How pleasant it is to watch an idea fall apart. Especially when it is an idea held by people you don’t particularly care for. In recent years all of the democracies have been plagued by green parties. The kindest interpretation of them is that they provide a wake-up call of some sort: a reminder that we should be kind to our planet, that sort of thing. But in every country they got too free a ride. They ended up preaching catastrophism to a supplicant media. And they ended up demanding that we all get off fossil fuels yesterday without any satisfactory explanation of how we were meant to keep the lights on today. That pleasant period for them came to a halt this year, when that old friend of conservatives — reality — kicked in.
When Vladimir Putin chose to invade Ukraine in February, one of the things that was finally brought to greater public attention was Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. In recent years countries such as Germany were very happy to rely on Russian gas for their energy needs. At the same time they were thrilled to be able to cover themselves in a green veneer by shutting down their nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
Four years ago, at the United Nations General Assembly, the then-president Donald Trump spoke about the dangers of such reliance. As he put it:
Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course. Here in the western hemisphere, we are committed to maintaining our independence from the encroachment of expansionist foreign powers.
But the Germans, and everybody else, knew better.
While Trump has never been the world’s best vessel for the communication of truth, what he said in this case was right. Yet the world couldn’t help making fun of him. Germany’s representatives at the UN did it right there and then, smirking, shaking their heads and laughing performatively while President Trump spoke. Their reaction went viral online, and traditional media followed suit. “The German delegation had the best reaction to Trump’s UN speech” was how Bloomberg reported it, while the Washington Post went with: “Trump accused Germany of becoming ‘totally dependent’ on Russian energy at the UN. The Germans just smirked.”
Well, they’re not smirking now — particularly as Russia has just shut down Nord Stream 1 for seventy-two hours of “maintenance.” And least smirky of all are the Greens. For the German Greens do not have the luxuries of opposition afforded to their counterparts in the UK and US. In Germany the Greens have been part of the coalition government since last year and have therefore had to face up to the realities, not to mention the burdens, of power.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed on Russia, the Russians have been happy to play tit-for-tat by holding Europe’s gas supply hostage. One result of this is that the German Greens have had to grow up awfully fast.
Hitherto their stated policies have been all the usual stuff. They want renewable resources to be the main source of energy today and want to get off fossil fuels and nuclear energy now. Sensible critics point out that while we wouldn’t mind if the technology was already in place, the fact is that it isn’t. Maybe it will be in the coming years, but it isn’t right now. Still, like all of their European counterparts, the German Greens continued to pretend that their critics were dogmatists with a positive fetish for fossil fuels rather than the realists that they actually are.
Now the Greens are having to make a great energy leap. As members of the German government they are staring close up at the realities of soaring energy prices. They are having to face the prospect of the lights going off this winter, and of public buildings in major cities such as Hamburg already trying to ration the amount of electricity they use. The Greens’ demand that everybody else join them in a fantastical leap has now reversed into the Greens recognizing that their society simply is not ready.
In June Robert Habeck, the co-leader of the Green Party and vice-chancellor of Germany, announced that the country would be significantly increasing its use of coal power to counter the effect of the Russian energy lock. So right there is the Green Party signing up for fossil fuels. Next is nuclear. The German Greens grew partly out of the country’s 1970s anti-nuclear movement. They cheered Angela Merkel on as she scheduled the shutting down of Germany’s three remaining power plants. For while Frau Merkel saw no danger in relying on Russian gas she did think that nuclear energy was a great risk.
In recent days German officials announced they would be reversing the policy of shutting down nuclear power plants. The Greens seem to be aware that for them this would be the final hurdle. Habeck has ruled out the idea of keeping the nuclear plants. It is not an enviable position that he and his party are in.
On the one hand, they could make the leap on nuclear as they did on fossil fuels — but then would they be a green party any more? One imagines not. On the other hand, they can try to stick to just one of their principles and either crash the government or see themselves held responsible this winter when the lights go off in Germany.
It is an uncomfortable position, to be sure, but a pleasant one to observe. It would be pleasanter still if other people in the green movements across the West observed it too.
Britain has just withstood another burst of middle-class maniacs attacking and vandalizing gas stations to try to force citizens off gasoline. Because I don’t know about you, but whenever I get to the pump and see that it isn’t working, I immediately ditch the car for good and go about the rest of my life on foot. But I wish these “activists” and the other greenies noticed what is happening to their counterparts in Germany. For there a pipe dream is meeting reality. And reality is winning, as she so often does.