However, doing so has given Western politicians a seriously rude awakening. Now, they're scrambling to do a crash course on formulating coherent energy policies. Because, let's face it, Net Zero was never going to work out despite good intentions. The laws of unintended consequences kicked in.
Within less than a month of Russian incursions into Ukraine, there are already a number of European leaders hurriedly distancing themselves from that once holy grail of Net Zero. They're being pushed to swiftly reconsider respective energy security positions. If they don't - the lights go out.
Unlike the proverbial leopard, politicians change their spots, making them more akin to chameleons. Of course, I realise that these are unprecedented circumstances, but Net Zero had almost earned itself a cult following. It had become an ingrained doctrine that permeated like a good marinade. If any person either in the UK or anywhere else in the Western world dared to breathe a word of doubt about Net Zeroism, they faced becoming outcasts.
I'm in no way 'denying' anything. Climate change is real. I get it. Everyone blessed with eyes and ears understands the urgency of tackling climate issues. Reducing the amount of harmful gasses being pumped into the atmosphere that we ALL breathe can only be a positive move. What we've needed above all has been an honest and rational debate about it.
Some of the remedies to-date have been beyond ludicrous. For example, the West has exported much of its manufacturing emissions to the Far East. Western politicians had the bare-faced cheek to point out how wonderfully clean OUR air and OUR rivers had become whilst cities like Beijing choked in plumes of acrid smog, largely generated from producing Western consumables. I never considered it too difficult to identify the difference between genuine measures to help sort out our climatic woes and blatant virtue signaling, the latter being as useless as a three legged donkey at the Aintree Grand National.
The UK government is reviewing its stance on the thorny issue of domestic oil and gas production. There appears to be cross-Party consensus with rare displays of Westminster solidarity. So much so, that it may soon be difficult to single out any mainstream politician who will readily confess to ever saying 'amen' to that long held ideal of delegating our energy security to despots like Putin. Politicians across the Western world have realised that we're constrained by the Kremlin's stranglehold. It's difficult to see a way out without causing even more serious self harm.
Whatever your personal views of the former U.S. President Donald Trump, he wasn't slow to identify the enormous folly of relinquishing America's energy security. He argued that Net Zero could not be achieved unless or until domestically sourced energy could be substituted with truly viable alternatives. Alternatives that could be fully controlled by American hands, not those of aggressive foreign regimes who actually thrive on sparking geopolitical instability. We can see this scenario playing out right now. Putin's war has pushed up the wholesale value of Russian oil and gas to the tune of some £350 billion per day. For Putin, this equates to a Pay As You Go military offensive in Ukraine.
In truth, developed (and indeed developing countries) will continue to need oil and gas for decades to come. Gas provides nearly half of all our energy whether it be for transport, heating our homes, industrial needs or electricity generation. Renewables consisting of solar, wind or hydro currently only generate around 5% at a push.
Even if we did manage to change all our vehicles over to electric ones by 2050, we will still need to massively expand our generating capacity in order to cope with the huge draw that EV charging points will place on the grid. Renewables alone won't meet such massive future demands. The question is, what happens if we encounter prolonged anticyclones and the wind stops blowing? Or perhaps we face prolonged spells of sun-free days. In the UK and Ireland, it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to envisage glum, sunless days.
Thing is, technology has developed leaps and bounds over recent years. New technology now makes it possible to extract natural gas from shale in a way that's economically viable. The British Isles sit on vast reserves, worth an estimated two trillion pounds. Bowman shale in Lancashire is known to be one of the richest shale gas reserves ever discovered, yet it remains untapped mainly because successive governments have capitulated to the local NIMBY brigade with their protest banners, pitchforks and broom handles. Votes count more than energy security, or so it would seem.
However, political attitudes towards energy security have been changing long before Putin invaded Ukraine. There was a cost of living crisis looming for months. Household energy bills were forecast to soar as soon as our beleaguered economies gradually emerged from prolonged COVID induced lockdowns. Because of this, politicians will have a very hard time convincing the public that all our current energy woes can be attributed to scarce foreign supplies. Successive governments have been unwilling to tap into huge shale gas reserves for fear of alienating a few grumpy potential voters.
Some would argue that high oil and gas prices reinforce the case for offshore wind installations. But wind, in itself, is not a truly viable alternative. Wind is unreliable and requires large reserves of fossil fuel as backup. Others might argue that shale gas cannot be extracted quickly enough to alleviate current shortages and that UK shale gas output would not single handedly reduce wholesale prices. Yet U.S. shale gas more than halved in value in less than ten years. U.S. prices remained reasonably low whilst European prices jumped more than six-fold.
So there are huge benefits from extracting shale gas. Done properly, it could create many well paid jobs. Another significant benefit is that the value of the product would generate huge tax revenues instead of huge amounts of cash going off to bump up Putin’s fat war chest.
Of course, we all realise that shale gas is another finite commodity but that's not really the point right now. That's because shale may become the short term fix that buys us the time needed to wean ourselves off Russian energy.
What we must surely never again do is sit back and watch huge chunks of our important national infrastructure being sold off to the highest bidder. Doing so might eventually allow our energy security to fall into the hands of yet more big overseas conglomerates, often influenced by distinctly unfriendly regimes. Unless we examine these issues carefully, dispassionately and logically we will keep on tasting the bitter fruits of our follies
In summary, no individual territory can any longer afford to compromise its energy security. Putin can never again be trusted and neither can many other regimes who have the capability to hold us all to ransom
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.