This post was first published on Cylvia's Substack page on March 17th, 2022.
Just imagine how different the situation in Ukraine would be if humanity had seriously committed to evolving beyond fossil fuel and had had enough wisdom not to build nuclear weapons arsenals and power-plants we can’t fully control. Had we picked that path Putin would have no leverage and this war would not be happening.
I strongly support the recent decision by the Biden Administration to ban U.S. import of Russian oil and I am heartened that a large majority of Americans from both parties as well as those registered as non-affiliated voters also supported the ban even though it contributes to increased gasoline prices. However, the U.S. and global governmental response to try to mitigate increasing fuel costs misses the mark by, once again, turning a blind eye to the dire need to move beyond fossil fuels. The truly rational response would be a massive, all-in redirection of resources toward efficiency retrofits and renewable energy alternatives. But that is not what leaders are choosing. Rather, the response has been to increase oil production and release additional petroleum reserves. The U.S. is even talking with once-shunned Venezuelan President and petro-dictator Maduro about increasing access to that country’s oil even though the oil extraction industry has decimated ecosystems and local communities.
Compounding the madness is the timing. The terrorization of the Ukrainian people, the needless suffering and destruction caused by the attack, has dominated media coverage and global attention. So much so, that the recently-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly explaining the dire climate impacts that ecosystems and communities around the world are already experiencing – and that are going to get much worse – barely registered with the media and public.
The report paints a stark picture of where we are and where we are heading. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it this way:
Today's IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world's most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now. The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal.
The report goes on to state that incremental measures to adapt to climate breakdown such as building sea walls or early weather monitoring systems are no longer going to cut it. Instead, countries must implement “transformative changes,” shifting where and how people build homes, grow food, produce energy and conserve nature. This must involve rethinking society’s current methods and habits of consumption.
The recent landmark IPCC report was a culmination of eight years of work exposing the havoc the climate crisis is causing the world. It was expected to be a major wake-up call, but then bombs started smashing into Kyiv. Ukraine’s leading climate scientist Svitlana Krakovska has said, “I started to think about the parallels between climate change and this war and it’s clear that the roots of both these threats to humanity are found in fossil fuels . . . This is a fossil fuel war. It’s clear we cannot continue to live this way; it will destroy our civilization.”
Our addiction to fossil fuels and the resulting petropolitics breeds dictators and drives war while our rapacious extraction and combustion of fossil fuels is an assault on nature. Every oil spill, every additional ton of pollution spewed into the air is another bomb dropping on something beautiful and irreplaceable.
“Drill baby drill” and “pump, pump, pump” may help keep gas prices artificially low but it also locks us into climate catastrophe and it does nothing to aid Ukraine. It is quite simply and insane and immoral approach.
In a pull-no-punches article in The Nation, Mathew Miles Goodrich wrote, “As Vladimir Putin’s war continues to inflict widespread devastation on Ukraine and its people, the feeling of powerlessness only grows deeper for those of us witnessing images of war crimes on the news and social media. But this powerlessness assumes we are mere spectators to this invasion. We’re not. For Americans, our addiction to same-day delivery service and mobility at the click of an app makes us pawns in Putin’s game of petrostate perestroika.”
The truth is simple, straightforward, and for many too terrible to be faced -- if we want to prevent petro-dictators and ecological collapse and desecration of this beautiful planet we must get off fossil fuels and to do that we must evolve beyond economies and cultures based on rapacious consumerism.
I know individual actions seem far too small to meet this moment, but apathy and avoidance are our greatest existential threats. Every one of us alive in this moment is being called to action, called to help redesign humanity’s relationship with one another and with nature. We do this with our individual actions, our voices, our demands for saner governance, our voting power. We do this when we choose not to buy, not to drive, not to order the latest gadget just because we can. Shopping second-hand is a moral action. Repairing instead of buying new is activism. Learning to feel that we have enough, that we are enough is a transformational feat.
It is hard to fully anticipate how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will reshape the world but along with the great suffering there is also potential for great evolution in this terrible set of events. Crises often contain the seeds of change, and as the assault on Ukraine rolls on, it’s possible that the suffering and increasingly high fossil fuel prices could stimulate a leap forward toward saner, more life and freedom affirming energy policies and practices. It’s possible …. if enough of us get serious about trading in the title “consumer” for “citizen-of-Earth.” What if we made these choices right now?