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Europe’s Far-Flung Energy Woes

In its commitment to sanctioning Russia and moving away from nuclear power, the E.U. will even pay a price for South Africa's internal troubles.
Europe’s Far-Flung Energy Woes

At some point, you have to believe European leaders simply enjoy energy suffering—or rather, that they take a perverse pleasure in inflicting the pain of high-priced, unreliable, unclean energy on their own manufacturers and populations. A story in Monday’s Financial Times nicely illustrates this. It concerns the failure of South-African coal miners to capitalize on rising coal prices in Europe amid an import ban against Russian coal.

South Africa’s mining interests are struggling to get their product to Europe, the FT reports, owing to the “massive theft of copper cable and train shortages” that have paralyzed Transnet, the government freight operator. This is par for the course for South Africa, which continues to suffer from the graft and mismanagement that characterized the government of former President Jacob Zuma. But what is routine for South Africa is a crisis for today’s energy-starved Europe.

You might wonder why the Europeans would put their hopes in places like South Africa to supply their energy needs. The immediate answer, of course, is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in response to which the European Union has imposed a blockade on Russian energy, including natural gas and coal. A proposed ban on Russian crude oil has met with opposition from the Hungarian government, which quite sanely isn’t prepared to jeopardize its people’s basic energy security. The E.U. will also “permit more burning of fossil fuel to replace Russian oil and gas in years to come,” as the FT reports.

Assume for argument’s sake that the sanctions are perfectly sound from a geostrategic and security point of view. Still, that doesn’t answer the question: Why even consider an exporter as far-flung as South Africa, and why that dirtiest of fossil fuels, coal? The deeper answer, of course, is that the states that form core Europe, Germany above all, have given themselves over to an insane program of energy de-industrialization and de-growth, forswearing their own domestic capacities to appease Gaia, which is really only another name for the massive green NGO and philanthropy sector.

The greatest of all of Europe’s internal capacities is engineering know-how, which gave rise to a highly efficient, ultra-clean nuclear-energy industry in the last century. But driven by post-Fukushima hysteria and a philosophy that sees cheap energy as a bad thing, Germany has shuttered most of its nuclear plants and is on track to close the remaining few. France has been more protective of its nuclear industry, but it and Germany have also forsworn hydraulic fracturing of their own vast shale reserves; by some estimates, Germany’s 2.3 trillion cubic meters of shale gas could meet the country’s domestic needs for a century, if not longer.

Much as the greens might wish, nations don’t run on zero-emissions unicorn farts, which means that Germany and others now have to fill the gap created by their own policies with filthy coal. Imagine that: a powerhouse like Germany, at the mercy of South-African copper-wire robbers for a 19th-century fuel source.

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Dear readers: I am taking a sabbatical from this column and the TAC Right Now podcast through the summer, to finish my latest book project. The book details how employers and other marketplace actors subject Americans to pervasive coercion—coercion that is immune to democratic give-and-take and legal contestation, precisely because our laws treat these realms of life as “private,” though they have eminently public consequences. The themes should be familiar enough to readers of this column, and some chapters first found embryonic expression here. I thank you for your interest and comments. See you in September.

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