News from the Columbia Climate School

Why Flotillas of U.S. Natural Gas or Heat Pumps Can’t Rescue Europe from Its Putin-Driven Gas Crisis

man working on a heat pump
Heat pump installation. Photo: Phyxter Home Services via Flickr 

I greatly enjoyed watching Denzel Washington’s Oscar-nominated performance in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” But I hear echoes of his haunting take on Shakespeare’s timeless description of “sound and fury, signifying nothing” every time I see fresh volleys of competing narratives around U.S. energy policy facing Putin’s criminal war on Ukraine and the resulting jolt to energy markets and prices.

For instance, in recent weeks we’ve seen climate campaigner Bill McKibben calling for President Joe Biden to use the Defense Production Act to manufacture and export millions of household heat pumps to Europe to cut its dependency on Russian gas and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin pushing to use the same emergency mechanism to complete a 303-mile natural gas pipeline.

There’s scant evidence that either tactic will do much, if anything, to help Europe keep warm this winter or even next, given the scope of European reliance on Russian natural gas and the reality that energy security there, or here, requires vastly more than boosting the supply of either gas or heat pumps. (Read this Euractiv story and this great Twitter thread by journalist-turned-electrician Nathanael Johnson to learn the limits of a heat-pump blitz.)

But it’s also clear that boosting near-term supplies of gas and oil and expanding efficiency and clean-energy sources must both play roles in workable U.S. policy, particularly if the hope is to find a legislative path to climate and energy progress in this turbulent and consequential moment for both geopolitical and geophysical sustainability.

Pressure on Europe to end all Russian fuel imports is rising with every new Russian atrocity in Ukraine. The new climate-action assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has further tightened the window for transformative climate action. And gas-pump price shocks still threaten midterm-election prospects for Democrats.

The longstanding vision of a trillion-dollar-plus Build Back Better package is history, of course. But there are growing signs of a still-historic half-trillion-dollar spending package emerging and moving forward.

Read the rest of the story on the Sustain What blog.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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