Mr Putin has retaliated by cutting off gas supplies and even sabotaging with leaks his own undersea gas pipeline
Most European countries, and in the main Germany, were/are reliant on Russian gas supplies to keep the lights and heating on and to fuel their industry. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to crippling sanctions from Western businesses and banks on Vladimir Putin’s country — not to mention the sanctioning and freezing of the vast assets of the Russian mafia “oligarchs” who have bank accounts and own yachts and property in the West. Mr Putin has retaliated by cutting off gas supplies and even sabotaging with leaks his own undersea gas pipeline.
There is no doubt that this has caused a severe crisis in Europe. The governments of every nation in the European Union and that of the UK are scrambling, with variable success, to fill the gap that Russia’s withdrawal of gas and oil has left. The UK lost five per cent of its energy supply through Mr Putin’s reaction. Other nations lost 40 per cent or more of the fuel that they use.
The reaction to this shortage, especially as winter looms, has been to reactivate some coal burning, to start projects to expand solar and wind-power, to restart old and plan new nuclear plants, to suspend the ban on fracking in Britain and, very obviously, to debate ways of saving energy.
The energy-saving suggestions from the media in the UK have not extended to the manufacturing sector. They have concentrated on domestic heating and lighting and the use of energy in shops and offices. Publications sport photographs of High Street shops at night before the shortage with lights blazing and escalators still active behind locked doors — in contrast with the darkened interiors photographed from the street after implementing the energy saving measures.
The media commentariat and politicians have taken to dispensing advice — some good, some vastly crackpot — on energy-saving tactics. Boris Johnson, in one of his final speeches, said he would legislate to build new nuclear plants. He said this might seem expensive at £700 billion, but it would in the end rescue the country from the energy shortage and save billions in the long run. He then, in typical style, inserted an analogy, saying replacing a furred-up, energy-slurping electric kettle with a new one may cost you £20, but would save you £10 a year on electricity bills. The social media took this to be BoJo’s energy-saving advice to households and he was pilloried and made to seem more ridiculous than the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
Others recommended wearing sweaters when the heating was switched off, something we perhaps could have alighted on ourselves?
There are eccentric bits of advice invoked from the past. In 1974, in a similar crisis, the Tory energy minister urged people to brush their teeth in the dark. No records exist of the populace following the advice or indeed of how much energy was thus saved.
My father wasn’t on this minister’s side, but was a keen believer in not leaving the lights on in an unoccupied room. He would shout at us children, the regular offenders, saying: “It’s not Diwali yet!” Perhaps it helped with the electricity bills, but it’s more likely that it made him proud of demanding an end to waste.
Another piece of unnecessary exhortation appeared in a right-wing weekly called the Spectator, in a column by Charles Moore, a sort of Little Lord Fauntleroy type. In last week’s column he urged the male workers of the nation to emulate Victorians by wearing jackets, ties and vests. He didn’t venture to prescribe dress paraphernalia for women but resorted to euphemism: “and female workers (should) manage the equivalent”.
This observation was preceded by the confession that he himself wears a silk vest and long johns while composing his columns.
Reading this brought to mind the abbreviation TMI, which the younger generation use to indicate that that’s perhaps too much information. It was, I felt, akin to Wordsworth painting a picture of daffodils dancing in the breeze and then interrupting the mood by imposing the image of a prostrate old man: “… oft when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood…” — which, for me, has always seemed an incongruous image in the poem.
There has been talk of blackouts for periods this winter, though the National Grid-wallahs have said that these won’t be necessary.
The serious side to the power shortages is that the prices of petrol, gas and hence electricity have been subject to a Himalayan hike. The providers, petrol companies such as BP and Shell, have made billions of pounds in increased profits — a phenomenon termed by the government as a “windfall”. The Labour Party first proposed a windfall tax on these companies, the revenue gathered to be used to help households with soaring energy bills.
Kamikwazi Kwarteng, the UK’s former chancellor of the exchequer (who was sacked on Friday), had rejected a windfall tax but promised to cap each household’s energy bills at £2,500 a year. Even so, for some, it would pose the choice between eating and heating — this in one of the most developed countries in the world.
And so, gentle reader, to my personal energy-saving advice:
# Watch TV in the dark — just like in the cinema!
# Eat salads and cold food instead of cooking… err… Will I?
# Is the Pope a Muslim?