What the War in Ukraine Means for Fossil Fuels

Kate Fraser - Teen Aspect - May 26th, 2022
Greenpeace activists peacefully protest using the Delta Pioneer Oil Tanker (Will Rose, Greenpeace)
 

Just before the start of April, President Joe Biden announced that the United States will release 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserves were created in 1975 under Gerald Ford’s Administration through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act following the Energy Crisis of 1973. This crisis was rooted in embargoes put forth by Saudi Arabia in a direct challenge to countries that supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War.


It is clear that concerns over energy are heightened in the face of international conflict. History certainly repeats, with the American public in 2022 showing the same signs of national panic almost 50 years earlier.


From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, it has been clear that this conflict is one that surrounds fossil fuels. Before Russia even invaded Ukraine, Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, an addition to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that would double the flow of gas from Russia to Germany. This sanction was exceptionally controversial in Germany, as the country gets half of its gas from Russia (Marsh and Chambers, 2022). However, the majority of European countries have been reluctant in their efforts to ban Russian oil due to their historic reliance. If countries are truly going to enter new energy markets, they need to include new domestic renewable energy projects.

What are some success stories we can learn from?


Iceland successfully runs entirely off of renewable energy, mostly from geothermal and hydrothermal sources (Government of Iceland). The so-called “land of fire and ice” transitioned to fossil fuels in the early 1970s, for reasons that surprisingly go outside the environmentally-conscious mindset that now exists in Iceland. The country simply could not economically handle fluctuating fossil fuel prices among the various energy crises of the time. Additionally, the country is relatively geographically isolated from large fossil fuel exporters. The unique thing about Iceland’s transition to sustainable energy is that it was largely driven by its citizens; both the geothermal and hydrothermal systems of energy that power the entire country originated from simple methods used by local farmers (Logadóttir, 2015).


Although Iceland’s story is a rather unique one in comparison to those countries that run mostly off renewable energy, the country is making massive efforts to educate other countries in their efforts to make the switch. They have shared their technological developments with other countries from the start.

Using countries such as Norway, New Zealand, and Brazil as models in our move towards renewable energy methods may be the best step forward.


However, most importantly, there has been a persistent false reality in the minds of fossil-fuel reliant countries: we do not have the means to make such a dramatic transition. Yet, whether it is solar, hydrothermal, wind, biomass, or tidal forms that get us there, the United States could reach up to 90% of carbon-neutral power by 2035 without increasing consumer bills (UC Berkeley, 2020). This is precisely what the United States needs to work towards in response to the latest IPCC report that grants the world only this current decade to act to prevent moving into the proposed temperature change threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (IPCC, 2021).


With this alarming report in mind, it is clear we need a sense of climate urgency in the White House. Although both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have been of utmost importance for President Biden, his clear enthusiasm for climate policy at the beginning of his presidency has fizzled out, especially represented by his failure to prevent the sale of 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling.


As mentioned previously, the war in Ukraine has pushed the US government to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to reduce inflated gas prices following Biden’s ban on the US importation of Russian oil. This has left environmental groups confused, with the White House pulling them into a maze of unknowns. Despite relatively pioneering efforts to limit American fossil fuel consumption, President Biden is now leading with an inconsistent plan. Justin Guay, the director of the environmental group Sunrise Project, puts it rather simply: “They’re not telling a coherent story” (Politico, 2022). Despite the endless unanswered questions, one thing is for certain. Power and fossil fuels are inherently intertwined. In fact, oil has kept the Russian military strong, but not in the way you may think. Sixty percent of the earnings gained from oil and gas exports have equipped the Russian army, keeping their tanks moving in an ironic and indirect fashion (McKibben, 2022). Putin would not have been able to carry out this very invasion without his years of political attention connected to fossil fuels. Oil and gas profits have quite literally fueled his empire-building fantasies, ones of pure danger and international astonishment as they begin to play out.

The direction that the Biden Administration will take is uncertain, especially with midterms right around the corner. Any truly influential and meaningful pieces of legislation may jeopardize the Democratic position, putting any hopes of climate action on hold. Nonetheless, the world needs to move towards renewable energy self-sufficiency, a change that will alleviate some of the worst environmental phenomena that are expected to follow increasing temperatures.


References

Marsh, S., & Chambers, M. (2022, February 22). Germany freezes Nord Stream 2 gas project as Ukraine crisis deepens. Reuters. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/germanys-scholz-halts-nord-stream-2-certification-2022-02-22/

Marley, J. (2022, April 26). Will war in Ukraine hasten the end of fossil fuels? The Conversation. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/will-war-in-ukraine-hasten-the-end-of-fossil-fuels-179980

Logadóttir, H. H. (2015, December). Iceland's Sustainable Energy Story: A Model for the world? UN Chronicle. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/icelands-sustainable-energy-story-model-world

Government of Iceland. (n.d.). Energy. Government.IS. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.government.is/topics/business-and-industry/energy/#:~:text=Renewable%20energy%20provided%20almost%20100,supplier%20of%20electricity%20in%20Iceland

UC Berkeley The Goldman School. (2020, June 8). The US can reach 90 percent clean electricity by 2035, dependably and without increasing consumer bills. Berkeley Public Policy. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://gspp.berkeley.edu/faculty-and-impact/news/recent-news/the-us-can-reach-90-percent-clean-electricity-by-2035-dependably-and-without-increasing-consumer-bills

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2022). Climate Change 2022 Mitigation of Climate Change. Geneva.

Friedman, L. (2022, January 4). Biden 'over-promised and under-delivered' on climate. now, trouble looms in 2022. NY Times. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/04/climate/biden-climate-change.html

Siegel, J., & Tamborrino, K. (2022, April 13). Biden's shift from climate to oil rattles greens. POLITICO. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/13/biden-gas-supply-climate-change-00024776

McKIbben, B. (2022, April 11). Putin's war shows autocracies and fossil fuels go hand in hand. Here's how to tackle both. The Guardian. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/11/putin-autocracies-fossil-fuels-climate-action


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