The choice has never before been more clear, the game never more brutally laid bare in front of our eyes.
While a Russian dictator brutally attacks neighbouring democratic Ukraine, Europe’s confidence in its ability to respond remains seemingly hampered by a dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Oil and gas are underwriting Russia’s war, and dependence on oil and gas is undermining European security.
“The more we rely on our own energy sources and the more these own energy sources are not dependent on imports, the more confidently we act,” said Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck.
But in the flurry to free their economies from reliance on Russian energy supplies, the U.S. and Europe have turned to greater reliance on other oil-dependent dictators.
The U.S. lifted sanctions on Venezuelan dictator Maduro – who was sanctioned for brutal human rights abuses – in exchange for Venezuela agreeing to ship oil directly to the United States.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia – which just executed 81 men in a single day for charges including holding ‘deviant beliefs’ – and the U.A.E, which jails citizens for criticising the state, have been courted by the U.S. in an effort to increase oil production to help ease the burden of rising oil prices by pumping millions more barrels of oil.
After an initial stony-faced response, the U.A.E. signalled they will support increased production, but would have to adhere to OPEC rules which require all OPEC countries to support a move to increase supply.
But who or what is OPEC?
OPEC – the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries – is a powerful block of 13 countries. To the OPEC member, the organisation is a force for oil market stabilisation. To outsiders, it’s often seen as a cartel that regulates oil supply to reduce market competition.
In times of crisis where there’s a disruption to the regular flow of oil, such as the Ukraine/Russia war, the impact and role of OPEC comes to the fore. Together they control 44% of global oil production.
OPEC has signalled a lack of interest in increasing oil supply to ease price hikes. So who are these oil-driven governments that collectively hold the power to influence the cost of living for billions worldwide?
Algeria, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.
Other key oil producing countries include the US, Russia, Canada, China, Brazil and Qatar.
With the exception of the US, Canada, and a small handful of outliers, many oil-rich countries share a common denominator: they are run by dictatorial regimes.
Historian and bestselling author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harrari, highlighted the link between dictatorships and oil in his TED talk on the Ukraine/Russia crisis; The War In Ukraine Could Change Everything”
“We know the curse of oil, that oil is a source of riches, but it’s also very often the support for dictatorships.
“Because to enjoy the benefits of oil, you don’t need to share it with your citizens. You don’t need an open society, you don’t need education, you just need to drill.
“So we see in many places that oil and gas are actually the basis for dictatorships.
“If the price of oil and gas drops and it becomes irrelevant, it will not only undercut the power of the Russian military machine.
“It will actually undercut the dependence of the whole world on oil and gas, and this would be the best way to undermine the Putin regime and the Putin war machine. Because this is what Russia has, oil and gas. That’s it.”
While Ukrainians face starvation in besieged cities, evacuating civilians are shot at, hospitals are destroyed, a wounded, heavily pregnant woman dies even as her suffering is mocked by a Russian Embassy as ‘staged’.
The nightmare winds on as a rogue Putin issues nuclear threats, and a Russian general threatens on Twitter to retaliate against sanctions by usurping the International Space Station as a giant 500-ton bomb that could hurtle down to earth.
Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that Russian engines control the station’s location and orbit:
“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the International Space Station (ISS) from an uncontrolled de-orbit and fall into the United States or…Europe?” he said.
“There is also the possibility of a 500-ton structure falling on India and China.
“Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect?”
And amidst the backdrop of this escalating horror, Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, would have you believe that “Russia did not attack Ukraine.”
“We cannot go on like this,” says a desperate Boris Johnson as he rushes off to a Saudi Arabia committed to Russia in another attempt at a charm offensive to push for increased oil and gas production. Maybe a nice chat with tea and cucumber sandwiches will make the Saudi kingdom change its mind?
“The world cannot be subject to this continuous blackmail. As long as the west is economically dependent on Putin, he will do all he can to exploit that dependence.
“And that is why that dependence must – and will – now end.”
We cannot indeed go on like this.
It’s this stark realisation and urgency among European government leaders of the need to shore up energy security that also gives cause for hope.
Freedom-touting governments have woken up to the tyranny of fossil fuels as an enemy not just of nature, but of freedom and equality.
The EU released a REPowerEU strategy that aims to end the bloc’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels before 2030 by diversifying gas suppliers and accelerating the rollout of hydrogen, heat pumps, wind farms, and rooftop solar panels.
European governments are boosting their spending on renewables; the UK government is planning to change restrictive planning rules to enable more wind farms to be built. Italy – usually a quagmire of bureaucracy, just approved construction of six new wind farms.
And the quickest bolt to freedom came from Germany, which brought forward its target for decarbonised energy by 15 years and set aside 200 billion euros to fund an industrial transformation including hydrogen technology, electric vehicle charging network growth and climate protection.
Clean energy has become a matter of national security.
In the face of destabilising climate change, it always was, but it took a war in Europe to awaken a true sense of urgency.
The shock of seeing Russia invade Ukraine will reverberate throughout the world for years to come. It’s too early to fully understand how the many consequences of this historical turning point will play out globally.
For climatetech entrepreneurs engaged in the uphill battle of sustainable business building, the challenge and the opportunity to develop nature-based economies of freedom remains more relevant and urgent than ever.
Scientists have given us 10 years to save the planet, making the next decade the most important in human history.
The sheer scale of the job ahead is daunting, but as Ukraine is showing us, sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
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