One of the biggest divisions in the conservative movement right now is how to respond to Vladimir Putin's aggression in the Ukraine. On the one hand are the neo-cons who apparently want to flex America's muscles and open a new Cold War; on the other are the neo-isolationists who believe that this is a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.
Both sides are missing the trick that could make this a win-win situation. (Well, for everyone except Putin, that is).
What, despite Obama's best efforts, has been the single most transformative event in the U.S. economy in the last five years? Why, the shale revolution of course. Thanks to fracking and the exploitation of unconventional oil and gas, the U.S. is not only well on the way to energy self-sufficiency but consumers are paying less for their heating and lighting and US business is growing more internationally competitive.
None of this – it can't be stressed often enough, so let's say it again – has anything to do with the Obama administration, which remains ideologically opposed to fossil fuels and cheap energy generally (see Keystone XL; the war on coal; the ongoing subsidy of renewables; Solyndra; etc). It has happened because of two things liberal America hates - entrepreneurship and property rights (in the U.S., unlike in Europe, landowners stand to benefit financially from shale resources found under their land – so long as you're lucky enough to live somewhere like Pennsylvania or North Dakota, and not upstate New York where fracking is verboten).
Now compare and contrast with Europe whose moribund economy has been crushed by some of the most stringent environmental legislation in the world. Last month, the CEOs of 137 major companies signed an open letter warning that European industry was being crippled by climate policies and rising energy prices – which are between two and three times higher than in the U.S.. Meanwhile, Jim Ratcliffe, majority owner of chemicals giant Ineos, has written to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, warning that a "toxic cocktail" of high energy costs (inflated by green taxes, stratospheric feedstock prices, and uncompetitive labour) could drive Europe's $1 trillion-a-year chemicals industry out of business within ten years.
All this has been observed with salivating pleasure by Europe's lupine neighbour, Vladimir Putin. The Russians have long been deeply sceptical of man-made global warming and in 2004 hosted a high-level international climate seminar in Moscow designed, essentially, to rub the climate alarmists' noses in it by forcing them to debate with notorious sceptics like Nils Axel Morner (who doesn't believe in extreme sea level rises) and Paul Reiter (who doesn't believe climate change causes more malaria).
Green on the Outside,
Red on the Inside.
The British delegate to the 2004 conference, Tony Blair's fervently warmist envoy Sir David King, was so furious he threw a hissy fit and stormed out of one of the sessions with his entire delegation.
As Christopher Booker reports in his 'The Real Global Warming Disaster', this prompted Putin's chief economic adviser Alexander Illarionov to sneer:
In our opinion the reputation of British science, the reputation of the British government and the reputation of the title "Sir" has sustained heavy damage."
Illarionov was even more damning on the global warming industry which he likened to the "man-hating totalitarian ideology with which we had the bad fortune to deal during the twentieth century, such as National Socialism, Marxism, Eugenics, Lysenkovism and so on."
Despite all this, Putin went ahead and signed the Kyoto treaty not because he or his advisers remotely believed in it, but because Russia was bribed with extremely generous terms which enabled it to make billions of dollars a year selling "carbon credits".
In other words, just like China, Russia has paid lip service to all the fashionable environmental shibboleths purely in order to exploit the weakness and stupidity of the credulous West. It is partly in this light that we should view Putin's adventures in Ukraine.
As Christopher Helman argues in Forbes, Russia's energy industry desperately relies on Ukraine for two reasons. First, as a transit point for the six billion cubic feet of natural gas it pipes into mainland Europe each day; secondly as a valued (though somewhat held-to-ransom) customer. Ukraine receives its Russian gas from state-owned Gazprom at a hefty 33 percent discount. In return it is expected gratefully to buy it – at the risk of being cut off if it doesn't pay for it – rather than develop its own massive reserves of shale gas (more than 40 trillion cubic feet of the stuff, which could keep it going for decades).
This is why Russia hates shale gas so. (As does Qatar). Like all petro-economies it relies on the price of the oil and gas it produces to be high and the availability to be scarce. What is happening as a result of the shale revolution is that countries which could once have been held to ransom by Russia's gas near monopoly (Poland, for example), now have it within their power to become more energy independent by exploiting their shale gas resources.
You'd think, given that 14 percent of its gas supply comes from Russia, that the EU would be anxious to escape this dependency by fracking as quickly as it could. Instead, the environmental commissars of the EU have put every possible obstacle in the way of Europe's fracking industry and only recently abandoned plans to regulate it out of existence. Even now fracking is banned in France and Bulgaria, barely advancing in the UK, and being held up by red-tape in Poland.
And the people Putin has to thank most for this are his (unwitting) friends in the green movement whose tireless campaigning against fossil fuels generally and fracking in particular has done so much to bolster his regime.
He realized that the environmental movement’s attempts to end the age of petroleum would impact only his Western rivals, first in their campaigns against private oil companies, and second in the disastrous impact of green policies in weakening Europe.
Which brings us to that Green Axis of Evil in the title. If the U.S. were remotely serious about countering Putin's neo-Soviet expansionism by far its most sensible course would be to follow the example of Ronald Reagan. This doesn't mean a new military arms race (America can't afford it) but what would make sense is an outbreak of economic war, not unlike the one the Reagan administration began when it decided to stop subsidising the Soviet empire by allowing it to be sold cheap wheat.
What the European economy needs more than anything right now is cheap energy. America can help out in two ways here: first, in the very short term, by exporting its excess (and relatively cheap) oil and gas; secondly, in the medium term, by lending its expertise to all those European companies which need help exploiting their shale gas as quickly as possible. This would weaken Putin's control over Eastern Europe far more cheaply and effectively than, say, missiles stationed in Poland.
But of course it's not going to happen while there's a president like Obama in power. With its obsession with 'sustainability' and climate change, its subsidies for renewable energy and its rejection of fuels that actually work (like coal) the Obama administration is very much part of the problem not the solution. America, like most countries in Europe – including mine – sorely needs a leader with vision. That vision doesn't have to include a yearning for military invention, necessarily. Just a basic understanding that of all the world's great threats, probably the most all-encompassing, certainly the most insidious, is the one they call ManBearPig.