• Grid Brief
  • Posts
  • Coal Dominoes // Biden's Green Wing Goes Fifth Column // Degrowth Goes Belly Up

Coal Dominoes // Biden's Green Wing Goes Fifth Column // Degrowth Goes Belly Up

Coal Dominoes

The new EU ban on Russian coal means yet another global tightening of supply. The energy crisis began last fall and has been bumping up energy prices since then. The Ukraine war has only made things worse. But the new coal sanctions will domino across natural gas and electricity.

Coal is used primarily in two ways: to produce steel (metallurgical or "met" coal) and to create electricity (thermal or "steam" coal). According to Bloomberg, "The Russian share of the EU’s imports of thermal coal is almost 70%, with Germany and Poland particularly reliant."

If Europe wants coal, it needs to import across vast distances--South Africa, Colombia, Indonesia, the US, and Australia. Transport costs will also increase as trade flows transition. 

Tsvetana Paraskova writes, "Europe will face challenges in getting alternative supply, even at high costs, considering that the global coal market is already very tight. Major exporters such as Australia and Indonesia will have a limited amount of coal to spare for Europe, considering the freight costs and long voyages and the continued high coal demand in Asia."

If Europe experiences a spike in electricity prices from this, and that seems highly likely, it might deepen the divide between countries who want to ban the rest of Russian energy, and those who can't. It might even generally dampen the appetite for more energy sanctions.

Biden's Green Wing Goes Fifth Column

At the outset of his presidency, Biden issued an executive order on climate change. A report on fossil fuel leasing practices from the Department of the Interior was published on Black Friday last year in response to the order. The report "focuses primarily on necessary reforms to the fiscal terms, leasing process, and remediation requirements related to the federal oil and gas programs." For the Western Environmental Law Center, and the groups it's representing in a lawsuit against the DOI, this isn't enough.

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, WELC's executive director, went on SPG's Capitol Crude podcast to discuss the lawsuit, which aims to find out if the report came in light due to political favors. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry finds itself tangled in an adversarial relationship with the White House. 

The Biden administration finds itself in a difficult situation: on the one hand, they have to try to please their green wing, which is eager to seek reprisals for anything less than complete adherence to its demands. On the other, they have the needs of the rest of the American people, who despise inflation and high energy prices. The mid-terms look grim for Democrats.

Degrowth Goes Belly Up

The above graphic comes from a new report out from Lancet entitled, "National Responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017." The Guardian reported on it enthusiastically. Jason Hickel, a famous degrowth advocate, holds the first publishing credit. 

Here's what the paper "finds": "High-income nations are responsible for 74% of global excess material use, driven primarily by the USA (27%) and the EU-28 high-income countries (25%). China is responsible for 15% of global excess material use, and the rest of the Global South (ie, the low-income and middle-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) is responsible for only 8%."

If you're wondering how they calculated the excess: "Hickel and the paper’s other authors distributed fair shares of globally sustainable levels of resource use to countries based on population size. They then subtracted these shares from the countries’ actual resource use to determine ecological overshoots in the 1970–2017 period."

Apparently, we've only been using excessive resources since the seventies.

The long and the short of the report is that everyone, starting with people in the developed world, is going to have to get poorer to survive climate change. Though the authors of the report will deny that. Hickel told the Guardian that his report should encourage wealthy countries “to stop focusing on GDP growth as a primary objective and organize their economies instead around supporting human wellbeing and reducing inequality." 

The second part about inequality is how many degrowthers worm out of being called Malthusians. And it's also how they duck out of another difficult problem for them: even if the US stopped emitting carbon tomorrow, China and India's coal consumption and need for growth to "reduce inequality" would render it moot. It's what's known as a free-rider problem.

C. Boyden Gray puts it this way: "Put bluntly, disproportionate U.S. mitigation policies com­pared to the rest of the world are a form of foreign aid that enlarges China and India’s 'carbon budgets.' China and India understand this reality, which is why they have no immediate plans to even begin reducing carbon emissions and likely why they even failed to update their Paris commitments."

The policies inspired by work like Hickels will succeed only in immiserating working Americans out of some warped sense of guilt. 

Conversation Starters

  • Fuel prices have driven Uber, Lyft, and FedEx to impose surcharges. But their drivers and contractors say it's not enough. A fight over who pays for the energy crisis has flared up.

  • Ineos, one of the North Sea's largest oil and gas operators, has asked the UK government for a test site to prove fracking is safe. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has ordered a scientific review of fracking's environmental effects.

  • Truckers and haulers in Ireland plan to bring Dublin to a "standstill" over high fuel costs.

Word of the Day

Nuclear waste


High-level waste (HLW) is highly radioactive material arising from nuclear fission. It can be what is leftover from reprocessing used fuel, though some countries regard spent fuel itself as HLW. It requires very careful handling, storage, and disposal.

Intermediate-level waste (ILW) comprises a range of materials from reprocessing and decommissioning. It is sufficiently radioactive to require shielding and is disposed of in engineered facilities underground.

Low-level waste (LLW) is mildly radioactive material usually disposed of by incineration and burial. (source)

Crom's Blessing

Art historian and critic Robert Hughes. His docu-series on modern art, The Shock of the New, is indispensable.