The climate movement undeniably had some momentum until the spring of 2020. Then came the pandemic, which closed us in with a new emergency health situation. Preferably a green and prosperous planet, but first an actual vaccine, world leaders seemed to reason.
Exactly how the coronavirus originated and began to spread, we may never get an answer, but that the human manipulation of ecosystems is a sure way to more pandemics, the experts agree. Nevertheless, no significant lessons have been learned from this during more than two years of the pandemic. We continue to burn fossil fuels, the emission curves are constantly pointing in the wrong direction, and the Amazon is currently being devastated faster than ever.
Hopes that environmental work would gain new momentum after most countries lifted their coronary restrictions this spring also quickly came to naught.
Enter: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Overnight, we were faced with another urgent reason to focus on something other than the ongoing human catastrophe that we know as the climate emergency.
And here comes a sad spoiler: Climate work must continue unabated in parallel with other global and regional crises for the simple reason that the perfect location to save the planet, entirely without distraction from war, disease and political conflict, will never arise.
That the whims of the climate and human conflicts are connected is old knowledge. Where crops dry up, settlements are flooded or severe weather conditions destroy crops, social ties quickly become strained. We often talk about climate refugees as a future phenomenon to prepare for, but the truth is, of course, that they already exist. The war in Syria is described by scientists as, at least in part, the first conflict on climate change after a five-year drought in the country made mass movements into the cities inevitable.
While the whole of Europe is now receiving Ukrainian refugees who have left the bombs behind, we can state that the climate crisis has a hand in this war as well, but the opposite. Vladimir Putin’s countrymen have already been hit hard by the sanctions imposed on Russia by the entire Western world. But the Kremlin knew that Europe’s energy dependence on Russian gas and oil was too significant for the EU to turn off that tap as well.
The money we pay Putin to be able to match our growing energy needs within the EU goes straight into the Russian war treasury. Despite this, governments, among others, do not hesitate to heavily subsidize the prices of fossil fuels during the current war. In other words, we are financing the attacks on Kharkiv and Mariupol with funds that, in turn, are accelerating climate change at a time when we should have pulled the emergency brake a long time ago.
There are, of course, indications that the war in Ukraine will accelerate the transition of the Western world to sustainable energy sources. Russian gas dependence has become a wake-up call throughout the EU and is suddenly seen as a security risk factor.
This time, the interests of climate and European peace coincide to some extent. Next time, it may be the other way around. Who dares to make uncomfortable decisions for the benefit of future generations then?