Energy is security so let's talk about it in schools

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

If I were heading up a school's general studies programme for older students, right now I'd be planning an exploration as to whether the country ought to ease off on its net-zero ambitions in the face of the new energy crisis we face.  It's not, of course, that there is a shortage of oil and gas; rather the current questions is whether we ought to be buying it from Russia given its repugnant behaviour against Ukraine.  There is a wider question of whether we ought to buy the stuff from any such rebarbative regime which, if we took the issue seriously, would restrict our options considerably.  But that's for another day as its Russia which is the immediate problem.

Core to any discussion would be one awkward fact: Up to the invasion, the EU was paying Russia €200m a day for its gas.  Since then prices have tripled.  This money funds Russia's war machine. And that’s just the gas.  Oil exports add more hundreds of millions.  As Germany's economy minister Robert Habeck said, "Energy policy is now security policy" as he pivoted away from Russia to more nuclear power and coal and renewables.

The UK is less exposed than the EU to gas from Russia (we get~3% of our annual imports from them, and about 13% of our oil), but the point is the same, especially as we are now paying inflated world prices.  We also import coking coal.

So, I'd ask – just because the question needs to be heard: shall we get more oil and gas out of the North Sea?  Shall we open that Cumbrian coal mine?  Shall we frack for all that gas in the North of England (trillions of cubic metres)?  Or should we continue to import the gas we need in the transition to net-zero despite its carbon-intensity (greenness) being almost 3 times that of homespun products?  I'd also ask the students to find out which UK petro-giant saved $20m one shipment (730,000 barrels) of Russian oil as the price recently came tumbling down.  And then ask whether it was right to say that it wouldn't do it again when faced with heavy criticism from, amongst others, the Ukrainian government.

I expect that at least some schools' managements might find even the thought of such a debate tricky, especially as the government has tried to warn them off helping students consider political controversies, but engaging students in such topics in an open way at least respects their intelligence and their clear commitment to a better world.  Doing so would also expose the difficult and unavoidable trades-off that sometimes have to be made.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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