Omicron: Some small positive signs.
Cosas de España/Galiza
The Prime Minister will meet with regional leaders tomorrow to discuss possible new reactions to the Covid surge. It’s reported that experts are warning that existing measures are inefficient but regional presidents – as with many of Boris Johnson’s cabinet – are reluctant to to take tougher steps. More on this here
There’s more abuse-related trouble for the Catholic Church – this time in Spain, with abuse claims going back 80 years.
This news is brought to you by a guest octopus . . The Spanish multinational, Nueva Pescanova seems appears to have beaten companies in Mexico, Japan and Australia, to win the race to start an octopus farm in Spain. Sensible people are resisting these because octopi are clever creatures. Even smarter than dolphins. Imagine a dolphin farm!
Talking of seafood . . . I bought some smoked mackerel in piri-piri sauce today. It said ‘Mild’ on the packet, next to the ‘one pepper’ symbol. But it was possibly the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten. Maybe I’m out of practice.
Nice. And True. The prime minister’s best hope of avoiding restrictions is that people have not been listening to his advice. In a striking illustration of the political uncertainty that is hampering pandemic decision-making, Boris Johnson last night effectively threw control of Omicron over to millions of individual choices.
Btw . . . I said yesterday that, in the New World, cork tops had been replaced by screw tops. But the UK is very much of the Old World, of course
Europe’s energy crisis is fast turning into a political and strategic disaster, says our resident Casandra, AEP. See the article below
Startling news . . . Brigitte Macron is to sue over an “outlandish” conspiracy theory being spread by extreme right-wingers that she was born a man before undergoing a sex change. The lie is being spread by French extremists close to QAnon, the American movement that claims the US is in the grip of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. I wonder what they think Boris Johnson really is.
Finally . . .
A topical funny I might have already posted . . .
If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.
Europe’s energy crisis is fast turning into a political and strategic disaster. All the fateful consequences of Angela Merkel’s decision to wind down Germany’s nuclear fleet after Fukushima in 2011 are before our eyes: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph
Germany will shut down three nuclear plants forever next week, slashing clean and reliable baseload power in the middle of winter and during the worst energy crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
The three reactors generate 4.2 gigawatts of zero-carbon electricity between them. They are relatively young. Gundremmingen and Grohnde were both commissioned in 1984. Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein was state-of-the-art when it was opened in 1986. They could have continued for another twenty-five years or so until Germany’s green infrastructure was in place.
Olaf Scholz’s coalition government is going ahead with this long-planned closure despite pleas for a stay of execution from a chorus of global climate campaigners, including Bill Gates and Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist who first alerted Washington to global warming. Another three reactors will go at the end of 2022.
It is closing good plants just as Vladimir Putin prepares an invasion force on Ukraine’s border, and restricts flows of natural gas as a tool of strategic leverage.
The Kremlin calculus is by now obvious: Europe has manoeuvred itself into such a vulnerable position on energy security that it will have to accept Russia’s core demands, essentially the Finlandisation of Ukraine and certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – on Mr Putin’s monopolistic terms, and in breach of EU energy law and the Treaties.
The whole of Europe’s integrated energy nexus has now gone into extreme convulsions, combining by twist of fate with the most contagious and divisive wave of the pandemic so far.
Dutch TTF gas futures – the benchmark price of gas on the Continent – reached an all-time high of €153 MWh this morning for January contracts, eight times the level a year ago.
All the fateful consequences of Angela Merkel’s decision to wind down Germany’s nuclear fleet after Fukushima in 2011 are before our eyes: strategic paralysis as Russia attempts overthrow the post Cold War settlement; extended reliance on the dirtiest lignite coal at home; exorbitant energy prices; and the looming threat of blackouts this winter (industrial brown-outs have already begun).
The French have their own lesser version of this following the passage of the Green Growth Act six years ago, which stipulates that the country must cut reliance on nuclear power to 50pc of electricity use by 2025 (an odd definition of green). This has led to the premature closure of two reactors at Fessenheim, the final one last year.
Angela Merkel’s decision – allegedly after a bottle of Italian wine one evening with her husband, a quantum chemist – was taken before coherent alternatives were at hand. The political drift ever since has been a textbook case of ideological inertia in the face of changing facts.
Rainer Klute, from the German pro-fission group Nuklearia, said there is no technical reason why the three plants cannot be kept running this winter as an emergency measure to mitigate a near certain crisis.
“There are staff shortages and it is too late to get fresh fuel but these problems can be mitigated. We are told by workers at the plants that it is possible to run them on spent fuel, even if that means less power,” he said.
“But you would have to change the nuclear law and nobody wants to do that. The decision is written in stone, even though the majority of Germans are again in favour of nuclear power,” he said.
The Greens in the new coalition are certainly not going to do a nuclear U-turn as the first order of business. The party has its origins in the anti-nuclear movement, nourished in the 1980s by Gudun Pausewang’s novel Fall-Out on the terrifying aftermath of a German ‘Chernobyl’.
Scientists have since determined that the world has less of a safety margin against runaway climate change than previously thought, and therefore that decarbonisation is the more urgent imperative. But the Greens still cannot bring themselves to make hard choices. They are at once anti-nuclear and anti-coal, and unfriendly to gas as a net-zero bridge fuel, which does not leave much to power the industrial workhorse of Europe.
Yet it is the whole political establishment of Western Europe that is responsible for laying the Continent at Mr Putin’s feet, and for wishful thinking on gas storage. Depleted inventories never recovered fully over the summer, both because Gazprom was holding back top-up flows, and because East Asia was gobbling up the world’s supply of liquefied natural gas.
China saw the danger and gave an order to secure LNG at any price as a matter of regime survival. Europe did not. Its inventories are now critically low.
German storage is at 57pc of capacity, compared to 78pc at this juncture in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. Dutch storage is at 41pc, and Austria is down to 37pc, levels not normally seen until a full month deeper into the winter. Russian flows through the Polish and Ukraine pipelines remain minimalist. The European Commission is proposing the creation of a strategic gas reserve for the future, but that will not make any difference in this crisis.
Day-ahead electricity prices have exploded to €431 MWh in Germany, and to €443 in France, testing the viability of the steel, aluminium, cement, and chemical sectors. “We’re way past the point where these industries are uneconomic. They will have to start shutting down,” said Thierry Bros, an energy consultant who used to run supply security for the French government.
The political class faces the invidious choice of keeping households warm or diverting scarce supplies to energy-intensive companies with subsidies to match. One or other must give.
The UK is of course in the same boat since it has subcontracted its storage to the EU to save a few pennies, which has in turn subcontracted the task to the Kremlin, via Gazprom-controlled sites on EU territory. The British do at least produce half their own gas from the North Sea and have a strategic relationship with Qatar – valuable when the chips are down – but all fates are linked by cross-Channel interconnectors.
Or at least they should be. Mr Bros says he fears that countries will hoard their own supplies of energy when push comes to shove. The only question is which government will strike first. “I believe that Macron will not be re-elected if there is a black-out in France. I assume he won’t allow exports, if this entails cutting gas and power to French industry,” he said.
“His lawyers will look through French law to find some pretext. Brussels would have to start infringement proceedings against France but that would take months, and by then winter would be over,” he said.
Europe’s energy crunch is rapidly turning into a broader political crisis for the EU system and the credibility of the political class, which has failed in a fundamental task of planning and administration.
It is running in parallel with a Covid wave that is again exposing grave deficiencies in health care systems, and as a result is leading to drastic forms of social coercion as the next line of defence.
“Tolerance for blackouts in the middle of winter is even lower than tolerance of lockdowns. I don’t see how any government can survive if that happens,” said Mr Bros.
The political landscape may look very different once these twin shocks have played themselves out in a weary and irascible population. The mood is unforgiving almost everywhere.