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Reflections In a Cup: Coffee and Energy

Coffee and energy


June 19, 2008
By Stuart Daw

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How can a rational coffee service person survive in an irrational world?

How can a rational coffee service person survive in an irrational world?

That’s a legitimate question, as so many actions are becoming subject to government regulation, and one never knows when or how the next edict will affect one’s business. And it can’t be ignored. One day it’s taxing bottled water (subject of this writer’s last article), the next day it’s disposable cups, of which one commentator recently said that each year we throw away enough cups to cover the entire floor of the world’s oceans, trying to frighten us with an image of starving fish.

One can understand the motives of those intellectually challenged, well-meaning but uninformed believers in global doom. But it’s the “smart,” pragmatic businessperson who cashes in on public fear that is most annoying.

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An example would be the voice in the current television advertisement for a leading refiner trying to convince us of its social consciousness by saying, “Imagine, an oil company acting in the public interest.” Why would any board of directors wish to give listeners the impression of crooks suddenly seized with a conscience?

Nowadays, if it weren’t so tragic, it’s almost fun to see that kind of pragmatism in action. It comes in the form of companies selling their soul for financial gain, cashing in on public acceptance of the environmental ideas typified by the whole Earth Day concept (taking place the day I am writing this column).

A pragmatist is one who says, in effect, “I’m going to do what works for me now, and to heck with others, with principle, or long-range consequences.”

One of the funniest manifestations of this lately is an urgent e-mail message just received from Air Canada, with whom I have over 80,000 unused travel miles. Itching to get rid of an “inconvenient liability,” and with an almost manic enthusiasm, it was making a very imaginative pitch saying, in effect, cash in your frequent flyer miles for carbon offsets, and we’ll plant a tree somewhere. We’ll even match your surrender of frequent flyer miles by planting two trees. Thanks, Air Canada!

Just to quote one short paragraph of that two-page missile, “If only 2,000 members each redeemed 7,500 miles to purchase our carbon offsets reward, along with Aeroplan’s match of 25 per cent, our impact would be equivalent to taking more than 1,300 cars off the road for one year.”

No use asking what cars, whose cars with what mileage, which countries, or any other rational question. Don’t we know it’s all settled science?

So Air Canada desperately tries to cash in on our misplaced fears to avoid the fate of the multiple airlines now suffering grave financial loss from high fuel prices. But give them credit for imagination, for Air Canada has been a leader in a la carte booking.

In fact it will be fascinating to watch the further development of this facet of air travel among all airlines.

Want to book flights by telephone and not the Internet? That idea is already here, 15 bucks extra. Soon it will be “An isle seat? 20 bucks extra.” Might use the washroom? Ten bucks a visit (they’ll ensure you get lots of water to drink). Willing to have two obese people in your row with you in the middle? 10 per cent ticket discount. Little bag of peanuts? No, someone might have an allergy. Ten sunflower seeds in a little package that seems impossible to open? $1.00 each. Flight attendant to help you open it, 50 cents. And so it may go, not just in air travel, but in many other industries as well.

All this frenetic activity going on in the culture would be of little consequence if it were not for the direct effect it has on business, including the coffee business. High energy costs affect freight in, the cost of getting coffee to us from origin.

Fuel is consumed in processing coffee. It’s needed to get the coffee delivered. And what’s this about a fuel shortage when we don’t drill for the almost limitless supplies in the world, much of which is right in North America? (Off-shore drilling, Rocky Mountain tar sands, yet no new refineries built in over 30 years).

And why not encourage the rapid development of atomic power with its unimaginable benefits from continued research into its applications (as an aside, we bought a coffee service right across the river from Three Mile Island just after the accident there. It was at a bargain price because of the owners’ fear, a lack of trust in the safety of such installations. Guess we should have thanked Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon in the movie The China Syndrome for that. And oh, incidentally, the sellers moved to Arizona where they must not have realized flying saucers were alleged to have landed.)

The future for all free market businesses seems ominous. A team of researchers at the University of Colorado Law School has put together a 213-page handbook that will provide authority to the next president of the United States, should he (or she) choose to use it. It tries to rapidly address “climate change” issues through executive decree.

“We’re defining the playground in which the president can play,” Alaine Ginocchio, lead author of Boundaries of Executive Authority, explained to the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera.

This is the law school’s Presidential Climate Action Project, suggesting that “there exists significant authority, without further action by Congress, for the president to take action by executive order to implement various aspects of climate change policy.”

I believe the term for this kind of governance is “fascism,” allowing for nominal private ownership of the means of production while maintaining strict government control of all commercial activity. As the Minister of Finance in 1930’s Germany said to a visiting American correspondent, “We don’t mind you owning the cow, as long as we get the milk,”

All this is being floated against a background of cooling global temperatures, with North America having just passed though a year in which average temperatures were nearly a half degree Celsius lower than the average from 1900 to 2000. After being the hero, whose computer models predicted that “global warming” would increase the severity of storms, MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel now says “the models are telling us something quite different from what nature seems to be telling us.”

Perhaps we could persuade Al Gore to stop going to the North Pole in August. Or at least allow debate and dialogue between advocates of climate change and the growing number of real scientists in climatology who have until now been afraid to challenge this new form of political correctness.

As Robert Tracinski said in the Intellectual Activist, “I wholeheartedly approve of ‘climate change.’ It happens four times a year where I live, and we call it ‘seasons.’”