The response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is both inspiring and perplexing for anyone concerned with climate change. It has demonstrated that rapid transformation of the status-quo — exactly what is needed to slow climate change — can indeed occur within a matter of days. Constants of international relations that seemed eternal a month ago have been upended overnight. Major players have taken actions that appear to sacrifice their own immediate interests.
The contrast with our climate emergency could not be starker: overshadowed by the Russian invasion was the release of the latest United Nations IPCC report detailing the menace that unchecked climate change poses to the earth’s ability to support modern civilization. Such a threat should prompt at least as strong a response as the massing of Russian armies. Yet while Russian actions, anticipated for several months, have triggered a reordering of geopolitics, dire impacts of climate change, forecast for at least 30 years, have led to minimal and inadequate change.
The two problems, however, are fundamentally related. The long-term interests of the United States, the European Union, aspiring democracies such as Ukraine, and indeed everyone else are best served by a program of de-carbonization. The United States is uniquely positioned to lead such a strategy, which would invest in decentralized systems of energy and undermine the concentrated oligarchic power associated with fossil fuel production. In his recent State of the Union Address, President Biden had the opportunity to link the defense of Ukraine with a shift from fossil fuels to a green economy. He did not.
It is left for us at the grassroots, then, to insist that geopolitics not be hived off from climate change, that the national interest, democracy, and clean energy are all deeply interrelated goals. To achieve them together calls for bracing, comprehensive, rapid change of all the systems of modern life: agriculture, transportation, finance, housing, and manufacturing.
The Ukraine crisis should make clear that a decisive shift away from fossil fuels is necessary for the stability of our terrestrial habitat, and the very possibility of liberty and justice for all.