Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

6 Sep 2022

A chilly energy future

Posted by Michael Keating

The European energy crisis gives us a sharp reminder of how hard it is to move to a sustainable future and how dangerous to delay the shift. Energy prices are up, economic growth is down, and winter is coming. Western Europe is facing its greatest shortages of fossil fuels since the oil embargo of 1973 and before that the Second World War. Energy prices have skyrocketed because of the Russian war on Ukraine. That caused most European countries to start cutting imports of Russian natural gas and impose a wave of sanctions against Russia. That country has retaliated by cutting deliveries of gas even more as colder weather approaches. European countries are already enacting wartime-like measures to conserve energy as they try to stockpile enough gas to get them through cold weather. France ordered illuminated outdoor advertising turned off at 1am and many of the nation’s swimming pools are closing because it is too expensive to heat them. In Hanover, Germany, hot water has been switched off in showers in some public buildings. Everywhere people are being told to turn up the air conditioning and turn down the heat to 19 or 20 degrees. Industries face much higher energy prices and the risk of supply restrictions in the winter bringing the likelihood of reduced production and layoffs.

Credit: cherwell.org

The European Union had pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, and Russian gas was seen as a transition fuel from coal, which releases 40 per cent more carbon dioxide. This gas crisis gives impetus to a green energy transition. The problem is that it is coming so fast that countries have not had time to get enough renewable sources online. As a result, they are trying to buy gas from other countries and are even extending the life of coal-burning power plants resulting in even more pollution. The lesson is that fossil fuels are an inherently unstable source of energy because of unpredictable crises in one part of the world or another. Locally produced green energy sources will be much more reliable. Our challenge is to push the development of clean energy sources as fast as possible and make a fast transition.

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