I have a new article up at Discourse arguing that “all of our existing politics is based on avoiding [the] unavoidable fact” that “civilization requires cheap energy.”
The specific prompt for this is the energy crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine, which is threatening to lead to an industrial collapse in Germany—one of the first and greatest industrial nations. But as I point out, this war is just exposing the results of a long-standing Germany policy, called the Energiewende or “energy transformation,” an attempt to phase out fossil fuels in favor of “renewable” energy. The result is a transition to an inadequate and massively more expensive energy infrastructure.
I also look at the background of Germany’s Green Party and the reason for its opposition to nuclear energy.
At the same time, Energiewende has also targeted Germany’s nuclear power plants, slating all of them for phase-out. This might seem nonsensical if the goal is to fight global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, a policy that would suggest building more nuclear plants. But opposition to nuclear power was one of the primary, original goals of the Green Party when it was formed in 1980, before global warming came to prominence as an issue. It is part of the party’s political DNA and a key psychological block for its supporters. (See an amusing history of this as reflected in the evolving lyrics of a song by the German electronic music group Kraftwerk.) As Environment Ministry spokesman Michael Shroeren put it, “I have fought for almost 50 years to phase out nuclear power. Now, just before the last ones go off the grid, I’m not going to let them steal my success.”
To get an idea of how deeply committed the Greens are to this program, they have even opposed funding research into fusion energy, which doesn’t raise the same concerns about radiation and nuclear waste. It is as if deindustrialization, rather than being an unintended consequence of their cause, is their cause. This is no surprise for a movement that echoes a long tradition of German agrarian Romanticism.
Now we are beginning to see the results in practice: large-scale economic crisis.
I go on to discuss why we need energy and why it is central and fundamental to human activity.
Most of what we want requires moving things or heating things. It requires melting steel in a furnace, or baking bricks, or moving the tools on an assembly line or moving the wheels of the trains and trucks that deliver those goods to their ultimate users.
All of that work has to be done with something more than the muscles of humans or animals. Think of a car that has 200 horsepower, typical for a mid-sized sedan. That measure indicates exactly what the words say: a quantity of energy roughly equivalent to the muscles of 200 horses. Every part of a wealthy, developed, industrialized society is moved and maintained by power on this scale, which can only be provided by artificial, man-made sources of power.
We need this energy for making things, but also for going places, and even for moving bits around on the internet….. Making human life longer, better, more fulfilling and more comfortable will always require the creation and transportation of goods in physical form, which will always require huge amounts of energy.
I also want to draw your attention to a link I include in passing in that article which is worth reading in its own right.