The World Today for September 16, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Going, Going, Back

EUROPEAN UNION

Jean Blum, a resident of Berlin, Germany, usually uses natural gas to heat his home. But sometimes he uses wood in his stove. Now, as energy prices spike in Europe due to the efforts of Western governments to reduce their reliance on Russian gas and oil, Blum is stocking up on coal.

“I’m buying coal for the first time in many years,” he said recently, according to Euronews and Agence France-Presse. “Even if it’s bad for your health, it’s better than being cold.”

Demand from folks like Blum has caused coal supplies to plummet, increasing costs for a mineral that was key to the Industrial Revolution but now is viewed as a major emitter of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

As the Financial Times explained, European Union leaders a year ago were declaring that fossil fuels were becoming antiquated. Now the very same EU officials are spending more than $50 billion on new coal infrastructure and imports, including reactivating coal-fired plants that had been shuttered, Al Jazeera wrote. The bloc had set up a $17.6 billion fund to help countries transition away from coal between 2021 and 2027, according to Euractiv.

Russia formerly supplied 40 percent of the EU’s gas and half of its coal. The EU has a goal to reduce its Russian gas imports to zero by the end of the year and has already banned Russian coal imports, Radio Free Liberty noted. Now Europe is jacking up coal purchases from Colombia, the US, Australia and South Africa, Reuters reported.

The shift in policies highlighted how Europe’s years of planning to transition to a green economy turned out to be woefully inadequate and insufficient for the rigors of real life, Foreign Policy magazine argued.

Chaos in coal markets has ensued. Even in coal-rich Poland, which uses more of the stuff for heating than any other EU member, officials are scrambling to make sure they have enough to heat Poles’ homes, Deutsche Welle wrote. Coal mines had been decreasing production in order to meet climate change goals before the energy crisis occurred.

The climate change that coal helps cause is not helping, either, Politico added. Imported coal normally would travel from the North Atlantic ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp into Central Europe via the Rhine River on barges. But abnormally high temperatures in the region have helped dry up the river. As much as eight million tons of coal are now stuck.

Never before has the need for thinking that combines short and long-term views been so evident.

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