About half a century ago, rising energy prices devastated Western economies, helping to make Middle Eastern autocrats incredibly wealthy while sustaining the slowly disintegrating Soviet empire. Today, the world is once again reeling from soaring energy prices; but this time the wound is self-inflicted – a product of misguided policies designed to accelerate the transition to green energy.
For political and academic clergy, the energetic “reset” is like manna from heaven. This gives them license to impose the kind of “technocratic social engineering” that impoverishes the poor while suppressing working class aspirations, as we already see in places like California and Germany. In Spain, 10% of all households cannot heat their homes properly during the winter months; and in Italy, electricity bills jumped 55% in January 2022. In the UK, the number of homes that cannot pay their energy bills is expected to triple by April 2022.
The new regime of expensive and often intermittent energy also threatens to make permanent poverty in the developing world, which already suffers from a lack of cheap and reliable energy. Fossil fuels currently targeted by Western policymakers and financial firms like Blackrock are essential for industrialization, and are unlikely to be replaced by wind and solar alone: fossil fuels still account for 81% of all energy supplies, and even if all countries meet their climate promises, they will still account for around three-quarters of that in 2040.
It is therefore not surprising that in Africa there is growing skepticism towards Western policies of “sustainability” – even if these policies, draped in the language of socially conscious “stakeholder capitalism”, pledge to fight against “systemic racism”. Already in 2015, for example, the President of the African Development Bank declared that “Africa cannot function because we have no electricity” and affirmed the continent’s needs for “renewable and conventional” energies, including “natural gas and coal”.
Similarly, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference last year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warned that the climate policies favored by Western government investors and aid agencies could lead to a Africa-wide energy crisis. Last month, the Senegalese president made it clear ahead of the EU-African Union summit that Africans are not ready to pay the EU carbon tax. South Africa’s energy minister, meanwhile, criticized NGOs and universities for promoting “climate-focused solutions” with money from European think tanks.
And African leaders have every reason to worry about the dangers of expensive energy. Fuel riots have recently taken place in Senegal, Malawi, South Africa and Nigeria, while energy costs were a catalyst for the Arab Spring, when a spike in oil prices drove up the price of grain. Earlier this year in Kazakhstan, soaring energy prices nearly sparked a revolution.
Given that more than half of all Africans live in energy poverty, perhaps their politicians have every right to worry. Even relatively advanced South Africa no longer produces adequate and reliable electricity and now faces opposition to developing its own fossil fuel and nuclear capacity. The resulting crisis – the country’s manufacturers shutting down in the face of high electricity prices, leaving two-thirds of young adults unemployed – threatens the stability of South Africa’s democracy.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Africa, in population centers like Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, energy supplies are woefully insufficient to meet daily needs. Without a more reliable energy supply, the continent will remain mired in poverty – and civil unrest is sure to ensue.
No doubt aware of this, some governments, such as those of Senegal and Ethiopia, have set ambitious targets for full electrification by 2025. Similar plans are underway across the continent, with the African Development Bank pledging to help fund electrification by 2030. How likely that is to work remains unclear. It is striking, however, that as Africa becomes paralyzed in its search for environmentally friendly energy, Western-backed environmental activists are protesting against offshore gas exploration in the impoverished coastal region. savage of South Africa.
Compare what is recommended for the developing world with the behavior of the United States and a story of hypocrisy slowly emerges. Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, the United States is expected to become the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas. This growth in America’s energy supply has coincided with a decline in greenhouse gas emissions, largely due not to environmental regulations but to the replacement of coal with natural gas.
The natural gas boom was especially significant for those who suffered from the loss of manufacturing, driving an industrial renaissance in economically hard-hit regions such as the Midwest as well as historically impoverished regions in the South. Low natural gas prices, the Cleveland Fed notes, have been key to the growth in manufacturing jobs that is currently transforming large parts of the nation’s heartland. In contrast, green policies have driven prices high in states like California, hurting the once-thriving industrial economy and driving up the cost of basic necessities like electricity.
So it seems strange that President Joe Biden and most Democrats insist on ignoring these lessons. Biden and most members of his party favor using the Federal Reserve and other executive departments to enforce “net zero” policies. Everything from gas pipelines to new leases for offshore oil are being canceled, while new regulations make it harder to build new fossil fuel power plants. The mainstream green media, meanwhile, tries to blame energy shortages on climate change and hated fossil fuel corporations.
These policies, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, are the product of the idea that anthropogenic global warming is an existential threat to life on Earth rather than a long-term nuisance that will have to be managed gradually through adaptation, especially in light of the continued growth of fossil fuels in China and India. To the extent that the apocalyptic as opposed to the pragmatic view is embraced, the political agenda shifts towards “degrowth”, which seeks to reduce consumption, effectively lowering the standard of living of the masses to “save the planet”. . It may seem like a small price to pay for the wealthy in Europe and America, but one doubts that governments in developing countries are willing to tell their poor that environmental piety matters more than mere survival.
Does this mean that we are doomed to an eco-apocalypse? Not necessarily; it is possible to gradually decarbonize the developing world without crippling its economies. In the nuclear field, for example, we are currently talking about small modular reactors (SMR), which are theoretically smaller and easier to build than existing reactors. But even proponents admit that these technologies will require significant investment and a few decades to mature. Some suggest that lithium batteries will allow us to make renewable energy more viable by dramatically improving grid storage technology, but these batteries require huge amounts of rare earth minerals.
Perhaps the most promising technology is geothermal energy. Thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing deep drilling technology, two pilot projects are underway in Serbia and Canada that could harness the heat of the deep hot biosphere at an affordable cost.
But as Africans recognize, in the short term we have a choice between a net zero regime based on expensive solar and wind energy and a regime based on the only sources of energy that we know to be cheap and reliable: fuels. fossils. Coal, nuclear and especially natural gas are here to stay; Greta Thunberg’s imperatives will not be embraced by African city slum dwellers or rural Chinese seeking to share in their country’s prosperity. Outside of chat stores, in the real world, net zero remains a distant prospect. But the growing energy crisis is already here – and sacrificing the world’s poorest countries, as well as many Western nations, in pursuit of a green agenda won’t make it go away.