The Ukraine war and our future climate
Vladimir Putin is a fossil fuel oligarch. His Russian empire is one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world. Even though oil exports to Europe are on track to tight restrictions, Russia continues to export fossil fuels to countries such as India, Brazil and China that have refused to impose sanctions on Russia.
Putin’s tactics in the Ukraine war are designed to ensure that demand for fossil fuels remain high.
The original Russian aim was for a short war, one with minimal destruction, the immediate capture of Kyiv and the installation of a puppet government. After this failed, the Russians switched to a war of attrition in the east of Ukraine. These tactics involved the steady destruction of apartment buildings, office towers and homes in the towns and villages of Ukraine that will ensure high demand for fossil-fuel-based resources. So too, will the more recent attacks on power stations and rail lines, which occurred only after a New York Times article noted they had not (“Russia’s War Has Been Brutal, but Putin Has Shown Some Restraint. Why?” of May 3). Maybe we should not provide Putin with suggestions.
In conversation with David Marchese in The New York Times Magazine this spring, scientist Vaclav Smil suggested that it will be difficult for the world to wean itself from fossil fuels. He notes that the four pillars of civilization – cement, steel, plastics and ammonia – all require “burning huge amounts of fossil fuel” for their production and use.
The reconstruction of Ukraine will require plenty of all four:
- Cement for high-rise buildings, houses and factories.
- Steel for rebar and for installations of elevators, HVAC and the like to go in those buildings, as well as for industrial plants and rail lines.
- Plastics for water pipes, fittings, kitchen and bathroom equipment in all those buildings.
- Ammonia to revitalize Ukraine’s agricultural sector.
I would add three other essentials: computer chips, copper and wood. These also require major fossil fuel consumption.
- Chips for the electronics to run the buildings and for the computers to replace those destroyed.
- Copper for the millions of miles of wiring needed to bring those buildings to life.
- Wood for construction materials to rebuild and for the furniture needed for living and working in those buildings.
It is estimated by the Kiev School of Economics that the reconstruction of Ukraine will cost up to $1 trillion. About half of that, $500 billion, will be for material dependent on fossil fuels for their production and use – enough to keep Russia in business for a very long time, pumping out greenhouse gases and preventing urgent action on climate change.
Putin is truly waging war against all humanity. Take note India, Brazil and China.
Martin G. Evans is a writer in Cambridge whose contributions on managerial and political issues have appeared in The Boston Globe, Cambridge Chronicle, MetroWest Daily News, Providence Journal, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail of Toronto, National Post of Toronto and the former Toronto Financial Post. He has taught at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, London Business School, George Mason University, Rutgers University and the Harvard School of Public Health.