“Human beings are called to be fruitful, to bring forth good things from the earth, to join with God in making provision for our temporal well being,” according to The Cornwall Declaration On Environmental Stewardship, of which Acton Institute co-founder Fr. Robert Sirico was an original signer. “Our call to fruitfulness, therefore, is not contrary to but mutually complementary with our call to steward God’s gifts.” This article about transatlantic policies that put human well-being into opposition with environmental stewardship, which appeared in MEP Daniel Hannan’s publication The Conservative in February, and is offered in that spirit. – Ed.
Hot air rises; so do home heating bills. The UK is set to begin one of the coldest weeks of winter, with temperatures reaching as low as -7. Yet across the EU, government policies designed to discourage the use of fossil fuels mean that a growing number of people cannot afford to pay their skyrocketing energy bills.
Consequently, environmentalist ideology is leaving more and more of the West out in the cold. According to Eurostat, 8.7 percent of Europeans cannot afford to heat their homes. One million families in the UK already fall into that category; some are as much as €10,000 short of paying their bill.
This is a far cry from the Elysian future of cheap, abundant renewable energy promised by the environmentalist Left. Green MPs in Germany insisted the nation’s policy of transitioning to alternative energy, the Energiewende, would cost the equivalent of one scoop of ice cream a month. Instead, bills skyrocketed by €1 trillion ($1.13 trillion U.S.).
“German chancellor Angela Merkel knew that the cost of renewables would be ruinous, but political advantage trumped rationality,” wrote Rupert Darwall in his new book, Green Tyranny. “To squeeze the [Social Democratic Party] between the Greens to their left and her own Christian Democrats to their right, in 2007 she pushed the European Union to adopt a mandatory renewables target.” As a result, Darwall continues, “Germans [paid] three-and-a-half times what Americans did for their electricity.” German energy costs doubled between 2000 and 2013, and two-thirds of that increase was due to government taxes and fees, according to Der Speigel.
The policy redistributes wealth from (shivering) consumers to renewable energy providers – €189 billion since 2000 – with subsidies amounting to an estimated one-third of the average customer’s bill.
Despite being flush with revenue, alternative energy has not only failed to flourish but threatens the capacity of the grid itself. Germans nearly suffered the fate of second-world countries, a massive power outage, as a dark and windless January 24th strained the nation’s power reserves almost to the breaking point. “The renewables could not even provide five percent of” demand, said Michael Vassiliadis of IG Bergbau Chemie Energie. “Coal, gas and nuclear power were virtually alone in keeping the country in power.”
These power shortages lead, in turn, to yet higher costs. One utility company alone spent nearly €1 billion to stabilize the energy infrastructure in its region of Germany last year – on top of €660 million for emergency stabilizations in 2016 and €710 million in 2015.
“The reason for the increase,” according to Switzerland’s Basler Zeitung, “is the increasing number of solar and wind turbines in Germany.”
Meanwhile, a much different scenario is taking place in the United States: production is rising, prices are declining, and families are reaping the benefits. American crude oil production will rise to 10.04 million barrels per day this quarter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), tying the all-time record in November 1970. Natural gas production is also forecast to break U.S. records this year.
Of course, that means petrol prices would have risen even more without the record-breaking spike in production.
This humane energy policy, along with conservative reforms like President Trump’s tax cut, has created a perfect reversal of the Energiewende: U.S. energy companies are paying consumers. As of this writing, 18 utility companies have announced reductions to U.S. electricity bills from one end of the nation to the other – from Massachusetts to Oregon and Rhode Island to Hawaii – totaling a minimum of $820 million.
While European Greens follow an ideologically driven passion to replace fossil fuels with untested, untried, and unreliable renewable energy sources, Americans benefit from a stable energy source, lower overall prices, more disposable income, and a warmer home.
In fact, Europeans benefit from America’s energy policy, as well. For the first time since 1957, the U.S. is expected to become a net exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Doing so will allow it compete with Russia’s Gazprom, which plans to ship 180 billion cubic meters of LNG to Europe this year, a near-record. The excess capacity has the potential to loosen Russia’s hold on some of its client states.
Ah, but what about the environment? The record of government technocrats inspires no confidence. In 2001, the UK’s Labour government raised fuel taxes and offered incentives to nudge British drivers to switch from gasoline to diesel cars. Diesel cars have lower CO2 emissions – but higher levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates, which also harm the environment, according to climate scientists. Environmentalists who supported the previous policy now call on the government to perform an about-face and suppress diesel usage via another round of economic disincentives, or bans.
Government policy, by nature backward-looking, is ill-equipped to keep pace with breaking scientific advancements – and pay heed to its citizens’ needs at the same time. For the most part, the EU has opted for the former, exacting a steep price from families, the poor, and the elderly.
An energy policy based on human needs and market realities looks, and succeeds, much differently than one based on hide-bound Green ideology and statist paternalism.
This article originally appeared in The Conservative and is reprinted with permission.
(Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)