Three significant events this year indicate that we are already in a new Cold War. In early February, China and Russia established an unofficial strategic alliance by announcing “a friendship of no limits” while denouncing the Western democracies. Shortly after, Russia invaded Ukraine. After some initial hesitation and delays, the United States and its Western allies worked together to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia while providing Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid.
A new iron curtain has descended from the Baltic to the South China Sea. One side is a coalition of autocracies led by China and Russia, with illiberal regimes such as Iran and North Korea playing the supporting role. The other side we call the West, led by the United States, including liberal democracies in Europe, South Korea, and Japan. Will the West win this new Cold War?
The West claimed the victory of the last Cold War against Communism not only because of the superiority of liberal democratic values but also because of the economic strengths of the free market, which had created a higher standard of living and enormous wealth. It’s self-evident that freedom and prosperity go hand in hand. In contrast to the economic success of the West were widespread poverty and hunger in Communist countries. People in these countries either fled to the West or demanded political change at home through protests. It’s fair to say that the Berlin Wall fell, and the West won the Cold War, mainly because of its economic advantages over Communist regimes.
In today’s new Cold War, however, the West is losing its economic advantage because of its self-defeating energy policies driven by a cult-like devotion to addressing “climate change.” Aiming to slow down global warming (although our planet only warmed 1 degree Celsius since the late 19th century) and bring the greenhouse emissions back to the pre-industrial revolution level, liberal elites have decided to rapidly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. They refuse to admit that despite many technological advancements, renewable energy is not reliable because the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow on demand. According to Lars Schernikau, an energy economist, “practically every wind mill or solar panel requires either a backup or storage.”
The United States and Europe’s ill-advised energy policies have little effect on global warming or greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they have made the West vulnerable in this new Cold War for three reasons.
1. The West Has Inflicted Economic Pain and Lower Standard of Living
The West’s anti-carbon energy policies resulted in energy shortages and high energy prices long before Russia invaded Ukraine. Since food security depends on energy, high energy prices led to food inflation and shortages. Higher prices of food and energy are the main drivers of rising inflation in Europe and the U.S. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated these problems and crystallized how foolish the West’s energy policies are.
For the first time in decades, people in the West must embrace economic pain and a lower standard of living that was familiar to those of us who used to live in Communist countries. Today in Germany, people face a “cost of living crisis,” with shortages of necessities such as cooking oil, flour, and toilet paper. Some local authorities have already limited hot water and traffic lights. Others warned they might have to turn off floodlights in soccer stadiums to conserve energy, something unthinkable for a soccer-crazy nation. But it’s the coming winter that may be most dreadful. If Russia cuts off the natural gas supply, pundits in Germany predict an economic recession and “major civil disorder, a winter of cold showers and extra jumpers.”
Other European nations aren’t faring any better. The continent is on the verge of an energy-driven recession. Fed up with rising fuel prices and local governments’ insistence on their unrealistic “green” policies, Dutch farmers staged protests in the Netherlands. Now similar protests led by farmers have spread to Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland.
Americans have been enduring economic pain too. A survey shows that rising gas and food prices have forced two-thirds of Americans to cut back on restaurants, movies, and entertainment, and to drive less. More than 4 in 10 Americans spent less on groceries. Some families have resorted to switching off lights and air conditioning due to the cost of energy. The survey also shows that the majority of Americans has a pessimistic outlook of our nation’s economy, expecting a recession.
The West cannot win the new Cold War when its green policies lead to economic suffering and political instability at home.
2. The West’s Energy Policies Have Empowered and Enriched Adversaries
Europe’s dependency on Russia’s oil and natural gas has enriched Russian President Vladimir Putin. Without money earned from energy exports to build his war chest, Putin probably would have had to think twice before he invaded Ukraine. After the European Union (EU) imposed economic sanctions on Russia after the invasion, Putin showed how he could use energy to retaliate. Russia reportedly reduced the flow of natural gas through Nord Stream (offshore natural gas pipelines run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany) to about 40 percent of its capacity in recent months. Then it shut down the pipelines for ten days in the name of annual maintenance, when Europe was in the middle of a heat wave. Putin eventually turned the pipelines back on but “warned of possible new capacity shortfalls because of Western sanctions.” French President Emmanuel Macron finally acknowledged that energy has become “a weapon of the war.”
Anticipating the coming winter heating season, the EU urged members to cut back natural gas consumption by at least 15 percent over the next eight months and start to ration energy usage, prioritizing “essential industries.” That means both businesses and homes should expect rolling blackouts, which I was used to when growing up in Communist China. The prospect of no heat in winter may force some EU nations to give up economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for energy. A divided Europe is a win for Putin. If the EU can’t maintain a united front on sanctioning Russia, Putin will win his war in Ukraine. The EU has no one else but itself to blame for this outcome because previous U.S. administrations warned about it for years. But leaders such as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to listen.
While the EU’s green energy policies were enriching Putin’s Russia, in the U.S., the Democrats’ “green” energy has enriched Communist China. U.S. government subsidies for solar panels and electric vehicles have gone to China, since that country dominates the global supply chains of critical components and materials. A rich and powerful China has helped Russia mitigate the effects of Western economic sanctions by purchasing Russia’s agricultural and energy exports. Even more troublesome, China’s “clean” energy producers have been accused of causing environmental pollution and exploiting forced Uyghur laborers.
The West cannot win the new Cold War when it looks to adversaries for energy solutions.
3. The West Faces Difficulties Building a Broader Coalition
When the West led a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 35 countries abstained or voted no. In another vote to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, 58 countries abstained. Some of these “abstainers” are ideologically aligned with Russia. Others refused to join the West’s condemnation due to their economic needs. Their top concerns are food and energy security, not climate change. They are unconvinced that the West’s “green” energy policies worked when they see the once affluent West is now suffering economic pain and instability. They also witnessed how countries such as Sri Lanka collapsed economically and politically after adopting the West’s green policies. Unlike foolhardy climate alarmists in the West, leaders in these countries know that they need affordable fossil fuels, food, and fertilizer exports from Russia, and economic investment from China to keep their people happy and maintain stability. Driven by these practical economic reasons, many nations chose not to take sides. Not surprisingly, the West is having difficulty building a broader and stronger coalition against Russia.
The liberals in the West need to face the reality that not only does the world primarily run on fossil fuels, but energy has also become a powerful weapon in this new Cold War. The West cannot win this new Cold War with its self-defeating anti-carbon energy policies.