having an impact on the UK, where it has been raining heavily for half a decade now. Gone are the dreams of many who, some years back, forecast that we would have a climate similar to the south of France and that most of England would be good for growing grapes. Instead, we have a cold wet slap in the face, persistent flooding, and wild swings in temperature. Of course, this could change again as ocean currents shift, and the country (and northern Europe as a whole) will rapidly turn into an ice block if the Gulf Stream shifts to the south or peters out entirely. In this respect Denmark and the UK are in the same boat.
In terms of rising sea levels, the UK has a clear advantage over low-lying Denmark, whose highest point is Himmelbjerget (‘Sky Mountain’) which rises to a majestic 147m (482 feet). Indeed, sea levels will not need to rise by more than a few metres for much of Denmark to simply disappear into a kind of Atlantis with stylish furniture. An added worry is that as polar ice melts in the Arctic this could trigger tsunami-producing earthquakes in a process known as isostatic rebound, which would have the potential to sweep over Denmark with devastating consequences. You think it couldn’t happen?
The UK at least has topography on its side, although certain areas such as East Anglia and the Thames Valley (where London is situated) will cease to be land. Having the resources and money to build huge defensive walls against sea rise in the future seem about as unlikely as the assumption we will be able to build floating cities or, indeed, live on the bottom of the sea like crabs.
6 – Housing. It seems odd to mention housing as a key consideration in deciding which country to live in, although in this case Denmark emerges as the clear winner. Due to the aforementioned good governance, housing in Denmark is generally of a high standard. Insulation is at standards that Britons can only dream about, which is just as well as it gets mighty cold in Denmark (it is minus 15 degrees centigrade outside right now as I type this in my super-insulated flat).
Britain, by contrast, seemed to give up building proper houses after the last war. Cheap and cheerful became the driving ideology and ever since we have constructed millions of cheaply-built identikit houses, created suburban sprawl and blighted the landscape. What’s more, these cheaply constructed houses are almost unaffordable to the average person who wants to avoid wage slavery. In fact, if one wants to buy a house in the UK that will keep you warm, won’t break the bank and won’t have bits flying off it in a gale you have to look at properties that were built over a hundred years ago. Many of these, however, have preservation orders put on them, meaning that owners are not permitted to make improvements on aesthetic grounds.
7 – Trade Links. Internal trade links are likely to prove robust in both countries due to the aforementioned good quality transportation networks. Trade with other countries, when things settle down, is likely to be with regional partners. I expect the UK (or whatever the country is called in the future) to have good trade links with France and other places in Europe, as it had in the past.
Denmark, as with many other factors, is likely to look more and more to Norway and Sweden for trade and protection. With their shared cultural and linguistic heritage, I envisage Scandinavia’s northern countries being some of the ‘better’ places to live – at least if you are a Scandinavian or can pretend to be one. I can imagine energy and fuel (in the form of wood and hydro power) being exported to Denmark from Norway, which has plenty of space and resources, perhaps in exchange for grain and other agricultural products. Denmark itself has little in the way of exploitable natural resources so it’ll be back to the land for the majority of the populace.
8 – Geopolitics. If resource wars kick off in Europe, and we can’t rule this out, then Denmark could well find itself in the firing line. This is not an enviable position to be in but the fact remains that Denmark to some extent still ‘owns’ Greenland. With various world powers eyeing Arctic oil and minerals, and even claiming ownership of the North Pole, it is unlikely that things will end up being agreed amiably over sherry. Should Denmark lay claim to Greenlandic oil, as it was suggested by Danish MPs on the morning news today, it would set itself up for a fight with Russia and perhaps China too. Hell, even Britain might claim a share. Yet it goes without saying that Russia could eat Denmark for breakfast, so without backing from, say, the United States (of which Denmark, like the UK, remains a client state) the country would have no chance of holding onto its prized possession. It can hardly be a coincidence that the ex-Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, quit his role to take up the top post at NATO.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s self-commissioned portrait. What message is he trying to send out I wonder?
China, it might be added, has been having high level meetings with Denmark about Greenland and all the goodies that exist there. It has offered Denmark some pretty choice morsels in terms of trade pacts, with one of the most significant being the sale of fur coats to cater to China’s exploding requirement for bling. Incidentally, Denmark is one of the world’s leading producers of mink, fox and chinchilla fur.
The UK, by comparison, having lost all of its huge mineral-rich overseas landmasses, will continue to struggle to make itself relevant – which is a good thing in my opinion. It has been a century since the British Empire began to collapse – more than enough time to get over it – and the country will likely revert back to what it once was, i.e. a group of soggy islands off the coast of northern Eurasia well suited to sheep farming. Of course, it will likely take a few centuries to get to that point, by which time I and everyone reading this will be long gone and some of my distant descendents may well be sheep herders.
9 – Population and carrying capacity. As mentioned above in ‘food’ both the UK and Denmark will eventually have to severely reduce numbers in order to live off the planet’s natural income as opposed to its energy inheritance. At present, people in both countries largely subsist on what William H. Catton calls ‘ghost acres’. These are invisible fields in far-off places where the food is artificially produced using oil – invisible to practically everyone who doesn’t want to contemplate them. As energy, the master resource, becomes less available, so will these ghost acres.
But before that happens we have to go through the next big financial shock, which could happen any month now. Nobody knows how long Europe’s politicians and bankers can keep shoving golden eggs down the goose’s throat, but when those same golden eggs stop appearing at the other end we can expect our standard of living to start resembling what ordinarily comes out of a goose’s backside. Many people will suddenly find themselves without the inclination to carry on and commit voluntary entropy, and some will achieve this semi-unwittingly with drink and drugs. More still will end up shivering/sweating in the cold /heat and a failing medical care infrastructure will suddenly reverse the increased longevity that we have been led to expect by the media. With social care systems collapsing we can expect to see the elderly being abandoned (some would argue that is already happening) as it becomes unaffordable for the system as a whole to look after them. Disease management systems will similarly be hit by cutbacks and viruses will have a field day.
But when the rubble has stopped bouncing after a few years we might find ourselves in a position of falling population as couples avoid conception, which commonly happens in collapsed societies. Unwittingly, we may already have entered this, as fertility rates have been falling for a long time and only expensive procedures, which will likely be unavailable in the future, currently allow infertile couples to have children.
10 – Preparedness/resilience. If all of what I have written above make you wonder why I’d want to stay in either country and put myself and my family through that risk, then this last point is the remaining element – hope – to emerge from Pandora’s box after all the other forces of chaos had been let loose.
It is my steadfast belief that people in the UK – or perhaps I should say some people in the UK – are better prepared mentally and physically than their Danish equivalents. The Transition Town movement grew from the UK, although in reality people have been practicing low impact sustainable living for decades, and despite the hollowing out of industry many small scale artisans still remain below the radar. There is a growing web of food networks, local currencies and community energy projects and the assumption of many people in the UK is that they cannot trust the government to deliver vital services to them. This, ironically, is a strength when compared with Denmark, where people are less empowered to take over their own livelihoods, and act timidly when it comes to going against the system. The assumption here is that the government always has their best interests at heart and that all solutions come down from the top. Have you ever heard of Occupy Denmark? No, I thought not. In this respect, the conservative janteloven, which is supposed to protect society from radicals, may in fact be its Achilles heel.
In the UK there is strong grassroots opposition to the coalition government and its suicidal plans to build more roads, airports, nuclear power stations and fracking wells. Overcrowded Britain, for better or worse, is a country of NIMBYs, making any new capital project that is perceived to be dangerous or ugly (or both) difficult or downright impossible. I certainly want to be there to play my part in helping to stop any suicidal growth projects that might be in the pipeline for my local area. Call me a de-growther, if you like.
Finally, and although it might sound like a bit of cliché, I really believe that the concept of fairness and sharing is etched into the public conscience. Whenever disaster strikes we tend to stop grumbling about one another and pull together to get through it as best as we can. It takes practice to stiffen that upper lip. We have developed a warped sense of humour as a safety valve for life’s absurdities and horrors, and despite decades of media scare stories about the dangers of strangers the country is still packed to the gunwales with good Samaritans the charitable folk. Furthermore, there’s a growing sense of reverence for the natural world, a stirring of the spirit that urges us to protect the Earth in all of its diversity. Is this part of something bigger? We will have to wait and see on that one.
All of the above might look like a reductionist attempt to convince myself that buying a small forest in one of the outermost appendages of the country and learning the skills of a woodsman is a good idea. If it seems that way then it wasn’t supposed to be. Reductionism and rationalisation can both be dangerous pursuits and none of us can predict how the future will be and what our place within it will look like. All of us have to learn to embrace uncertainty and proceed with caution but retain good spirits and a sense of wonder at the world in all its complexity and all its awesome beauty. That, at least, is what I intend to do

A Cargo (Bike) Cult

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

In days of yore cargo bike racing was a big thing in Copenhagen, something that is being resurrected by Harry vs Larry, whom I pinched this image from 

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on October 20, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

It’s an interesting experience living in a country as it slowly but surely wakes up to the fact that it is not immune from the economic storm clouds that are building. Here in Denmark politicians have finally realized that the country cannot support such a cumbersome public sector in such straitened times, and that something’s gotta give.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Scandinavian model of ordering society, it can basically be summarized thus: high taxes, high benefits, high standard of living. I’ve written about it extensively in my old blog (which I may provide some archive files of, if anyone’s interested) – so much so that it makes me exhausted even contemplating it. It’s the kind of society that makes liberals swoon with envy and free market conservatives boil with righteous anger.
I used to get my daily dose of right-wing trollery from – sorry to say it – resident Americans who had fallen into the Danish honey trap but were now living out their tortured ‘prison sentence’ existences in this socialist utopia. How dare they have a well-ordered society where nobody is stinking rich and nobody is poor? It flies in the face of all logical reason!! It’s communism, I tell you!!
At the other end of the scale are the dreamy liberals who came to this land of social mobility, sexual equality, eco consciousness and tasteful shabby chic design, convinced that they have entered the Holy Land – and their faith is similarly unshakeable.
In the middle, of course, are the Danes. For them, this is just normality.
But now, it turns out, that normality which once seemed so unshakeable is increasingly unaffordable. It’s a basic tenet of politics in Denmark that socialism rules the roost. Even the Conservative Party would be considered pinko commies by American standards – and the far-right Danish People’s Party could be aptly described as, ahem, national socialists – although they don’t appreciate the nomenclature.
Thus an unholy row has broken out about something called dagpenge. Now dagpenge (pronounce dow-peng) means literally ‘day money’ – that’s unemployment benefit to me and you. If you lose your job, or quit it, you are liberally showered in the stuff. I did just that two years ago and was entitled to about $2,000 a month – and practically all I had to do to earn it was click a button on a website once a month to say ‘I want some more please’. This was great and I could have carried on for five years, if I had wanted.
Problems have arisen, however, because it turns out that when too many people click that button, the few people left in full time employment have trouble paying for it. It’s pretty obvious stuff, really, but it could only work in the same manner as a Ponzi scheme in an ever expanding economy. Thus the (socialist) government has now declared that the maximum length of time you will be allowed to claim this money is two years. In reality this means that a large hole has suddenly appeared in the safety net that a country used to womb to tomb entitlement could never have dreamed of until recently.
As a result political scalps aplenty are being eviscerated. Most of the main parties (and, oh, there are many parties here) realise that such a bloated system of welfare cannot continue in its present form, but just can’t bring themselves to do anything about it. The left wingers and communists, however, want the period to be extended and for things to carry on as normal, printing money if need be. It’s a very familiarly depressing scenario and there’s nary a news bulletin without some mention of it.
But the country’s underlying economic woes have serious structural problems. We can also add into the cauldron of troubles the fact that many of the country’s biggest employers are packing up and moving overseas where employees come cheaper and there aren’t so many regulations. This is further inflating the jobless figures (which, by the way, are semi fantasy because they don’t include all of those who are put on educational schemes or the ‘before time’ pensioners, some of whom are in their 20s) and reducing the tax base like a snake eating its tail.
As if that were not embarrassing enough, unfortunate Denmark is surrounded by economic over-achievers! To the south is smoke-belching Germany, where Chinese millionaires are standing in line to buy luxury cars, and to the north are Sweden, with its huge natural resources, and Norway, ditto but with lots of oil as well. 
Okay, so Denmark has some large factory fur farms, is big on biotechnology, pig ‘production’ and Lego – but it remains to be seen which of these industries can stay the course as they all rely on low oil prices, a stable trading environment and generous government subsidies.
Oh, and it also has Vestas – the wind power company – but even that has lost 95% of their value since 2008. That just leaves Bang & Olufsen, Carlsberg, Maersk, Lurpak, Aragorn and The Barbie Song.
Anyway, given the guaranteed fact of our low energy future in which most of those energy slaves we enjoy the services of today will die off, I thought I would simultaneously do my bit for the environment, secure my transport future and provide a tiny boost to one small area of Denmark’s manufacturing industry in one fell swoop. Yes, I bought myself a cargo bike.
I have been considering buying one for quite a while. They are very common on the streets of Copenhagen, and are used to carry everything from children and shopping, to pets and, er, expanded polystyrene. 
But with so many models available now I was having trouble figuring out which one to go for. Ignoring the cheap-looking Chinese made ones that have appeared of late (look closely at the welding and components and you’d want to ignore them too), I narrowed it down to the most popular four different brands I regularly see around me. These were as follows:

A Christiania Bike at work. Image courtesy of Copenhagenize
Christiania Bikes. This is the original three wheeler cargo bike. Constructed with a sturdy frame in a workshop within the sprawling commune of Christiania in Copenhagen, these are the original road warriors and have been trundling the bike lanes of the city for around 40 years. They are no-nonsense affairs, with internal gears (which is the standard on Danish bikes – meaning you have to exert backwards pressure on the pedals backwards to brake, and you don’t get the gears gunged up with crud)  and come in any colour as long as it is black. Actually, that’s not quite true any more, and you can get them in various pastel colours, if you are that way inclined. They can carry loads of up to 100kg.

The Sorte Jernhest. Image courtesy of this blog
Sorte Jernhest. This means Black Iron Horse in Danish, and is a cargo bike that means business. Like the Christiania Bike, it is solid and looks like it is built to last. It’s a bit more stylish than the former, with a nice looking horizontal tube frame and an industrial looking finish on the front metal box. I have never actually tried one of these out but I was tempted to go it for this because of its mix of durability and cool name. Just like the others on the market, they are not cheap, but they cost practically nothing to run and are unlikely to seriously break down in the short or medium term.

The Nihola Bike. Image from this blog
Nihola Bike. This is ostensibly another copy of the Christiania Bike and is manufactured in a workshop in Copenhagen. In my journalist days I went down and met the owner and he lent a few of the bikes to the newspaper for delivery purposes during the COP15 climate conference.  The design is modern and the gears work well, but to my mind the ride felt a bit ‘tinny’ and it felt like I was going to fall off when I went around a corner. Still, nice design and quite practical. I’d say they would be fine for city use and light loads, but they are not really designed for heavy, dirty work.

The Bullitt Bike – image from here
Bullitt Bike. This was the last of the cargo bikes I considered. Unlike the other three this is a low-slung , long-based two-wheeler, and the cargo section is in the middle. Like the name says, these go like a bullet, and are by far the fastest of the lot. What’s more, the gearing is phenomenal and being a recumbent means you can deliver more of your leg muscle power to where it’s needed. They come in a variety of colours and models and are seriously slick. I was very tempted by the Bullitt, but what put me off in the end was the price tag, combined with the fact that a bike this flashy is bound to get stolen.
So, in the end I went with my gut feeling and opted for the solid traditional hippiemobile – the Christiania Bike. The reasons for this are manifest. I shall list them as bullet points:
  •            It’s a tried and tested technology. If you can still see 40 year old Christiania Bikes rumbling around the streets you know that this is a bike that is built to last.
  •            It can carry a load of up to 100kg (probably more) with no problems. I will need to be able to move this amount of weight up to 20 miles every day, and it would seem ideal for it. Plus, with a single big handlebar, getting off and pushing is always an option.
  •            I want the option of being able to fit an assisting electric motor on it in the future, and the large exposed back wheel provides plenty of space to do so. The bike is fine in flat areas like Copenhagen, but it would be seriously hard to ride it up a steep hill, fully laden, without some kind of power assist.
  •            I like its black no-nonsense design and the fact that you could easily sell things out of the front box area as it is a deep box with sides that slope forwards, making presentation of the goods easy.
  •            I love Christiania. It’s a truly inspiring place to be that shows what people can achieve against all the odds (expect a long post about Christiania soon) and I want to help support its survival.
And so I found myself down in Christiania a couple of weeks ago hopping over puddles and sniffing the tang of marijuana on the crisp October air as I searched the flowery back streets for the Christiania Bike workshop. I entered a large brick building where overalled women were busy twisting lengths of metal and scrap objects and turning them into works of art to go on sale. I asked one lady where the bike workshop was and she pointed me to a glass door at the back and told me to just go on through. Once I’d found my way in, Jens, the manager, showed me to my new steed, which was stacked up with a consignment of others (see below).
Selling like hot cakes at the Christiania Bike workshop in Copenhagen.  That’s my bike, ready to go, in the foreground.
There was a bit of paperwork to go through (like paying for it) and I asked Jens how business was. He said it was pretty brisk, all things considered, and they were flat out busy with new orders (the bikes used to be made here but nowadays they are made ‘offshore’, meaning on the quaint Danish island of Bornholm, and then shipped to the mainland for assembly in Christiania). It was good to hear that they are still doing well despite all of the competition out there nowadays – five years ago these were practically the only cargo bikes you ever saw.
As I rode out of Christiania and joined the rush hour commuter traffic (mostly other bikes) on one of the main arteries of the city I felt like I was riding on a wave of euphoria. The steering took a bit of getting used to, and I learned that you have to lean back a little as you turn to avoid overbalancing the bike and falling off. But apart from that it felt fine to ride, and very light. Having ridden (driven?) much larger bikes during one summer spent as a rickshaw driver in Copenhagen, I was used to being a bike lane hog, although the Christiania Bike is narrow enough to allow others to pass, so this isn’t a problem.
Okay, so it’s just a black bike with a box on the front – but no, it’s a bit more than that – it’s a pretty low-risk security for the future. Just think: no fossil fuels to power it, no insurance, no parking fees, hardly any maintenance costs and no tax. And just riding it keeps you fit and your leg muscles bulging.
Okay, transport: tick. Done that, now onto the next thing …
Here’s my bike on its first ever job, earlier today – a 20km round trip to pick up a 19th century chair for my wife to restore.  It was an easy job but I can’t count on such light loads in the future.

The Acid Factory Forest

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on September 29th 2012

Some Acid Factory rosehips

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

If you ever happen to find yourself flying to Copenhagen Airport you will no doubt take a metro train to the city centre shortly after landing. After you have been on the eerily driverless train for roughly three minutes you will notice that to your left you are passing a built up area of characterless blocks of flats, car parks and hotels. That’s where I live. In the other direction you’ll notice that you are passing close to the sea, with Sweden clearly visible across the Øresund, if the weather is good. In the foreground, just before the shoreline, you’ll notice huge mounds of dirt and tangled pieces of metal surrounded by earth moving equipment. Underneath it, although you could never tell, is the Acid Factory Forest.
Let me explain. I live on a road called Syrefabriksvej, which in English means Acid Factory Way. The reason for this is that quite a long time ago it used to lead to – you guessed it – an acid factory. Back in Denmark’s industrial heyday, if there ever was such a thing, the shoreline was covered with salt works, fish processing plants and factories. Then, by the 1970s or so, the fish had gone and production of goods was shifting overseas, meaning the factories shut down and the area became what is commonly called an urban wasteland.
Having a miniature rust belt did nothing for the island’s reputation whatsoever. The island I live on, you see, has always been the target of snobbery. In medieval times the contents of Copenhagen’s chamber pots were brought here and spread on the land as fertilizer, and henceforth the island was known as lorteøen – or shit island. By most accounts, it was populated by a particularly coarse breed of pig farmers, and in 1521 King Christian II, who was a great fan of everything Dutch, gave the southern section of the island to some farmers from Holland. His reasoning was that they could supply the royal table with quality fruit and veg – something he believed Danish farmers to be incapable of. They didn’t have to pay taxes and perhaps because of it all of Denmark hated them.
Amager (pronounced ‘Ama’ – the ger bit is silent – Danish is like that) continued to be unpopular. On the opening page of Søren Kierkegaard’s manifesto of existentialism Either/Or he declares that he’d rather live on Amager talking to the filthy pigs than live among the uncivilized philistines of contemporary Copenhagen society. I’m not sure if that was meant as a complement or not.
Anyway, today the pig farms are gone and covered in apartment blocks, 7-11s and pet grooming parlours. The shore line, where the old acid factory was, has been given an extreme makeover in the last six years, with a huge offshore island being built and fancy flats springing up here there and everywhere. You’re more likely to see a fashion shoot or a skateboarding contest than a blue-overalled worker down there these days. But one bit that nobody ever seemed like getting around to doing anything to was where the old acid factory had been. It covered quite an area, and there were the remains of many other factories there too, although I don’t know what they produced. Urban legend had it that the land was poisoned, which may well have been true.
Amager beach in 1950, when the area was a bustling industrial zone
Amager beach in 2012, now given over to leisure
Poisoned or not, nature had been allowed to take its course over the last 40 years and, until quite recently, a forest had grown up there. I used to go there regularly to recharge my psychic batteries. Denmark, you see, is a remarkably manicured country with barely a blade of grass out of place. Maybe it’s because the land was so flat and easy to tame that a culture grew up that could accurately be described as the cult of ‘neatness’. You know that picture of the American family with the picket fence? They were no doubt settlers from Denmark.You see it everywhere. Sometimes I think that the ideal home in these parts is a square Lego-type house on an immaculate lawn with not a single other living organism on the premises other than maybe a supermarket bought orchid artfully placed on the dining room table. Something a bit like this:
An idealised Danish house … for some
But the Acid Factory Forest was different. Here, there was a profusion of life. Through the concrete factory floors and the tarmac carparks and roads an army of saplings had burst forth, soon burying what remained of decades of human endeavor beneath a blanket of leaves and twigs and earwigs. It was a place of tall silver birches, adolescent oak trees, apple trees (perhaps from people tossing apple cores out of passing car windows), elberberry bushes, hawthorns, rosehips and many more. The trees were alive with birds, and I saw birds there that I never saw anywhere else in Denmark. But mostly it was populated by a sizeable unkindness of ravens, who sat looking down philosophically from the posts that held the rusty razor wire fence to keep people out up. Every time I saw these ravens I made an effort to say hello to them. After a time they grew used to me and, although I never managed to get a response out of any of them, I’m pretty sure that they understood some rudimentary English phrases after a while.
I loved visiting my urban forest and seeing all the wildflowers there in Spring and the amazing bounty of fruits and berries in the Autumn. I didn’t dare eat any of them, of course, as the warnings about poisoned soils were all too clear in my mind. Once, after reading a book about wild food, I decided to harvest some snails. The snails there were unlike any others I have seen in Denmark – they were giants! And they were everywhere. I picked up about 20 and put them in a huge jar, feeding them lettuce and parsley (tutored by my Italian father in law who is an expert snail eater – he said it would remove any ‘toxins’), and had big plans to fry them up in butter and garlic and invite a couple of friends around for a wine and escargot evening. I watched them slithering around for a week or two, and they watched me back with their slimy eyes on stalks. They looked so trusting. I grew to like them, and even had names for some of the more recognizable ones. Inevitably I couldn’t bear to eat them.
After a period of desperate rationalization, I rode back down to the Acid Factory Forest and gently placed them back where I had found them, bidding them a fond farewell as I left. The community of the forest had been reunited again. (Would the snails tell others of their adventures? Would the others believe them? Was I going crazy?)
But then, one day last year, something dreadful happened. An invasive species penetrated the nature zone – a predator so ruthless that it could only spell doom for all of the ravens and foxes and squirrels and hares that called the place home. Yes, an ape-like creature wearing a hard plastic hat and a fluorescent yellow jacket was seen surveying the site with a sextant and talking into a mobile phone. After only a few days more came, as if lured by this initial colonist. They worked methodically, and smoked cigarettes as they drove long white stakes into the ground at 100m intervals, dividing the land up in preparation for it being brought back into the orbit of human control. The ravens remained perched on the fence and watched all of this with their beady eyes, occasionally squawking something to one another in their indecipherable tongue. It was a bad omen to be sure.
But then, just as quickly as they had come, the men went away. For the entire winter and spring, nothing happened, and the denizens of the wasteland carried on living their lives in relative peace. But then, this summer, I went away for a week, and when I came back I noticed something odd. All of a sudden my flat had a sea view. Where before there had been the green froth of leaves there was now the icy blue of the Baltic Sea. I got on my bike and went down to investigate. When I got there it was a scene of utter destruction. A large machine was parked there which seemed to have some kind of giant double chain saw pincer attached to the front. It had evidently been over the whole area because nothing now rose more than a foot from the ground. The ‘debris’ was still there, and so were the ravens, who were all sat on the fence surveying the wreckage. Somewhere in it were all their nests, presumably with their young still in them.
I felt shocked, as if a family member or friend had been violently murdered. How could they do this? And to rub salt into the wound, they then sprayed the entire area in some kind of herbicide to ensure than no living thing would be left alive. It seems to succeed and after a few days the whole area was wilted and dead as if it had been sprayed with agent orange – which maybe it had.
I was depressed. The Acid Factory Forest had given me succour and strength throughout the times I had been depressed in the past, and now it was gone. There was nothing I could do. I mentioned it to a few local people but they were all unsympathetic. ‘Oh it was just an eyesore – a wasteland,’ they said in so many words. It attracted crime, it was being used to dump trash, teenage joyriders burned cars in it, somebody had been attacked there … it seemed like the place could do no good at all. There was nothing for it but to rehabilitate it and bring it back to a state of purity.
I wondered what had happened to all the resident wildlife. There was literally nowhere for it to go as the Acid Factory Forest had been surrounded variously by a beach (intersected by a busy road), Copenhagen Airport, a yachting marina and sterile suburbia. Only the ravens, I imagined, could get away – and they did. After a couple of weeks of staring at the devastation and cawing to one another they just left, en masse. I wonder how they made the decisions. When to go. Where to go. There is so much we don’t understand on this planet.
Over the coming weeks work went on at the site. The tree stumps were ripped up by another fearsome machine and bulldozed into great tangled piles before being loaded onto trucks and driven away. Then the ground was levelled and some kind of yellow plastic gauze was spread over the, perhaps, 40 acre area. After this hundreds – perhaps thousands – of truckloads of building debris was brought in and spread on the ground. Maybe it was the tower blocks they have been enthusiastically dynamiting around Denmark recently.  Then on top of the debris went about a metre of clay. Beneath that huge mass of concrete, plastic and clay was a substrate layer of dying matter that was once a 40 year old forest. And some snails that had once been on an adventure.
A sign was erected outside the new barbed wire fences, showing what was to be done there. The land, it said, was being turned into a nature reserve as part of the city’s commitment to sustainable development. A CAD generated image showed what it would look like. It showed mostly immaculate grass with a few neat trees here and there with ‘contemplation benches’ for the computer generated Danes who were strolling around with shopping mall type contentment on their computer generated faces.
It was all too much and it caused me to think about all of the human follies to which we are susceptible. The greatest mistake of our age, it seems to me, is our inability to recognise that a linear accomplishment is trumped by a cyclical one. Every time we take a natural system and unleash a cataclysm upon it we are turning it from a very complex system with hundreds of different types of organisms (probably thousands if you go down to the micro level, which microbiologists tell us where it’s really at) into a very simple one of a handful of selected species which would never coexist in the natural world. To maintain the new equilibrium – in this case neat grass, a few selected trees and some water features – means a constant battle against the forces of nature which ‘want’ to turn it back into a ‘wasteland’ i.e. a piece of land that is useful to many species, but not us.
The wasteland of the Acid Factory Forest lives on on Google Earth, incidentally, which is yet to be updated.
This battle costs energy and money. It will take a few personnel with a variety of power-hungry machines to prevent the new ‘nature reserve’ from turning into a, well, nature reserve. And we know where the energy will come from to power those machines, and we know that using energy on hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws for ornamental gardens will not be high up on the list of priorities during an energy crunch.
I have come to regard the whole Acid Factory Forest fiasco in a philosophical way. 40 years is but a blink of an eye in natural time, and one day this place, and plenty more besides it, will again be rich in life. I’ll be long gone by then.  Wastelands like this will become wilderness one day. And many of the cities and towns that we live in will be a part of it if we truly extend our temporal range of consciousness to the far future. Who knows, maybe in the rubble of this flat on ‘Shit Island’ where I am typing this will one day be snuffled over by packs of wild pigs, hunting for acorns from the oak trees I have been surreptitiously planting in municipal parks and on road verges around the area. Or, more likely, the rubble will be home to crabs and oysters and the bricks of the kitchen wall I now see before me will be covered with seaweed and barnacles – the island is, after all, only a couple of metres above sea level, with much of it actually below.
After the trees had been removed the site was covered in plastic gauze
An adjacent area was left standing
The end result, standing with my back to the sea looking towards my apartment block
Postscript: After I wrote this a couple of days ago it has emerged – according to my well-placed source – that the local council has found itself with no money for planting trees or further developing the site. Work, for now, has stopped. In the meantime, some interesting new pioneers are forcing themselves up through the lifeless clay and rubble … pictures to follow.


The world’s first Holistic Real Estate Agent

Sustainable Properties for Sale

This is a shout out for my friend David Edge. I first met David in Spain when I interviewed him and his wife Aspen at their farm high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains for my very first newspaper article. They had bought a run down farm on a degraded piece of no-good desertifying land and through sheer hard work and determination turned it into a veritable green oasis in a parched yellow wilderness. David and Aspen used permaculture techniques and were heavily influenced by Allan Savory and his concept of ‘Holistic Management’ – and it was truly inspiring to see what they had achieved in the face of conventional wisdom.
Sadly, Aspen was struck down with cancer and died a couple of years ago and David was left with Semilla Besada, their farming project. He passed the project onto some new guardians and returned to his roots in Devon and he has now started a website with the aim of putting people in touch with one another who are seeking to buy or sell land or property that is suitable for living in in a sustainable manner. You could say that he is the first holistic real estate agent.
Anyway, please have a look at his new site and see if you can spare a minute to help him spread the word. As readers of this site will be aware, finding a place to live in which you can be a useful part of the ecosystem is one of the most important challenges we face. He is not doing it for money, although he does accept donations if it all works out for the buyer or seller.
You can see his site Sustainable Properties for Sale by clicking here and his Facebook site can be followed here. The site is fairly new but it covers properties worldwide – so it doesn’t matter where you live.

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on September 22, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasboard inside the Diner

Today I joined a gym. Yes, I know. I haven’t set foot in one for 15 years but the time had come to do so again. I apologise to regular readers who might be expecting something along the lines of some subject matter that is at least tangential to peak oil, global hegemony or environmental meltdown – that will all have to wait until next week. I should probably say now that if you’re of a sensitive disposition you might not want to read certain parts of this post, because today’s post is about … (drumroll) … violence!
But first, let me explain a little something. When I say I haven’t set foot inside a gym for 15 years, that’s not because I am some kind of couch potato who can’t walk up a flight of stairs. In fact, I run around 20km a week, bike about 100km and I’m even training for a half-marathon. Don’t forget, part of preparing for a future of limited medical care and inaccessible or ineffective drugs is the ability to keep fit and try and heal your own body. And just like sex, poetry and friendship, exercise is one of those things that you shouldn’t have to pay for. In any case, I have to exercise because if I don’t then the chronic pain I live with gets worse.
I’m not sure how it happened or what it is, but I live with an endless pain in my chest. It could have been when I had a snowboarding accident, or maybe it was the time I was infested with a tropical parasite that gnawed away at my insides unchecked for two years, but it’s been with me for this past decade, and sometimes it is debilitating, but usually it is just a low level ache in the upper left side of my chest. I’ve been to doctors and hospitals aplenty and they’ve run numerous tests on me and the conclusion is always the same: there’s nothing detectably wrong with me. Except there is. At times the pain spreads right up through my neck into my head and leaves me finding it painful to breathe and sleep. It isn’t fun.
I don’t know how it started or how to fix it. People have suggested acupuncture, visiting a chiropractor or various homeopathic treatments. Alcohol and coffee make it worse, whereas rubbing a pressure point under my left eye makes it go away temporarily, as if by magic. Very intense exercise also makes it go away for a few hours, as do strong pain killers. It’s a pain, but apparently not a fatal one.
So that’s why I go running. The only thing is that it seems to be getting more and more dangerous to go running where I live. Some people might think that it doesn’t get much safer and cleaner than Copenhagen – that is how the city likes to present itself to an international audience. That’s probably what the unfortunate American tourist thought last week who met a grisly end after an automated street cleaning machine suddenly developed artificial intelligence and went amok, sucking him up and ramming his head against the wall of a bank, thus killing him in a most unexpectedly unpleasant way. But anyone who has ever lived here or watched the superb TV series Forbrydelsen (renamed ‘The Killing’ in English) won’t be entirely surprised by what I am about to say. This has been my experiences in the past ten days or so:
  •     A man was murdered with a single shot to the head outside the office I work in. The attack was thought to be a revenge attack for a hit on some people walking out of a mosque a year ago (also next to my office) which I heard. At the time I had thought somebody was throwing heavy things into a skip – that’s what it sounded like.
  •     A couple of days later I went running at night. On a particularly dark street near the beach a car pulled up next to me and a man yelled something obscene at me. I ignored him and he drove off. Ten minutes later the whole place was full of police cars and it was on the news later that a man on that street had been randomly cruising around and stabbing passers-by. One victim was stabbed in the chest but managed to walk to hospital.
  •  I also went running the next night and surprised two men doing something suspicious at a deserted building site – they didn’t take it well and I had to put a sprint on.
  • Three nights later I encountered a gang of youths, one wielding a metal pole outside a grim local shopping precinct. They were dressed in the American ‘gangster’ style of pants hanging down and covered in bling. They were also smashing the place up and again I had to sprint to get away from them as they shouted after me.
  • Then last night – the final night I went out. Half the police force of Copenhagen descended on the island of Amager where I live after violence flared up between the two main Hells Angels gangs who are Denmark’s de facto mafia. One man was thrown out of a moving car, and another was found kneecapped in the back seat of another. Just another night in Copenhagen.
Sporadic random cases? Maybe.  But I used to regularly attend crime scenes in my capacity as a reporter here a couple of years ago, so I know very well that there’s a very dark underbelly in this city. Here are a few of the scenes I attended during that time:
  •         A cold blooded murder of a Somali man who was leaving his flat for work and was gunned down from a passing car in front of his children.
  •           A local bar (very close to my flat) invaded at night by a machine gun wielding gang hunting for junior members of a Hells Angels club. After shooting up the bar they dragged one unfortunate punter outside, pulled his trousers down and put the gun up where the sun don’t shine. I photographed the blood spattered plants pots and gore covered latex gloves of the paramedics.
  •          The assassination of a powerful Chinese businessman in a restaurant outside the office.
  •          The aftermath of a drugs turf war related grenade attack on some people enjoying a quiet beer in the alternative commune of Christiania. The grenade landed on the table and blew a young man’s jaw off.
  •          The attempted assassination of a biker leader as he sat in a Joe and the Juice café drinking a milkshake. The bullet went through the window into his back, where he was sitting, although he didn’t die.
Apart from those there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of others. Just across the water from where I live, in the Swedish city of Malmø, they also had to contend with a serial killer who was shooting dark skinned people at random. Luckily he was caught, but the fact remains that these kinds of people just seem to pop up over here with unnerving regularity. How long before we get Denmark’s answer to Anders Breivik?
But now the police fear a new biker war. Forget Islamic terrorists, Scandinavia is plagued with home grown ones with blonde hair and blue eyes.  It brings me back to the happy days on the mid-nineties, when I first visited Denmark. In those days the various biker gangs, who ride around on shiny $80,000 Harley Davidsons and control the lucrative drug trade in these parts, were taking part in some pretty spectacular public battles. Who could forget the machine gun battle at Copenhagen Airport, for instance, or the RPG attack in central Copenhagen which launched a victim through a plate glass window as shoppers stood by gawking?
I should probably say that the leader of the Hells Angels, convicted killer Jørn Jønker Nielsen, is particularly web-savvy and on occasion phoned the office I used to work in to politely point out factual errors in our stories. So, if you’re reading Jørn, er, hello.
This is all very puzzling. The statistics don’t bear out my observations – Denmark has, on average, 0.9 homicides for every 100,000 people, making it the 21st safest country in the world (the US rate is about five times higher). It could be that victims are treated well in state of the art hospitals and usually recover, combined with the observation that most attacks tend to leave people half-dead rather than fully. And, of course, most violent crime tends to occur in the capital city, and most of them are premeditated attempts on the lives of various gang members and religious minorities.
So I have no particular desire to get caught up in all that again – hence my decision to join a gym in an international hotel near where I live. It’s a peculiar place to be. Everyone is so focussed on themselves and whatever is playing on their headphones, and they hardly seem to notice one another. It’s a kind of anti-community, where the lycra clad denizens drink only from plastic water bottles and nobody says a word but instead focuses on the numerous flat screen TVs affixed to the walls spewing out their 24 hour news and MTV feeds. Paper towel dispensers are much in use as every drop of sweat is quickly dealt with, and occasionally one of the gym employees will come round and empty the bins which quickly fill up with these and the plastic bottles. Various tattooed meatheads lift the free weights and flex their muscles in the mirrors, and afterwards there is a pool to cool off in, or a sauna to heat up in if you prefer. I quite like it.
It’s all very artificial and contrived, but for the time being it’s where I’ll be spending several evenings a week. What exactly am I doing as I run my standard 10km like a rat on a treadmill, dripping sweat onto the iPhone docking station? I’m writing my new sci-fi novel in my head, if you must know.  And not getting shot up the backside or stabbed or having my jaw blown off by a grenade.
Normal service will resume next week.

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In reply to Phil D. the prime fallacy lies in the certainty that we have a political problem, and we [...]

In reply to Phil D. states of any size are only willing to work together when there is mutual prospe [...]

In reply to doomphd. Your definition of TDS sounds like it was written by someone suffering from TDS [...]

In reply to neil. The Democrats have a candidate with some kind of neurodegenerative condition as th [...]

In reply to Herbie R Ficklestein. [...]

Nothing to see here. Move along! Lol. [...]

Steve seeing as how this is reante's fourth in a row, lemme know if I'm posting up too muc [...]

Hey Steve what do you think if the idea that the 1K/mo digital UBI for US citizens 18 and older (plu [...]

Who was it who used to argue here years ago about how much fat could be cut from the system? Was it [...]

Independent to me means non-commercial. They may sell half or full beefs and five or ten ton of hay [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

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Technical Journals

This study was designed to identify trends in maximum, minimum, and average air temperatures in the [...]

Cultural sites are particularly important to Indigenous peoples, their identity, cosmology and socio [...]

Globally, subtropical circulation in the lower troposphere is characterized by anticyclones over the [...]

Numerical models are being used for the simulation of recent climate conditions as well as future pr [...]