On the eve of the United Kingdom’s entry into World War I, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked as he observed lamplighters at work in the dusk, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Amid another war on the European continent in the present, the lamps may be literally going out across Europe – and the air conditioning, and the hot water, and more. They may only be turned on again when governments give their approval, the unfortunate but unsurprising result of unrealistic and short-sighted energy policies.
An August 10 Wall Street Journal article with a Berlin dateline began:
Lights illuminating many of the German capital’s monuments are going dark. Officials here and in the Netherlands have urged residents to take shorter showers. The Spanish prime minister suggested ditching ties to cope with the summer heat. New limits on air conditioning in Spain are going into effect there this week.
The long-term cause of Europe’s energy crunch is its choice to depend increasingly on unreliable power sources like solar and wind.
Nuclear power and coal, among the most dependable of energy sources, were phased out while solar and wind, intermittent and insecure sources, were encouraged. Europe’s natural gas consumption grew but its own production declined. The European Union (EU) even launched a “European Green Deal” in 2020.
To meet demand for natural gas, many European countries turned to Russia. The EU imported 40% of its natural gas from Russia in 2021. Germany was Europe’s leading importer of Russian gas and in recent years supported construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to facilitate the supply.
That dependence on Russian gas could create difficulties was no surprise. President Trump warned in 2018, “Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course,” and his Administration sought to block Nord Stream 2. The Biden Administration, however, lifted sanctions on the project after taking office. Discussion about energy in Europe focused on arbitrary carbon emissions reduction targets instead of providing reliable and affordable fuel supplies.
So in February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe found itself in a predicament. Vladimir Putin’s regime is propped up by the money it makes off oil and gas exports, so the energy Europe bought from Russia supported his aggression in Ukraine. European opposition to his war opened the continent to retaliation from Russia without an immediate way to make up a potential shortfall in energy supplies.
The Biden Administration must be considered an accomplice in exposing Europe to Russian energy blackmail. Its agenda to curtail domestic energy production by cancelling projects and delaying permitting has not only limited American options; it reduced our ability to export energy sources to our allies. Europe looked too late for other energy suppliers than Russia, but the United States had less to offer when that time came than we could have.
The EU now plans to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, but the problems of reliance on Putin are occurring now. He has sharply reduced the flow of gas through pipelines to Europe, sending the price for natural gas soaring and threatening the continent’s broader economy. Europe is left to watch uneasily as Putin plots his next move.
Ironically, one of the few immediate steps Europe can take is to return to the fuel sources it previously shunned. Its coal imports are up, and coal-fired power plants have been kept online. Germany has reportedly opted to extend the life of three nuclear power plants it had previously planned to close at the end of this year.
Europe never had to find itself in this crisis if it had chosen more reliable and practical energy strategies. The United States shouldn’t find itself in the same situation in the future if we heed these painful lessons from across the Atlantic now. A diverse energy mix that relies on domestic production, not hostile foreign powers, and encourages innovation to produce cleaner energy can meet our energy needs, reduce carbon emissions, and create jobs here.
As the lamps go out in Europe, let’s make the right choices to keep them on in America.
Congressman Morgan Griffith