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Europe Prepares to Freeze
Get Ready For A Long, Cold Winter
“The inevitable was approaching. Winter was near and, in the human world, something like a state of suspended animation, which was in the air, and which everyone was talking about.
This was the time to prepare for the cold weather, to store up food and wood. But in those days of the triumph of materialism, matter had become a disembodied idea, and the problems of alimentation and fuel supply took the place of food and firewood.
The people in the cities were as helpless as children in the face of the unknown—that unknown which swept every established habit aside and left nothing but desolation in its wake.” - Boris Pasternak [“Doctor Zhivago”]
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I’m going to start this piece with a Tucker monologue:
Natural gas truly is one of the greatest things about living in modern civilization. I don’t know how common it is everywhere, but cheap natural gas piped into your home is a glorious luxury in a cold climate. The part of this video which I find truly incredible- to the extent that I’m still struggling to believe it- is that people in Poland are sleeping in their cars in line at coal mines to try and acquire fuel, in the summer. I neither knew that modern houses even had coal burning stoves nor that you could buy coal directly from mines. I don’t even know if you can burn coal in a normal wood stove, for all I know a bunch of people are gonna get themselves killed trying to burn coal at home because they can’t afford natural gas or electric heat. And in the time since Tucker’s monologue about spiraling energy prices aired, Russian gas giant Gazprom has wholly shut down the Nord Stream pipeline:
It seems reasonably clear to me that Russia has just been making excuses to shut down the pipeline and weaponize the public’s need for energy, since Europe needs Russia more than Russia needs Europe, as I’ve explained from the beginning of this. The sanctions regime is just a demented program to destroy Europe’s own economy. Russia has been surprisingly hesitant to weaponize oil production in the past, for example, after the 2014 coup in Kiev, when Ukraine already owed Russia billions of dollars for gas, I assumed Russia would simply freeze them out until they came to terms. However, Russia chose to keep the gas on despite the infrequency with which Ukraine could pay. They presumably figured that keeping them dependent would to some extent limit Ukraine’s behavior, which is quite clearly didn’t, as Ukraine, like the West it so badly wants to join, is governed by very imprudent people.
But don’t worry, Europe, your leaders care about you most of all:
She is openly saying that she doesn’t care if Germans suffer or how hard it gets for politicians, because all that matters is the principle that stronger countries can’t invade weaker countries in Europe in the post-WW2 era. [It needs to be noted that Turkiye invaded Cyprus in the ‘70s, which for some reason counts as Europe despite clearly being in Asia, as has been covered in some excellent episodes of the Radio War Nerd podcast.] I don’t really think it is viable to have Granny freeze to death over that principle, especially given as the sanctions aren’t working anyway and Russians will be cozy warm in their homes all winter. The politicians will try to blame Russia for their own sanctions regime, but despite their delusions, the general public always rightly blame the sanctioner in these situations. Though anti-enemy mania remains strong in the Baltics, with states such as Latvia trying to make living in harmony with their large Russian minorities impossible, support for Ukraine policy was already cracking in western Europe over economic problems well before the energy markets went crazy.
There is no way the public will stomach the sacrifices they are going to be asked to make. It is one thing when the Nazis are bombing your city, but another when its about the integrity of Ukraine’s post-Soviet borders. Incredibly, in the United Kingdom, they may ask families to stop eating hot meals. What sort of life are you providing for your citizens when you have to ask them to not cook? This is far beyond asking people to stay a bit chilly at home to help the grid. Europe is turning off streetlights, which do a huge amount to prevent crime, something which is sure to increase in the midst of an economic collapse of this nature. So now if Granny doesn’t freeze to death, she may be beaten and robbed on a dark street corner, and then when she goes to the hospital it will be full of people whose energy has been cut off, while there are increased wait times and reduced staff because of, you guessed it, increased energy costs. Suddenly, the expected mass closings of pubs this winter due to energy bills increasing 7-fold does not seem like such a big problem, but still, the public will even be stopped from commiserating and drinking their anxieties away. One wonders how many of these pubs will be in a position to re-open in the spring, given what they’ve gone through after 2 years of brutal covid lockdowns.
This is what a complete societal breakdown looks like. This is now the Europe that Ukraine risked it all to join. Suddenly the “European Dream” appears to be a nightmare. And this is just the UK, which is massively less dependent on Russian gas than the rest of Europe. Due to transit [these pipelines everyone is always fighting over] natural gas is not a truly global market, but that is not stopping Britain from experiencing these shocks.
It will be far worse for Germany, the motor of Europe, which is much more dependent on Russia gas, having purchased 49% of their energy from Russia in 2021, and made all the more dependent by stupidly shutting down their nuclear plants well before their lifespan was over. Their energy crisis is so bad that one minister suggested people wash themselves with a washcloth instead of showering- that is how things are going in Germany. Now some German factories are halting production entirely due to energy prices. Closing factories will bring Germany’s highly industrialized economy to its knees, and with it the rest of Europe. It is estimated that each manufacturing job produces around three other jobs for people who supply raw materials or in other ways support the factory’s operations, or who sell the products, as well as those who provide goods and services to factory workers. People who get up in the morning and produce things are essentially the cornerstone of modern civilization. If Germany’s factories don’t run, that is the end of the European economy. Currently electricity futures are at 700 euros for 2023, a 15-fold increase from prior years. It’s hard to conceive of any possible resolution to this but going to Russia hat in hand and making nice. The EU can, and has, taken steps to cap household energy increases, but especially after the vast economic damage caused by insane covid policies, they are not in a position where they can long deny the reality of energy costs. Look at the spike France just experienced before regulators managed to temporarily calm markets:
And once again, it is still the summer. Europe isn’t like Texas where there is a surge of energy use because of air conditioning- few homes in Europe have central air conditioning. This should be around the lowest energy use time of the year. Northern Europe is a very cold place, and if things are this bad in September, you should expect them to be catastrophic in January when heat and light use are much greater. Do you know anyone of any economic class who could afford to pay 5 times as much for winter heating? However, it seems clear that since they are capping home energy rates there will simply be shortages where people don’t have energy at all. I can’t imagine the anxiety Europeans are facing. They may lose their jobs due to energy prices when they wouldn’t have been able to afford their home energy bill if they still had the job. There is simply no way European governments can fund these drastically increased costs of such an essential commodity.
So what can the people do? For one thing, they can demand their governments get back to diplomacy, with Macron currently being the only European leader still talking to Putin at all. The public could also pressure their governments into recognizing that the sanctions policy doesn’t work at all, and is only hurting Europe. However, leaders hate to admit mistakes and the public clearly has little power over them. Really, the only power the public has is hitting the streets and agreeing to not pay. Here is the incomparable Russell Brand discussing the energy crisis and promoting a “Don’t Pay UK” movement.
The idea behind this movement is simply to get one million people in the UK to agree to stop paying their energy bills and to all do so on October 1st if they reach one million pledges. I don’t know how much of a chance this has of making a real impact, but it seems worth trying. Folks in Naples are already one step ahead of them:
Once again, it is still summer. These people are just pissed off about prices, they are not even cold yet. They are still in the lowest energy consumption time of year and there’s no reason to believe this will get better, but every reason to believe it will get much worse. Europe is headed back to the dark ages this winter- perhaps literally. There is no way to know how much social unrest this will cause but these are people who are used to having reliable heat and power, many of whom don’t have any capacity to burn wood. However among those who do have wood stoves, I suspect that Europe’s net re-forestation will reverse in 2022-23, with illegal harvesting of wood becoming a major social problem- a ridiculous thing to happen in a developed economy. I assume many in Europe will not find it acceptable for the environment to take another one for the team over Ukraine’s borders, though they may be too stressed to care.
So, here Europe sits, on the edge of disaster. None of this had to happen. Granted, Putin also could have chosen to not invade Ukraine, but NATO could have simply told Ukraine it wouldn’t be invited to join the alliance. Everyone knew Russia would react, and if not with an invasion most likely with freezing out Europe and creating this situation anyhow. However, Russia did want to keep trading throughout the war, and European leaders made this decision to destroy their own economies with these counterproductive sanctions regimes. Meanwhile, Russia has massively increased trade with China and India, meaning their oil still has buyers so their energy business not being seriously harmed. Though those countries are receiving oil at a discount, it is well above production costs. This all means that Europe ceded what leverage it did have over Russia, and clearly Europe needs Russia far more than Russia needs Europe. On top of this all, the cheap energy for China and India both acts as an insult to the European public and will allow those countries to increase their economic dominance as Europe collapses. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a trend of Europeans emigrating to their former colonies in search of a higher quality of life, similar to the phenomenon of working age Americans moving to Mexico City.
But more than anything, what will happen in Europe is some people will freeze to death, others will lose their jobs and/or homes, and people will get increasingly angry until the whole continent is a powder keg of public resentment. The ruling class will try to direct anger at Putin and Russians, but they won’t fool enough of the population to get away with it. Some of the public is already in the streets in Prague, pointing the blame squarely at NATO:
In a place like Naples heating is mostly a matter of comfort and cost, but Berlin is inland and as far north as the southern tip of Alaska. The winter’s in northern Europe are horribly cold, and the ample fuel of Europe’s forests is the only reason it ever became so widely inhabited: living in that climate requires ample fuel. It is not just a matter of poverty- it is a matter of life and death. In Poland, where Russia can legitimately be seen as a serious threat, the public may willingly weather what hardship they must- and Poles are more experienced with hardship, though the communists always still had Russian fuel. But in Paris, London, and Berlin, the man on the street has nothing to do with this war and is not going to eat cold dinner in the dark while Granny freezes to death to ensure that Ukraine keeps its 30 odd years-old post-Soviet borders. Especially when their military strategy is failing anyway, something which they can only hide for so long. I’ve wondered this whole time if Ukraine was intentionally used as a sacrificial pawn, or if the West thought this would go much differently [I’m confident they thought the economic aspects would play differently as this has been of no benefit to them.] However, sooner or later, sooner, surely, the politicians will have to fix this problem. Their only solution will be to go begging to Putin for Russian oil, and then, they will be forced to sacrifice Ukraine. The most ironic part remains that all of this is literally the worst possible thing that could have happened to Ukraine if Ukraine agreed to stay neutral. Instead in a collective madness Ukraine and the West did everything possible to bring about their own demise, and Putin holding personal moral responsibility for choosing to invade doesn’t change that.
I will leave you with a Thucydides quote:
“In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants and so proves to be a rough master that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes. Revolution thus ran its course from city to city…”
Indeed, we will soon be seeing the true character of formerly prosperous men forced to choose between food and heat, and then, I imagine, things will become very difficult for the political class which engineered the collapse of Europe through sheer incompetence and hubris.
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