Ecojustice Blog – Special update Posted on March 10, 2022 (updated: March 22, 2022)

Time of crisis reminds us why we must leave fossil fuels behind

Seán O'SheaStaff
image of a pumpjack and fighter jet on top of a colorful background of money and oil splotches

One of the tenets of “disaster capitalism” is to never let a bad situation go to waste.

As the people of Ukraine fight to defend their democracy, families flee the violence, and Russian citizens are jailed and persecuted at home for speaking out, some in Canada have suggested Russia’s war on Ukraine is an opportunity to pursue their own interests.

Naomi Klein, professor of climate justice at the University of British Columbia, coined the term “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine. Her argument is that when disasters strike — war, conflict, or natural disaster — corporations stand at the ready to use the crisis to ram through their wish lists.

Industry has perfected this method, often facilitated by willing governments, through the crisis events of the past century. We have witnessed “disaster capitalism” in full swing during the Iraq War, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world’s attention turns to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, Canadian fossil fuel interests have wasted no time in trying to turn this time of crisis into a moment of opportunity.

Increased oil and gas are not the answer

Since the invasion of Ukraine, global oil and gas prices have risen dramatically. Sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports have further caused the price of oil and gas to soar.

This is hurting households across Canada. We depend on fossil fuels to heat our homes, transport us from place to place, and drive our economy, which leaves us vulnerable to market fluctuations. When fossil fuel prices rise anywhere, they rise everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, this has led supporters of Canada’s fossil fuel industry to call for increased production of Canadian oil and gas to meet global demand.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s largest oil and gas lobby group, has called on the federal government to make a “clear commitment” to grow Canadian oil and gas development and exports in light of the situation in Ukraine.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also lent his support to increased oil and gas development, calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to reinstate the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in response to the war in Ukraine.

These calls to ramp up fossil fuel production seem to be gaining traction. Canada’s Environment Minister recently ruled out capping GHG emissions from oil and gas production in the government’s upcoming climate plan.

But anyone with a basic understanding of climate science can tell you that ramping up fossil fuel production and locking us into oil and gas dependence for decades to come is, at best, a dangerous proposition. At worst, it’s a death sentence for millions of living beings on Earth.

After all, while the war in Ukraine deepens so does the climate crisis. And so, if Canada has a leadership role to play in filling the world’s energy gap, it should be in doubling down on clean energy.

Transitioning away from climate chaos-causing oil and gas has never been more possible — even in this time of crisis.

In the last decade, scientists and engineers have worked hard to develop renewable sources of energy. Solar and wind power are now the cheapest sources of power on the planet.

Instead of supporting a global system hooked on ever-increasing consumption of oil and gas — a system that either directly or indirectly props up petro-dictators everywhere — Canadian companies and leaders should be talking about how to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels.

It’s time to disrupt the patterns of the past and build a healthy, sustainable future free of dangerous fossil fuels.

IPCC warns of climate disaster

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, highlighting the impacts, adaptions, and vulnerabilities associated with the climate crisis.

The report warned that the window of opportunity for the world to turn back the tide of climate chaos is rapidly closing. Governments, financiers, and industry must do everything they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shift towards a sustainable economy and society.

And while climate solutions are many and varied, new oil and gas development is not part of that conversation. We need fewer emissions, not more.

The IPCC report notes that since its last study on the impacts and adaption of climate change in 2014, heatwaves, droughts, wildfire, and other extreme events have increased in frequency and intensity. Left unchecked, ballooning greenhouse gas emissions will put billions of people around the world at risk of famine, disease, and death.

The report confirms what others before it have warned. That the climate crisis is real. That it has the potential to unleash unprecedented suffering for humanity, lead to the mass displacement of entire populations, and trigger wars across the globe.

We have already witnessed the role that climate change has played in increasing war and conflict in countries such as Somalia and Syria.

As we bear witness to the human cost of war in Ukraine, our collective response cannot be to endorse the production of more fossil fuels that will lead to even more human tragedy. Instead, we must dare to build a genuinely sustainable, safe planet for everyone.

Ukrainian activists speak out

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the voices of people in Ukraine. They have made their wishes loud and clear.

A statement, signed by a range of organizations on the ground including the Ukrainian Climate Network, Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, and the Centre for Civil Liberties makes their position known.

They point out that the global addiction to fossil fuels is “funding Putin’s warmongering – putting not only Ukraine but Europe itself at risk.”

They have called on governments around the world to do more. Not only do they demand a global boycott of Russian-produced fossil fuels, these Ukrainian social and environmental groups say:

“Fossil fuel expansion must be immediately halted, and nations worldwide must commit to the rapid and just transition away from all fossil fuels. Reliance on coal, oil and gas is the intentional embrace of death, misery, and collapse at a global scale. It is our duty to finally get real about that if we want to have a liveable future!”

A world addicted to fossil fuels will not be safe from the ravages of war.

Fight for peace, safety, and sustainability

At this time of heightened global tension and anxiety, we at Ecojustice will stay the course and do everything in our power to fight for a healthier, safer future for everyone.

We’ll encourage our political leadership to not lose sight on the climate emergency, even as they work to coordinate Canada’s response to the Russia’s war on Ukraine. We will urge them to not falter in reimagining a new economic system that no longer incites and profits from war, climate change, and the suffering of so many people.

We hope you’ll join us.

You can help support efforts to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine by making a donation to groups helping those on the ground. Some organizations you can learn more from include:

Canadian Red Cross

UNICEF

Doctors Without Borders

Build the case for a better earth

Ecojustice works to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Right now, thousands are calling for urgent climate action.

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