Europe’s Energy Hypocrisy Attracts Increasing Notice
Germany made global news recently when its government approved the demolition of a wind farm and small village to facilitate the expansion of a strip-mining operation for highly-polluting lignite. The lignite will be used to supply formerly mothballed coal power plants being reactivated to help keep homes heated and lights on as winter sets in across the European continent.
Noting this action, along with calls at the recently-concluded COP 27 conference by European delegates for Uganda to delay development of an oil pipeline his country is constructing with Tanzania, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wrote “When decisions like these are being made, and without a shred of self-awareness or honor, it is no surprise some of my counterparts call for reparations or handouts. But this is the last thing Africans need or most want. Dialing down the brazen double-standards is what we desire, along with the lifting of the moratorium on fossil fuel investments for Africa herself so we can meet the needs of our own people.”
I’ve written previously about the displacements in developing nations being caused by Europe’s efforts to hoard global supplies of liquefied natural gas for domestic consumption, causing international prices to rise to unprecedented levels unaffordable for some nations, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to bear. The result has been deprivation of basic human needs and rolling power outages lasting half of each day and more in those and other countries.
Now, media attention is increasingly being focused on the decision by the EU to classify the burning of wood as “green” for the purposes of its climate regulatory structure. This classification and commensurate government subsidization has resulted in a revival of this 18th-century technology, despite that fact that the burning of wood accounts for more than 50% of Europe’s particulate emissions.
The governments of Europe have apparently forgotten that the 18th century de-forestation of its continent and other parts of the world was one of the key drivers behind the transition to burning coal for heating, cooking and transportation purposes during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, in their zeal to get to their somewhat arbitrary “net-zero by 2050” climate goals, European leaders are turning back to this medieval energy technology to burnish their ESG scores.
In a September story titled “Europe is Sacrificing its Ancient Forests for Energy,” the New York Times points out, “Across Central Europe, companies are clear-cutting forests and grinding up centuries-old trees in the name of renewable energy. Pellets are shipped across Western Europe, helping countries reach their renewable-power commitments.” And the cutting down of forests to produce wood pellets for fuel is not limited to the old growth forests of Europe: It’s also happening in the United States, which ranks as one of the biggest exporters of wood pellets to fill European demand.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. exported almost 664 thousand tons of biomass in August of this year, most of it in the form of wood pellets bound for Europe. The cutting of forests in the U.S. for this purpose is most heavily concentrated in the Southeastern region of the country.
In a report in July, Wired wrote “Nearly 60 percent of all the EU’s renewable energy comes from bioenergy—a catch-all term that encompasses any energy sourced from something recently living. That includes agricultural waste, crops grown for biofuel, and—most importantly—wood from forestry industries…Almost all of Sweden’s urban heating is generated by district heating systems, which mostly burn wood produced by the country’s vast and influential forestry industries.”
As Europe’s mostly self-inflicted energy crisis spreads its ancillary impacts across the globe, the apparent hypocrisy present in these and other policy actions is becoming more than some developing nations leaders are willing to quietly bear. President Musevini points to another example of these conflicting priorities in his message to COP 27: “Now with Europe reinvesting in its own fossil fuel power industry to bring mothballed power plants back online, in a truly perverse twist we are told new Western investment in African fossil fuels is possible—but only for oil and gas resources that will be piped and shipped to Europe. This is the purest hypocrisy.”
It is a compelling point that is becoming increasingly difficult to argue against. As Europe continues to export its energy crisis to other nations that lack the financial resources to compete, fewer are going to be willing to try.