A panic over shortages of carbon dioxide (CO2) is a very good example of the defects of capitalism.
There is speculation that supplies of the gas could run out in the near future. Much of the press coverage is about the dire prospect of beer and fizzy drinks losing their sparkle.
But it’s more serious than that. It’s used in organ transplant operations, for example.
And sections of the meat industry use it for stunning animals. Up to 60 percent of chicken production could be hit.
So how did this happen?
Carbon dioxide is formed by biological processes, including fermentation and decomposition of organic material—and by combustion. Its production through burning fossil fuels is of course linked to climate change.
However the concentration of CO2 in the air is generally not high enough to make its recovery profitable.
Commercially produced CO2 is therefore sourced from industries that produce CO2 as a by-product—such as ammonia and hydrogen production from natural gas.
One of the largest sources of food-grade CO2 in Europe is ammonia plants, which often close for maintenance in the summer.
That’s because ammonia is used extensively in fertilisers, and agriculture uses much less fertiliser in the summer.
What’s needed is an overall plan to ensure that there is enough production to meet demand. But instead each firm plans for itself without worrying about the total impact. This is how capitalism works.
This year more ammonia plants shut than usual. Gas World says there are at least five major producers across northern Europe shut at the same time. And a number of European bio-ethanol plants—another source of CO2—have also shut for planned maintenance.
It’s logical and profitable for each firm, but society suffers.
In Britain only one CO2 purifying plant is currently in operation, with the rest shut for maintenance or due to “technical breakdowns”, sources say, leading to a “mad scramble among suppliers”.
The Grocer magazine reports one beverage industry source saying, “It’s not the shortage of CO2 itself that is the problem, it’s a shortage of their ability to collect and distribute it.
“For them to say there is a global shortage of CO2 is complete tosh, they just haven’t sorted themselves out properly.”
Capitalism is a system which produces far too much CO2 to guarantee the planet’s health, and far too little for crucial operations and food production.
You can only be sure of a fizz with socialism.