Some dangerous claims are currently being made about supposed opportunities for Canada following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Those claims appeal to peoples’ better nature, but in a way that is fundamentally either self-deluded or deceitful. And, if acted upon, they threaten (amongst other things) to aggravate conflicts elsewhere.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Production Gap Report found that the world’s governments are already planning on the production, between now and 2030, of fossil fuels totalling twice the maximum amount consistent with keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 C. And going beyond 1.5 means death, destruction or displacement for millions of people worldwide. The IPCC working group 2 report which was published at the end of February found that, already, at 1.1 C warming, 3.3 billion people, or nearly half of the world’s population, live in countries which are “very highly vulnerable” or “highly vulnerable” to climate change impacts. With every increase of a tenth of a degree, that number of people at risk rises disproportionately. Increasing fossil fuel output has a devastating impact on peoples’ lives across the world. The report further states that:
Even with moderate climate change, people in vulnerable regions will experience a further erosion of livelihood security that can interact with humanitarian crises, such as displacement and forced migration and violent conflict, and lead to social tipping points.
That is what expansion of the oil and gas industry, here or anywhere else, means. Consequently over the last year one major report after another made it clear that fossil fuel production needs to be reduced and phased out, not increased. And, as the IPCC authors state:
Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.
Meanwhile, the bombardment of Ukraine is paid for by the revenues brought into Russia by its oil and gas industry. As the head of Ukraine’s delegation to IPCC working group 2, Svitlana Krakovska, said in the final planning meeting before the launch:
Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots – fossil fuels and our dependence on them.
The courageous response of her Russian counterpart, Oleg Anisimov – a statement which must have put him at significant personal risk – is also worth noting:
Let me present an apology on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict. Those who see what is happening fail to find any justification for the attack on Ukraine.
I would rather pay attention to Dr. Krakovska, a serious evidence-driven climate scientist – incidentally speaking while under bombardment – than to the comfortable self-interested executives and politicians who are using the crisis to try to justify expansion of the Canadian fossil industry.
To anyone who has been listening to the carefully crafted messaging of the petro-promoters, I advise you to take their statements with a pinch of salt. We need to face reality. It takes years to build a pipeline. It takes years to set up LNG plants and bitumen upgraders and other infrastructure. There is no fossil fuel production capacity that could be brought online fast enough to address the short-term crisis brought about by the invasion of Ukraine.
So let’s talk about Europe. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil cannot be ended overnight. But there are some measures which can substantially reduce it, much more quickly than anything that Canada’s bitumen-boosters could offer. Some of it is already happening – and generally with much greater thought and consistency than anything we see in North America. But some measures will require additional government action to make it happen more quickly. Insulate homes and offices. Establish rigorous energy efficiency regimes. Turn down thermostats. Replace gas boilers with heat pumps. Speed up the approval and construction of solar and wind power facilities. Speed up the reconfiguration of the grid that can enable those variable renewables to play a dominant role. Strengthen public transit. Increase electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and accelerate the phase-out of the internal combustion engine. Support farmers to transition to organic and near-organic methods. And so on.
European countries now have an extra incentive to do these things. But they are all things that – with some regional variations – we should be doing with a sense of urgency across the whole of the industrialised world anyway. And, while Europe needs to speed things up, Canada needs to truly get its act together because for the most part we are playing catch-up and are at risk of being left far behind.
Here in Canada, as in the rest of the world, our best hope for a safer, healthier, peaceful future is in moving away from oil and gas as quickly as possible. That means investing in a comprehensive energy shift to efficiency and renewables. And it means building a just transition for Indigenous people, for fossil workers and for their communities. This is a hope that the fossil-focussed want us to dismiss – whether that is Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs, or whether it is Scott Moe and Jason Kenney and the commercial vested interests that fund and lobby them. We must ignore them and actively pursue the hope of a clean energy society that rejects dependency both on tyrants and on greedy corporate interests.
Meanwhile, you can provide humanitarian aid to people in Ukraine through Mennonite Central Committee. You can also help people in Ukraine, and additionally refugees in eastern Europe through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. And if you are able to provide accommodation or other help to Ukrainians arriving in Canada there is a place to register at the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy website.
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