Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The unholy trinity

One of the "colleagues" wittering away on the BBC World Tonight programme – I think it was Solana – was at pains to reassure his audience that the Russian energy weapon was not an issue. We need Russia, he said, but Russia also needs us to buy its energy.

That is true, but only up to a point. As Putin has been at pains to point out recently, there are other customers apart from Europe and, if the EU took too strident a line, he could "diversify" Russia's oil and gas export markets.

Then there is the beneficial effect - to Russia - of instability. The prospect of shortages induced by shutting off the taps is bound to send oil and gas prices soaring, which means that Putin and his merry men could quite happily rake in the petrodollars selling very much less for more.

All in all, therefore, even if we could rely on Russia to act logically (by Western definitions) we cannot necessarily rely on our supplier-customer relationship to assure a reliable flow of coal, gas and oil.

EU rhetoric aside, that is undoubtedly the driving force behind the dismally weak performance of the "colleagues" at the Extraordinary European Council meeting yesterday. Almost literally, Russia has Europe over a barrel and the "colleagues" know it. A "paper tiger", as The Times puts it, is the mildest of epithets.

What is not being said often enough though is that the EU's weakness is largely a self-inflicted wound. Separately and collectively, the individual member states have failed to secure reliable energy supplies or coherent energy policies, thus putting themselves in the thrall of Russia.

And, of course, the reason there is no coherence is that energy policy has – as we have pointed out before – been subordinated to the greenie agenda, dominated by the fantasy of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and seasoned by their abhorrence of nuclear power.

In this, we have allowed a situation to develop where we have an unholy trinity of three separate policies – energy, "environment" and foreign policy – which have become hopelessly intertwined, dereliction in the first two engendering impotence in the third.

To deal with Russia, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes yesterday, there is no need to confront the Kremlin in the Caucasus or on the Dnieper. All we need to do is to chip away at its energy wealth. If we can drive oil back down to $70 a barrel, and keep it there, Russia will be reduced to a middling power of 141m people, with a deformed industry, in the grip of an acute demographic decline. It will no longer be a threat.

But, to do that, we need to sort out our energy policy and, for that, we need to break free from the tyranny of the greenie agenda. We need, as John Hutton said recently to put Britain's ability to generate its own energy needs above climate change in Government's priorities.

Clearly, that message has got through as, at the behest of Britain, the Council communiqué included a reference to energy policy, stating:

Recent events illustrate the need for Europe to intensify its efforts with regard to the security of energy supplies. The European Council invites the Council, in cooperation with the Commission, to examine initiatives to be taken to this end, in particular as regards diversification of energy sources and supply routes.
As far as diversification goes, there is only one sensible and realistic option – nuclear energy on a grand scale. Speaking recently to a nuclear energy expert, he advocated the rapid development of pebble bed technology on a scale sufficient not just for base load but to provide our entire peak electricity supply.

During off-peak periods, he then argued, surplus energy should be used for underground coal gasification, producing gas for domestic use and, potentially, vehicle fuel.

With intelligent use of technologies such as anaerobic digestion and careful husbandry of our remaining North Sea oil supplies, there is no reason why the UK could not be energy efficient for decades to come – apart from supplies of uranium (and possibly thorium), which are available from friendly, stable democracies.

As it stands, however, if we continue to allow the dominance of the greenie agenda and the interlinkage of the unholy trinity, not only do we suffer from the lights going out – at enormous expense as we indulge in the fantasy of windmills – but we remain impotent on the world stage. Greenery is no longer an option – not that it ever was. It is now an indulgence we simply cannot afford.