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Mere security

30 Mar 2022 | OP ED Watch

As the Ukraine War drags on, bogs down, threatens to escalate and causes suffering and death as well as anxiety, modern anxiety continues to be felt that we might somehow blunder into energy security despite our best efforts. The New York Times’ “Climate Forward” frets “Will this wartime surge end up creating a new generation of infrastructure that locks Europe into the gas habit for longer?” To which we reply snidely “Give Canada the job and you can cross that one off”. But Fatih Birol, head of the International Lack of Energy Agency, says “I’m very worried our climate goals may be another victim of Russia’s aggression.” Which really is prize blather, since the big risk is replacing Russian natural gas with American and nature can’t tell the difference.

The Economist is too elegant to sweat. But it does allow that “Energy and commodities lie at the dark heart of Vladimir Putin’s regime…. That is why the war adds urgency to the creation of an energy system which depends more on sun, wind and nuclear reactors than on derricks and rigs. As we show in this week’s issue, the new era will not end the curse of energy crises and autocrats…. As Western firms stop producing oil because of greenery and costs, the market share of OPEC plus Russia will grow, giving them more clout. And the transition will give rise to new electrostates providing green metals such as copper and lithium, where production will still be dangerously concentrated. Building a cleaner and safer energy system is essential, but it is also an epic, risky and daunting task.”

Electrostates. What will they think of next? Frankly we ourselves would have thought of putting “If” in place of “As” about the whole stop producing oil thing. But apparently things have gone so well and so effortlessly since history ended in 1991 that nobody is really worried that we might flub the infrastructure, run out of essentials, suffer a major security setback or anything else real.

In a contrarian piece in Forbes, Tilak Doshi says that “For energy analysts not sold on modelled predictions of ‘climate emergency’ and magical thinking on unreliable renewables, the expectation prior to the Ukraine conflict was of a slow war of attrition between two forces. On one side is the juggernaut of the climate industrial complex decades in the making, amalgamating a confluence of elite interests and organizations in the West” and on the other “the hoi polloi — the inchoate mass of working poor and aspiring middle classes who cannot afford virtue signalling — that are increasingly inflicted with escalating energy prices and higher costs of living.” However, “The invasion of Ukraine changed all that. At a stroke, a refreshing energy realism dawned upon European political elites, in particular on the German Green party which is a major component of the coalition government.”

Wanna bet? Actually he doesn’t. The piece continues “the ‘climate emergency’ narrative is far from being dethroned in elite policy circles. Speaking to an audience via video link on Monday, UN Secretary General António Guterres highlighted how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatened to become a huge setback for the concerted effort to speed up climate action. ‘Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,’ Mr. Guterres insisted. ’This is madness.’”

Something is. Canada’s Prime Minister, jet-setting around Europe, issued a joint statement with EU President Ursula von der Leyen, another aficionado of private jet travel for urgent climate business, that “We reconfirm our joint commitment to accelerating the global transition to a green, carbon-neutral future and emphasise the urgency of addressing climate change, including through diligent implementation of commitments made at COP26. We further agree that carbon pricing is an efficient, cost-effective and powerful tool to reduce emissions and drive clean innovation.”

Those who mistake ambitious words for successful outcomes can normally be left in their sandbox. As when a major Canadian firm tells you “If you’ve been following these letters for awhile, you know how motivated we are to reduce our carbon footprint…. last month we went further, announcing our company’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. It’s an ambitious goal. But, we have already reduced our emissions by 30%, 10 years early, so we are confident we can get there.”

Sometimes a greenwash is just a greenwash. Especially when they sell you a mind-boggling crisis then a quick, painless solution. But sometimes they mean it, as when Trudeau’s caucus in mid-crisis voted against a motion to increase Canadian natural gas exports to Europe. It seems odd given that the Natural Resources minister had expressed support for doing such a thing less than two weeks earlier. But the simple fact is that they really mean it about getting rid of fossil fuels, and when incapacity to act advances the green agenda you can count on them to prove incapable. (Other times it just sort of happens.)

Meanwhile Environmental Defence sneered at the proposal to supply more Canadian gas that “capitalizing on this tragedy is disgusting” and quoted “Ukraine’s delegate to the United Nations, Svitlana Krakovska” that: “Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels — and our dependence on them.” If it strikes you as a weird thing for their UN delegate to say at this moment, well, in fact she’s their delegate to the UN’s IPCC. But why let facts obstruct a good rant?

The Suzuki Foundation churned out this boilerplate: “Fossil fuel supporters have been using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to promote pipelines. It’s time to pull the plug on the misinformation machine.” And so on.

And you really can’t win with such people. Thus “Climate Forward” also warns that “The United States expects to more than double its gas sales to Europe, to 50 billion cubic meters, ‘until at least 2030.’ That’s a lot of gas…. The American supplies would come in the form of liquefied natural gas… Compared with piped gas, L.N.G. production generates higher levels of carbon emissions, though far less than coal.” But it reassures its readers that “Replacing Russian piped gas with L.N.G. right now isn’t necessarily a big climate problem. The worry is that, if new gas pipelines and terminals get built, they’ll be used for a long time, making it all but impossible to slow down global warming.”

They also worry that “The U.S. energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, tried to thread the needle. ‘There’s always concern about increasing infrastructure that would lock in problems related to greenhouse gas emissions,’ she said in a response to a reporter’s question on Thursday at the Paris meeting. ‘There’s no doubt about that.’ But she insisted, as she has since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began last month, that the administration wants the oil and gas industry to ‘ramp up production where and whenever they can right now,’ even as it wants to transition to cleaner sources of energy that don’t come from fossil fuels.” And apparently they, and Birol who laments that the IEA was meant to be yakking about the transition instead of about new pipelines, don’t seem to grasp that politicians saying one thing while doing another did not start on Feb. 24, 2022.

Nor is pie in the sky never reaching the table. Yet “Climate Forward” burbles that “as the European Commission seeks to reduce Russian gas imports, it has proposed to ramp up renewable energy sources, to reduce energy demand by insulating leaky old buildings, to install heat pumps. All those things could very well hasten Europe’s transition to clean energy. Renewables could replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports by 2025, one European think tank, the Regulatory Assistance Project, argued in an analysis this week.” Yeah. And monkeys could fly out of my ear. But I wouldn’t go stocking up on bananas just yet.

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