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Russia’s biggest weapon (and China’s too) is fossil fuel energy  

Hon. Don Ritter

March 2023

Russia’s biggest weapon (and China’s too) is fossil fuel energy  

Russia’s biggest weapon (and China’s too) is fossil fuel energy  

US focus on climate change and fossil fuel suppression is courting a national security disaster

The capacity of a modern economy to produce food and goods for its citizens, and weapons and fuel for its military to project power, are the undeniable twin pillars of global power. Both depend on reasonably priced and readily available energy.

Almost 80% of America’s energy is supplied by oil, gas and coal. Only 20% comes from other sources such as hydropower, nuclear, wind and solar. Even the greenest’ of economies will need fossil fuel backup when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Wind and solar provide 5% of our total consumption and only 2% of the energy to power some 290 million vehicles.

In other words, American literally runs and fights on fossil fuels.

Russia, despite an economy smaller than Italy’s, has shown it could defy all international norms and invade a neighboring country because it has abundant energy.

Weapons, and more weapons. First it was Javelins, then Howitzers, then HIMARS, then anti-missile and drone capability, then longer range ATACMS, then better tanks, now F-16s. Who can tell what the next weapon will be needed to defend against Russian aggression?

Russia has its weapons, too, and they are being paid for by the sale of oil, gas, coal, and fossil fuel-derived products like petrochemicals, fertilizers, etc. Russian missiles, planes, drones, tanks and artillery that shed Ukrainian blood and destroy homes, hospitals and electric-power stations are bought with Russia’s fossil fuel revenues.

Energy is Russia’s greatest weapon as it makes possible all the others. Only with such revenues can Russia continue its devastation of Ukraine. A new Russian offensive is brewing, and it too will be financed by its energy revenues.  Russians from Putin on down are talking about a much longer war because they have the revenues to support one and they don’t have to worry about a citizen-taxpayer revolt or getting reelected.

While the U.S. and Europe have restricted their purchases and consumption of Russian energy, it is sold elsewhere. That energy sells at a discount, but Russia is still earning hundreds of billions of dollars from energy sales and thus able to continue its war for as long as Putin wants. In spite of sanctions, Russia sold over $350 worth of fossil fuels in 2022. In the meantime German keeps its fracking ban.

To achieve peace in Europe and avoid potential wars elsewhere, one would think that America and the West would be increasing their own supply of oil, gas and coal and driving down prices on the global market. Such initiative would also give fence-sitting counties like India and Brazil in the “Global South” alternative sources to substitute for Russian products.

One would also think that the West would understand that its ability to replenish weapons and ammunition being sent to Ukraine and resist aggression, anywhere, like Taiwan for example, is based on production, shipment and fueling with fossil fuels and decidedly not on wind and solar. There will never be and electric tank!

And why not drive down drive down the price that Russia receives for its energy, while providing the economic and military security derived from fossil fuels? The answer from Europe and now America has been an emphatic “no.” Apparently, addressing the computer-modeled “climate crisis” takes priority over national defense, stopping Russian aggression in Europe, and securing reliable, affordable energy to power modern industrial economies and living standards.

The alternative – simultaneously furthering the technology of renewables like wind and solar while building up fossil fuels within an “all of the above” approach – is anathema to those who believe religiously that climate change is an existential threat. Ironically, the same people are happy to substitute U.S. fossil fuels with oil from dictatorships like Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia. They don’t seem concerned that wind, solar and battery supply chains run mostly through Communist China.

An “all of the above” energy strategy would make it harder for Russia to finance its war, save Ukrainian lives and mitigate their suffering. It would show that America was willing to challenge Russia’s energy dominance now and into the future.

Sadly, the very opposite is happening. The U.S. is killing energy transport pipelines, curtailing permitting of refineries and natural gas export facilities, suppressing oil and gas leasing and drilling and, worst of all, stifling longer-term investment in the industry. Driven by an all-encompassing determination to limit CO2 emissions, Europe, and now America, have declared war of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Russia and China burn oil, gas and coal and emit greenhouse gases at levels that dwarf the West’s.

Governments in Europe and now in America have utterly failed to see that, by suppressing fossil fuels, they are ceding enormous power to countries like Russia, Iran and China – who use those very fossil fuels to strengthen their own economies and military power and threaten others.

Energy has been weaponized and the West is in full energy-disarmament mode. The West is forfeiting its ability to gain peace through strength, with energy being the all-encompassing weapon in national and alliance arsenals.

The Russian people have experienced far greater suffering when total war was being waged on their own territory and millions perished. This time, the Russian people don’t feel the brunt of the war, so the pressure to end it is limited it and Russia’s vast fossil fuel revenues are available to continue it, perhaps for years.

It is doubtful that that support for Ukraine from potentially fickle Western democracies could last that long.

National economies and nations’ militaries still run on fossil fuels. There is no substitute for fossil fuel dominance, even on a longer-term horizon. To believe and act otherwise is suicidal. It’s the real “existential threat.”

Don Ritter holds a Science Doctorate from MIT and served fourteen years on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce and Science and Technology Committees. He was a National Academy of Sciences Fellow in the USSR, speaks fluent Russian, and was Ranking Member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission and founding Co-Chair of the Baltic States-Ukraine Caucus.

After leaving Congress he created and led the National Environmental Policy Institute. He is a founder and President & CEO Emeritus of the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce, and a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), where he co-chairs the Museum Capital Campaign.

 

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  • A Cautionary Tale on Climate Policy

A Cautionary Tale on Climate Policy

William L. Kovacs

February 2020

A Cautionary Tale on Climate Policy

The year is 1433. The last of the ships from the seven voyages of China’s Treasure Fleet, those massive ships that displayed the might of China to all the kingdoms of the Indian Ocean, returned home to political division. The Mandarins (bureaucrats) and the eunuchs (the navy and merchant class allies) were in political battles. When the emperor who funded the great expeditions dies, his son, with the support of the Mandarins and fear of the merchant class, orders the fleet controlled by the navy, be grounded, the records destroyed and overseas trade forbidden.

Scholars posit the Mandarins burned the ships because the political elites were afraid of free trade. With the records destroyed, no one knows what happened other than China’s leaders, based on fear, made radical political decisions that thrust China into poverty for almost 600 years.

Listening to the Democrats’ debate and reading the President’s tweets, one wonders if our “leaders” are using fear to support equally, long-lasting, radical political decisions?

Harris, Sanders and Warren want to ban all oil and gas fracking. Senators Warren and Sanders want to forgive all student indebtedness when these loans constitute 45% of the financial assets held by the federal government.  All of them want to provide a lot of free things, while few realize each citizen’s share of the national debt today is $67,000 and rising quickly.

It’s not only Democrats on the edge of the abyss. President Trump imposes high tariffs on almost everything the U.S. buys from China, and China retaliates. Then he usurps Congress’ power to appropriate by transferring military funds to fulfill his campaign promise of a “wall”,  while alluding he can stop certain wars immediately by using nuclear weapons.

And if those radical proposals are not enough, Senator Sanders, proposes spending  $16.3 trillion to fight climate change by eliminating all fossil fuels by 2050.

Eighty percent of the energy used by the U.S. is fossil fuels. These fuels heat homes, power vehicles, keep factories running and lights on. Petrochemicals stripped from the petroleum are used in most manufacturing operations, including pharmaceuticals and consumer goods.

Of the available non-fossil fuel energy sources, some environmentalists don’t like nuclear for its waste; hydropower kills fish; wind takes up too much land; kills wildlife, wastes water; causes noise pollution; and solar needs too much land, and toxic materials are used in manufacturing the panels.

As a reality check, our nation is $22 trillion in debt and on our way to $29 trillion by the end of the Trump administration. Just to replace the electric grid is $5 trillion. Moreover, the oil and gas industry is over 1,500 firms on stock exchanges, and together they are at least worth a whopping $4.65 trillion. Any federal effort to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of business would be met with massive “taking claims” under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment which mandates “just compensation,” even for regulatory takings. This type of regulatory taking has already been held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the “Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases”. Simply, our government could owe tens of trillions of dollars in compensation for the” takings”. These costs would be in addition to Sander’s $16.3 trillion proposal.

Appropriating money to replace the fossil fuel industry is only the beginning. Securing the environmental permits for tens of thousands of replacement projects is highly unlikely without comprehensive regulatory reform. There is simply no existing legal structure that allows for removing existing energy infrastructure and constructing replacement infrastructure in the same time period. So, if a coordinated plan is not possible, the planet will be gone if the ten-year predication is correct?

The climate proposals put the future stability of the nation in question. Having the federal government demolish the nation’s energy infrastructure and rebuild it in a short period of time, is certainly a “stunning campaign promise”.  The lives of Americans are littered with high costs, half-assed, campaign promises. We haven’t been able to keep our doctor. The tax bill did not pay for itself. The wars are still continuing and soldiers still dying. The debt is growing; not being paid off in nine years as promised and on and on. Now, using fear, politicians propose to intentionally destroy a viable industry that keeps the nation working, innovating and wealthy and replace it with promises of a perfect future.

As a cautionary tale, remember 1433! If we don’t remember it, we may be handing global dominance back to China, as we descend into poverty.

This article was initially published in The Hill on September 16, 2019.

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