A global energy crisis escalates. The world is worrying about gas prices. Germans are turning down their heatings. Peru has seen violent protests - and a violent crackdown on them - over rising fuel costs.

Nigeria's national energy grid recently collapsed. And that's just this spring. Focused on the future, the United Nations Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change warned in a report on April 4 that too much investment is going into fossil fuels and too little into the energy transition that could prevent a devastating increase in global temperatures.

This persistent, simmering crisis around energy, its cost and the politics around it will not end soon.

It's not just international politics that are being shaped by the sustainability of present energy consumption. Domestic politics are being shaken up, too.

By damning oil companies that aren't ramping up production, Mr. Biden has decided to privilege the voters desperate for lower immediate prices over the Democrats who insist the climate crisis should remain the priority.

For the European Union, the fact that European consumers are filling Moscow's war coffers has forced unpalatable ethical issues to the surface. As the prime minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, asked the Italians:

''Do you prefer peace or the air conditioning on?''

But the reality is, as Robert Habeck, Germany's vice chancellor and economic minister, acknowledged before departing on a trip to gas-rich Qatar last month, there is no ''value-based'' fossil fuel energy strategy for European countries other than importing all their energy needs from the United States, Canada or Australia, which is impossible.

In Europe, an innocence about energy has been shredded and won't readily be restored. There, the Western political taboo about talking about reducing energy consumption by means other than greater efficiency is morally exhausted.

It remains to be seen whether in the United States, ghosts of President Jimmy Carter's failed exhortations for sacrifices to personal comfort [wearing sweaters indoors, for instance] as a way to restore American energy independence will prove any less fleeting.

Thanks to shale, the United States is the world's largest oil and gas producer, rendering the country's energy politics vastly different from that in most European countries, where foreign-energy dependency has been an uncomfortable fact of life for more than a century.

What does this mean for the most existential geopolitical issue of all - CLIMATE CHANGE?

Back in 2019, an energy transformation to address the climate crisis appeared on the horizon. Across the world, more new renewable power was added than ever before, and sustainability-minded investors looked to pour capital into green energy innovation.

Several Group of 7 governments passed legislation to establish legally binding net-zero targets for 2050.

But over 2021, as prices rose, optimism dissipated. Mr. Biden's signature climate change bill stalled in Congress. In Britain, the Committee on Climate Change set up to advise Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government reported that the country was nowhere near hitting its transition targets because ''the policy is just not there.'' 

As much of Europe experienced low winds in 2021, it became clear that much work was to be done to operate electricity grids based on renewables.

There were a number of factors, but the overall impact was the same. Now the momentum has changed again. For the green transition, the renewed public awareness that the supply of hydrocarbons does not take care of itself, even as Western governments promise to curtail their use, is - paradoxically - a step forward.

If governments and citizens are serious about transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward green energy, a necessary transformation that requires nothing less than changing the material basis of modern civilization, than they will have to admit that oil, gas and coal - the energy sources of the past, on which we continue to rely - can't be taken for granted.

Their extraction and use are inseparable from the difficult work of politics. That is evident today. Let's hope we can remember it for the future.

The World Students Society thanks author Helen Thompson 


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