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This picture taken on October 15, 2021 shows a child standing on a dry land in Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. Drought stalks the parched fields around the remote Afghan district of Bala Murghab, where climate change is proving a deadlier foe than the country's recent conflicts. (Photo: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

Fossil Fuels Are Not the Answer to War. They Are Its Cause

Climate change―caused by the burning of fossil fuels―makes future wars more likely.

Alec Connon

"Never let a good crisis go to waste," is a quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill. It could also be the motto of the fossil fuel industry. The day before Russian tanks entered Ukraine, the American Petroleum Institute released a set of demands of President Biden, urging him to make it easier than ever to dig up and burn fossil fuels. Republican Members of Congress immediately took to social media and Fox News to echo the call.

Despite what the fossil fuel industry and its allies may say, the only reasonable answer to the energy conundrum stemming from Putin's war in Ukraine is a massive buildout of renewable energy.

The mainstream media appears to be reading from the same script. The Washington Post and Bloomberg both published an article with the title 'Fracking is a Powerful Weapon Against Russia.' The New York Times Editorial Board called for European nations to "rapidly expand facilities for handling liquefied natural gas."

These cries stem from the fact that Russia's oil and gas exports are what fund its war machine and afford it leverage over much of the world―9% of Europe's total energy comes from Russian oil and gas imports; Germany depends on Russia for around two-thirds of its gas.

Unfortunately, it can't be ignored that the calls for expanded fossil fuel production are happening at the same time as the arrival of two major new climate studies.

One, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the most comprehensive review of climate science ever published. Its headline findings include the fact that one in three people are now exposed to deadly heat stress on a regular basis and that the mass die-off of species, from trees to corals to insects, is already underway. "Delay is death," said the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, discussing the report and the urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

The other study of note comes from the International Energy Agency, one of the world's most respected energy research bodies. It turns out that the gas industry has been undercounting its methane emissions by some seventy percent. Given that over a twenty-year period, methane has eighty times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide that is no small detail―and it means that the LNG that the New York Times is now championing is even worse for the climate than we thought. 

The IEA and IPCC studies make one thing crystal clear: heralding increased fossil fuel production as a solution to the war in Ukraine is myopic.

For one thing, climate change―caused by the burning of fossil fuels―makes future wars more likely. Research has shown that extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was likely due to climate change. That drought caused crop failures that pushed an estimated 1.5 million people from rural areas into urban ones. This helped create the social stresses that led to the uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. The war that followed has claimed over 450,000 lives and continues to this day. Climate change wasn't the cause of the Syrian civil war per se, but it did make it more likely.

The US Department of Defense has expressed its concerns that climate change could increase geopolitical tensions and the likelihood of future conflict. "Climate impacts, such as increased competition over scarce resources, are likely to contribute to internal tensions within countries, as well as external tensions between countries," stated a 2021 Department of Defense report. To put that another way: In a world made harsher by climate change, it becomes more likely that we will collapse into the brutal harshness of war. 

The calls for more fossil fuels would perhaps be understandable if there wasn't any other option. But the cost of solar power has dropped 85% in the past decade. Heat pumps are now as capable of keeping European homes warm as gas is. This is why Germany's war response has included announcing plans to rapidly expand its wind and solar power, bringing forward a target to generate all the country's electricity from renewable sources by fifteen years to 2035.

One interesting idea over here is that President Biden could use the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing mass numbers of electric heat pumps which could be shipped to Europe―where they would replace Russian gas as a means of keeping people's houses warm. As President Biden considers imposing sanctions on Russian oil, such an accompanying move would be far smarter than expanding domestic fossil fuel production.

Despite what the fossil fuel industry and its allies may say, the only reasonable answer to the energy conundrum stemming from Putin's war in Ukraine is a massive buildout of renewable energy.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Alec Connon

Alec Connon

Alec Connon is the coordinator of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, a coalition of over 160 organizations working to stop the flow of money from Wall Street to the fossil fuel industry. He is also a writer. His first novel, The Activist, was published in 2016.

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