[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Russia’s war on Ukraine is partly a war on climate


"Gas Prices Today ($4.53)" by Greg Woodhouse Photography is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

On Apr. 7, gas prices in the U.S. reached it’s high at $5.80 in California. Minnesota’s gas prices are currently averaging just under $4.00. These high prices are a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. stopping the import of Russian oil. Now, the Biden administration is trying to find a way to decrease gas prices.

Cheap gas is a core American belief, a critical part of the American dream. What happens when Russia and America’s moral obligations stand in the way of cheap energy for citizens? Does the government and the people choose long-term stability or near-term convenience? In other words, do they choose old, dirty coal, or new, innovative, green energy?
If the decision falls in line with the past few decades of environmental decisions, then the U.S., and most likely Europe, will return to coal. It’s the cheap, quick, and reliable option, but it means that most of our environmental goals go down the drain. The Paris Agreement, an international treaty, has 219 countries bonded to the promise of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C. In a recent article, David Wallace-Wells, a journalist for the New York Magazine, said that there is currently a fifty-fifty chance of the goal being accomplished, and any delay would be horrific for its success. Russia’s invasion and war on Ukraine qualifies as a major delay.
It’s morally necessary for countries to remove themselves from any dependency on Russia, however, the U.S. and Europe should use this as an opportunity to kickstart a transition to green energy instead of reverting long-term to coal.
Most countries in Europe aren’t entirely dependent on Russia for energy, and have pulled away from their Russian imports due to the situation in Ukraine. Germany is highly dependent on Russia to supply oil and gas, and is unable to economically pull out from Russia. As other countries remove themselves from Russia’s exports, they are returning to coal to provide cheap energy quickly to their citizens. The U.S. has shifted some natural gas exports to Europe, but Europe will most likely use coal to fill the gap in their energy needs.
While the war has proved that countries can not have energy dependency on Russia, if Russia continues to threaten the livelihood of those countries and their allies. Europe imports 40% of its natural gas from Russia and plans to reduce Russian natural gas imports by 66% this year, with the goal of becoming completely independent from Russian oil, coal, and gas. Unfortunately, since the war between Russia and Ukraine has begun, it’s too late to make any immediately helpful changes to the countries’ energy sector.
When Russia initially invaded Ukraine, a group of permafrost scientists were about to begin an arctic-wide monitoring effort to collect crucial data on the effects and severity of climate change. Sanctions immediately stopped collaboration with Russian Scientists, and any research conducted on Russian land. Half of the Arctic landmass is Russian property, completely halting the expedition. The data the scientists were planning to collect is critical to accurately assess the state of climate change, and what efforts are needed to fight global warming. Soon after, seven out of eight of the Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the U.S.) censured Russia and suspended their participation in the Arctic Council. Currently, there is no council governing the Arctic Circle. The council works where there are chair shifts that rotate every two years. Currently, the Russian Federation is chair to the council, and Norway will take the position in the summer of 2023 when sanctions on the Arctic Council are expected to seize. Not only is there no science being conducted within the Arctic Circle, there is no enforcement of rules within the area, leaving Russia with half of the Arctic Circle and no one watching. Climate scientists are scared of the possibility of Russia completing environmentally harmful acts in the Arctic, and turning the area into part of their battleground.
Biden’s administration announced on Apr. 18 that they are reinstating leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land, breaking a campaign promise. The move is in an effort to lower gas prices for Americans. To deter criticism, they decreased leases available by 80% of what had been previously available for auction, and increased royalties for drilling companies in these areas by 6.25%. Nevertheless, this shows a step in the wrong direction in the effort to decrease America’s dependency on oil and gas.
Everything comes back to gas prices. For years it’s been the counter-argument to climate activism: it will cost too much. Yes, it costs a lot of money to initiate green energy solutions, but they become cheaper with every increase of installed capacity. In 2021, the U.S. spent $145 billion on natural disaster clean-up. Green energy would decrease climate change, decrease the money spent on the aftermath of natural disasters, and would decrease countries’ dependency on the economies and politics of other countries.