The Energy Crisis
Whatever is meant by ‘the energy crisis’ spools out of Ukraine like all the other problems we’ve been avoiding for decades, now broken open and cascading into our reality at a speed we can barely imagine. We think we’ve lived through ‘historic’ moments and collect them like postcards (the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Miner’s Strike, Iraq, 9/11). This is to select a random handful – and almost funny that I forgot the global pandemic – but none of them really compare with the impact of the invasion of Ukraine. It destabilises everything.
It’s almost obscene to turn away from the most obvious and immediate consequences, those of the poor people of Ukraine who face an increasingly dire and desperate humanitarian situation. A delegation leader from the Red Cross said people in Mariupol had “started to attack each other for food”.
The situation is unbelievably brutal and the war – and the violence we are all witnessing – seeps out into our wider consciousness. Violence is contagious. Humanity seems to be faltering on multiple fronts, infected by violence and brutality with the tech giants Facebook and Instagram calling for posts advocating Vladimir Putin’s death – and violence against Russian soldiers – to be temporarily allowed, according to Reuters.
This is a descent into barbarism. Outsourcing global communications to a handful of private companies must have seemed like a good idea at some point.
The war is revealing all of the pressure points and problems we’ve been ignoring avoiding and suppressing for a long time. I mean, I say ‘we’.
None of this is new, it’s just much more intense. Almost all of the problems we’ve known about for a very long time, because ‘the cost of living crisis’ isn’t a new thing for millions of us, it’s a lived reality. The ‘energy crisis’ manifests itself as cold and debt but also as geopolitical power and climate catastrophe. In response to the energy crisis there’s been a coordinated attack on the idea of Net Zero by Farage and whoever his handler is, a massive push for a return to fracking, and even a forlorn and opportunist effort by the Scottish Conservatives to weaponise North Sea Oil.
The people who brought us into this meta-crisis are now doubling-down on their efforts and advocating more fossil fuels, more weaponry, a bigger arms budget, more centralisation, and more veneration of the British state and its WMD.
But Greenpeace tell us: “The UK government is on track to spend £2billion on Russian gas imports this year. Not only is this fuelling the climate crisis and driving energy bills up – it’s also funding Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed the hidden cost of Europe’s dependence on Russia’s oil and gas. As the tanks drive further into Ukraine, the UK and Europe send millions of pounds a day to Russia for oil and gas.”
The problem has been festering for a long time, and like most of the other issues that have been pushed forward by the war, the solutions have been staring us in the face. Greenpeace explains: “To get off gas we need the UK government to bring forward an Emergency Energy Package. This package must turbocharge renewables, replace gas boilers with heat pumps, insulate homes and train the engineers and experts that will move this country forward. It’s the only way to get us off Russian gas that is fuelling war – and the climate crisis.”
Of course they’re right and we’ve known this for a very long time. But exploiting energy as a private commodity rather than distributing it as a social need is highly profitable, and if the eye-watering heating bills that we are seeing are like nothing in our lifetimes, they are just the latest version of an immoral system that makes cash out of peoples misery. I think now that the estimated six million people facing energy poverty includes people who have never experienced it before – the issue has leapt up the media and political priority list.
NEW: Around 1.2 million Scots say they are struggling to keep up with household bills and credit commitments, an increase of nearly half a million since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. https://t.co/k51aX1RC9M
— The Ferret (@FerretScot) March 11, 2022
Martin Lewis the ‘money saving expert’ was quite right to note that: “I am slightly worried that we are seeing potentially a deliberate narrative shift that effectively says the entire cost of living crisis is due to Ukraine and we all need to make sacrifices – that is not correct. The rises in energy, heating, oil, water, Council Tax, broadband and mobiles, food, National Insurance were all in place before Ukraine.”
He is right to note the Tories narrative shift. But another thing has changed, the idea that you can put-off the impact of social and economic disaster by switching your credit card, putting on an extra jumper or turning down the thermostat is over. The premise of Martin Lewis’s very successful brand is basically teaching consumers ways to cope with the dysfunctional system which exploits them at every turn. It’s a really weird way to look at the world. It says ‘we couldn’t change anything and the corporate world will try and rip you off for almost every imaginable thing that you need, here’s some handy tips to offset the worst of this reality’.
Everything has to change. All of the transition changes that corporate power has resisted and lied to us about for years have to happen now, and in a very short time frame.
As George Monbiot this week wrote: “Gas and oil, and the banks that finance them, are among the Russian businesses that have not been sanctioned by the EU, the UK and the US, though they represent, by a long way, Russia’s most important source of foreign exchange. Why not? Because we have reduced ourselves to craven dependency on that despotic government, through a dismal failure to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. While we sternly condemn Vladimir Putin, we quietly slip him the money required to sustain his atrocities in Ukraine. Like a ruthless pusher, he exploits our addiction.”
“Even before the invasion of Ukraine, Europe had a gas crisis, and households faced soaring heating bills. Today we have a gastastrophe. We are lucky in just one respect: that Putin invaded Ukraine in the spring, rather than the autumn. Now we have until October – when major heating demand kicks in again – to implement the comprehensive energy transition that should have happened years ago.”
The ‘energy crisis’ is really also the ‘debt crisis’ and the ‘cost of living of crisis’ and the ‘climate crisis’. They’re all the same thing.
Before Putin’s invasion and the atrocities which followed you used to be able to pretend that they were discernible distinct things that could be ‘fixed’ with ‘policies’. Okay, these policies rarely (or ever) emerged, but that at least was the myth by which we’d nod in understanding, lobby, petition and campaign. That idea of order has just collapsed, not just because of the potent mix of kleptocracy and incompetence from the current incumbents, but because the problems are spreading and merging. Disaster Capitalism has spread like metastasis in a cancer where cells break away from where they first formed and form new tumors in other parts of the body.
The fact that these problems are interlinked and gathering momentum to the point of critical breakdown needs to be a catalyst for us. But the good news is that we have all of the solutions right here. We know that we needed to move to a network of decentralised publicly owned renewable energy systems anyway. We know that we need to move away from food and crops that are dependent on polluting and carbon-intensive pesticides and artificial fertilisers anyway. We have all the models of agro-ecology, permaculture and organic food systems in place, and localised plant-based food cultures will give us the resilience that the present system clearly lacks.
It’s easy to be cowed in the terror of all this, but that is why it is worth repeating over and over the clear alternatives to the absurdly damaging and fragile systems we endure. But there are other reasons for hope in the darkness. As Neal Ascherson has written (‘History replays like a half-forgotten song, but once we remember, it’s far too late‘): “Putin isn’t Hitler. He will die a disappointed old nuisance in exile somewhere, rather than by Heldentod suicide in his bunker. Both men qualify as psychopathic dictators, swaddled from reality in fantasies of geopolitical revenge. But Putin’s grip on the Russian imagination is weaker than Hitler’s on the Germans. And his use of police terror against his own people, though horrifying, is distinctly less effective.”
It’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless, indeed the system is dependent on us feeling this way, but the system like the dictator is more fragile and exposed than we might imagine.
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