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No king, no parliament, no president, no legislature can repeal the law of unintended consequence. Russia’s war with Ukraine, and the cut-off of oil and natural gas to Western Europe, have brought coal back to power plant furnaces across Europe. This week, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria all moved to reignite coal power. Gone are environmental regulations and restrictions. For example, the Netherlands had previously limited coal to only one-third of its full capacity.
The party of green, so closely aligned with the left in the United States, may see a defeat on both fronts. Right now it looks likely Ukraine will end its war smaller and poorer despite the $50 billion being poured into its defense efforts by armchair militarists in Congress and the White House. The return of coal is a sign that another war is being lost: the Green New Dealers’ war on fossil fuels. Failure to bring about a peaceful settlement in Ukraine by the Biden Administration means the return of coal power to Western Europe.
Energy is the key to victory in war and prosperity in peace. One thinks of the UK in World War II and the Bevin boys. Beginning in 1943, 10% of all draftees between 18 and 25 were not sent to the front, but to the coal mines. Those shutting down domestic U.S. energy production in favor of foreign imports, take note: countries without their own energy supply are beholden to the countries that provide them with energy.
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Gazprom’s Nordstream Pipeline cut the flow of natural gas to Germany last week. After reducing its natural gas reliance on Russia by 64% since the start of the war, the largest economy in Europe has yet to take up the slack in its energy shortfall. Russian gas flow to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, and the Netherlands has ended. The Dutch are less vulnerable, with Russian natural gas representing just 15% of their energy supply.
The Austrians, on the other hand, will have to reopen mothballed coal power plants. This will take time. So while Russian forces are looking to isolate Ukraine from the Black Sea, Ukraine’s backers in Western Europe are being forced into retreat from their environmental war on coal.
According to the World Coal Association, “37% of the world’s electricity and over 70% of the world steel is produced using coal.” The Germans claim their plan to close all coal power plants by 2030 is still feasible. It is unclear if the Netherlands is still on board with that shutdown date.
Perhaps clean coal does have a future among the green states of Western Europe. Right now, the greens break out in hives at the mention of nuclear. But if they are truly serious they may need to reevaluate their opposition to the ultimate clean energy source — nuclear power.