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What Has Justin Been Smoking?

July 27, 2020

By Paul Homewood


h/t Mr GrimNasty


Justin Rowlatt has now completely lost the plot!



If you have ever doubted whether solar power can be a transformative technology, read on.

This is a story about how it has proved its worth in the toughest environment possible.

The market I’m talking about is perhaps the purest example of capitalism on the planet.

There are no subsidies here. Nobody is thinking about climate change – or any other ethical consideration, for that matter.

This is about small-scale entrepreneurs trying to make a profit.

It is the story of how Afghan opium growers have switched to solar power, and significantly increased the world supply of heroin.

Richard Brittan is hunched over his computer in a nondescript office on an industrial estate just outside Guildford, in the south of England.

He is reviewing the latest cache of satellite images from Afghanistan.

Mr Brittan is a former British soldier whose company, Alcis, specialises in satellite analysis of what he calls "complex environments".

That’s a euphemism for dangerous places. Among other things, Mr Brittan is an expert on the drugs industry in Afghanistan.

He zooms in on an area way out in the deserts of Helmand.

A few years ago there was nothing here. Now there is a farm surrounded by fields.

Zoom in a bit more and you can clearly see an array of solar panels and a large reservoir.

Over to the right a bit there is another farm. The pattern is the same: solar panels and a reservoir.

We scroll along the image and it is repeated again and again and again across the entire region.

"It’s just how opium poppy is farmed now," Mr Brittan tells me. "They drill down 100m (325ft) or so to the ground water, put in an electric pump and wire it up to a few panels and bingo, the water starts flowing."

Take-up of this new technology was very rapid.

The first report of an Afghan farmer using solar power came back in 2013.

The following year traders were stocking a few solar panels in Lashkar Gah, the Helmandi capital.

Since then growth has been exponential. The number of solar panels installed on farms has doubled every year.

By 2019 Mr Brittan’s team had counted 67,000 solar arrays just in the Helmand valley.

It is easy to understand why trade has been so brisk.

Solar has transformed the productivity of farms in the region.

I’ve got a video shot a couple of weeks ago on an opium farm in what used to be desert.

The farmer shows us his two arrays of 18 solar panels. They power the two electric pumps he uses to fill a large reservoir.

He films the small canal that allows him to use the water to irrigate his land. All around, his fields seem to be flourishing.

He harvested his opium crop in May; now he is growing tomatoes.


I have no doubt that the huge profits available from the opium trade quickly pay back the thousands of dollars spent on solar panels. And out in the desert, there is very little alternative. Electricity supply is probably non existent in many areas, and shipping diesel is a long and costly process.

I doubt though whether it would have been cost effective for just for his tomatoes.

And because the solar power is only used for irrigation, it does not need to be available 24/7, or on demand.

Solar power may have a niche use in Afghanistan, but that does not mean it will be of any use elsewhere.




Rowlatt goes on to describe how he has seen evidence of climate change everywhere:



I await his evidence for such a preposterous statement.

  1. Phillip Bratby permalink
    July 27, 2020 2:07 pm

    Renewable energy does an awful lot of damage to people, to wildlife and to the environment in general. The evidence is indisputable

    • A C Osborn permalink
      July 27, 2020 2:24 pm

      So does Heroin to people, he talked about it as if it was something good.
      It is a life destroying drug.

      • July 27, 2020 2:50 pm

        It is the PC BweeeBweeeTheeee black is white up is down and left is right. They focus on everything bad in Western society and overplay the miniscule good in corrupt bankrupt failed societies which is a large part of the world!

      • Ian Magness permalink
        July 27, 2020 2:59 pm

        Thank you for making that ever-so-important point AC, the author should be ashamed of himself (but won’t be because following the AGW narrative overrides all else).
        He may as well have eulogised Hitler for providing work for grave-diggers or paedophiles for providing work for dark web engineers. Wholly inappropriate.

  2. July 27, 2020 2:19 pm

    wind/solar are generally rubbish that is why they need a subsidy
    against fossil fuels which already pay huge mining taxes.

    However wind pumps were used for irrigation before subsidies
    and would make sense.

  3. Robert Christopher permalink
    July 27, 2020 2:28 pm

    “And because the solar power is only used for irrigation, it does not need to be available 24/7, or on demand.”

    The Dutch used windpower, years ago, to move water around to drain their land, and that was successful because it wasn’t dependent on an immediate supply.

    And they used proper windmills, constructed with everyday materials of the day.

    • LeedsChris permalink
      July 27, 2020 2:56 pm

      True. But remember that as soon as 24 hour a day electricity became available the Dutch, like we in the Fens, switched to more reliable electric pumping for draining the low lying land.

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        July 27, 2020 7:32 pm

        What! You are suggesting wind turbines are unreliable!

  4. July 27, 2020 2:47 pm

    I hope when those opium growers Solar Panels give up the ghost Mr Rowlatt will be there to see the ethical and environmentally friendly way they dispose of them….especially how they deal with the cadmium and one or two other nasties therein.

    This is a prime example of the disingenuous and unethical game being played by the marxists pretending to be “gween”. They do not ever look at the whole picture but at a small part which suites their argument and then they upscale that to present as a solve all for everyone. What does an opium producer care about the cost of the panels? He more than likely did not pay anything for them…that was done by the next guy down the line. It is totally disingenuous for some either with a training in one of the science or in journalism or both to claim they do not know what they are doing with the partial narrative to support the over arching narrative, something which would get a 16 year old a poor grade for BIAS!

    • Mad Mike permalink
      July 28, 2020 10:05 am

      “something which would get a 16 year old a poor grade for BIAS!” Are you sure of that in our school systeM?. It is probably mandatory.

  5. Harry Davidson permalink
    July 27, 2020 2:50 pm

    Why do BBC presenters always look such self important w**kers in their publicity shots. Do their photographers have an agenda?

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      July 27, 2020 10:39 pm

      A result of the selection process? Consider what they have to say, and you wonder what other personality would meet BBC requirements.

  6. cassio21 permalink
    July 27, 2020 2:52 pm

    It would be preferable if the underground water reserves were rationed for the benefit of the whole community, and used for growing food rather than drugs; but then solar panels would be far too expensive. Whereas, in this very limited case of a very profitable crop, solar panels appear to be helping employment and prosperity in an otherwise arid land.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      July 27, 2020 6:32 pm

      It doesn’t look that arid – plenty if greenery in the background.

  7. Broadlands permalink
    July 27, 2020 2:57 pm

    “I have no doubt that the huge profits available from the opium trade quickly pay back the thousands of dollars spent on solar panels.”

    Aren’t those profits a subsidy from the wrong people…a thrilling example of human engineering gone wrong?

  8. bobn permalink
    July 27, 2020 3:04 pm

    Rowlett fails to state the bleeding obvious.
    If you have no electric power grid, and no cheap and reliable source of fuel oils, then solar and windmills can provide whats not available to buy – power.
    Solar and wind always have had, and always will have a useful role off-grid. They can also be useful for intermittent pumping to water storage (windmills have done this for hundreds of years).
    But if you have an electric grid, solar has not been shown to be competitive anywhere in the world. And intermittents dont work as grid base suppliers.
    If anyones throwing away solar panels, i’ll take them to intermittently top up my pond.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      July 27, 2020 6:23 pm

      Exactly. If these farmers were on a nice reliable grid powered by gas power stations they wouldn’t be buying expensive solar panels and they would be making more money.

  9. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 27, 2020 3:13 pm

    And when the water table has been depleted by the rapacious need for irrigation what are the odds that our Justin – who is a true believer in AGW and has seen lots of evidence of it in his
    travels, he says (oh, sure!) – will point to the destruction of the water table as evidence of climate change.

    There is nothing ethical in what the Afghani farmers are doing and even less for the BBC to report it as such, considering how many people in the west will die for these ethics.

  10. Athelstan. permalink
    July 27, 2020 3:42 pm

    If there wasn’t a very lucrative market for the ‘product’ then Afghan farmers would look for other means and grow other plants.

    One thing western governments could do, buy the opium resin and use it for medicinal purposes but all told. For all the blood and coin spent in the Afghan theatre – eventually as with all other’s who’ve attempted it – the Afghan survives, unbowed. Their warlike existence persists and do as they please they will, and with the chinese flogging the apparatus of death or at least providing the means and helping along the way. They’ll – the middle kingdom will revel long in that historical irony – facilitating to selling Heroin to the quai loh.

  11. Coeur de Lion permalink
    July 27, 2020 3:57 pm

    He’s very young

    • Athelstan. permalink
      July 27, 2020 4:13 pm

      mental age = shoe size?

  12. Bertie permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:17 pm

    I made the mistake of clicking on the “Why you can trust the BBC News” link. I’m awaiting the ambulance now.

  13. mjr permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:30 pm

    He is also, as usual, discussing subjects that he has not qualifications for .. His degree is a PPE (Politics Philosophy and Economics).. not science.
    Also although he is supposed to be Mr Ecology, until he got the environment gig he was just a BBC hack reporter. Coincidentally BBC is showing an old programme (i think on BBC4 (part 2 tomorrow) ) from this time, in which he is driving an old (and so no doubt heavily polluting Lada 4×4 ) around russia
    Not very good to be seen adding so much CO2 to AGW

  14. Thomas Carr permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:33 pm

    Plenty of precedent for destroying water reserves but I doubt that the Afghanis can escape a hand to mouth existence.
    You will remember the lake in eastern Russia where the fishing fleet lies rusting high above the remaining shoreline such was the Soviets plundering of the lake’s water in order to grow cotton.
    You will remember but youngish journos with space to fill are not much concerned or history has nothing for them. Such conceit and apparent indifference among scribblers with another agenda.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      July 27, 2020 6:17 pm

      Lake Aral. The water was channelled away to feed cotton fields. Communist diktat in all their glory. /s

  15. MrGrimNasty permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:40 pm

    Justin is forgetting that lots of British troop and other nation’s and civilian lives were lost/ruined trying to dismantle this heroin trade that he is now celebrating.

    Just when you think the BBC couldn’t scrape any more from the bottom of the barrel…

    • John Palmer permalink
      July 28, 2020 10:49 am

      Quite so, Mr G&N!!

  16. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:46 pm

    What can the heroin industry teach us about solar power?

    Solar power is intermittent and costly, and needs an infrastructure using carbon based fuels to exist.
    _ _ _ _ _
    I wonder if food is cooked on electric stoves, or whether they use dried animal droppings?

  17. Pancho Plail permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:49 pm

    So, Justin, what does it teach us about solar power? That solar power provides electricity when the sun shines. Well, I never knew that.

    • July 28, 2020 10:11 am

      And you need an income similar to that of a successful drug dealer to afford them.

  18. ianprsy permalink
    July 27, 2020 4:52 pm

    Solution to the West’s probmem: Agent Orange and crop sprayers? It’s not just climate change that generated a surfeit of hypocrisy.

  19. Mike Jackson permalink
    July 27, 2020 5:27 pm

    “ I await his evidence for such a preposterous statement.”

    Not while holding your breath, I trust. 😏

  20. July 27, 2020 5:46 pm

    How did he get there? Ethically?

  21. dennisambler permalink
    July 27, 2020 6:03 pm

    I suspect the growing of opium poppies was not included in the tender documents.

    Afghanistan’s Ministry of Energy & Water has issued a tender for a 40 MW solar project at an unspecified location in Herat province, in the northern part of the country.

    The project will be based on the model risk allocation, documentation and methodology developed under the World Bank Group’s ‘Scaling Solar’ initiative

    2020 solar ambition
    The project is part of the country’s plan to deploy 500 MW of solar generation capacity by next year. That ambition includes other tendered plants such as a 40 MW facility at the Hisar-e-Shahi Industrial Park in Nanagrahar. In May 2018, a previous 40 MW solar tender was awarded to Chinese battery manufacturer Shuangdeng Group for almost $60 million.
    Afghanistan has been the world’s leading illicit opium producer since 2001. Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest produces more than 90% of illicit heroin globally, and more than 95% of the European supply. More land is used for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 93% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about US$4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers.

    Nice to know our money is going to a good cause:

    Click to access Afghanistan-July-2018.pdf

    “Contribution to the Global Goals and other government commitments (achieved as at March 2018) UK support is helping to build a more stable Afghanistan that is less dependent on external support over the long term. The UK is supporting the Afghan people by helping to provide them with greater access to healthcare, education, and safe drinking water, as well as helping to create jobs, boosting economic development, and tackling corruption. To this end, the UK has pledged to spend up to £750 million in aid to Afghanistan between 2016 and 2020,depending on security conditions and Afghan government performance”

    • Paul H permalink
      July 27, 2020 11:01 pm

      Nice to see the Afghanis are going global and buying Chinese stuff at a huge cost when China has done sweet fa to stabilise and otherwise lift the country out of its medieval, stone age, warlike propensities. Don’t think they have spent much blood there. Wonder who picked up the £60m tab?

  22. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 27, 2020 6:27 pm

    Since my earlier comment I have been struggling to find BBC’s ethical dimension to this report from Rowlatt. The report should be binned and Rowlatt disciplined. Seriously. Very seriously. And his Manager

    This is not far short of the BBC claiming that China’s introduction (cough) of Covid was a good thing because it helped reduce the world population as supported by St David Attenborough.

  23. Phoenix44 permalink
    July 27, 2020 6:28 pm

    Aside from the extremely stupid Green nonsense, he demonstrates he hasn’t got a clue about economics/politics. Its not “capitalism” in any form because a capitalist is not providing capital to an enterprise (as far as we know). It seems to be entirely individuals or perhaps even co-operatives providing the capital. And most of the money is made way down the chain, not by the farmers.

    Its extraordinary how ignorant BBC reporters have become, and how their editors let them make utterly false statements that are nothing more than trite cliches.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      July 27, 2020 6:44 pm

      I wonder if he was using his left-wing perversion of irony by claiming it was ‘capitalism’ among poppy growers. Then again, I think you’re right: he’s a know-nothing: thick as a two-day-old cow pat but without the benefit of it’s use as a global-warming fuel for cold Afghani farmers.

      TOWIE – the only way (BBC) is ETHICS!!! (FFS)

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        July 28, 2020 8:43 am

        Like so many anti-capitalist Lefties he doesn’t understand what he opposes. Capitalism is not the same thing as free markets. Yet he uses the two words as if they are same thing. We have free markets in lots of places without capitalism (local markets in undeveloped countries say) and we have capitalism without free markets in others, like our energy sector. Hes just ignorant yet like so many of his generation has no clue how little he knows.

    • mjr permalink
      July 28, 2020 10:26 am

      But he has a PPE degree from Oxford!!!! the mind boggles

  24. Teddy permalink
    July 27, 2020 7:46 pm

    I know solar is a bad joke in the UK but I am surprised that solar is still not competitive near the equator, especially for air conditioning which is most needed when the sun is shining.
    How far off being competitive is it? Does anyone know?

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      July 27, 2020 10:22 pm

      There are large and frequent clouds in the Equatorial Zone.
      Better for solar are the areas with High Pressure. See Sub-tropical High Pressure:
      < also Horse Latitudes and deserts

      Still, there are better ways — in almost all places; with exceptions.

      • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
        July 27, 2020 10:24 pm

        Sorry. That’s a link, somewhat messed up.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      July 28, 2020 8:50 am

      But if you need a non-renewable system to supply a location because a renewable is intermittent (night, clouds, no wind) you bear much of the cost of the non-renewable no matter what. That makes the renewable more expensive all-in no matter what. Solar would have to be cheaper in total than just the fuel part of the non-renewable.

  25. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 27, 2020 8:35 pm

    Considering Rowlatt’s report on Heroin being made easier to grow because of solar panels it’s interesting to read his Wiki entry, especially: “Justin Rowlatt became widely known in Britain when in 2006 he became Newsnight’s “Ethical Man”.[3][4]”

  26. Wellers permalink
    July 27, 2020 11:52 pm

    Justin Rowlatt – the reporter who claimed that Indian monsoons were becoming more severe, with no evidence to support his absurd claim. Clearly this humanities graduate knows zilch about science so is obviously the ideal candidate for peddling yet more BBC fake news, spoon fed to him by corrupt Big Green propagandists.

  27. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 28, 2020 3:57 am

    I conclude that sanctions on diesel and generator supplies are effective.

  28. martinbrumby permalink
    July 28, 2020 4:41 am

    I think it would be interesting to know how much solar power got used in:-
    Drilling the boreholes
    Manufacturing the pumps and borehole liners
    Digging and lining the reservoirs
    Harvesting the crops
    Processing the crops
    Sending the product to market
    And, of course, extracting the minerals and manufacturing all the components and assembling and installing the panels and cabling.

    It all sounds like a fantastic, zero carbon, ethical, sustainable, operation.

    And can anyone doubt that the investment will have been paid for, directly or indirectly, by Western “aid” and “charities”?

    The usual, poor people in rich countries forced to give (or being daft enough to give voluntarily) to extremely rich people in China, not least the Chinese Communist Party.

    Apart from Xi and the ChiComs, other beneficiaries will be the murderous Afghan warlords, the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist promoters of the Religion of Peace.

    And some of the crumbs from the table will miraculously make their way into the pockets of our Beloved, Ethical, Virtue- Signalling Leaders themselves. And their cheerleaders and agit-prop purveyors, not least the BBC.

    Don’t imagine for a minute that the Afghan farmers themselves will be living in sybaritic luxury. Much more likely to be virtually slave labour.

    Don’t imagine that very much product will be heading back into China (other than a little top-grade stuff for recreational use by their Beloved Leaders). Anyone else found with heroin is likely to get a bullet in the back of their head.

    Whereas the damage to Western society from the opiates produced will fall most heavily on those dreadful white-supremacist folk who work hard and pay their ever burgeoning tax bills.

    How agreeable to realise that some of the 0.7% of our GDP taxes, will be making some contribution to this fabulous, environmentally friendly enterprise!

    • John Palmer permalink
      July 28, 2020 11:10 am

      And I’m sure that the poor, benighted b**gers that are the end users of this filthy trade will be very pleased that it’s being produced in a ‘sustainable’ way!
      FFS, what has happened to our once admired National Broadcaster?

  29. Coeur de Lion permalink
    July 28, 2020 7:32 am

    Worth another Complaint, I suppose.

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