Putin’s Attack Adds New Urgency to Renewable Energy

Putin’s Attack Adds New Urgency to Renewable Energy

It has been over a month since Vladimir Putin started his attack on Ukraine. This attack has shaken almost every element of our understanding of world politics. And that is on top of the permanent damage it has done to the nation and citizens of Ukraine.

Countries like Canada, the United States, and the members of the European Union and NATO have condemned the attack. But we are forced to act carefully because of the spectre of nuclear, chemical, or biological escalations, in Eastern Europe and across the globe

We are subject to continuous images of the devastation of the attacks and of the Ukrainian stubborn and miraculous defense. We have also watched as countries, corporations and individual world citizens have boycotted and condemned Russia and offered their assistance to the people and the government of Ukraine.

A Defining Moment in History

This attack has become a defining moment in history. I cannot think of any event in my own memory that has more clearly spoken to “Which Side Are You On?

The vast majority of countries, world leaders, and public figures have shown their support for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Far fewer (former President Donald Trump is the most prominent) are defending Putin’s actions. Sort of.

An Event Full of Unintended Consequences

Putin’s little escapade has fundamentally affected many political and economic conversations.

The one I want to spend some time looking at here is the way in which it is reframing the conversation about alternative and renewable energy.

Europe Uses Lots of Russian Fossil Fuel

This conversation has been especially important in Europe. Because a significant portion of the oil and LNG used in Europe originates in Russia, any threats to shut off that supply threatens to have a significant immediate impact on the European economy.

In fact, “(i)n 2021, the European Union imported 155 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Russia, accounting for around 45% of EU gas imports and close to 40% of its total gas consumption.”

And in 2019, the Russian percentage of oil imports were 26.9% of the European market.

But the Importation of Russian Resources is Dropping

For years, the European Union has been working to reduce their dependence on imported oil and LNG.

According to World Economic Forum “In 2012, the EU imported $173 billion (€157bn) worth of energy from Russia.” But in 2021, “the EU imported (just) $108 billion (€99bn) worth of energy from Russia.

That was all prior to Putin’s attack on Ukraine. The urgency of efforts to move away from Russian sourced fossil fuels have become blindingly obvious.

The EU has sought out alternative sources for these fuels – from the Middle East and North America in the short term. And other countries, including the United States have helped identify and access viable alternative sources of fossil fuels.

Reshaping the Debate About Renewable Energy

But these events have highlighted the geopolitical security offered by alternatives in the energy sector – the ones we usually think of when we use the phrase alternative energy.

Europe has seriously stepped-up its efforts to increase renewable energy.

This is a significant side benefit offered by the development of a renewable energy infrastructure. But it seldom gets discussed in the society or in the popular press.

Solar and wind energy are generally locally sourced and tailored to prevailing circumstances. The geo-political power of fossil fuel producers and distributors are reduced – if not eliminated.

Watching Changes in Personal Behavior

Permit me a personal side bar for just a moment.

Personal behaviour is often affected by these kinds of events as well. In the 1970s, while Americans were lining up at the gas pump, bicycle sales soared.

Now the twin threats of COVID and sky rocketing gas prices are sending bicycle sales through the roof again. And as an avid cyclist and cycling advocate that has me excited. Come join me on the road, folks. With those bikes you had stowed away in the garage and the new electric gizmos making an appearance all over town. I mean, how else do you expect to get your coffee and donuts delivered?

Geopolitics Changes in a Renewable Energy Economy

Okay, back to reality. Let’s stop and consider how some of the events of the late 20th century.

In a world dominated by renewable energy, the impact of the OPEC oil boycott of the 1970’s would have been negligible. Without lineups at the pump, society goes on the way everyone expects.

The motivation behind the Gulf War of the early 21st century would have barely existed. Threats to Middle Eastern oil fields mean very little if they don’t act as the central pump for our economy and way of life.

In a world not dominated by fossil fuels, the geopolitical threats of Putin’s regime in Russia, are greatly diminished. Without the ability to threaten European energy needs or use their steady stream of revenue, it’s hard to see how Putin could have afforded to even get this war started – politically or economically.

The governments of the European Union recognize this fact. They can see it because it’s right there on their doorstep. Their motivation for pressing ahead with shifting to renewable energy takes on a new urgency, well beyond “just” the environment.

I have seen many stories in the news pointing out this fact. I have also seen efforts by defenders of the stats quo that point to decisions by EU countries to postpone some conversion efforts in the short term. But I would like to remind you, the faithful reader, that those changes are for short term. Mid- and long-term efforts are aimed at removing fossil fuels from the mix. And with that elimination, also removing the geopolitical consequence of maintaining their supply.

This has always been true of those who would have us shift away from fossil fuels. Not right now, please. My response to that is, and always has been: “If not now, then when?”

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