In this episode, we explore how energy infrastructure is not designed nor protected against cyber threats, there is now a realization of the importance of securing our energy system. Cyber threats can directly impact the militaries and the nation’s ability to respond to physical threats against countries or armies.
We also discuss how even phishing scams can lead to compromising networks and impact infrastructure, institutions and countries. We have an extensive discussion around the alliance of NATO and why acting through NATO provides collective benefits. China and Russia are also framed not as immediate threats, but as potential future adversaries, and how the constant foreign probing of computer systems needs to be stopped.
The big takeaway from our discussion was the difference between virtual and physical threats. And how these are accomplished. It would seem a cyber threat could be carried out by a small group of people. But as Ion explains this is not really true as a tremendous amount of knowledge in fields like engineering are necessary to bring down a network. We also get into this scary area of where the boundaries are in cyberspace. These are not defined and there is a threat of countries stumbling into war.
Finally, the biggest takeaway is the cost that is needed to reform and refined the energy infrastructure. It seems like money is in short supply. So beating back these adversaries remains a challenge.
About the AuthorDr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University. He holds a joint appointment between the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Department of Economics and Business. He founded the MyEnergy2050 website to change how we communicate and implement the energy transition.
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By Michael LaBelle — 5 days ago
This week Michael LaBelle provides a rough description of why the EU has lost its soft power.
Rising gas prices, the military aggression of Russia, and rule of law breaches in former Communist states are heralding a new era for the EU. This ‘post-acquis’ era is marked by rising nationalism and populism which undermine the foundation of the EU’s soft power.
The question that needs to be answered is, ‘Why did the EU lose its soft power?’ This question cannot be answered without including the hard power of NATO.
The Post-Cold War environment saw NATO’s eastern expansion, which is now questioned by the hard military might of Russia. The expansion of democracy in former communist countries, once represented by EU membership, represents a new socio-political system expressing soft power. At the same time, the hard power of NATO also went East. Jointly, these institutions now are perceived to threaten the borders and sovereignty of Russia.
The EU has been slow, and even incapable of acting against its own member states who have discounted the democratic norms which are the foundation of the European Union. The EU’s soft power derives from a descriptive cultural experience of individual liberty and respect for human rights. The Cold War-era institutions of the Helsinki Commission, European Court of Human Rights, and others symbolize a common pursuit of both the Soviet and Western countries to establish common rights within Europe. Now, these institutions are sidelined as nationalists and populists reclaim sovereignty given over to these Cold War institutions, including the EU.
The EU’s Single Energy Market (SEM) was built and functioned as a place for companies and governments to ‘come and play’ (as Goldthau and Sitter state). Money could be made by neighboring countries selling gas and electricity by the rules within the SEM. However, over time, as competition and neoliberal rules took over from national governments’ long-term agreements with Russia, participation in the EU’s SEM was not a favorable place to play.
Gas is now near-enough, thanks to LNG and new pipelines, a global commodity. Russian gas is breaking the Soviet gas bridge and finding alternative buyers. For most companies and countries wanting to play in the SEM, there are other places to sell their gas. During the Cold War, gas was more than a commodity, it was a tool to build relations between the Soviet Union and Western (and even Eastern) countries. And to transfer money and technology. This was soft power at play. The Western European countries were attractive for their cash, knowledge, and business relations that could be developed over time (as described by Thane Gustafson in his book, The Bridge). Thus, gas, while a commodity was also a relational tool creating trust and commerce between two different political-economic systems.
The downgrading of gas to a mere commodity overseen by market rules and regulations favoring consumers, means producers are no longer incentivized to participate in a market that has strings attached. The SEM is described by scholars Goldthau and Sitter, as a soft power tool with a hard edge. Meaning the market is attractive to foreign and domestic entities who will play in the market, but there are hard rules and regulations which dictate how participation is done. For Russia in 2021 and 2022, participation is defined as satisfying contractual commitments, but not sending higher levels of ‘free’ gas to participate in the market.
The EU’s soft power is also undermined from within by member states. The growth of populism and nationalism delivers scathing blows against the legitimacy of the European project. NATO was a product of the Cold War – expressing hard power. But the EU is a product produced from World War Two seeking stability and being founded on a common platform of not only economic union, but also political and social union to prevent war between European countries. Therefore, the EU cannot be defined only through rules, regulations, and legislation, but through social and political norms that perceive democracy and individual liberty as foundational to society.
Breaches of the rule of law perceived to be happening in Hungary and Poland, and staggered efforts by the EU to reclaim a semblance of democratic norms in these countries, demonstrates an overly prescriptive governance system unable to have soft social and political norms genuinely accepted by these governments. For these two countries and others, negating the acquis that guided their EU membership by conforming legislation and social systems to an EU norm, meant sacrificing Communist practices of non-market economies and social control. Clearly, these historical practices have not disappeared.
In a post-acquis era, returning to Communist top-down political management appears to be the best way to deliver low-cost energy and societal control. There’s little space for fair elections or expression of individual rights. While the hard power of Russia may not appeal to the Polish government, the nationalistic and populistic tendencies are a return to a form of governance that the parties in power in both Hungary, Poland, and Russia appreciate. And, depending on how you count, over fifty percent of voters support this form. Legitimacy from the ground-up or from the top-down? For nationalists, there is no question. Why should the state be second to a multilateral governance organization preaching liberty with high energy prices? The soft power benefits that attract all three of these countries to the EU, whether the SEM or development funds, is not enough for them to give up historical practices of a nationalistic sovereign state.
The soft power of the EU, to be attractive while also persuading partners to be democratic and neoliberal in commerce is lost. The built-up EU institutions and mechanisms, seen in the SEM or the European Emission Trading System (ETS) provide stringent rules and regulations, not all member states are willing to abide by. Add to that democratic norms, such as respect for press freedom, then membership to the EU has a high cost.
Unfortunately, for the EU, holding soft power, means you can’t kick out those that do not play by your rules. But they can choose to leave. Russia (and the UK) decided they are better off not playing by the EU’s rules. For Hungary and Poland, they decided it’s better to stay in but pay no attention to the rules. For the EU, to build back its soft power, some hard power could be useful.
January 13, 2022
By Michael LaBelle — 1 year ago
In this episode, we trace back the history of Darren’s involvement in energy. We learn the background story on energy justice and how he got involved in it while at Trinity College Dublin. He describes his earlier work with Gordan Walker and Harriet Bulkeley which prompted Darren to go further and explore the concept more with others by using a legal studies perspective.
There are three key takeaways from my discussion with Darren. First, Darren is just great to talk to. I met Darren back around 2012 or 2013 and as you’ll hear in our discussion, we share a passion for a holistic understanding of the energy system and how society sits at the center of it.
Second, Darren outlines the massive disruption of Covid-19 is a chance for policymakers to push faster on the green transition. And here we discuss the preliminary findings of Darren’s work on the UK, Netherlands, and South Africa. Where he is finding a compartmentalized perspective on the energy system and not a joined-up systems-wide approach where moving towards a sustainable energy system has knock-on effects for many corners of society and the environment.
And the final takeaway is, every researcher needs to get out of their comfort zone and travel. This is easy – or maybe hard to say – while we are locked-down, but we discuss how doing research in developing countries can begin to prompt change. We do take a light-hearted view of this topic, but Darren expresses well the serious desire to make a difference in other parts of the world as essential for anyone with a career in energy research.
By Michael LaBelle — 7 months ago
This week we speak with Professor David Peck, from the Delft University of Technology. In this interview, David recounts his broad experience working both in industry and academia in the area of material sciences and which we now label as the circular economy. It was a real honor to have David on to discuss the circular economy and sustainability in business.
It is hard for me to provide a succinct summary of all the key points, as we really delve into what the circular economy actually is. To draw on David’s explanation, in this episode we get into what ‘tightening the circle’ means in the circular economy. From the mining of rare earth minerals to the fallacy of recycling as a solution to our overconsumption of materials and resources. We uncover what the circular economy is and is not. It is not recycling, but engaging at the design stage to ensure a more sustainable product is made. But again, this is insufficient and greater attention needs to be paid to where the resources are coming from and who is pulling them out of the ground. Hint, China may not be the most socially just place for mining.
Understanding the value chain of products and services is essential for business leaders to shift their companies in time, to be ahead of the social curve, and efforts of competitors. We discuss why there may now be emerging international competition between countries to be the most innovative in securing their lead in sustainable technologies and services. There is not a scarcity of materials, but rather a scarcity in innovative means to develop the products and services we need to deliver a more sustainable economy.
We also address the importance of equity and wellbeing in society. During the interview, I forgot the name of Mark Anielski, who I had on a previous podcast of Energy and Innovation. I can definitely recommend that episode for a similar line of thinking of measuring wellbeing by different metrics.
In the end, David and I come to the conclusion that people need to dosustainability. Listen to the podcast and you’ll get to know why educating and helping people is his new mission.
The intent of the MyEnergy2050 podcast is to speak to the people building a clean energy system.
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