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As the West commits energy suicide in its green transition, it exploits the Gulf 

US President Joe Biden (L) being welcomed by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) at Alsalam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2022 [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]
US President Joe Biden (L) being welcomed by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) at Alsalam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2022 [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

US President Joe Biden's Middle East tour was muddled from the start, and his administration's regional policy was criticised by analysts for lacking clarity and direction. The results of the trip were equally disappointing, producing no great announcement to change the course of Washington's relations with its Middle East allies and adversaries. Israel was not reined-in; neither Iran nor its allies heard reconciliatory messages; and the Gulf States neither boosted nor cut their ties with the US. The trip simply reassured everyone about the status quo.

One notable outcome, though, was Saudi Arabia's agreement to increase its oil production to 13 million barrels per day – an increase of one million – in an effort to relieve the strain on global fuel and energy supplies in the wake of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine.

Riyadh's agreement came after months of Biden's calls for an increase in production, calls which the kingdom snubbed in a rare gesture of disregard for a sitting US president. The Saudi reluctance and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's insistence that the increase is the most it will do, is understandable.

Following the Arab-Israeli-American summit in Jeddah attended by Biden, where the announcement was made, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al-Saud iterated that the issue of production increase was limited by the kingdom's shortage of refinery capacity. Either way, Biden's urge to boost production was a difficult one for Saudi Arabia, the Gulf nations and the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries+ (OPEC+).

Biden's demand was also a blatantly bold and immoral one. While the US president and other Western leaders – such as outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – turn to the Gulf and OPEC states for solutions to their looming energy crises, their governments do all they can to avoid implementing essential energy policies in their own domains.

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Nations across the Western world are facing domestic disputes regarding energy sources and where they should get electricity from, and how it should be distributed. With many political figures and "experts" still stuck on the dichotomy of fossil fuels and renewables, the "green transition" to net-zero carbon emissions has been pushed as the global energy panacea.

Renewable energy is largely unreliable and ineffective, mainly due to the disproportionate input-output ratio and the inability to control the sun and the wind. Hence, green energy alternatives are more of a supplement than a key resource.

Meanwhile, there is a near global consensus that less reliance on fossil fuels will benefit the environment, prepare us for a future without them and save us from suffocating levels of air pollution. That is despite the analyses by dissident climate scientists that carbon emissions are essential to the environment and the climate change we are undergoing is part of a repetitive cycle seen throughout the earth's history.

Regardless of that debate, one would expect developed Western nations in the midst of an energy crisis to invest in a source that is neither fossil fuel nor an ineffective renewable method: nuclear power. Such a resource provides enormous amounts of energy with far more capacity than natural gas and hydropower, all while being clean and emitting low levels of greenhouse gasses.

Despite this, governments across the Western world have either been slow in investing in nuclear energy or have actually been shutting down nuclear power plants. Just a few months ago in Germany, for example, the government ruled out prolonging the life of its nuclear plants and decided in January to shut them down.

Spain, too, is set to shut down its nuclear plants in the coming years in the name of transitioning to green energy, and Italy has already done so but is, unsurprisingly, considering bringing them back into operation. With dozens of plants shut down somewhat unexpectedly in nuclear-friendly France recently, Britain has now become a net exporter of electricity to mainland Europe, partly because of its continued use of nuclear energy.

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In the US, nuclear plants have been shutting down across the country in recent months. The state of California, notorious for its devotion to the Green Crusade, is on the verge of shutting down its last plant in an attempt to rely fully on renewables, a move which has forced it to buy electricity from other states and made it the country's largest importer of the commodity.

Putting aside nuclear energy, the US government under the Biden administration has ensured the cutting off of other sources of energy, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, the permit for which the president revoked last year.

All of this comes at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted Western nations to halt imports of Russian fuel and to speed up the process of relying less on Russian gas. Despite that urgency, the US and – more essentially – European nations continue to drive their policies towards a green transition, with Biden admitting in May that the high fuel costs and price hike are part of "an incredible transition".

The result of this is the failure of electricity grids, rolling blackouts in the US — expected in other Western nations soon — and an increasing inability of the average family to afford basic necessities. We will all suffer during hot summers and harsh winters without adequate energy supplies. Such effects are in addition to the wider impact on the economies and stability of developed nations, and the consequential knock-on effect in developing countries.

Western leaders seem to be committing energy suicide, and the drive towards a net-zero future by 2035 or 2050 might just be driving entire nations and their populations off the cliff. To see the results of such moves, look no further than Sri Lanka, which this month saw the storming of the presidential palace and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing after months of protests and riots.

In what is now a bankrupt nation, prices of essentials such as food and fuel have risen exponentially, and half a million Sri Lankans have been plunged back into poverty. One of the causes of the collapse – there were many – was the president's obsession with and implementation of green policies, such as banning chemical Sfertilisers in an attempt to mandate organic farming.

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Sri Lanka had a near-perfect ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) score of 98 out of 100, making it something of a model state for environmentalists, yet that only seemed to downgrade it from a self-sufficient agricultural nation and food exporter to a country reliant on imports within a matter of a few years.

There is an argument that developed nations could enact the green transition in a more successful and efficient way, but that ongoing experiment seems to be bearing little fruit as yet. We may witness further results with the recent ruling in the Netherlands to cut nitrogen emissions drastically and outlaw many agricultural and livestock practices, a move which has already prompted nationwide protests.

While the US and Western nations purposefully neglect their own domestic energy capacities and potential in the name of a risky transition, they are in the meantime exploiting Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia in order to provide for their energy needs. It's short-sighted at best; and energy suicide at worst.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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