If the war in Ukraine did not frighten the West directly on the energy level, nothing
There are forgivable intellectual and political mistakes, and then there is the self-delusion that has made the West dependent on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oil and gas.
Russia has long been an important energy supplier for Europe. The depletion of natural gas reserves in the West has played a role in Russia’s increased prominence. But Moscow has also benefited from Europe’s deliberate choice to take a big leap towards a green energy future, especially in Germany, which has decided to turn its back on nuclear and coal.
By going down this path, Europe has taken the historic decision to forget about the incredible power of oil, gas and coal – the most reliable and efficient sources of energy the world has ever known – and ignore the inevitable centrality of energy in geopolitics.
Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate extremist who was elevated to the oracle of all that is good and true, demanded nothing less.
The world embraced fossil fuels not out of hatred for the planet, but because they are incredibly useful. If they didn’t already exist, thanks to sunlight and plants that lived millions of years ago, they would have to be invented. Except we couldn’t.
Oil is a miracle fuel. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress writes that it’s “almost oddly designed by natural processes, not just for cheapness, not just for reliability, not just for scalability, but also for another crucial feature for a functional civilisation: portability”. It powers cars, trucks and jets, without which the modern world as we know it would not exist.
Coal, Epstein notes, is also affordable, plentiful, and easy to mine and transport. There’s a reason developing countries invariably look to it to fuel industries essential to economic progress.
It is therefore not surprising that fossil fuels remain the main source of global electricity, with coal accounting for 36.7% and gas for 23.5%. The total contribution of fossil fuels, at 63.3%, is only slightly lower than two decades ago.
In terms of overall energy, fossil fuels account for an even larger proportion, 84.3%.
For its part, green energy – wind, solar and other renewable energies – represents around 10% of the world’s electricity and even less of total energy.
Vladimir Putin knew this and understood the power it gave him, even if European decision-makers wanted to dodge the question.
Didn’t they notice that coal was the mainstay of Britain’s rise to world power in the 19th century?
Have they forgotten the role of oil in World War I and World War II, not to mention the 20th century history that followed?
Oil was not particularly useful before World War I, but by the end of it it had become a pillar of national power. It powered the motorized vehicles and aircraft that completely transformed warfare. British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon said at the end of the war that the Allies had “floated to victory on a wave of oil”.
During World War II, Japan attacked the United States partly out of fear that the American oil embargo would starve its war machine, and one of the reasons the Nazis were defeated was that they were running out of fuel.
Of course, the strategic importance of the Middle East owes almost entirely to its vast oil reserves. The phrase “War for Oil” is a cliché and generally a slander, but it is certainly true that no one has ever waged a war for wind.
In light of all this, Europe still chooses to submit to an authoritarian anti-Western regime, and even as Russian opera stars are canceled, it is reluctant to stop buying Russian oil and gas.
A certain step back is necessary. While climate change may indeed prove a serious long-term challenge, it does not reduce parts of Europe’s cities to rubble or pose a threat to be used as a tactical weapon.
If this horrifying episode didn’t scare away the energy of the West, nothing will.