Saturday, March 08, 2014

Russia, European inaction, Putin, and green energy

Crises arise and highlight the strange connections that bind us. Here's one example: as Russia has moved troops into Ukraine, effectively annexing Crimea, the West—meaning mainly Western Europe and North America—has dithered and bitten its nails. Vladimir Putin has been moving boldly and decisively while North Atlantic democracies have fumbled about, unsure of what to do or how to act, all testosterone drained away. And now, free to do what he wishes, Putin has threatened to pinch off the gas that Russia, through its major company Gazprom, supplies to much of Eastern and Western Europe.

It's enough to make me wonder what Europe has been doing all this time in terms of green/alternative energy. Russia's threat is a serious one precisely because Europe remains so dependent on petrochemical resources. Thanks to its green factions, the EU cannot move forward with any plans for fracking, despite its massive shale-oil reserves. The US has done much more in that regard—enough that US pundits are talking about a "fuel revolution" that will bring America closer to energy independence.*

Europe often likes to compare itself favorably to the US when it comes to research into and development of green/alternative energy—wind, solar, wave, and the like. But one has to wonder: given Europe's boasting, just how far along has it gotten toward proving that any of these alternative energy sources is, in fact, economically viable? Why does Europe shudder at Putin's threat? How green is Europe, really? Surely, by now, Europe has become so evolved, so enlightened, that it has no need of petrochemical fuel, yes? Surely it can laugh at Putin, yes?

Well, no.

Ah, those foolish Europeans and their green fantasies. When American conservatives disparage green-energy efforts, it's not because they prefer to live in clouds and piles of filth: it's because they see a human cost when alternative energy produces little return on investment.** Green companies fail right and left, often despite heavy government assistance. This means a lack of job security, a destabilizing factor in the economy. Solar energy is still inefficient and unreliable; so are wind and water energy. Geothermal energy is promising, but such energy is easily accessible only at certain points on the earth. Greens bizarrely shy away from nuclear energy, too afraid of the potential for meltdown to appreciate how clean such energy is. And so it is that, in Europe and North America, the green agenda undercuts any efforts toward creating healthier, more prosperous countries. At every step, the greens shoot themselves, and others, in the foot, tripping up true progress and denying true flourishing.

So I issue this challenge to Europe: let Putin stanch your gas, then put your noses to the grindstone and produce a realistic, viable alternative energy source within the next five years. Stop with the cheap, boastful rhetoric about how supposedly enlightened and advanced you are, and show the world some actual progress when it comes to alternative fuels. This is Europe's big chance to prove how backward America truly is.

Either that, or pull your heads out of your asses and start fracking.

ADDENDUM: Regarding that fuel revolution, referred to earlier, there's this:

As Barack Obama considers his options, he has a substantial new weapon that he is not sure how to deploy. In the last few years, the shale revolution has utterly transformed America’s energy fortunes. When Putin invaded Georgia, it seemed as if the US was running out of natural gas – and George W Bush meekly wondered whether to buy some from Russia. Since then, the shale bonanza has sent American crude output soaring by 60 per cent, taking the country into a thoroughly unexpected era of energy abundance. Its gas prices have fallen by two thirds; factories and jobs are flooding back to former rust belt states. By the end of this decade, America will be exporting more energy than it imports.

Do take the above with a grain of salt. The claim "Its gas prices have fallen by two thirds," for instance, is hard to believe. First, I don't know what the possessive "Its" is referring to. The nation's gas prices? Second, if that statistic is, in fact, a reference to average gas prices across the nation, then that would mean gas prices have fallen from over $3 to over $1—which hasn't happened. I just checked: in my former town of Front Royal, Virginia, gas prices are currently right where they were when I was living there (2010-13), i.e., around $3.20.

*It should be noted that many Americans mistakenly believe that most of America's imported oil comes from the Middle East. In truth, the US imports the greatest volume of oil from Canada, its friendly neighbor to the immediate north. In this modern, highly consumptive age, complete energy independence is probably not possible, but near-independence will have deep ramifications for the US's economic and political relationship with Canada—not to mention its relationship with the Middle East.

**My thoughts on environmentalism are here generally, and here specifically.



John McCrarey said...

Well said! I particularly like the fact that you note conservatives aren't anti-environment, they are pro-jobs. The hypocrisy of the left on this issue always astounds me. They are so concerned about minimum wage and income inequality and yet the oppose projects that would provide jobs paying middle class wages. Worse yet, the support shutting down coal fired power plants which is raising the cost of electricity in the USA tremendously. And that has a disparate impact on the poor.

Kevin Kim said...

Bill Keezer emailed the following comment (Part 1 of 2):

1. Thank you for the note that nuclear energy is CLEAN. Yes, it is the cleanest source of energy currently on the planet. It doesn’t require horrible cesspools in China to provide rare earths for solar power panels; it doesn’t kill raptors in great numbers; it doesn’t mess with the natural water distribution; it can be sited almost anywhere unlike geothermal.

2. There are two problems with nuclear, the ignorance of people about the basics of nuclear energy, and the political unwillingness to buck the rabid environmentalists.

a. Ignorance means that people can be led to believe all sorts of horror stories and also accept things that are patently not true. Three-Mile Island was a very small and ultimately harmless incident. Chernobyl was a major, truly major, ecological disaster. Yet if you asked people to compare the two they would probably consider them both equally horrible.

b. The big concern with nuclear energy is disposal of the waste. Enviro-nuts have made it impossible to make progress on this because they want a perfect solution that will be good for over a million years or no solution. Never mind that there are perfectly good solutions for the next thousand to ten-thousand years, and by that time we will either be enough smarter to deal with it better or else not around, so who cares? As a result there are two major disasters waiting to happen, Hanover, WA, and Oak Ridge, TN. Hanover is now closed and has been for years, but both have huge tanks of liquid waste that is horribly, intensely radioactive. What’s worse the radioactive process changes the ingredients constantly. However, rather than doing something, anything, to ameliorate the problem, there is constant bureaucratic churn among three or four agencies in the Hanover case, and I’m not sure there is anything being done in the Oak Ridge case. In the meantime the tanks are deteriorating. A release from those would make the worst dirty bomb look tame.

Kevin Kim said...

Bill Keezer's comment (Part 2 of 2):

3. The economics of source and supply in the crude oil business are very complicated because there are basically two major types of crude, heavy and light, sweet. Fracking produces light sweet and Canadian tar sands and many wells produce heavy crude. Refineries are designed to deal with one or the other, not both. So it may be more economical to sell fracking oil overseas, or transport it across much of the country and then buy heavy crude from overseas for the plants that are optimized for it. The goal is to be a net exporter, which is a version of energy independence. The other area where we are becoming independent is in natural gas. We are finding more and more reserves and exploiting them. Natural gas is now competitive with coal in some circumstances for power production, not just when dictated by the EPA.

4. I tend to ignore environmentalists as raving loons. None of them have the first clue about actual ecology, and all of them put their arms around the charismatic animals and ignore, or simply put into the all-the-species group, the lesser things like cockroaches, ants, and termites, which I bet they work hard to eradicate from their apartments and houses. This does not mean I am a rape-and-pillage-the-environment type. My own view is that we are the top of the food chain, but that we need to learn to simply keep a clean house. Most of us don’t shit in our living rooms. So why should we do the same to our surroundings? The world is ours to use or abuse. Except for those fools that think humans are a blot on nature, we will do both to survive, and have done both. It takes a very self-centered set of barons of industry to set the Cuyahoga River on fire. But it is also a very self-righteous set of bureaucrats that create environmental regulations that destroy the economies of whole states. It is a discussion beyond these comments to propose a more reasonable approach to the problems of pollution and its effects. First one has to properly and objectively define pollution. Then one must follow the consequences of that definition to their ultimate result. Neither has ever been done.

John McCrarey said...

I only have one thing to say to Bill Keezer: Right on!