“Kill Them All” – Ukraine is Only the Latest Fossil Fuel War

April 9, 2022

Have we had enough of this yet?

No one fights over sunlight and wind.

As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, autocrats like Vladimir Putin will lust for oil fields like those in Eastern Ukraine, and use fossil gas as a weapon against democracy.


The war in Ukraine has thrown the global economy into chaos — and the worst is yet to come, experts say. 

The conflict has disrupted logistics, business operations and trade pipelines across the world: sea, land and air freight are taking roundabout routes to avoid no-fly zones and hazards of war; multinational companies are abandoning operations because of sanctions and pressure to sever ties; and countries are scrambling to meet near-term energy needs — in some cases doubling down on coal — in their efforts to reduce dependency on Russian exports. 

“Everything is coming to roost,” said Alla Valente, senior analyst on Forrester Research’s security and risk team.

“It’s not just logistics time, it’s not just the cost of oil or how much oil is being used, it’s not just waiting to get our shipment of semiconductor chips, it’s not just the transportation labor shortage,” she said. “It’s not any one of those things, it’s all of those things.”

Dysfunction in supply chains and energy will lead to even higher costs for consumers, businesses, governments — and, ultimately, the environment, experts say.

“War is an energy-intensive business,” said Nikos Tsafos, an energy and geopolitics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It takes energy to move things around, to move troops and equipment.”

Already, global oil prices have risen to their highest levels in nearly a decade, driving up costs for everything from food to fertilizer. 

“Steeper price increases for food and fuel may spur a greater risk of unrest in some regions,” the International Monetary Fund warned last month. “Longer term, the war may fundamentally alter the global economic and geopolitical order should energy trade shift, supply chains reconfigure, payment networks fragment, and countries rethink reserve currency holdings.”

Those shifts are already happening as countries around the world seek to reduce their reliance on Russian oil, gas and other commodities. 

The US has banned all Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports, and the United Kingdom has laid out a plan to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year and eventually put an end to natural gas imports as well.

The European Union, meanwhile, has said it would impose a fifth round of sanctions on Russia, including an import ban on Russian coal, though it has stopped short of banning Russian oil. 

Europe imports about 40% of its natural gas from Russia, and has laid out a plan to reduce Russian natural gas imports by 66% this year. 

“We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement last month. “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”

Russia’s actions “will have enormous economic repercussions for the world,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in annual testimony to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. In addition to creating global food insecurity and debt burdens, “we are witnessing the vulnerability that comes from relying on one fuel source or one trade partner, which is why it is imperative to diversify energy sources and suppliers,” she said.

In the immediate term, EU countries are forced to explore a variety of means for keeping energy flowing and their citizens warm during the winter, Tsafos said. 

And that very well could include the use of more coal. Countries that previously viewed natural gas as a stepping stone in energy transition plans are now considering burning coal for longer than planned, said Frans Timmermans, who is spearheading the EU’s Green Deal efforts. However, Timmermans cautioned that such a move should only be used as a stopgap and that a rapid acceleration toward renewable energy should follow.

To help fill the gaps, the US has also shifted some of its liquified natural gas exports to Europe, said Tsafos. And the Biden Administration has reportedly weighed exemptions to a recent ban on financing fossil fuel projects overseas, Reuters reported.

“I think the overarching objective of Europeans is to do things that don’t undermine their climate strategy, so they would like to not use more coal unless they have to,” Tsafos said, noting the European Union’s goals of being climate-neutral by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030. “But so far, what their strategy boils down to is to try to buy whatever gas they can find, and I think the risk of that, is this could put a lot of stress on the gas market.”

Near-term energy security efforts aside, the current crisis will likely spur Europe and others to accelerate their climate plans, wean themselves off fossil fuels and invest more in renewable energy technologies, said Ryan Kellogg, a University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy professor who specializes in energy economics, environmental policy and industrial organization.

“All of that takes time. It’s not really going to help with the acute high prices and the pain that consumers are feeling now,” he said. “Where it does help is when the next crisis hits.”

5 Responses to ““Kill Them All” – Ukraine is Only the Latest Fossil Fuel War”

  1. jimbills Says:

    “No one fights over sunlight and wind.”

    That’s a little over the mark. While it’s pretty obvious most of our global conflicts since WWI have had something to do with oil and gas, we might fight over lithium and rare metals at some point in the coming century.

    Ukraine has very large lithium reserves, and this war is likely simply a resource grab by Putin – he can create a land bridge to Crimea to support its natural gas production, and Ukraine has numerous other resources that would prove very valuable in the future:

    The excuse of Russia fearing NATO as a reason for invading Ukraine is just a front. They want to recreate themselves as a superpower and are seeking the resources to do that. Ukraine was becoming too Western for Putin, he couldn’t control it as he wanted, and he’s seeking to add to his country’s economic and geopolitical power with the invasion.

    What we’re seeing is the confluence of rising nationalism in multiple countries combined with constraints in global resources, especially energy. Natural gas and oil are at the top of the list now, but it could be lithium, copper, rare earth elements, or even uranium in the future.

    The problem is US as humans. Unfortunately, when things contract economically, we get even more selfish, and we see things like rising nationalism – which only increases the chances of war.

    Building out renewables would certainly help reduce conflict over fossil fuels themselves, something we’ve seen for over a hundred years now – but we’d still be humans, and all that implies.


    (But, of course, building out renewables would also reduce warming and therefore reduce future conflicts over water and food – which I personally think are the real things to fear in the future.)

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    “we might fight over lithium and rare metals” Lithium, in a Lithium battery, doesn’t go anywhere, when the batteries life is spent: It’s just grist for a refurbishing mill. Nobody is going to fighting over ‘scarce Lithium’.

    • jimbills Says:

      It doesn’t need to be scarce to fight over it. It just needs to be valuable and essential to the running of an economy.

      Fossil fuels aren’t scarce themselves, and demand for lithium is projected to jump nearly 1000% by 2050 – and that’s without full FF replacement. It can be recycled, but with demand skyrocketing, most lithium will be mined for the next 50 years at the very least.

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