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Total: Dump Putin's Gas

Greenpeace France activists took to the sea to highlight how fossil fuels have triggered and financed international conflict and to call on Europe to divest from Russian oil and gas in response to the invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: Jean Nicholas Guillo/Greenpeace)

Oil and Gas Giants Under Fire for Fueling Russian War on Ukraine

"How many more missiles have to destroy civilian lives before we ditch fossil fuels?" asked a Greenpeace activist.

Jessica Corbett

Climate campaigners worldwide called out major oil and gas companies this weekend for fueling conflict around the world, including Russian President Vladimir Putin's ongoing war in Ukraine, and demanded a shift to renewables.

"Putin's invasion is yet another example of the many conflicts fueled by oil and gas across the world."

Greenpeace France activists took to the sea Saturday to "highlight the historical responsibility of fossil fuels in triggering and financing international conflict and to call on Europe to divest from Russian oil and gas and push for investment in renewable energies."

Activists on board an inflatable vessel displayed a banner that declared "Fossil Fuels War" in front of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker preparing to unload TotalEnergies' gas in the port of Montoir-de-Bretagne in France.

The ship—named Boris Vilkitsky for a Russian hydrographer and surveyor—departed from the Russian Arctic the day after the invasion began and was diverted to France after dockworkers in the United Kingdom refused to unload the cargo.

"How many more missiles have to destroy civilian lives before we ditch fossil fuels?" asked Helene Bourges, head of Greenpeace France's fossil fuel campaign. "Putin's invasion is yet another example of the many conflicts fueled by oil and gas across the world."

"After helping fill the Kremlin's pockets and fuel its tanks, the oil giants are now racing to leave Russia in a desperate attempt to protect their image," she pointed out. "But the damage is done and despite the sanctions, ships loaded with Putin's gas are still docking in Europe."

Bourges emphasized that "Europe's gas dependence is funding Putin's war machine and this is the true face of TotalEnergies, a self-proclaimed 'responsible energy major' that expresses its solidarity with the Ukrainian people on Tuesday and welcomes Russian gas into Europe on Saturday."

The activist noted that despite an "alarming" call on Thursday with Putin, which left French President Emmanuel Macron convinced that "the worst is yet to come," France "has not yet ordered TotalEnergies to withdraw from Russia."

"We already have the technologies we need to end our dependence on gas," Bourges added. "All we need is the political will of the E.U. to carry out an unprecedented program to free Europe from its gas dependence."

"We need an emergency plan to insulate homes, replace boilers with heat pumps, and boost ever-cheaper solar and wind power," she asserted. "This will create jobs, lower energy bills, tackle the climate crisis, and cut our dependence on imported gas."

American climate activist made a similar argument in a Friday opinion piece for The Guardian, charging that "caring about the people of Ukraine means caring about an end to oil and gas."

As McKibben wrote:

This is not a "war for oil and gas" in the sense that too many of America's Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can't fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.

Russia has a pathetic economy... Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country's military machine.

And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia's main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe. When the Germans finally this week stopped the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, said, "Welcome to the new world where Europeans will soon have to pay 2,000 euros ($2,270) per thousand cubic meters!" His not very subtle notion: if the price of keeping houses warm doubles, Europe will have no choice but to fold.

"So now is the moment to remind ourselves that, in the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and wind power by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth," he continued. "The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, and the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. But the third best reason—and perhaps the most plausible for rousing our leaders to action—is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs."

"Imagine a Europe that ran on solar and wind power: whose cars ran on locally provided electricity, and whose homes were heated by electric air-source heat pumps," McKibben added. "That Europe would not be funding Putin's Russia, and it would be far less scared of Putin's Russia—it could impose every kind of sanction, and keep them in place until the country buckled.

"Imagine an America where the cost of gas was not a political tripwire, because if people had to have a pickup to make them feel sufficiently manly, that pickup would run on electricity that came from the sun and wind," he wrote. "It would take an evil-er genius than Vladimir Putin to figure out how to embargo the sun."

The longtime activist acknowledged that "we could produce carbon free energy with nuclear power too, as long as we were willing to pay the heavy premium that technology require—and right now Germany is probably regretting its decision to hastily shut down its reactors in the wake of the Fukushima accident."

However, he noted, nuclear power comes with a variety of risks—as the war in Urkaine reminded the world this week, when Russia's forces took over the Chernobyl site and a fire broke out at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe after Russian shelling that critics called a war crime.

McKibben's argument came the same day that "Shell bought 100,000 metric tons of Russia's flagship Urals crude," paying "$28.50 a barrel below the price of international benchmark Brent crude, the widest discount on record," according to The Wall Street Journal.

The purchase fueled sharp condemnation throughout the weekend:

In a lengthy statement Saturday, Shell said that "we are appalled by the war in Ukraine and have already made clear our intention is to exit joint ventures with Gazprom—which is majority-owned by the Russian government—and related entities, as well as intending to end our involvement with a significant project to pipe gas from Russia through Europe."

The company called the decision to buy crude oil from Russia "difficult" and said that "we will commit profits from the limited amount of Russian oil we have to purchase to a dedicated fund" that will help "alleviate the terrible consequences that this war is having on the people of Ukraine."

Campaigners and climate groups condemned the purchase as part of a long trend of bad decisions by the company.

"When ordered by a court to reduce emissions nearly in half, they decided to leave the Netherlands after over 100 years," said Extinction Rebellion. "The horrific ecocide and poisonings from flaring and leaks in Nigeria have been described as genocide. This is a pattern."

Tweeting a report about Shell's statement, McKibben said that "if you think about this even for a minute, you will have a sense of the endless stupid treadmill that the fossil fuel industry wants to keep us on forever."


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