Even as Europe experiences its hottest summer on record, it is acutely aware that it could face its worst winter since that of the end of the Second World War, from 1944 to 1945.
Electricity shortages and unpaid fuel prices for many households are to be expected for Europe.
Industrial production in Germany, Europe’s economic engine, is under threat, and governments from London to Athens are wondering how they will help with energy bills right now, let alone in the dead of winter.
Power generation on the European grid was already under strain due to the shift from coal and gas generation to renewables.
Germany made a tight supply worse by shutting down its nuclear power plants, and the new reliance on wind power was severely challenged by a wind drought last fall, particularly in the North Sea.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in March, things went from a shortage of supplies to impending doom. Russia, through a complex network of gas pipelines, is the main supplier of natural gas to Europe and of all petroleum products to Germany. Now it has reduced normal flows.
Europe is heavily dependent on gas for heating and electricity generation. As things stand, all of Europe is suffering, especially Germany. The country can suffer a winter as terrible as at the end of the Second World War, when there was no coal, the essential fuel at the time.
The unknowns revolve around Russia’s war in Ukraine. Here are the possible scenarios:
— Russia wins from the outset; Europe continues the sanctions and is punished by gas cuts. Result: Europe is freezing this winter.
— There is a political settlement, the reconstruction of Ukraine begins, and the gas is flowing again.
— Ukraine pushes Russia back on the field; Russia is changing its regime and abandoning the fight.
— The conflict escalates and NATO is dragged down. Europe rations fuel, including kerosene. It is a war footing for all of Europe.
— Germany decides enough is enough and makes a deal with Russia. Ukraine is figuratively thrown under the bus.
While the United States and other gas-producing nations will export whatever they can to Europe in the form of liquefied natural gas, these sources are already heavily committed. The United States, for example, has only seven LNG export terminals. These take years to license and build; the same applies to receiving terminals and LNG carriers. Moreover, most European receiving terminals are in the west, and the most serious shortages are in the east.
It is too late to change one certainty about the coming winter: high food prices everywhere, including in the United States, and famine in developing countries. Ukraine exports grain hesitantly, but these shipments are too small and too late. Afghanistan and Somalia are already in a food crisis, starting what is expected to be a global scramble for grain provided as part of humanitarian aid.
The terrible European winter of 1944 to 1945 is known as the Hunger Winter. Get ready to hear that resurrected term.
The world must prepare for the coming winter in the northern hemisphere with political uncertainty and weak and inward-looking leaders in many countries. In the United States, the midterm elections should produce division. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has lost control of the National Assembly. Britain is looking for a new Conservative Prime Minister to replace Boris Johnson. Italy faces an election that some forecasts will go to the isolationist fascists.
Democracies are torn apart by culture wars and other indulgences as the European crisis brews. For much of the rest of the world, another hunger winter is looming. Many will be cold this winter, others will be hungry. Countless numbers will die.
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @LlewellynKing2. This column was provided by InsideSources.