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A sign reading "Nord Stream 2 Committed. Reliable. Safe." hangs above a painted map on an information container for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Lubmin industrial park. Against the backdrop of the escalating Russia-Ukraine conflict, the German government is halting the approval process for the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline until further notice. (Photo: Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Russian Invasion Bolsters Case for Ending Use of Fossil Fuels

Plus, the unbearable whiteness of how western journalists cover a war in Europe.

You probably didn't see it—not with the understandable 24/7 coverage of Russia's barbaric assault on Ukraine—but there was some bombshell news Monday about the world's slower-motion apocalypse: climate change.

For nearly a century, humans have been killing other humans for the buried treasure of black gold—from Baku to Baghdad. Dictators like Putin or Saudi Arabia's murderous monarchs have used their control of the oil spigot to extort other nations and bend them to their will.

The world's top experts convened by the United Nations to study the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions by humans—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC—said that the dreaded effects such as deadly droughts and floods and rapidly rising sea levels are already here and likely to become worse than earlier predicted. The UN secretary general António Guterres put it bluntly when he said "people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change."

On the very same day, here in Pennsylvania, a GOP lawmaker unveiled a plan that would have a significant impact on carbon emissions. It would make climate change worse. The bill introduced Monday in Harrisburg by Republican state Rep. Seth Grove of York County would spur increased natural gas drilling in the Keystone State as well as the development of new pipelines. This legislation could have been called the Bonanza For Big Gas Lobbyists Act, but that's not the political spin on fossil fuels in this harsh winter of 2022.

No, Grove's bill is named the End Russian Aggression Act, even if it's not exactly clear how banning Pennsylvania from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI—a compact of Eastern U.S. states hoping to speed the transition from dirty fuels like coal to clean energy—would stop the advance of Vladimir Putin's tanks.

Grove's nakedly political bill likely won't become law—not this year, with Democratic governor Tom Wolf in power—but it does represent a pendulum swing. Republicans and oil-and-gas interests who had been on their back heels after seasons of deadly wildfires and storms now see an opening in Ukraine's deadly conflict. Russia's status as a leading oil-and-gas producer means the war brings higher gasoline prices, at least in the short run, and also has Europe scrambling for alternative sources of natural gas to stay warm.

Seizing on the immediate crisis while ignoring the much bigger one lurking down the road, Republicans see an opportunity to not only rough up President Biden, a climate realist, heading into November's midterms. They're also using the crisis advocate for their donors' pet projects like the Keystone XL pipeline—killed, for now, by the White House because of its climate impact—or opening up more drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It should be pointed out that this makes absolutely no sense.

For nearly a century, humans have been killing other humans for the buried treasure of black gold—from Baku to Baghdad. Dictators like Putin or Saudi Arabia's murderous monarchs have used their control of the oil spigot to extort other nations and bend them to their will. In the present crisis, Putin's leverage on the West would amount to a hill of beans if Europe had started earlier and more aggressively to move away from fossil fuels. Thus, building infrastructure that would lock us into oil and gas for another generation seems the height of madness.

I touched base Monday with Pennsylvania's top climate scientist—Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State. He agreed with that assessment, telling me that "the Ukraine crisis is a perfect example of the dangers of our reliance on fossil fuel energy and the urgency of transitioning rapidly toward clean energy."

The problem is that in the present, world leaders like Biden have to deal with the decades of bad decisions—for example, Germany racing to decommission its nuclear plants after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, before clean alternatives could replace the lost electricity—which means the West is managing the Ukraine crisis in a world still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. That means that short-term measures to prevent an economic crash or the freezing of Europe—tapping into government oil reserves, or even a holiday on gasoline taxes while the conflict is raging—make sense.

What makes no sense at all is giving into right-wing bullying aimed at locking in long-term projects such as permanent pipelines that pretend that science like Monday's IPCC report doesn't even exist. In fact, I'm wondering what would be dumber—watching cities like New Orleans or Miami sink into oblivion because we didn't listen to the world's experts, or dealing with the next madman with a giant army funded by windfall oil profits threatening to use his economic clout to launch World War IV in the year 2035?

Is the U.S. serious about ending Russian aggression, or generally making the world safe for democracy? Then we should take the dollars we planned to throw at Big Oil and Gas for another pipeline, and speed the development of clean energy like wind and solar that won't need to be shipped across national boundaries. That's what Germany announced on Tuesday—a renewed push for 100% renewable energy by 2035. That's smart—so that when the next Hitler or Putin rises up with the idea of terrorizing civilization, he'll be tilting at windmills.


© 2021 Philadelphia Inquirer
Will Bunch

Will Bunch

Will Bunch is the national columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer — with some strong opinions about what's happening in America around social injustice, income inequality and the government.

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