Ukraine, Fossil Fuels, Bill McKibben, & You

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When history books are written 100 years from now (assuming there are still any people around to write them), February 2022 will be described as a “watershed moment.” The invasion of Ukraine by a deranged Russian lunatic is not specifically about fossil fuels, but it will mark the time when humans decided whether to abandon them and live or embrace them and die.

Make no mistake. We are no different than the monkeys locked inside glass cages in New Mexico and forced to breathe diesel exhaust fumes by researchers paid by Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes Benz to “prove” that the crud pouring out of the tailpipes of diesel-powered vehicles did no harm to living creatures. In case you don’t recall that particularly horrific and disturbing news, here’s a link to the video.

YouTube is happy to make videos debunking climate science freely available, but has deemed this video too disturbing for younger viewers. God forbid our children should know the truth! [Note: the video is a recreation of what took place in that lab in Albuquerque. No actual footage of the experiments is publicly available.] Just imagine it is you inside that enclosure and not some lower life forms, known to the researchers as  NHPs — non-human primates. In fact, thanks to fossil fuel pollution, the difference between us and those monkeys is very slight indeed. The cage we are in is bigger, but the pollution pouring into it is pretty much the same.

Bill McKibben Says End Fossil Fuels

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that warned of the dangers of pesticides. That book led to a ban on DDT and some other chemicals. Bill McKibben suggests the furor over Ukraine could actually spark the same sort of wholesale turning away from fossil fuels. In an opinion piece for The Guardian, he argues that the world should use this moment to massively increase the manufacture and installation of solar panels and wind turbines. He draws an analogy to America in World War II, when it converted its manufacturing sector to building planes, tanks, and ships on a scale never before seen in history. He writes,

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. 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. 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. It would take an evil-er genius than Vladimir Putin to figure out how to embargo the sun.

The point is this. Fossil fuels are degrading the environment. They are the primary cause of rising sea levels, droughts, extreme heat, raging wildfires, and melting ice caps. And yet, despite the mountain of evidence against them, humans persist in using them because it’s easy. Modern civilization is made possible by the energy created from burning fossil fuels. People cannot imagine living any other way.

And yet, the waterwheels that powered the early days of the Industrial Revolution are all gone. The steam engines that displaced them are gone as well. Yet the global economy expanded exponentially following their demise. Imagine the infinite possibilities for humanity that virtually unlimited electrical power from renewables will make possible! Rather than being frozen by fears that the era of fossil fuels will end, we should be rushing headlong into a future that promises abundant clean energy.

McKibben adds,”We should be in agony today — people are dying because they want to live in a democracy, want to determine their own affairs. But that agony should, and can, produce real change. (And not just in Europe. Imagine not having to worry about what the king of Saudi Arabia thought, or the Koch brothers — access to fossil fuel riches so often produces retrograde thuggery.) Caring about the people of Ukraine means caring about an end to oil and gas.”

The Energy Independence Thing

Within hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fossil fuel industry was in full-throated cry, demanding more drilling, more pipelines, more climate killing emissions! Instead of recognizing the damage done, the endless wars fought for oil and gas, the ceaseless parade of murderous lunatics — Idi Amin, Mohammed bin Salman, Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Vladimir Putin, to name just a few — and the dire economic impacts of wildly fluctuating energy prices, many want the world to tighten its embrace of fossil fuels.

The American Petroleum Institute was fast out of the gate with demands to increase fossil fuel production. It played the energy independence card just hours before the first Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, calling on President Biden to “ensure energy security at home and abroad” by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands, extending drilling in US waters, and slashing regulations. “At a time of geopolitical strife, America should deploy its ample energy abundance — not restrict it,” said Mike Sommers, the chief executive of API. He added that Biden was “needlessly choking our own plentiful supply” of fossil fuels.

Renewables For Freedom!

A patient goes to the doctor and says, “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor says, “Stop doing that.” We know the harm fossil fuels do. We know renewables can improve the energy independence of America and every other country by flooding the grid with cheap, plentiful electrical power. We know fossil fuels are degrading the environment. We know we don’t want flooded cities, polluted ground water, or raging forest fires. So why would be continue doing the things that got us into this mess in the first place? If we know it hurts people and the environment when we burn oil, gas, and coal, why don’t we stop doing that?

“Expanding oil and gas production now would do nothing to impact short term prices and would only accelerate the climate crisis, which already poses a major threat to our national security,” said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff at Evergreen Action, tells The Guardian.

Bill McKibben says if America could ramp up the production of tanks, planes, and ships in a matter of months, it could do the same with manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. So why isn’t it doing that? Why is it held hostage to the demands of people who choose to drive gas pigs that the price of gasoline be kept unnaturally low?

A fellow by the name of Socrates once said, “The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” It’s time to build the new, which is a world powered by clean, locally produced electricity. If we do not, those history books may never get written, because there will be no one left alive to write them.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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