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England’s Big Chill
The Sobering Reality of An Energy Crisis
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I am back in London for the holidays. As you may recall just a couple of weeks ago, I was here for a wedding and had a fascinating conversation with a taxi driver. It emerged that the country is riddled with striking unions in an alarmingly large number of sectors.
So, on my return, one of my British friends showed me a pamphlet she’d received in the mail from her local council, entitled “Stay Healthy and Warm this Winter.” She figured, rightly, that, like the cab driver’s narrative, it’d give me further insight into the current state of affairs in England.
This time, the picture was even bleaker than that of the cab driver’s.
So, us Americans think we’ve had a rough year, economically, with gas prices rising at one point to a national average of $4.99/gallon (it’s now at $3.09); inflation at 7.1%; and the stock market down 9.11% per cent.
But in England, and in parts of Europe, the price of gas is literally life-threatening. The Brits rely on gas imported from European countries whose pipeline has been cut off by the producer, Russia, in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
And in the last couple of weeks, England has seen unseasonably cold weather. It’s normal for Brits to complain about their damp, drizzly weather. But it’s not normal for Brits to complain about their COLD weather. The recent unusual weather combined with the energy crisis is now a lead story on the news. It’s even being suggested one way to handle the energy crisis is to have managed power strikes. Say, for three hours a day.
According to my friend’s pamphlet, it’s expected that many people cannot afford to heat their homes and may struggle to get essential items. Some may not survive the winter. This is why the Kensington and Chelsea residents' council (an upscale London neighborhood) has put together a 10-page brochure with numerous hotlines to call and some useful tips. They include:
- Keep active when indoors
- Wear several layers
- Keep up to date with the weather forecast
- Close doors and curtains to keep warm air in the rooms you’re using
- Ensure furniture isn’t blocking the heaters
- Use insulated curtains if you can
- Switch appliances off if you are not using them
- Keep the temperature of the fridge to five degrees
- Keep doors of older rooms closed
- Make a big flask of tea or coffee in the morning to reduce repeated kettle boiling
Ok, so some of it sounds banal – but it also sounds depressing and a little bit frightening. As if England is headed into the Fritz as opposed to the Blitz.
I read the brochure yesterday, the same day I was reading the news reports on-line of Vlodymyr Zelensky’s surprise visit to congress to ask for more money for arms to get through the coming Winter.
Inevitably, the US media made the analogy with the visit to Congress by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in December 1941 after the US declared it would enter World War II.
The British newspapers didn’t cover Zelensky’s speech quite as widely as the US media, but they remain fully supportive of Zelensky and Ukraine albeit in their typically cheeky fashion. The Daily Mail gleefully tore into a Russian Oligarch’s wife who had the temerity to spend GBP 70,000 on a shopping trip in Paris on her way to London to see her son, studying at Oxford university.
But the sobering reality, as I see it, is that the people of England (and Europe) are faced with far greater hardship derived from the war than in the US.
Even though no one wants Ukraine to capitulate – no one I’ve met has even talked of it - I wonder if there may come a point, where no matter many speeches Zelensky gives, and no matter how much good will he engenders, Europe’s patience runs out, along with its energy.
Meanwhile, it’s up to the British to follow energy-saving tips in brochures like my friend’s: and perhaps, above all, to once more abide by Britain’s most famous wartime adage, which is: Keep Calm and Carry On.