Winter 2022: A Season of Painful Enlightenment?

November 18, 2021 Updated: November 22, 2021

Commentary

There are times when politics resembles the theater of the absurd. This is one of those times. We just witnessed the spectacle of heads of state gathering in Glasgow trying to find ways to curtail the production and consumption of fossil fuels at the very time when the people they supposedly represent face a grim, potentially lethal winter due to shortages of those vital fuels.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price of gasoline in the United States has risen more than 62 percent in the last 12 months, and the price of natural gas for heating homes will rise as much as 45 percent. Bank of America is predicting $120 a barrel of oil this winter. A harsher than average winter could trigger additional rises in the cost of heating our homes—a development that would be especially harsh for the poorest among us. The last time natural gas prices were this high in the United States, “one-third of American households already had difficulty … adequately heating and cooling their homes—and one-fifth of households had to reduce or forego food, medicine and other necessities to pay energy bills,” according to The Heartland Institute.

The situation is far direr overseas.

Due to drought, Brazil has lost its main source of electrical power—hydropower.

In China, the shortage of energy has resulted in cities turning off street lights and traffic lights; elevators in high-rise apartment buildings not working; and people suffering carbon monoxide poisoning when ventilation systems in a factory shut down. The shortage also is crippling production of foodstuffs and industrial metals. The negative consequences include higher food prices ahead, continued disruptions in supply chains, temporarily shuttered factories, and so on. Blackouts may become “the new normal.”

Similarly to China, India is facing critical shortages of fuel.

In Europe, where fracking has been banned, gas prices are up approximately sixfold from last year and even the price of coal has more than doubled in response to soaring demand. The energy shortage there was exacerbated by record low winds this year. Hoped-for energy from windmills fell short of expectations, stimulating a mad scramble for fossil fuels to keep the economy afloat. Natural gas prices in Europe have risen to as high as the equivalent of oil priced at $205 per barrel.

In Germany, not only have energy prices to homeowners risen to record highs, but their power grid has become increasingly unstable. One power plant in Germany had to close because of a lack of coal—coal being needed to compensate for the insufficient wind energy production. Germany faces a full-blown energy crisis this winter.

“Schools, hospitals and clinics could also be much chillier—and deadlier. At 11¢ per kilowatt-hour (average U.S. business rate), a 650,000-square-foot hospital would pay about $2.2 million annually for electricity. At 25¢ per kWh (UK), the annual cost jumps to $5 million; at 35¢ per kWh (Germany), to $7 million! Those soaring costs would likely result in employee layoffs, higher medical bills, reduced patient care, colder conditions, and more deaths,” Paul Driessen wrote for The Heartland Institute.

In Britain, the host country for the U.N.’s anti-fossil fuels confab, as many as 9,700 people typically die from cold in their homes each winter. There are fears that this winter’s death toll from cold (and from food shortages stemming from fertilizer shortages stemming from natural gas shortages) could be much larger. Several elder care homes have warned that crippling energy bills could force them to close, leaving their residents homeless.

The severity of this energy crisis is largely attributable to short-sighted government policies. Tilting at the windmills of an imaginary future global warming catastrophe, governments have impeded and restricted the production of fossil fuels. I’m willing to grant the possibility that so-called “renewable” energy sources (more accurately, “intermittent” energy sources) may someday replace fossil fuels, but the policies that have been restricting fossil fuel production before intermittent sources have come online fast enough to meet the global demand for energy are inhumane.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Biden administration (or is it the third term of the Obama administration?) is proceeding full speed ahead with an anti-fossil fuels agenda. Earlier in the year, the president canceled the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, banned drilling for oil in the Arctic, and greatly curtailed the issuance of leases for companies to develop fossil fuel resources on public land. Now, as winter approaches with energy prices surging and the world facing a severe energy crisis, Team Biden left Glasgow with a plan in place for the world’s major banks to restrict investment in companies that produce fossil fuels. The president also designated 1.87 million acres of federal land in Utah as a “national monument,” thereby putting it off-limits to oil and gas exploration. The administration also is reportedly considering the possible shutdown of another major pipeline, the Enbridge Line 5 that moves a half-million barrels of light oil and natural gas liquids today through Canada and Michigan.

The juxtaposition of the Biden administration reaffirming and ramping up its anti-fossil fuels agenda at the very time when the world is dangerously short of energy supplies is appalling. Team Biden seems totally oblivious and indifferent to the grim reality that low energy supplies are endangering people’s lives.

When a Bloomberg interviewer asked the straightforward question of what her plan was “to increase oil production in America,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm responded with a belly laugh. I half expected her to cackle, “Let them eat cake.” Instead, she dodged the question by saying that she didn’t have a magic wand to wave that would compel the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase production. Of course, nobody expects her to increase OPEC’s production. She’s the secretary of energy for the United States, not for foreign countries. But then, too, she’s a liberal progressive, and, true to her ideology, she expects others to do the helpful things that she herself could do.

It’s embarrassing to see the president of the United States, so soon after the shameful, incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan, implore OPEC to increase its production when our own country has the capacity to meet all our own and some of the world’s expanding energy needs. I wrote over a decade ago that the United States, by virtue of massive reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas, is the world’s energy superpower. There have been large additional discoveries since then, and President Donald Trump’s policies led to energy independence for our country—an independence since torpedoed and jettisoned by the Biden administration.

Realizing that a major reason for his plummeting popularity is the rapidly rising cost of fossil fuels, President Joe Biden has adopted a pathetic public relations strategy:  “I have directed my National Economic Council to pursue means to try to further reduce these [rising energy] costs, and have asked the Federal Trade Commission to strike back at any market manipulation or price gouging in this sector.”

How economically ignorant this president is! The reason energy costs are soaring is that the president’s own team has undercut energy supplies at every opportunity. If he really wants to discourage higher prices for fossil fuels, he doesn’t need the FTC. All he has to do is back off and let American companies tap into our vast energy resources. If he did, supply would rise and prices would fall. Ah, if only progressives understood economics.

In closing, let’s hope that the pain that Biden and the democratic heads of state in Britain and Europe are causing by their anti-fossil fuel policies will underscore and drive home two vital truths:

One, whatever role fossil fuels may play in humanity’s future, they’re indispensable today.

Two, central economic planning by governments invariably leads to unnecessary impoverishment and suffering. Today’s self-described American socialists are sadly oblivious to the destructiveness of their agenda, but the rest of us need to thwart their objectives before it’s too late.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Hendrickson
contributor
Mark Hendrickson is an economist who retired from the faculty of Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where he remains fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is the author of several books on topics as varied as American economic history, anonymous characters in the Bible, the wealth inequality issue, and climate change, among others.