Guernsey’s achilles heel is food and energy security

November 15th, 2012 by Toby Birch

Toby Birch is Managing Director of Oppenheim & Co. Ltd based in Guernsey (click image to expand)

The consultation published in February 2012 on Guernsey’s Economic Development Strategy by Oxford Economics shows yet again that we have resorted to UK consultants when a wealth of knowledge is available locally.

The report commences with a quote from an economics Nobel Prize winner, underscoring our servile addiction to ‘growth’.

To be fair, it does contain some common sense recommendations that have taken local factors into account.

Our cult of ‘growth’ is a mantra based on consumption which is really a Ponzi scheme.

Just as frauds depend on fresh funds to pay off old investors, the economic illusion of prosperity is funded by transferring the wealth and resources from future generations to the present.

Yet we still cling to a failed financial system due to fear of the unfamiliar.

Economies of scale have been the driver for globalisation and nature affirms the evidence that size wins, making the elephant far more energy efficient than the mouse.

However, just as smaller mammals survived the extinction of the dinosaurs so Guernsey may prove to be the ideal role model for adaptation while our larger neighbours flounder in future.

We have been amazing at re-inventing ourselves down the ages but we need to prepare for the next big megatrend; much like the Biblical story of Joseph encouraging Pharaoh to store harvests in the seven years of plenty prior to the seven years of famine.

Thanks to a combination of physical and financial factors we are in for the mother of food and energy crises.

Weather trends, commodity competition and currency devaluation are already causing prices to soar.

While we are blessed with shelter and potable water, our Achilles heel has always been food, so sorely epitomised by the German Occupation during World War II.

Whether through language laziness, dependence on UK retailers or familiarity of Sterling we insist of importing food from Britain while Europe’s greatest agricultural economy is (sometimes!) visible to the naked eye.

Fortunately we still have the vestiges of a growing industry and have retained a large acreage of glass along with its associated infrastructure.

Perhaps the demise of Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR) is a blessing in disguise allowing for domestic food production rather than flower exports.

Our approach to tidal energy has witnessed the lame adoption of a ‘wait and see’ approach in spite of our huge tidal range.

We could also supply excess electricity VAT-free to Europe; a major competitive advantage.

While industry diversification is laudable our first priority is food and energy security through self-sufficiency and sustainability.


Toby Birch is Managing Director of Oppenheim & Co. Limited.

Toby Birch interviewed at the UK Investors 2012 summit hosted by Marcus Evans (Please click on the image to see the video)

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