Jetzt kommt der Winter - Winter befalls Germany amidst a generational crisis
As featured in Edition 41, available here.
By ZACH ROBERTS (3rd year - Law and Politics and International Studies - Aylesbury, United Kingdom)
Six months ago in February 2022, Olaf Scholz, Germany’s Chancellor, announced that the second Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Europe would not be going ahead despite being fully built and ready for operation.
This was, of course, in light of political tensions between the West and Russia over the War in Ukraine, having been decided that it would be immoral to help fund Vladimir Putin’s invasion by doubling gas imports from Russia, as Nord Stream 2 would have done. Not only was this billions of Euros and ten years of work down the drain, but also worsened a devastating energy crisis as European nations began to fear how they would be able to power themselves through the upcoming Winter months.
European consumers were already facing record energy prices amid a wider post-pandemic cost of living crisis, but now with Gazprom, the Russian-state-owned supplier, limiting its supply to Europe, German legislators are desperately searching for solutions. Next-year electricity rates in Germany are currently almost six times as much as they were this time last year, with the price doubling in the past two months alone. The market is being driven by fears that there will simply not be enough energy to power Europe this winter - a crisis many saw coming decades ago with a plummeting supply of natural resources on a global scale. But the war in Ukraine has brought this crisis forward to a time where even the most advanced nations aren’t ready yet.
The emergency plan in Germany is to save gas now and store it for later. Hannover was the first German city to do so: turning off hot water in the showers and bathrooms of city-run buildings and leisure centres, whilst municipal buildings will only be heated from 1 October to 31 March at the bare minimum temperature of 20 degrees. Many cities are now following suit, with a 15% savings target set by the European Commission in July. Germany, which is more reliant on Russian gas imports than other European countries, is under pressure to lead the way.
Gazprom claims that the supply issues are merely technical. Yet the Ukrainian elephant in the room, and Europe’s near-unanimous condemnation of Russia’s military action, suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, the crisis of energy is far more than just a result of Russia’s actions. Europe’s dependency on resources like gas was going to prove an issue sooner or later. This is perhaps the worst case scenario, however, with gas now being treated as political capital, and the everyday citizen facing the brunt of the consequences.
The debate around energy and its sources has always been a politically complex one. In the words of Timothy Mitchell, a political theorist, “The amount of oil and gas left for humans to exploit is a question of human choice and technical ingenuity.” The fact that we will run out of natural resources is a scientific given; the question, therefore, is what replaces it and when. In 2017, Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson made headlines by stating that “converting to 100% [wind, water, and solar] energy systems is technically and economically feasible.” Those who oppose such a change argue on grounds that it would upend and devastate economies with all industries having to change their means of power.
In Germany, however, the debate surrounds nuclear energy instead. In 2011, the German Government of the time legislated a plan to take all of its nuclear energy plants offline by the end of this year. Yet, in light of the crisis, three-quarters of Germans want nuclear plants to remain operational, whilst forty-one percent want to build new plants. Chancellor Scholz recently said that an extension of the lifespan of nuclear plants could "make sense" despite his coalition partners - the Green Party staunchly opposing nuclear power due to its significant threat of disaster and subsequent threat to life and the environment.
Right now though, it is certain that Germans will have to ride out this current wave of shortages and restrictions on energy usage. Yet it is obvious that this is not a long-term solution. So the question left to answer is what will that solution be? Nuclear? Renewable? Will this finally encourage European nations and others to create a consensus that can simultaneously address the energy and climate crises? Only time will tell. But if the lack of preparation for this crisis is anything to go by, then I for one am not optimistic.
Image: Flickr/ Just Click’s With A Camera