Is there a looming “energy crisis” or a crisis in the pathetic response of European (including UK) governments to a manageable “energy shortage”. We are effectively at war with the Putin regime. A regime that is aggressively fascist. This is the reality that should have been evident to everyone for at least the last decade.
The response to shortages in wartime is usually rationing and state intervention. Western governments seem reluctant to manage this situation effectively.
Currently roughly 40% of gas consumed by Europe comes from Russia. Looking at a typical pre-Covid year, in 2019 about 32% of total hydrocarbon energy (oil, coal, gas) consumed by Europe came from gas. Other sources of energy (nuclear, renewables) were about 40% of that supplied from hydrocarbons.
So in 2019 Russian gas provided 9% of Europe’s energy. This is not an unmanageable “energy crisis”.
The problem is that European infrastructure is now set up to use natural gas, which historically became available in parallel with the oil extraction industry. Gas is used especially for electricity generation, some sections of industry and the heating of buildings. It is difficult to transport gas and difficult to create gas from other hydrocarbons (starting in the nineteenth century town gas was originally manufactured from coal and steam in extensive networks of local “gas manufacturing plants”, this was replaced by natural gas in the second half of the twentieth century).
The extreme case is the chemical industry which is fundamentally dependent on gas to create basic chemical inputs (hydrogen, small molecule hydrocarbons). About a quarter of the gas the chemical industry consumes (27% in the case of German Chemical Industry) is used to create these raw materials for the production of other chemicals; the rest of the gas is used to generate energy to power these processes. Alternatives to gas and fossil fuel in general as inputs to the chemical industry are being developed in the medium term.
In 2019 about 25% of gas consumed in Europe was used for critical residential heating and cooking. There is room to reduce others uses of gas by temporarily suspending some uses and by switching energy sources.
The problem of Putin cutting off supplies of Russian gas to Europe can be managed if there is the political will to do so. It appears many European politicians do not realize things have changed, this is a war like situation. If Putin’s energy blackmail is appeased then his fascist government will continue to use this or other blackmail to take advantage of Western weakness
The last time the West was fighting fascism there was a thing called “rationing” in the UK and US that guaranteed everyone essential quantities of essential commodities at controlled prices. This also included businesses especially those that were considered essential. There is no reason not to do this in response to the current “energy crisis”.
A 1942 essay “British Wartime Control Of Prices” by J.Earley and W.Lacy explained the benefits of state intervention in a time of resource crisis, that is very apt now:
“Price control has been an integral part of Britain’s war economy since hostilities began. The major objectives of the program have been several: the maintenance of morale; the preclusion of wartime economic disorganization; the minimization of post-war economic maladjustments; economy in government expenditure; and the prevention of unjust enrichment or impoverishment of different classes of the community.”
Governments in Europe need to ensure their citizens and businesses have access to essential quantities of energy (especially gas) at controlled prices. Governments need to fund this from progressive taxation and borrowing.
We are now in a war like situation with Putin’s fascist regime, even if this is not openly declared. The path of least risk and least cost in the struggle over Ukraine is victory as soon as possible, which means giving all the arms to Ukraine that are required, while also creating viable plans for direct intervention (not under Nato umbrella) if required. This concerted effort will create the point where there will be post Putin peace talks with Russia. Appeasement will only increase the problem of fascist aggression from the Putin regime, and signal encouragement on the fascist path to the Xi Jinping regime.