Earlier this week the online U.K. supermarket Ocado told its customers that it had “limited ability” to deliver ice cream to them. Why? Because the price of natural gas has soared. That has caused two of the U.K.’s big industrial fertilizer plants to shut down, as natural gas is the feedstock for ammonia, which is used to make fertilizer. Since CO₂ is captured from ammonia production, this has hit the supply of CO₂ in the U.K. And that has led to a cut in the supply of dry ice that supermarkets use to keep food cool in their delivery vans. So, no ice cream.
We can live without ice cream. But what of the other effects? Abattoirs are short of the gas they need to stun animals, hospitals might not have the CO₂ they need for minor surgeries, and the nuclear industry is low on the gas they need for cooling. These things really matter. This mini-crisis has been fairly quickly resolved, for now at least: the taxpayer is stepping in to subsidize a fertilizer factory for three weeks.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry. You should. This incident serves as a timely reminder of just how reliant we are on fossil fuels. Despite our optimistic enthusiasm for wind and solar power, one way or another oil and gas use is shot through every part of our economic and social lives. That will be the case for many decades to come.