Lessons of the energy crisis

American and European leaders haven’t learned them.

A view of the Ashalim solar-power station in the Negev Desert, June 19, 2018. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
A view of the Ashalim solar-power station in the Negev Desert, June 19, 2018. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

Energy policy is national security policy. So when political leaders get energy policy wrong, they get national security policy wrong.

An obvious example: Germany for years eagerly increased its dependence on Russian oil and gas. German diplomats thought they were implementing a clever strategy: “We’re making Putin dependent on our money!” Then, just over a year ago, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. Russian hydrocarbons stopped flowing to Europe.

But it’s not imperialism alone that’s to blame for what Brenda Shaffer calls the world’s “worst energy crisis since World War II.”

A research faculty member at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and a senior adviser for energy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, she delivered a lecture last month on this topic at the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In addition to relying on Russia for a strategic resource, she explained, German energy policy for almost a decade has aggressively promoted solar and wind power while disinvesting from hydrocarbons. This has led to “the collapse of many energy-intensive industries in Europe.”

President Biden has adopted similar policies. His Inflation Reduction Act has had no impact on inflation. Instead, it provides enormous subsidies for “renewables.”

The cost to taxpayers, according to a Goldman Sachs estimate, will be a stunning $1.2 trillion over 10 years—funds that will not, obviously, be available for strengthening national security at a time of intensifying threats and challenges.

Biden’s energy policy disregards a basic fact: For industrialized economies to function when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, there must be what Shaffer terms a “baseload or a stable source of energy.” Currently, only hydrocarbons or nuclear power can provide that.

She notes that natural gas, “the cleanest of the fossil fuels with very little air pollution impact,” is also a significant input in fertilizers. Restricting the production of natural gas has raised the price of food. That’s good for no one and especially painful for the poor.

Most Western leaders seem oblivious, nodding along as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres insists that a “climate time-bomb is ticking.”

That was his response to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which acknowledged: “Very high emission scenarios have become less likely but cannot be ruled out.”

Climate scientist Roger Pielke Jr. noted that the same could be said of an extraterrestrial invasion. Should implementing policies to cope with Martians now be the West’s highest priority?

Thanks to Guterres and other alarmists, 60 percent of people living in wealthy countries think climate change “is likely to bring an end to humanity,” as Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, recently wrote. “This is not only untrue,” he added, “it is also harmful because it makes people embrace bad policies.”

Lomborg has estimated that if every nation “fulfills every promise” made in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the reduction in temperature rise will be 0.17 degrees Celsius. That would make no difference whatsoever.

He adds: “To fulfill the promises made in the Paris climate accords, the United Nations says, annual reduction by 2030 would have to be eleven times what we managed to achieve when the world ground to a halt during the Covid lockdowns. That is hardly realistic.”

Meanwhile, Germany and other European nations have been buying and burning more coal—the most polluting hydrocarbon—to make up for the oil and gas they no longer receive from Russia.

China is building about one dirty coal-fired plant every week—more than the rest of the world combined. Pollution and CO2 emissions from those plants will vastly exceed any emissions reductions Americans and Europeans can possibly achieve.

China already accounts for more than a quarter of all global CO2 emissions. True, Beijing is also increasingly utilizing solar and wind power. But that’s to augment hydrocarbons rather than replace them—a sensible policy.

China’s rulers also know they will hugely benefit if a global energy system led by the United States—the world’s largest producer of hydrocarbons—transitions to one led by China—the dominant player in renewable technologies, rare earth minerals and components used in the electric vehicles that the Biden administration is spending taxpayer dollars to bribe the auto industry to sell and consumers to purchase.

Those vehicles will require vast amounts of electricity that can’t be generated by renewables alone or distributed adequately by an aging and unreliable grid. Currently, only 3 out of 100 cars in California are EVs. Yet the state recently asked owners for “voluntary electricity conservation” because demand for electricity was exceeding supply. Want to bet that electricity conservation won’t be voluntary a few years from now?

This column began by pointing out that energy policy is national security policy. But as Shaffer noted in her lecture, for many European and American leaders, energy policy has become instead “a subset of climate policy.”

The purpose is to virtue signal. That’s why you’ll see them boast that their policies “address” climate change. Anyone paying attention knows these policies won’t stop or even slow climate change.

The world has warmed by 1.1 Celsius over the last 150 years. Adapting to another degree or two of warming is doable at a reasonable cost. If we want to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions there’s a simple way: utilize more natural gas and nuclear power. Why do most climate activists reject both energy sources?

Current American and European policy—attempting to eliminate hydrocarbons and force a transition to renewables—is weakening national security, causing serious economic dislocations, and making people poorer.

That’s the most important lesson of the energy crisis. European and American leaders are refusing to learn it.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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