Russia’s Ukrainian Invasion May End the Monomaniacal Focus on Carbon Emissions

Every now and then droplets of reality splash on the noggins of the world’s big thinkers. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have highlighted -- to all but the Biden administration -- the folly of a single-minded attempt to curb carbon emissions, emissions which by the way may be more of a boon to the well-being of the earth and its inhabitants than not. (A discussion for another time.)

In Foreign Policy, Ted Nordhaus suggests the invasion may end the cold war on fossil fuels.  He argues that global leaders have had too great a focus on carbon emissions while ignoring questions of affordability and reliability of energy supply, and those are policies that most hurt the poor. (Although right now, even those of us not poor are seeing daily evidence of how unaffordable these extravagant fantasies of a carbon zero world are becoming.) 

He describes historically how the end of the Cold War era led both to an unrealistic idea of the course of energy supply and the performative theater of internationalists:

Aspirational goals and nonbinding commitments became the currency of negotiations that lacked any real enforcement capability. Like other U.N. initiatives that emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the purpose was primarily to exhort and galvanize. Yearly U.N. climate conferences, amplified by the world’s media, became performative theater where the utopian agendas of the global environmental movement -- limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, powering the world entirely with renewable energy, switching to organic agriculture, and transferring hundreds of billions of dollars from rich countries to poor ones for mitigation and adaptation -- could be talked about as if they were realistic.

Facts on the ground told a different story. The carbon intensity of the global energy system fell faster in the 30 years before the first major U.N. climate conference than after it -- a result of rising energy efficiency, the spread of nuclear power, and the changing composition of the global economy. After 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, both total and per capita emissions rose faster than before. 

Peace, technological advances, and economic competition did more to reduce “carbon intensity” than international conferences and aspirational agreements, and to a large part these technological advances were due to “growth powered by cheap fossil fuels.”

Instead of acknowledging the source of the improvement, the big thinkers of our time thought they could run the largely peaceful, globally integrated world on “Russian gas, Middle East oil, and… Chinese solar panels.” As of February 24, when Russia invaded, that utopian world ended.

The first victim of such thinking has been the European Union, home of a great many of the world’s really big thinkers. It was, as its president Ursula von der Leyen said last week, “Russia’s biggest and most important client.” Now it faces a brutal winter to come. For almost a month German alarm bells have been ringing.

As winter looms, the alarms are growing stronger.

A gas shortage and high prices will send “shockwaves through the country,” leading to landlords cutting the heat for tenants and widespread company bankruptcies, warned Klaus Müller, the head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, which is the regulatory office for electricity, gas, telecommunications, postal services, and railway markets.

Müller paints a bleak picture about the crisis in an interview with German newspaper Rheinische Post, saying it will “send shockwaves throughout the country. Banks will ramp up their business with installment loans, and ailing companies will fall into insolvency.”

Müller’s office, which is a federal agency within the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, has a bird’s eye view of the economic situation in Germany and also special insight into how economic conditions will develop into the future. 

Müller says he expects gas prices to continue to climb, resulting in increased inflation that goes far beyond energy. He also warns that there will be a dramatic lack of gas in the winter, which could lead to landlords turning down the heat to save on energy. In turn, Germans may have to grapple with colder apartments. [snip]

The government has already pushed businesses and citizens to reduce their energy consumption, but that pressure may come in the form of new laws and regulations in the future, with Müller calling for more pressure to be applied to save gas. Although Germany has pushed for a general ban on Russian oil imports, the country is highly reliant on natural gas from Russia. If Russia were to cut gas in the critical winter months or even restrict supplies, it could lead to critical damage to the German economy, a scenario energy experts have already warned about.

Germans will not only be colder in their apartments, but companies will also face mass bankruptcies, said Müller. However, he said government policies could help mitigate financial losses and preserve critical gas supplies.

Where was he when Germany made the stupid decision to shutter its coal and nuclear power-generating facilities to assuage an increasingly bonkers green lobby? Spoiler alert:  

“Mueller has been a Greens lawmaker in the German parliament; between 2000 and 2005, he was environment minister in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.” He has strong links to the Greens.

Further indications that Europe has caught on to the need to greater emphasize reliability and affordability is that EU President von der Leyen (accompanied by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi) traveled to Israel this week to negotiate a deal that will allow Europe to wean itself off Russian gas. The plan is for Israel to export natural gas via a pipeline to Egypt where it will be converted to liquified natural gas (LNG) to be delivered to Europe. Even so, the continent stands to get a hard lesson this winter on the folly of fantastical thinking.

Indeed, there’s no reason to think even von der Leyen fully comprehends the consequences of magical thinking.

Von der Leyen also gushed over the planned pipeline from Israel to supply east Mediterranean gas to Europe (a project from which the Biden administration has withdrawn American support). The EU is even siding with Israel in a row with Lebanon over Karish, Israel’s major northern offshore gas field, which Brussels agrees lies in Israeli rather than Lebanese territorial waters.  

Also paying a visit to Jerusalem this week was Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi. He too was in search of alternative energy supplies to replace Russian gas. He too had honeyed words for the Jewish people. [snip]

So does this mean the EU is now changing its attitude to Israel? Until now, it has been hostile. It promotes the Palestinian narrative that seeks to delegitimise Israel through lies about its “illegal” settlements and alleged Israel Defence Forces aggression; it funds NGOs devoted to harming and destroying Israel; in an aggressive move in 2015 against Israeli “occupation” of the disputed territories, it started to label products from the “West Bank.”

Despite all the warm words in Jerusalem, there’s no sign that this EU hostility is about to ease. For on the same day that von der Leyen was kissing up to Bennett, she stood alongside Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah and announced the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of some 214 million euros (about $224 million).

This money had previously been frozen because of the incitement against Israel in Palestinian schoolbooks. Now it’s been unfrozen, even though the incitement remains. 

Europe’s grand strategy seems to be: Pay off the greens by shuttering desperately needed sources of energy, rely on Putin to keep you operational, and scramble around to Israel when that source looks like it may be cut off or restricted. As the EU hopes to ease its dependence on Russian gas by buying LNG from Israel, it simultaneously funds the Palestinians who are determined to wipe out Israel.

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