We are not finding out anything | Economy

A man reduces the sensation of heat with a fan and opening the window at nightfall.
A man reduces the sensation of heat with a fan and opening the window at nightfall.

While I was waiting for my wife in a cafeteria, freezing cold —”man, what world do you live in, you can’t wear short sleeves here”—, I received a call from a good friend: “Let’s take advantage of the fact that you’re in Madrid to see each other… and By the way, explain to me about the electricity (sic), because they have passed me a bill of 350 euros and it seems a shame to me”. I couldn’t help but answer him, that what seems a shame to me is that he is not aware of the problem we are in and that they had not charged him 700.

Macron did not need to remind him: natural gas is a weapon of war. Russia, well aware that wars are won in winter, has already begun to make good on its threat to cut off supplies. This will have very serious economic, social and perhaps even humanitarian consequences for the European Union.

The desperate European race to “fill the barn” has multiplied the cost of gas by eight. Meanwhile, in Spain we prefer to cheat ourselves alone, consuming as if nothing happened; complaining a lot, of course; and paying a price far beyond our means. Do not forget: a government can subsidize electricity, gas or gasoline, but it does not pay. It is the citizen who ends up doing it.

Neither this Executive, nor the previous one, nor the energy companies, nor we as consumers are responsible for the problem. But yes to face it. And I don’t know if their unconsciousness is more depressing or their unwillingness to do it is more depressing. The government and opposition promote and request reductions and subsidies for energy consumption, which are essential to guarantee the essentials to those who really need it, but who irresponsibly encourage even greater consumption by the rest, the vast majority. Instead, they should apply themselves to explaining the truth of what is happening and, rather than promoting, imposing radical energy saving measures. The supposed problem is that the “political cost would be great”. It is then, sadly, to ask what should be the priority of political action. But, regardless of that, it should be remembered that we are the same as when we were made to see that it was necessary, we exemplarily respect the most demanding health rules. Even so, the political cost will be higher when the situation explodes in winter, and the Executive can be accused of prior inaction.

Greater corporate social responsibility should also be demanded from the business sector. Not only to the energy companies that, for example, could avoid the ultra-advertised flat rates —which induce to consume more and worse— but to all in general: is it essential to be at 20º to maintain the level of sales or to perform in the office ?

But the main responsibility is individual. We must be aware that the situation is exceptional and very serious. That every time we turn on the air conditioning, spend minutes in the shower or take the car when we can use public transport we are financing the Russian military campaign: at current gas prices it is enough to invade Ukraine, Finland and beyond. That what we consume today, we will miss in winter, when it will be most needed. And there will be no budget to support it.

Again, fortunately, the European Commission has to push us to do what we are not capable of by ourselves, asking for restrictions on consumption from now on (better late…). Contrary to what was insinuated by the president last Thursday, these measures must indeed alter our way of life, otherwise they will once again be very insufficient. They must be brave, radical and equitable (“social”). A maximum level of essential consumption at an affordable price must be set and guaranteed. But whoever wants to consume more, should pay the true cost, not only today’s very high price, but also the one that can be expected for the coming winter (true, in Spain, in theory, we could have access to gas, the small detail is that there is no way we can afford it). This implies, for example, being overheated (as we have done until not much more than thirty years ago) or restricting the use of private vehicles (for example, limiting speed). But, before that, tell people the truth of what is happening in all its harshness.

The effort of all of us to get out of this is essential and urgent. Like Thelma and Louise, we speed blindly toward the precipice (blaming everyone but ourselves, that’s for sure). And at this rate, in addition to ruining ourselves, what we will lack in winter will be blankets.

Carlos Batlle is a researcher of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and professor at Comillas Pontifical University

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