The time is ripe to use a pending international disaster to advance US interests and build stronger alliances.
Germany and other European countries are warning they may not have enough natural gas for heating this winter. This outcome is due in part to the heavy reliance on Russian energy and the decision to move rapidly from coal and nuclear to less reliable sources of energy such as wind and sun. The situation is so dire that the Europeans are dialing back the clock several hundred years to burn wood—the worst of polluters for those keeping score—to keep warm.
If this country had any real leadership, the US would declare a second Berlin Airlift, which would more accurately be described as an Atlantic Gas Transfer. Instead of letting Europeans look at the bleak prospect of a frigid winter and communal “heating buildings,” the US should do everything possible to produce natural gas, liquify it, and get it on ships bound for European ports. Such a move would lead to more jobs, lower energy bills also in the US, more income for US companies and enormous goodwill with our European friends and partners. An increase in gas production and shipment of the liquified version to Europe would be a win all the way around, and it is for this reason that the US will not undertake it.
The Europeans, after having mothballed so many nuclear plants and coal-fired electricity generation stations, have finally come around to list natural gas as a “green” source of energy. While their reasoning may be pragmatism over green idealism, the Europeans probably noted that the US dropped its annual CO2 production enormously in the past decade by doing little more than replacing coal with natural gas in many industrial and electrical generation settings. Natural gas was coming out of the Nordstream pipeline until it was sabotaged. The Europeans clearly have little to no problem with burning methane.
The problems start with the Americans, where many of the climate zealots still strongly oppose carbon-free nuclear power as well as less-polluting natural gas. When I did a consulting job with Brightsource Energy, whose Ivanpah solar field is visible from I-15 near the Nevada border, they told me that they could run two hours of natural gas after the sun went down to keep up with peak demand. Any additional use of gas—even if there was a strong need for their electricity in the grid—would have resulted in the loss of California green status and all of the financial benefits that come with it. The extremist Biden administration has canceled pipelines, denied permitting on Federal lands, and opposed all steps to increase US production of hydrocarbons while going hat in hand to the Saudis and Venezuelans. The Biden administration would never understand that increased fracking to cover both US needs and European shortfalls would be a winner for jobs, incomes, lower fuel bills, and good will with our most important friends and allies. Their extremist ideology, running out of fiefdoms underneath an incapable and increasingly senile leader, would treat natural gas as some horrific climate offender best kept in the ground, even if Europeans freeze to death and Americans mortgage their houses to pay for their winter heating bills. The US does not have the strategic leadership to see an incredible opportunity to grow wealth and increase US influence in the world, and show the Russians that the US can and will step up. In short, our leaders are clueless.
Such was not always the case. When Stalin closed the land routes into Berlin in 1948 in order to break the Allies and take West Berlin as his own, the US and England responded by flying sorties of all goods around the clock until Stalin relented and opened the road and rail routes to supplying Berlin. General Lucius Clay, the high commissioner for Berlin, ordered the airlift two days after the blockade of the city began. General Clay famously asked General Curtis LeMay, who at the time was in charge of the Air Force’s transport command, “General, can you fly coal?” to which the colorful General LeMay replied, “General, we can fly anything.” And so it was. Over 2.3 million tons of supplies—coal, flour, cows, toys, clothes—were flown into Berlin and two-thirds of it was coal for heating, just as natural gas is needed today (unless Germany, with its massive coal deposits, wants to quickly reactivate and add more coal-fired power plants…). The flights were dangerous and the Soviets often flew around and very close to the old transport planes. Over 100 people died and 25 planes crashed during the around-the-clock efforts. And to add to all of it, pilots were flying to bring food and other necessities to people who only three years earlier were the sworn enemies of those who were saving them.
There is no question that the Allies had a very clear motive—to keep Berlin in Western hands and keep the Soviets out. But so will the US today have strong motives if it does get around to shipping massive quantities of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe: to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance and to raise US standing in the eyes of our friends and enemies, especially Russia. Such a move would require true leadership in Washington and today there is a painful lack of Trumans, Clays, or LeMays. The Air Force Academy is worried about pronouns of its cadets while Europeans are looking at possibly freezing to death. The US is in desperate need of serious leadership. This is truly an opportunity that would be a shame to waste.