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How the West Can Win Putin’s Energy War

Summer officially gives way to fall this week, but Europe is already bracing for winter. Despite the Ukrainian military’s impressive counteroffensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin has the capability of inflicting economic pain on countries supporting Ukraine. It is in not just Europe’s, but America’s, national security interest to make sure Putin’s plans for energy blackmail fail. As the Financial Times argues

The energy stand-off between Russia and Europe is reaching high noon. The Kremlin last week shut down indefinitely its main westwards gas pipeline, Nord Stream 1, cutting total Russian gas flows to a fraction of prewar levels and sending prices surging. Vladimir Putin’s calculation is that European countries will prove less able to bear soaring winter energy bills and possible shortages than Russia can withstand western sanctions — and that their unity and resolve will shatter before the spring brings renewed military offensives in Ukraine. With Kyiv’s forces starting to make breakthroughs, the coming energy battle is one that democratic Europe cannot lose.

The hard reality is this is a supply and demand problem, and Putin has the leverage to cut off supply. While the West doesn’t have the ability to increase supply immediately, policymakers do have the ability to make better decisions immediately. 

>>>READ: Biden’s Energy Kill List is Helping Putin

Nick Loris, VP of Public Policy for C3 Solutions, details many of the specific policy decisions we can make today that will increase supply in the future. As he writes in The Climate and Freedom Agenda, increasing American production through permitting reform, increasing our refinery and pipeline capacity, and repealing outdated regulations, among other things, are essential first steps. Doing anything else will encourage further aggression not just from Putin but other potential adversaries like China. 

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Yet, reaching a consensus on those steps will require congressional progressives, in particular, to redefine what it means to be serious about climate change. As Putin plots blackmail, congressional progressives are playing into his hands. Last week, House Democrats doubled down on their myopic war on “Big Oil” while rallying around a Senate candidate who said the way to stop climate change is to “stymie capitalism.” Both approaches give Putin hope that if he holds out long enough American division and naivety will help him regain the momentum. 

As I’ve argued before, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine illustrates the danger of energy dependence. Bad environmental policy can be more dangerous to our natural and economic environment than increased greenhouse gas emissions. Europe’s decision to virtue signal that it was going green at home while outsourcing emissions abroad to Russia fueled Putin’s war machine and encouraged an invasion that has killed thousands, cost billions, and increased the chances of nuclear war and a serious nuclear accident. Congressional progressives now want to double down on Europe’s mistakes.

>>>READ: Far Left Climate Activists are Emboldening Russia

The other side of the aisle should argue that helping Ukraine win, and doing everything in our power to humiliate Putin, will make America safer. While it’s true that few constituents put helping Ukraine on the top of their list, inflation most certainly is. Putin’s actions aren’t the primary cause of inflation – the blame primarily falls on politicians who are big spenders and deficit deniers – but they have contributed to inflation. 

Still, progressives should spend more time rethinking their own policies and less time complaining about Putin’s apologists on the right. Any responsible policymaker and student of history should understand that the American people’s generosity and patience is finite. That patience will wear thin faster if Congress asks taxpayers to effectively subsidize the left’s backward, anti-science and anti-supply energy policy that panders to far-left activists while Putin increases the risks of nuclear war or a nuclear accident. 

The way to win Putin’s energy war is to reach a consensus that security is a prerequisite for innovation. Energy abundance, and the security it creates, provide the conditions for innovation. Capitalism isn’t the problem; it’s the solution. 

Energy historian Vaclav Smil offered an insightful take on the power of capitalism and innovation in a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times.  

Old Romans knew it well: Where difficult matters are at stake, the change is best affected by slow but relentless progress.

Evolutions are always preferable to revolutions and gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed saepe cadendo. [The drop of water hollows out the stone by frequent falling.] We should persevere in doing many small things, and eventually they add up.

Innovation is the steady drop that can cut through stone. This fall, policymakers should rally around the relentless progress facilitated by an “all of the above” energy strategy and reject the leftist “everything but fossil fuel” strategy that puts American workers last and dictators first.  

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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