Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Weakened Western Europe Faces Russia

No one can say that Tom Friedman is inconsistent. No matter the crisis, no matter where in the world, Friedman trots out the same tired nostrums: more green energy and a higher carbon tax.

If we rely less on foreign sources of energy, his argument goes, we will be better able to deal with the Middle East, the Arab Spring and the crisis in the Ukraine.

Today Liz Peek offers a refreshing analysis of the ongoing cold conflict between Russia and the West. It turns out that Europe is powerless to stop Vladimir Putin because it has embraced a Friedmanesque energy policy.

It has favored nature-friendly renewables over fossil fuels and nuclear energy. It has favored solar and wind over the natural gas that could be extracted via fracking. This has made it more reliant on Russia for energy.

While Western Europe has been fighting climate change, Vladimir Putin has been conducting foreign policy. Peek explains the consequences:

Europe has had nearly a decade -- since Moscow cut off gas supplies to the region for the first time-- to ready itself for renewed Russian misbehavior, but has been caught as flatfooted as Obama. Instead of reducing their dependence on gas from Ukraine and Russia, the leaders of Western Europe have chosen to combat climate change. Instead of investing in secure energy, the EU has invested in green energy, driving up energy costs, reducing competitiveness, and allowing Putin to remain in the driver’s seat.  

Russia today supplies 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas; half of that flows through Ukraine. In 2006, when the Kremlin first cut exports to the region, Siberian gas provided only 20 percent of EU consumption. Despite the obvious riskiness of depending on Moscow-controlled energy, Europe’s leaders failed to invest in domestic or politically secure alternative supplies.

Eight years ago, alarmed by the first Ukraine skirmish, Europe’s leaders discussed adding nuclear power plants, developing other domestic supplies or tapping more politically reliable energy partners. Instead, the crisis passed, and accessing secure low-cost energy took second seat to a “greener” energy footprint.  

In France, for instance, President Hollande has stood up firmly against fracking, telling French TV last year, "As long as I am president, there will be no exploration for shale gas in France." In October, a French court upheld a ban on fracking, meaning the country’s shale gas reserves – estimated at some 5 trillion cubic meters, some of the largest in Europe and about one-fifth U.S. reserves – remain untapped.

Hollande’s aversion to inexpensive indigenous energy is not confined to shale gas. He entered office pledging to cut France’s reliance on low-cost nuclear power from 75 percent of total electricity generation to 50 percent by 2025, and promising to close one of the country’s oldest nuclear power plants by year-end 2016. Industrial leaders in France have opposed Mr. Hollande’s program, predicting an end to France’s relatively cheap power, which they view as an important competitive advantage for the slow-growing country.

Like France, Germany has favored environmental goals over cheap and secure energy. As a result, electricity prices for households rose 80 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2012. One analysis claims that 6.9 million German households now spend more than 10 percent of their income on energy – living in “energy poverty.”

It may be true that, one day in the distant future, the green energy policies will produce a healthier planet.

Today, they are weakening the nations that follow them… politically, economically and financially.

As it happens, green energy also promotes income inequality by imposing a highly regressive tax on the citizenry.

Obviously, America does not depend on Russia for energy supplies. The Obama administration wants the nation to go green, but for now, fracking rules in America.

And yet, even if the Obama administration knew how to conduct foreign policy, its erstwhile European partners would be negotiating from a position of self-imposed weakness.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I'm sure Barry would love to emulate the Euros. Those danged Rethuglicans and their fracking friends are just impossible!