Belmont Club

On the Brink of Triumph, Green Faces Its Nemesis

Gareth Fuller

The global energy shortage is making Green look like a failure, laments the New York Times, even as politicians meet to enshrine it. “Some governments across the continent now fear that higher heating bills this winter could bolster populists in upcoming national elections in several countries. Hungary has claimed that rising gas prices are linked to the European Union’s climate ambitions, which its prime minister, Viktor Orban, decried as ‘utopian fantasy.’ Poland, a major coal producer that has never been a fan of the European Commission’s emissions-reductions targets, has pressed Brussels to change or delay some of its proposed measures.”

But it’s not Green’s fault. In reality, the conjunction of global energy shortages and the shutdown of oil and gas supplies have been due to bad luck. “Global demand for gas rose sharply just as winds in Northern Europe (where there is significant wind power) dropped off and gas reserves ran low during a long, lockdown winter.” The failure of wind power itself may be caused by climate change, a phenomenon called global stilling. “Industry experts are warning that climate change may have caused wind speeds in Europe to plummet this year in news that threatens to drive energy prices even higher.”

The answer to the temporary failure of Green Energy is not to find fuel for the winter furnaces but to hasten the abandonment of oil and gas. “The present and the future belong to renewable energies and we cannot solve a crisis caused precisely by dependence on fossil fuels by looking to the past,” Teresa Ribera, its deputy prime minister and a longtime climate advocate, said in an email. “The Spanish government believes that the transition must be accelerated, not slowed down.”

Related: ‘The Green Lobby Is Running Biden’s Brain’—Windmills Edition

The oil and gas industry has already gotten the message and many are likely to exit the energy business before the progressives demonize them further. Don’t count on more petroleum coming online. “Part of the problem, the Blackstone [CEO Stephen Schwarzman] said, is that it’s getting harder and harder for fossil fuel companies to borrow money to fund their expensive production activities, especially in the United States. And without new production, supply won’t keep up.”

“We’re going to end up with a real shortage of energy. And when you have a shortage, it’s going to cost more. And it’s probably going to cost a lot more,” the private-equity billionaire told CNN International’s Richard Quest at a conference in Saudi Arabia….”What happens then, Richard, is you’ve got real unrest. This challenges the political system and it’s all utterly unnecessary.”

One of the world’s biggest pension funds announced it was going to stop investing in fossil fuels. Unnecessary or not, the environmentalists are ready to burn their bridges to the fossil fuel past and tough it out. Energy poverty be damned; full Green ahead. The poor will be given sops. The Minister for the Ecological Transition of Spain “has redirected more than 2.6 billion euros in profits from energy companies to consumers, slashed electricity taxes, and imposed a cap on how much natural-gas prices are allowed to increase.” But if subsidies will barely soften the blow in Europe in the Third World the impact will be crushing. “Wealthy countries are struggling to lower emissions fast enough. It’s dramatically harder for developing nations, where most of the world’s population lives.”

Nigeria recently made a fortuitous discovery. While its energy department was searching underground for oil, it stumbled upon unexpected reserves of natural gas. Lots of it. It found over 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, and thinks it can find three times that amount if it looks hard enough. … That puts Nigeria in an awkward position. As a signatory of the Paris Agreement, it has committed to getting 36% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from 13% in 2015. …

The developing world is in a hard spot, wedged between poverty and climate catastrophe. Poorer countries have a greater need to ramp up energy production and fewer tools to reduce emissions, yet they’re more likely to be affected by human-caused climate change.

As with the failed windmills, it’s just Nigeria’s bad luck to stumble across hydrocarbon wealth just when they couldn’t pump it out. One solution to the predicament of the Third World poor is for Europe and America to pay back some of the wealth they stole from their head start in history. “That the UK, U.S., and much of Europe were able to get a near century-long head start on modernization is one of the reasons poorer countries, like India, balk at the idea they should be cutting emissions at the same pace as wealthy ones. India may produce more coal today than the U.S., but its carbon emissions to date are estimated to be around 13% of Uncle Sam’s. Developing countries have said they’ll commit to lowering their carbon emissions if rich countries remunerate them for doing so.”

“A key element of the Paris Agreement is its insistence that $100 billion be funneled from rich countries to developing ones each year from 2020 to 2025. This raises three problems. First, the world’s wealthy nations are unlikely to live up to the promise. Second, even $100 billion a year may not be expeditious enough. The International Energy Agency says $1 trillion annually is closer to the mark. Finally, most of the money currently funneled goes toward immediate risk mitigation in the form of infrastructure adaptation — reinforcing buildings so they don’t fall down during cyclones, for instance, or improving weather tracking systems — rather than long-term carbon reduction.”

The Western voters might get the idea, of course completely unjustified, that the whole climate emergency is a scam, cooked up politicians and environmentalists to fleece them of their money. That might boost the populists and that, not energy poverty and hardship, is the real danger.

Thus despite appearances, Green Energy is not a failure. The current global energy shortfall is purely due to bad luck or at worst, to global wind stilling. In any case, any resulting energy deficit is well worth enduring to complete the transition to renewables. If Third World countries find themselves in the dark, that is just too bad, but help in the form of payouts from rich countries will soften the blow as risk mitigation and infrastructure adaption demonstrates we cannot only build but build back better. The future, apart from the lack of lights, is actually very bright only remember that you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, you can’t save the world without someone paying the bill.


Books: The Last Duel by Eric Jager. In 1386, a few days after Christmas, a massive crowd gathered at a Paris monastery to watch two men fight a duel to the death. A trial by combat to prove which man’s cause was right in God’s sight. The dramatic story of the knight, the squire, and the lady unfolds during the tumultuous fourteenth century. A time of war, plague, and anarchy, as well as of honor, chivalry, and courtly love. The notorious quarrel appears in many histories of France, but no writer has recounted it in full, until now.