Early this month, an estimated 70,000 protesters gathered in Prague to call for the Czech government to do more about spiraling energy prices.
At the same time in Germany, traditionally opposed political groups put aside their differences to threaten weekly protests against the rising costs of food, gas, and energy.
In Naples, Italy, citizens torched their expensive energy bills in the streets, while in Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom, unrest reached a fever pitch.
The citizens of these countries are far from alone in their discontent.
“The data, covering seven years, shows that the last quarter saw more countries witness an increase in risks from civil unrest than at any time since the index was released.”
It added that “the worst is undoubtedly yet to come,” as more than 80 percent of countries around the world experience inflation above 6 percent.
Energy Crisis in the MakingThe last time the world experienced an energy crisis was in the 1970s, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an oil embargo over the United States’ decision to resupply the Israeli military.
OPEC then extended the ban to other countries that supported Israel.
The embargo strained the U.S. economy and prompted then-President Richard Nixon to announce Project Independence, promoting domestic energy independence.
It also led to the creation of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, fuel economy standards, and the creation of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which consists of 31 member nations and eight association countries.
In March 2021, IEA and the European Commission joined together to advance “net-zero by 2050,” with executive vice president Frans Timmermans stating, “The European Union is determined to reach net zero by 2050 and we urge others to join us in this effort.
"Europe is anchoring its course with the EU Climate Law and the upcoming package of measures to deliver our -55 percent reduction target for 2030.”
In May 2021, IEA released the “world’s first comprehensive energy roadmap” that stated the road to “net-zero emissions in 2050” was “narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported, and used globally.”
As part of the roadmap, the IEA specified 400 specific milestones, including “from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants.
"By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.”
Of note, the IEA admitted that the pathway to net-zero involves technologies that aren’t readily available, “in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase.”
As such, IEA encouraged governments to reprioritize their spending on research and development and adopt policies that put “clean energy technologies” at the core of “energy and climate policy.”
The IEA concludes, “By 2050, the energy world looks completely different.
"Almost 90 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar together accounting for almost 70 percent.”
It also ordered the federal government to only use "clean and zero-emission vehicles" for its fleet by 2035, and eliminated fossil fuel subsidies.
Additionally, it put the “climate crisis” at the center of the United States’ foreign policy and national security and committed to making a “positive contribution” to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
“The Glasgow Climate Pact accelerates the drumbeat and puts in place the underpinning rules and systems.”
Further, “developed countries” committed to delivering a $100 billion climate finance goal by 2035, and “five public finance institutions will stop international support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector next year. Private financial institutions and central banks are moving to realign trillions towards global net-zero.”
Changing Energy WindsFor some countries, the above commitments reaffirmed policies they'd already implemented.
In 2000, Germany enacted the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), which required 6 percent of energy to come from “renewable resources.”
It also committed to 18 to 25 percent of its electricity production from “renewables” by 2040 and said it “generally supported” EU targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
As a result of the above policies, countries have phased out things such as domestically produced coal and nuclear energy and moved toward increasing their reliance on wind and solar.
“Unfortunately, in its passion to lead the pack, Germany didn’t quite do its math. It has not created nearly enough renewable energy to replace the nuclear and coal that it is determined to phase out.
“When the last of the nuclear reactors is turned off next year, there will likely be a shortage of 4.5 gigawatts, or the equivalent of what 10 large coal-fired power plants would provide.”
History Repeats With Russian Oil and GasMuch like the 1970s, when the United States supported Israel over the 15 Arab countries that make up OPEC, the United States and Europe’s support for Ukraine over Russia has spiraled into an energy crisis by exacerbating already increasing energy prices.
On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, intensifying a conflict that’s continued since 2014.
Germany and Poland joined the United States and pledged to ban Russian oil by winding down pipeline imports by the end of the year.
“This is a step that we’re taking to inflict further pain on Putin. But there will be costs as well here in the United States.
"Defending freedom is going to cost—it’s going to cost us as well in the United States.”
In his remarks, Biden celebrated that the United States produced “far more oil domestically than all of the European countries combined,” acknowledging that Europe was in a far more precarious position because of energy imports.
Russia, the largest natural gas supplier to the 27-nation bloc and the second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, retaliated by cutting natural gas imports.
Then, at the beginning of September, Russia's energy giant, Gazprom, indefinitely shut down Nord Stream 1 pipeline deliveries.
Escalating UnrestAccording to the IMF, food and energy prices are the most significant contributors to inflation.
Considering gas only makes up 4.8 percent of Consumer Price Index spending, gas's impact on inflation is particularly notable and regarded as "outsized."
“Although inequality has crept up slowly in recent decades, it has not significantly worsened over the past decade in a way that would explain the recent surge of discontent.”
Instead, socioeconomic factors such as the price of food and fuel “seem to be particularly important” along with access to social media—suggesting coordination and communication plays a role.
In Europe, the unrest comes from the fallout of Russia invading Ukraine, the report states. But, unrest isn't limited to Europe, as energy prices worldwide are increasing due to countries' policies.
“The impact is evident across the globe, with popular discontent over rising living costs emerging on the streets of developed and emerging markets alike, stretching from the EU, Sri Lanka and Peru to Kenya, Ecuador and Iran.”
The report predicts unrest will worsen over the next six months and into 2023.
“Only a significant reduction in global food and energy prices can arrest the negative global trend in civil unrest risk," the report states. "Recession fears are mounting and inflation is expected to be worse in 2023 than in 2022.
“Weather will be another crucial factor. A cold autumn and winter in Europe would worsen an already serious energy and cost of living crisis. Although socioeconomic pressure has already given rise to protests across the world, the next six months are likely to be even more disruptive.”
On Aug. 16, Biden signed the partisan Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law, which “modernized” the Clean Air Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority “to protect American families from climate and air pollution.”
Additionally, via the IRA, Congress reaffirmed that greenhouse gases are “air pollutants” and further specified that the term “greenhouse gas” includes the pollutants “carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.”
In other words, because of the enacting of the IRA, the United States now has a law requiring it to transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy—much like Europe.