ER Editor: An eternal reminder that the German government could just switch on Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a pipeline which it pushed Russia to build in the first place. But no, having ongoing crises, real or manufactured, is the best way to put the bureaucratic mentality and metaphorical thumbscrews on citizens.
To reduce energy consumption in the face of the looming German gas crisis, Economics Minister Robert Habeck has proposed a bizarre set of indoor temperature ordinances that continue the pattern of direct state interventions in the everyday life first established by mass containment.
Workspaces where hard physical labour is performed are not to be heated above 12 C, under the new rules. Those involving moderate labour while standing will have their temperatures capped at 16 C, and moderate labour while sitting at 17 C. Places where light labour is performed standing, will be permitted temperatures as high as 18 C, while white-collar office spaces where everybody sits and types will be permitted nothing warmer than 19 C. The heating of hallways and other common spaces will be outlawed, as will certain kinds of restroom water heaters. There will be a general ban on using electricity or gas to heat private pools, and shops will be ordered to keep external doors closed at all times. Political pressure is growing for similar ordinances limiting gas consumption in residences.
While some doubt that these rules can be enforced, German police have already proven effective at enforcing pandemic-era contact limits in private homes. And even if indoor temperatures are never systematically checked by authorities, I’m pretty sure that the simple prospect of unannounced inspections and fines will be enough for most employers to declare a third season of home office, with the added prospect of offloading higher gas prices onto their employees.
It is most curious how this totally new catastrophe should call forth some of very same measures demanded by the Corona pandemic. Not only will home office return, but municipal pools will close again and cities will be kept dark at night, a de facto limitation on evening mobility that might well encourage some places to reimpose the curfews last seen in the winter of 2020/21. Meanwhile, some of the very same spaces recently commandeered for excess hospital capacity and mass vaccination will be repurposed as heated shelters for the old, the sick and the poor.
Not any unified plan, but rather a long series of contingencies, have caused the German gas crisis. Yet the steadfast refusal of the Scholz government to consider any course of action that might ameliorate the shortage, always with a new excuse, grows every day more unsettling.
There’s the obvious explanation, that the Greens in government are merely taking advantage of this opportunity to achieve their higher goal of restricting fossil fuel consumption, as they’ve always wished. But I think there might be another, deeper way to understand this too. I suggest that we’re seeing here the emergence of a new political style, which you might call Crisis Governance—or, as a friend put it, “the continuation of Corona policy by other means.” One of my core themes here has been the deepening demobilisation of western states, as power is diffused downwards from the political apex into the bureaucratic institutions, the press and major corporate enterprises. The great advantage of this power-sharing is a near-total uniformity of political views that it has inspired across the socio-cultural elite, but it comes at the cost of initiative, coordination and strategy. Crises seem to be one of the only ways our new, demobilised states can overcome their paralysis and act to further any kind of positive political programme.
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