The last oil war (2)


I’ve spent the best part of my career studying and writing about climate solutions and global economics. I’m not in any way an expert on war, weapons and violence. Just not my thing. But there is no avoiding discussion of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

First and foremost, if reports are to be believed, this invasion is a humanitarian crime and tragedy. Thousands have died, been injured, raped, robbed, forcibly removed from their homes and homeland. Russia does not seem to have any motives or plans that I would call ethical, or even sensible. We can only hope some kind of justice can prevail in the end, whatever that means. It’s easy to say that, but much harder to believe, if you are among those suffering on the ground in Ukraine.

When I can move my thoughts beyond the incalculable price being paid by individuals and families there, my analytical mind concludes that among the possible reasons that this invasion is taking place there are three significant driving forces for Russia’s actions.

The first is that it seeks to protect its fossil fuel based export economy by delaying the now clearly inevitable global transition away from fossil fuels.

The second, and not really separate, is that it’s domestic and global strategy for many years has been to maintain political control of Russia and expand its influence and/or control as far as possible internationally. It employs a combination of strongman intimidation, globalized terror and strategic disinformation to limit the success of democratic approaches everywhere. By doing so it has succeeded and may continue to succeed for a time, with the first goal above, delaying the energy transition.

The third driving force seems to be a special brand of insanity shared by Putin, the other Russian oligarchs, and apparently, much of the Russian population, that is; somehow returning to what they see as the former glory of the Soviet Union.

Their collective mental illness has become extreme, insofar as they seem to have concluded that this goal will be achieved by any means necessary, which sadly means military means, because this antiquated vision does not seem to be shared by independent modernizing neighbour countries, including Ukraine. These countries have chosen the forward momentum of the free world, and rejected the life they knew as part of the Soviet bloc. For those who have not made this choice, mostly in Russia, there is apparently some deep felt resentment toward these now more progressive peoples.

The reason I describe this as mental illness and not in any way sensible, is that if there is one reality we have all learned in our lives, it’s that there is a price for everything. Those who cannot see that Russia is about to pay an incredibly high price for its old world tactics, are just not good critical thinkers. It is losing the war while destroying the beautiful Ukraine, accelerating the transition to renewables, shredding any influence it still had with neighbouring countries, cementing and advancing expansion of the NATO alliance, strengthening the democratic ideal, exposing its juvenile disinformation house of cards, and above all, escalating the demise of its fossil fuels dependent economy. All of these are the opposite of Putin’s intended outcomes. This invasion, in addition to being a humanitarian crime and tragedy, is an abject failure in every possible way.

Going forward, the geopolitical implications of Russia’s implosion will be dramatic. No amount of propaganda or attempts to rewrite history will succeed in making this into any kind of success, or minimizing it as a world event. It will provide enduring lessons about the stupidity of strongman tactics and old corrupt men in power in the modern world, the durability of democracy in all its imperfect forms, and the absolute obsolescence of the global fossil fuels energy system.

It is meaningless to say this to Ukrainians and others being forever traumatized by this war, but it may become an historical global turning point toward a better future. If it is not the last oil war, it clearly should be.

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