Solving the energy crisis by democratic methods

The war on Ukraine is intensifying the energy crisis in Europe. While poorer parts of the people in particular suffer from rising energy costs, they offer an opportunity for corporations from the US, Qatar, and other states: They try to profit from Europe’s blackmailing through dependence on Russian gas, and offer themselves as an alternative. How should democratic forces behave within this energy policy competition of imperialist powers? Some socio-ecological reflections on strengthening a third position.

As if they had anticipated the Ukraine war and the escalation of the gas dispute, thousands of activists of the German climate justice network Ende Gelände already put their finger in the wound last year: They occupied gas infrastructure in Brunsbüttel, where a terminal for tankers loaded with liquid natural gas is to be built – among others for gas from the USA and Qatar. The war over Ukraine opens up the possibility for gas corporations from these countries to present themselves as saviours of the West in the fight against Russian imperialism. And with this self-presentation, which is diligently reproduced by liberal media, a rollback in climate policy is emerging: In the middle of the climate crisis, the construction of new infrastructure for fossil fuels is now even to be rushed.

The dispute over gas is one of the central issues for the ruling class in Europe in relation to the war on Ukraine. Above all, because it makes the war economically noticeable in Europe as well. After the rising prices of food, gasoline and diesel, gas is now also becoming more expensive. For private households and, the bigger problem for the ruling class, also for industry. The fact that leading German politicians are now threatening to expropriate German daughter companies of the Russian gas giants Gazprom and Rosneft shows how massive the crisis is.

US fracking gas does not solve any problem

Green German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, spearhead of a German imperialism that considers itself progressive, was recently in Qatar to negotiate gas deals with the Islamist monarchy. But Saad Sharida al-Kaabi, Qatari energy minister, put the brakes on the German minister – Qatar already has long-term contracts with other states, including China. That, in turn, strengthens the negotiating position of the U.S., which, under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, has already been quite aggressive in promoting the export of U.S. gas to Europe, in part to tie the EU more closely to itself in the conflict with Russia.

And because Qatar cannot supply Europe, what was long considered taboo is suddenly conceivable again: the import of fracked U.S. gas. Fracking involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into deep layers of methane-bearing shale rock. This breaks up the rock and the gas escapes. The chemicals used in fracking are unclear because the gas companies keep it secret, which is one of the main criticisms of the method. In the USA, where fracking has been carried out on a large scale for many years at around 500,000 wells, accidents have already occurred, contaminating agricultural land and groundwater.

Worsening the climate crisis

But that’s not even the main problem: Various studies from the U.S. and the U.K. have concluded that the use of natural gas is at least as harmful in the long term as other fossil fuels such as lignite or hard coal. This is because gas already escapes during extraction, on average eight percent of the extraction volume. And methane gas is at least 25 times more harmful to the climate than CO2, so one ton of methane gas contributes 25 times more to the greenhouse effect than one ton of CO2.

In the view of researchers Amanda Levin and Christina Swanson of the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. attempts to increase its LNG production and exports could actually destroy any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial times). The 130 million to 213 million metric tons of new greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. that would be caused by tripling exports between 2020 and 2030 is equivalent to adding up to 45 million more cars to the road each year.

The solution is to decentralize…

The switch to U.S. gas is not a lesser evil or a bridge technology to a more green age but a continuation of an energy policy that benefits only big corporations and makes the rich richer while destroying the environmental basis of human survival. It is a continuation of an energy policy that becomes an extension of the power-complex, a continuation of ecological warfare.

If U.S. gas is not an alternative to Russian gas, what are we to heat with? How are we to operate industrial plants that have run on gas up to now? Technical solutions to these questions have been under development for decades: Heat pumps use geothermal energy to heat rooms, solar thermal uses the power of the sun, and pallet heaters form a closed loop because wood grows back, binding CO2 again in the process. What all these solutions have in common is that they are not only almost CO2-neutral, but also that they are suitable for decentralized energy supply. The future does not lie in dependence on large power plants, which not only mean a bundling of energy but also of power, but rather, where technically feasible, in communal self-sufficiency. This applies to heating as well as to the generation of electricity.

…and is beyond capitalism

But a radical energy transition must go deeper than simply making other sources of heating energy and electricity available. Studies make it clear that a purely technical solution is not enough, because it does not reduce the amount of energy consumed and the greenhouse gas emissions linked to it fast enough. We also need to use radically less energy. Which is not to say that we should all freeze now in winter, or throw the refrigerator out the window. Rather, it’s about curbing the production of goods. There is probably no one left in the climate movement who doesn’t know that we produce too much, too many things that cost resources and whose production emits CO2 into the atmosphere.

The fact that too much is produced, and no small amount ends up in the garbage to stabilize market prices, is also called growth and is one of the basic functions of the capitalist economy. Where all are in competition with each other, all must produce faster and better and above all sell more. But on a limited planet it is not always possible to produce and sell faster and better and more, simply because it is limited. At least not without destroying our ecological basis of survival. We have two choices: Either we sacrifice this basis or we sacrifice capitalism.

It is the task of the climate justice movement and all democratic forces to turn the slogan “System Change Not Climate Change” into concrete concepts. We owe that to ourselves and to future generations. And it is our task to build a movement that is capable of fighting for system change. We have no other choice.

Using the imperialist war

Wars are among the worst things people do to each other. At the same time, wars have often been marked by social upheaval and revolutionary moments. The Paris Commune was a child of war just like the February and October Revolutions in Russia and, to more recent examples, the Rojava Revolution. Every war also carries with it the moral exposure of the rulers who wage it. And the rage of the masses who perish in it. Or who become impoverished because they bear the cost.

Every war is also a war for resources, and it is fossil fuels such as oil and gas that keep fueling the war. So the climate movement needs to ask the question of war and peace, just as the anti-war movement, where it still exists, needs to take on more ecological issues. Again, we can tie in with the work that organizations like Ende Gelände are already doing. The Action Alliance has announced actions against gas infrastructure again this year.