Ukraine war is ‘an epoch changing event’ for the climate
Russia’s war on Ukraine is an epoch-changing event that poses sweeping challenges, and opportunities, for climate reporting. Suddenly the only existential threat that matches climate change – nuclear war, has reemerged as a clear and present danger. A global recession threatens as fossil fuels, still the lifeblood of the world economy despite spectacular recent gains by solar and wind energy, appear scarce, driving prices higher and inviting political demagoguery. After decades of oil companies’ climate lies, the latest harrowing IPCC report gets almost overlooked as war crimes and mass resistance in Ukraine command the attention of newsrooms and news consumers alike.
This is a fast-moving story with earth-shaking implications, and getting it right will demand great care, courage, and clarity from news organizations.
A key starting point is an observation by Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth made in a recent column headlined, “Ukraine is a climate story. Because every story is a climate story.” So when Russia invaded, Roth wrote a piece about the war’s climate implications. He followed up in his weekly newsletter “Boiling Point” by puncturing fossil fuel lobby assertions that countering Putin’s aggression requires boosting US oil production. Such a boost, he wrote, “would lock in dependence on fossil fuels that humanity can’t afford” if it wants to survive climate change.
Naomi Klein pointed out in The Intercept that bad actors exploiting military or economic crises and their attendant human suffering is nothing new. The danger today, she argued, is that soaring energy prices can make some of the fossil fuel industry’s most “planet-torching” projects potentially profitable again. Yet Germany’s cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia also reminds us, she added, that human beings can choose ethics over-exploitation: “If Germany can abandon an $11 billion pipeline because it’s suddenly seen as immoral (it always was), then all fossil fuel infrastructure that violates our right to a stable climate should also be up for debate.”
We may be entering one of history’s inflection points when the choices made will either send humanity further down the path of fossil fuels and climate chaos or open a new era of climate realism where, as US president Joe Biden declared on Tuesday, clean energy “is the goal we should be racing toward.”
The world made a similarly dramatic shift not so long ago. Nathaniel Bullard pointed out in a recent Bloomberg column. that the oil price shocks of the 1970s led major economies to slash their dependence on oil; within 15 years, they cut it by half. Today, Bullard argued, similar urgency “must be channelled… into the most substantial changes possible. That is a deep decarbonisation of everything — industrial metals production, chemicals production, fertilizer production, heating and cooling, and long-distance and heavy transport in the air and at sea. Everything.”
By media partner Covering Climate Now