Electric cars or missed opportunities?

If I told you that a very elegant lady waits for her electric car to be charged, undoubtedly everyone would be expecting to see a lady dressed in Prada or Dior next to a Tesla, Polestar or an EQC. However, this is not the case, as the photo illustrating my point shows, and which dates back to…1912.

This seems like a long time ago, yet the rechargeable battery had already been invented nearly 50 years earlier, in 1859 by Gaston Planté and the concept was improved in 1881 by Camille Faure.


In 1884, Thomas Parker, a British inventor was already able to pose next to his “Electric Cart”. Then, in 1900, another Camille, Camille Jenatzy broke the world land speed record with the first automobile surpassing 100km/h. Its name was ‘La Jamais Contente’ (The never Contented) and had 68 horsepower.

At the same time, in the streets of New York, 38% of the automotive market consisted of electric vehicles. This figure is simply astounding, while in 2021, they represent, across the entire planet, just 10million vehicles, out of 1.5 billon (0,000005%) traditional vehicles. 

These facts give… to me at least, a sensation that goes beyond vertigo, an impression of a considerable opportunity missed for humanity. Indeed, it is hard to imagine at what stage the evolution of electric cars would be at if fossil fuels hadn’t taken advantage. Range wouldn’t be a problem and full charging would take no more than a few seconds.

Seref Dogan Erbek

Instead of this, hundreds of millions of deaths, even more illnesses occur each year due to harmful emissions. Our planet is polluted, and the global damage is enormous. For more than a century, car manufacturers have only, and very slowly, improved internal combustion engines. They have lived off their profits without serious investment in new technologies, except for a few timid attempts with hydrogen-powered vehicles. All they had to do was change the shape of the headlights, increase the power a little and convince you, with enormous marketing resources, that you had to change your vehicle…

If electricity had been developed as extensively as fossil fuel engines, we would now have electric airplanes, electric boats and not just electric trains.

Obviously, my statement may seem obvious, in hindsight everyone is smarter and can give lessons. However, this is not the goal.  The real goal for me is to modestly contribute to raise awareness of a biomimetic approach. This approach is by nature, interdisciplinary. The starting point is given by fundamental research which observes, analyses and models the living. The most interesting biological models are then taken up by the engineering sciences which translate them into technical concepts. Finally, entrepreneurs take over and move on to industrial development.

If nature has not created an internal combustion engine for its needs, it is because there are better ways. Electricity is present everywhere, at the level of each atom, each molecule of the universe, including in the neurons and synapses of the reader who is now finishing this text.

So instead, let’s take more inspiration from nature, as we have done for thousands of years, the industrial era has often taken us away from this model.

Let’s all change this state of affairs!

Do you really know the “cost of using” your technology?

It’s not unusual for the younger generations consider their elders, typically of their parents age, as selfish, having emphasised their personal comfort and favouring a society of unrestrained consumption. All of this by destroying precious natural resources and by creating numerous sources of pollution.

This can’t be denied, just as one can’t deny an awareness, even if slow and overdue, is still underway. Are the youth of today really as righteous as they think? Their way of life has changed, that’s clear, favouring soft mobility, sensible consumption and activities that have a beneficial effect on nature.

It’s here that we find the crux of the debate. The sources of pollution were until now, obvious: cars, planes, central heating etc. all of which are easily identifiable, as well as “culpable” as those which had caused this way of life.

The youth that, some of the time, don’t hesitate to give lessons in morality to the ‘aged’, should perhaps take into consideration other sources of pollution, often exiled or invisible since they are out of sight.

Here are some simple examples I want to mention:

  • Sending 30 emails, with attachments costs as much, in energy as well as pollution as driving a car 100km;
  • Sending at least one less e-mail thanking the sender, over the French population, would equate to removing 4000 Diesel cars from the market per year;
  • 10% of electrical energy in Europe is consumed by datacentres;
  • Watching a streamed film consumes as much as 100amps per hour;
  • Opening (and only this, without scrolling) WhatsApp equates to driving a diesel car 13 metres.

Do you really know the “cost of using” your technology ? Seref Dogan Erbek

I could lengthen this list indefinitely and risks omitting other pertinent factors. For example, that 90% of energy consumed by a smartphone (1.5 billion unit sold per year) is generated outside of their fabrication (the components stretching on average 4 times around the planet) without mentioning the cost of recycling and its impact on health.

The worst of all, however, as it often is, is left for last. Every 2 days, the world’s population produces as much information as it has generated since the dawn of its existence back in 2003. Of course, one can hope that among this mass of data, are the works of the new Plato, Einstein and Proust, it is nevertheless more likely that the majority is composed of spam, smileys, cat videos, mindless articles, moronic and (unfortunately) mundane comments.

So, this is what I think and what I believe: history often repeats itself in an ironic way, the chances are that the current sanctimonious youth will be caught up by their children’s generation with the same grievances and criticisms…compounded by the fact that they can’t deny, this time, they know all too well the impact of their actions.

Container freight rates from Asia to Europe exceed 10.000 USD

During the past year, freight prices have been increasing nonstop and have now hit a record high. Bloomberg has highlighted that the rate to ship a forty-foot container to Rotterdam from Shanghai has jumped by 485% year-on-year, following a 3.1% rise over a week, according to information released by the Drewry World Container Index.

The new price slightly exceeds the threshold of 10,000 USD, reaching 10,174 USD. Between 2016 and 2020, this rate never rose above 3,000 USD.

I also look at the composite index data, which is drawn up by a UK analyst firm and keeps track of a number of major shipping routes worldwide, rose by 2% within a week to 6,257 USD, recording another massive year-on-year growth of 293%.

Neither of these values have been seen in records before, which date back to 2011.

The Maritime Executive reported additional results from Xeneta, another market intelligence firm which collates financial data from shippers. The numbers show similar growth, with the global benchmark recorded as having risen by 34.5% since the beginning of 2021.

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What I’m seeing that rates have increased in all major trade corridors over those five months, with routes between the Far East and Europe taking the lead and witnessing price spikes of more than 50%.

Bloomberg attributes these huge rate increases to the low availability of twenty- and forty-foot containers in comparison to demand.

I can foresee that freight rates will eventually settle back into ‘normal’ levels, but until then, shipping companies will have to endure the uncertainty around when that will happen and find ways to keep up with the logistics costs they are facing in the meantime.

The economic and environmental impact of gold mining

For centuries now, gold has consistently attracted more investors and higher demand in comparison to the other precious metals.

Demand per year outweighs 3,000 billion tonnes, with China and India being top of the list of those demanding more of the ‘yellow metal.’

Gold is widely regarded as a ‘safe haven’ par excellence, given its ability to hedge the portfolio and avoid the damaging effects of inflation in extreme economic times.

However, I cannot overlook the burdensome mining activity that gold production brings significant consequences, namely waste and the environmental impact, due to the highly harmful waste products generated during the working process.

Read on to learn more about this issue.

Physical extraction: the costs.

Extracting physical gold from a mine takes hard work and requires significant investment, energy consumption and use of labour. It starts with an exploratory phase which can last for up to ten years, and is regarded as an investment with the aim that it will eventually recover the incurred costs and generate profit. It is far from guaranteed that the results of this activity will be economically viable, as just around 0.1% of areas under consideration turn out to be an actual mine.

The second phase consists of the construction of a structure that is able to extract the material. Often the cost-effectiveness of such a structure is uncertain because, on average, just 10% of active devices produce the amount of gold needed to justify the investment.

Once the effective economic viability of the site has been evaluated, it is necessary to apply for a national licence in order to build the actual mine and thus proceed to the extraction phase. The application necessitates a long and bureaucratic process, which is often influenced by the social and organisational conditions of the country where the operation is taking place. This process can take as long as five years to be carried out, without any certainty that the licence to work will be obtained.

Once the procedure for the application has been concluded and the licence obtained, the physical extraction of fragments of earth and rocks containing gold can commence. The ‘average life’ of a mine until its depletion tends to be between ten and thirty years; once the mine’s production cycle has come to an end and all the raw material has been extracted, the structure will be completely demolished through a process that usually lasts between one and five years.

The final stage of the gold production cycle is the reclamation of the lands upon which the activity has been carried out. This operation is essential in order to avoid significant damages to the nappes and the surrounding vegetation. This process may require a further five years to be fully implemented and comes with significant costs.

Hopefully, the general framework explained above clarifies each step of the process, the reasons why gold mining as a business requires significant investment and a long-term operational perspective, and why profit projections remain uncertain.


Environmental impact.

So, here is my opinion… In a world that is becoming more and more enlightened on topics such as environmental issues, health and maintaining the delicate ecosystems that contribute to our planet, it is important to pay attention to the environmental matters and potential dangers that gold mining involves.

When extracting gold, the use of substances such as mercury, sulphuric acid and cyanide is necessary. Such substances can easily spread to the water near the production site and cause contamination, poisoning the local flora and fauna as a consequence.

In order to obtain an ounce (approx. 35g) of pure gold, a staggering 250 tonnes of rocks must be removed. A single gram of gold uses five grams of mercury, a substance that causes damage to the nervous system, the lungs and the kidneys. Given this statistic, it comes as no surprise that gold mining produces more than 30% of the world’s mercury pollution.

Cyanide can have serious consequences on health such as seizures, damage to the lungs and respiratory failures due to the reduction of oxygen levels. Sulphuric acid, a substance used to dissolve metals from the surrounding rock, releases 9 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, generating the infamous acid rains.

Finally, every tonne of gold produced adds a devastating 300,000 tonnes of toxic waste to the environment. I think this stark reality is where attention must be drawn to, and it is in the hands of the main proponents of the Green Economy – together with the competent control authorities – to take this phenomenon into account.

How the Shipping Industry has Changed

The immense amount that the shipping industry has changed over time is something that we take for granted in modern society. In the era of free two day shipping and sometimes even 1-day deliveries, it’s important to examine what is different.

Means of Travel

Ships, railroads, and trucks have changed the fundamentals of how we ship items around the world. In fact, prior to the 1800’s, most items were shipped via merchant ships and horseback.

The change to the shipping industry sped up in the 1900’s. This is due to the development of road systems in many major cities. Cars ultimately became more popular, and trucking followed soon after. Nowadays, our complex shipping system relies on a mix of cargo ships, railroads, and trucks, with each playing an important role in deliveries worldwide.

How the shipping industry has changed Dogan Erbek

Tracking Technology and GPS Accuracy

Today we get to enjoy the advanced tracking that shipment companies use. When we order something, we get a pretty accurate estimate on when that delivery will arrive. It’s almost second nature now that we know to use our given tracking number to see any updates about our delivery.

This wasn’t always the case though. While customers had been given a rough estimate on a delivery in the past, the tracking technology wasn’t nearly what it is today. Customers were also left in the dark after an initial estimate.

Additionally, GPS accuracy has also taken a big leap. GPS accuracy has pushed shipping companies to deliver on an increase in productivity and ultimately faster shipments. Gone are the days of needing to write down directions, printing them from your computer, or even asking locals how to get back on the correct route. While advanced GPS technology helps average consumers in our everyday lives, it’s even more important to the shipping industry.

RFID and Smart Devices

While consumer awareness of RFID technology isn’t necessarily as big as tracking or GPS technology, the role that it plays is huge. RFID technology allows for shipping companies to easily keep track of their inventory as it moves from different shipping locations.

RFID uses a chip or a sensor to send out radio waves, essentially transmitting information. Once that information is sent out, it is processed by the company’s computer systems. Shipping companies use RFID technology in a similar manner as barcodes. Although, the superior speed of RFID technology is more beneficial to shipping companies.

Smart devices are changing things for the shipping industry, too. By building sensors into shipping equipment and vehicles, crews can take advantage of real time data and insights related to their shipment. Smart devices connect to the internet, which allows them to transmit data to the crew in charge of the shipment.

Where Things are Going

The future is going to rely heavily on automation. Automation can be a scary subject, because it can replace the need for so many jobs, and we really don’t know how many industries will take advantage of it. One thing that’s for certain though, is that the shipping industry will be fundamentally changed by automation.

Autonomous vehicles are already part of our reality, and autonomous trucks will soon be a part of the shipping industry. While there are still regulatory issues and safety concerns that stand in the way of full implementation, the technology is there. The question now becomes, when will we fully take advantage of it.

Additionally, drones will also become common practice for companies delivering packages. Amazon has led the way in this technological development, announcing Amazon Prime Air. Similar to autonomous vehicles, regulatory hurdles still stand in the way of drone deliveries. There is also still a large associated cost with drone deliveries, making the widespread rollout something that we’ll have to wait a little bit longer for.

No one is safe until we are all safe

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that “these extraordinary times and circumstances call for extraordinary measures.

The US supports the waiver of IP (intellectual property) protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we will actively participate in WTO (World Trade Organisation) negotiations to make that happen”.

It is reported that 10-15 billion vaccine doses are needed to stop the spread of the virus; by April 2021, there had only been 1.2 billion doses produced worldwide.

No one is safe until we are all safe Dogan Erbek

The way I see it, US’s stance is circumstantial and in a way symbolic; the WTO negotiations could last for months curtailing to have an immediate impact in ending this present health crisis. Nevertheless, I believe this is very big news.

With this declaration US administration is following India and South Africa, which in early October 2020 issued a proposal for temporary suspension of IP rules in the context of Covid-19. In this regard, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said she was “ready to discuss any proposal that would tackle the crisis in an effective and pragmatic way.”  WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were overjoyed with the news and congratulated the US on this historic decision.

Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry took the White House’s decision very badly. They argue that developing countries lack the skills and resources to manufacture COVID vaccines based on new technologies. They also say that it will undermine the pandemic response, risk-taking and innovation in vaccine research. In my view, one thing is clear; this waiver, if can be applied timely on WHO scale, will deprive the big pharma of monopoly profits during this pandemic.

The big pharma prefers the donation of vaccines to patent infringement. There, however, promises have not been kept so far. The COVAX Facility, the global pooled procurement mechanism formulated by WHO for COVID-19 vaccines, was supposed to distribute two billion doses by the end of 2021 to the poorest countries, has not received enough deliveries, being able to provide only 53 million doses so far. Despite this largest vaccination campaign in history, one in four people in developed countries have been vaccinated to date, while in low-income countries it is one in 500. Can we give a better example of inequality?

On the flipside of the coin, there are also geopolitical concerns. Thus far, China and Russia exported their vaccines in quantity and have engaged in significant technology and knowledge transfer, forging partnerships around the world, and helping to speed up the global vaccination effort. This has been clearly an act of benevolent power to the world. The US and the EU are surely taking this perspective into account as well.

In today’s world, I think it is nearly impossible to think outside of the box of Big Data. Generous and benevolent they all seem, these programs will help to gather huge amounts of valuable medical information and records in less developed countries, where privacy and data protection regulations are much more lax compared to developed countries.

Is small beautiful ?

COVID-19 accelerated a major shift in working relations with new and elaborate definitions and notions such as smart working. Smart working stands for an employment relationship agreed between the parties, organised through phases, cycles and goals and without any schedule or place constraints, with the possibility of using technological tools to work.

In its essence it resembles very much already existing Anglo-Saxon start-up and tech employment world, muted labour protection and rights with easy access and very easy exit (voluntary or otherwise).


After the pandemic, we have seen a sub-category of this concept widely in continental Europe with varied names, remote working, home-working, télé-travail. Thus far, we have generally experienced the part where “without place constraints” and “the possibility of using technological tools to work”.  All the major studies in all developed countries point to the same direction conveying the same message; The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready? – Microsoft World Trend Index 2021. According to this report, 73% of employees want flexible remote work options. Similar reports also state a positive impact on efficiency and quality from the viewpoint of employees. This all seems and reads very positively. Are we refusing, however, to acknowledge the negatives and risks?

I would like to cite the worrying new mantra: if you can do your job from anywhere, someone anywhere can do your job. With the exponential growth of technological advances, this is now especially true for financial industry with all the related corporate structures and information services. I wonder whether well-paid white collar jobs with substantial social benefits in Europe are still secure. Would not the companies be inclined to hire highly educated and skilled people from developing countries for merely a fraction of the salaries now applicable?
These risks do not concern the employees alone; employers are also facing major challenges. The cross-border employment may imply various bureaucratic, legal and tax consequences with related costs as well as risks. Big companies with their vast resources may cope with this matter. As I see it, the smaller companies will need to come up with more creative ideas and tailor-made solutions to succeed should this trend persist.

Economic recovery from COVID19 is neither green nor sustainable

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which I consider to be the global gold standard for energy data, warns that in 2021 global carbon dioxide emissions are set for their second biggest increase in history.

This huge spike is second to the massive and carbon-intensive rebound after 2008 financial crisis.

Global Energy Report 2021 of IEA predicts a 1.5 billion tonnes rise in global energy related CO2 emissions, driven by a strong rebound in demand for fossil fuels and especially coal in electricity generation.

I would like to summarise the key findings of the report:

  • Global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6% in 2021, and nearly 70% of this projected increase is in emerging markets and developing economies.
  • Demand for all fossil fuels is set to grow significantly in 2021. Coal demand alone is projected to increase by 60% more than all renewables combined.
  • Despite an expected annual increase of 6.2% in 2021, global oil demand is set to remain around 3% below 2019 levels.
  • Coal demand is on course to rise 4.5% in 2021, with more than 80% of the growth concentrated in Asia.
  • Natural gas demand is set to grow by 3.2% in 2021, driven by increasing demand in Asia, the Middle East and Russia.
  • Electricity demand is due to increase by 4.5% in 2021, or over 1 000 TWh. This is almost five times greater than the decline in 2020, bolstering electricity’s share in final energy demand above 20%.
  • Demand for renewables grew by 3% in 2020 and is set to increase across all key sectors – power, heating, industry and transport – in 2021. Solar PV and wind are expected to contribute two-thirds of renewables’ growth. The share of renewables in electricity generation is projected to increase to almost 30% in 2021.
At the launch of the report Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director and a leading authority on energy and climate said “This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate… Emissions need to be cut by 45% this decade, if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F), scientists have warned. That means the 2020s must be the decade when the world changes course, before the level of carbon in the atmosphere rises too high to avoid dangerous levels of heating. But the scale of the current emissions rebound from the Covid-19 crisis means our starting point is definitely not a good one”
In my opinion, the findings of the report are alarming and unsettling. On the one hand, governments around the world declare the climate change their priority, on the other hand they aim a recovery by more investment through fossil fuels. I believe the financial institutions should definitely take this point into account while drawing their medium term strategies.
I would like to conclude with Fatih Birol’s warning “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022. The Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden this week is a critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action ahead of COP26 in Glasgow”.

LIBOR replacement

The Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) is an indispensable instrument for the entire financial sector, the one that gives direction. Published daily in London since 1986, this reference, on which $300 trillion of financial contracts are indexed, will disappear at the end of 2021, along with the other interbank rates (Ibor).

It will be replaced by SOFR (Secured Overnight Financing rate) in the US, SONIA (Sterling Overnight Index Exchange) in the UK, TONA (Tokyo Overnight Average rate) in Japan, ESTER (EURO Short-term rate) in Europe, and SARON (Swiss Average Rate Overnight) in Switzerland.

According to my reading of various opinions on the matter, these new rates are considered to be more transparent and robust.

LIBOR has lost its credibility after the revelation in 2011 of the deliberate manipulations by banks. From my point of view, one of the main weaknesses of LIBOR is that it is calculated on the basis of banks’ estimates of the rates at which they could borrow on the interbank market. This method made large-scale manipulations possible.
I do not consider the new model and rates as miracle solutions. Nevertheless, I believe the substantial involvement of regulators will ensure a more reliable reference for the markets.
Transition to this model is no doubt will be very pricey and very complicated especially for banks. Among the main challenges, I must site the identification and management of their existing instruments benchmarked to former rates and the conversion of existing contracts containing  those rates , so called “tough legacy,”. Also the last but not least, possible shortcomings of new rates.
Swiss financial industry has undergone very significant changes and difficult times since 2008. I believe SARON can offer the sector an opportunity to demonstrate its competitiveness and savoir-faire.

Worried for jobs, but unwilling to return to the office

There are a growing number of articles and reports, which leaves especially small and medium size business owners rather perplexed.

One of the major human resources specialists, Manpower, conducted a recent survey, which I find very interesting and representative in this regards.

According to the survey; while nine out of ten working people consider keeping their job to be the most important thing at the moment, due to an unprecedented and COVID induced economic crisis everyone fears for their jobs. Nevertheless, returning to the office is still a source of restraint for 94% of those surveyed. Interestedly, work/life balance seems to have become an even more important criterion for employees since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic than it was even before it began.

I believe, this will become a major area of conflict between the employers and employees when as the spread of Covid-19 slows or even disappears and the COVID fighting measures are lifted. And when employees currently teleworking will be called back to the office.
Although I understand people desire to work more flexibly and less, I do not see how the same level of incomes can be maintained this way especially at this time of economic contraction.
In my opinion, the society has been undergoing a major transformation regarding its relations with growth, consumption and sustainability over the past decade and that COVID -19 only accelerated this transformation.
Maybe the next survey should ask; are you willing to consent to lower incomes for more flexibility?