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The geographic roots of Europe’s energy crisis

German nuclear power plant running again

Energy prices have risen across Europe in the last year, and as winter approaches many fear that an energy crisis might be on the horizon.  This brings up many questions, with the first and most obvious one being, why did energy prices rise?  Complex global markets are, well, complex, but large geopolitical events are often the stage for trade disruptions that can lead to shortages.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine in April 2022 was a major move, one that many European countries were quick to condemn.  Russia is an energy exporter with large oil, coal and natural gas reserves.  Russia supplied 40% of the EU’s natural gas before the war, but only 9% now after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline ceased being utilized.  Nord Stream 1, which pipes gas through the Baltic to Germany, has a very limited flow currently (officially, this is annual maintenance, but skeptics note that the flow is lower than regular maintenance and suspect Russia is putting the squeeze on the EU). This summer’s heat wave wouldn’t have been as big and issue if energy were abundant and relatively cheap in Europe.

Europe has stumbled into an energy crisis because of these geopolitical maneuverings. Natural gas is a primary energy source, but one that is especially used for heating and therefore, more critical in the wintertime.  The United States and European countries sought to impose strong economic sanctions against Russia, hoping to cut into Putin’s revenue stream and stop the war; or at least not feel as though they were funding the war.  This overvalued the power of an embargo of an and underappreciated the reliance of the European economy and standard of living on access to affordable energy. 

A quick animated explanation of the current energy catastrophe in Europe

Natural gas prices in Europe were at times in the summer, 7 to 8 times more expensive than gas in the United States. Many private individuals, small businesses, and any business with a thin profit margin, felt the squeeze of energy bills. Russia isn’t backing down from any economic sanction, saying that other regions besides Europe will gladly buy Russian gas. China has kept Russian production from grinding to a halt, effectively breaking the westward embargo, by sending it East.  Consequently, Europe is facing the negative consequences of the economic sanctions more so than the Russian energy sector. 

Europe has diversified natural gas and other energy sources, and launching a package of emergency proposals to get through the winter. Some analysts are optimist that Europe has solved the energy crisis before winter, by building more storage, increasing domestic production, and diversifying their supply. .  Countries like Germany have been reluctant to use their nuclear power and were caught flat-footed.    Coal, nuclear energy, and other energy sources that were dismissed for carbon emission concerns or environmental concerns are being reevaluated as the need is high in an energy-hungry market.  The prices will continue to fluctuate but this is an issue worth keeping an eye on in the next few months.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is currently functioning far below capacity

TAGS: Europe, energy, geopolitics.

Unexpected Discoveries using the Observatory of Economic Complexity

Do you need a case study on how to explore big data like the Observatory of Economic Complexity with students to uncover geographic patterns? This site let’s you ask interrelated questions and enter a rabbit hole of economic, geographic data. This is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography, so let me show you how the data visualizations can be used to make concrete observations that will unearth spatial relationships.

While I was wondering about the world largest coffee exporters, I looked at the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s data visualization tools. I was expecting to find mostly tropical countries where coffee is grown. I was baffled to find that Germany was listed as a major coffee exporter, along with many other Western European countries. 

Major Global Coffee Exporters (but definitely not all producers). SOURCE: OEC

This at first seemed like a misprint but many European countries like Germany import import green coffee beans from a variety of tropical countries, so they are a major producer of coffee without growing a single bean. In fact, the world’s largest single port for shipping coffee is Hamburg.

Where does Germany import coffee from? SOURCE: OEC

The highlands of East Africa were the original hearth of coffee beans and today, countries like Ethiopia and Uganda export green coffee beans overwhelmingly to European countries which in turn, roasts them and then exports them internationally. 

Which African countries does Germany import coffee from? SOURCE: OEC

African coffee growers face some steep difficulties when it comes to exporting roasted coffee.  This “value added” step would certainly increase the trading power of their agricultural commodities on the international trading market, but many European coffee labels already dominate that step in the commodity chain and have the made deep in-roads with consumers. 

What does Germany export? SOURCE: OEC

Exporting the finalized roasted coffee is but a very small part the overall German economy (the largest of the light green boxes-0.26% of total exports). For Ethiopia however, coffee exports is a major component of all their international trade (34.6%). Ethiopia produces something of high value, but is not positioned to extract a lot of profit from that commodity.

What does Ethiopia export? SOURCE: OEC

This is the crux of what makes decisions about free trade/fair trade difficult for individual consumers that are hoping to “vote with their pocketbook” to put their dollars in economic practices that they approve of. Commodity chains of so many products have become increasingly complex and these goods are more connected with far more places and workers than most would imagine.  Simply reading the label does NOT tell the full story of most products and the economic geographies that produced them.

This is just one story about the global economy that can be unearthed by exploring the Observatory of Economic Complexity. Were you wondering about Ethiopia’s cut flowers or Uganda’s gold? There is an entire network of economic relations that waiting to be uncovered if you are curious and willing to explore the data. This is why it is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography.    

GeoEd Tags: agriculture, economic, Germany.

Germany reunified 26 years ago, but some divisions are still strong

“While 75 percent of Germans who live in the east said that they considered their country’s reunification a success, only half of western Germans agreed. With eastern and western Germans blaming each other for past mistakes over the past two years, that frustration has likely increased. Younger citizens, especially — who do not usually identify themselves with their area of origin as strongly anymore — have grown worried about the persistent skepticism on both sides. But where do those divisions come from? And how different are eastern and western Germany today?”

Source: www.washingtonpost.com

This series of 10 maps (and 1 satellite image) highlights many of the cultural and economic divisions between East and West, despite efforts to in the last 26 years to smooth out these discrepancies. The social geographies imposed by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall are still being felt from this relic border and will for years to come. 

 

Tags: Germany, industry, laboreconomichistorical, politicalborders.

Why Germany’s recognition of Armenian genocide is such a big deal

Armenian American journalist Liana Aghajanian says the German parliament’s decision is all the more groundbreaking because it was a politician of Turkish descent who pushed it through.

 

The German Bundestag’s overwhelming vote last week in favor of this resolution, with just one vote against and one abstention, brought both gratitude and anger. Armenian communities, many of them descendants of genocide survivors who are dispersed across the world, are grateful. Turkey, however, was incensed and recalled its ambassador to Germany. Many Turks see the vote as not just a threat to longstanding German-Turkish relations, but to Turkish national identity.

Source: www.pri.org

I’ve posted in about the Armenian genocide in the past, and until Turkey acknowledges that it was a genocide, this issue will continue to fester.  Considering that Germany has a large Turkish population and an obvious historical connection to genocide, this recognition is far more important some other random country taking this stance. 

 

TagsArmenia, genocidepolitical, conflict, TurkeyGermanywar, historical.  

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