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Ukraine, Climate Change, Books, Podcasts and Even Videos

By Manoel Chavanne



Let me start this piece by acknowledging that war and climate change are not the same thing, I'm as aware of it as anyone as I volunteer for both causes. That being said, when I'm dealing with climate change I regularly think “hum, this isn't unlike the situation in Ukraine” and when volunteering for Ukraine I also often can't help but think of the similarities with the climate crisis. However, for some reason the climate volunteers I interact with rarely talk about Ukraine and the foreign volunteers in Ukraine seldom mention climate change so I thought for this year's upcoming Earth Day (April 22nd) I'd write an article about both so that each group can grow its awareness of the other crisis and see the similarities with its own cause because we'd all be stronger if we fought together.


Let's also quickly acknowledge that both issues are consequences of bigger problems, namely Russian imperialism previously analyzed here and ecological overshoot meaning that humanity is exceeding various planetary boundaries. However, I will not delve into these greater issues today for this piece is already quite wordy.


Other than the small dips caused by the 2008 financial crisis and Covid

in 2020 the consumption of fossil fuels (oil + coal + gas) keeps increasing


Fossil Fuels


The first obvious link between the two crises I can think of is the burning of fossil fuels. Over 60% of Russia's exports revenues are generated by selling fossil fuels. This is how Russia finances the war in Ukraine, this is how it pays for mortars, rockets, missiles, bombs, mines etc. Granted Russia mostly sells its oil and gas to non-Western countries now due to economic sanctions imposed by our nations but our fossil fuel consumption still finances the Russian war machine, albeit indirectly. Whether we like it or not we live in the age of globalization and the oil market is a global one, the more people buy and consume oil, anywhere on earth and regardless of where it comes from, the higher the price and the more money Russia has, it's basic supply and demand economics.


Fossil fuels are and have been the main driver of the climate crisis ever since humanity started to burn dead plants and animals for energy, I presume this part doesn't need further explanation but I'll give a few book recommendations for those who might want to dig deeper into it.

- Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis by Alice Bell is a fantastic read covering the history of climate change, from the steam engine and Eunice Foote discovering that carbon dioxide was a warming gas in 1856 to the dire situation we find ourselves in today.

- Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming by Andreas Malm is an excellent read recounting the same history but from a more critical perspective as he masterfully proves that manufacturers didn't start to use coal because it was cheaper than hydro power but because it enabled more control over their workers.

- The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin is a Pulitzer Prize winner and THE reference if you are interested in learning about the history of oil, heads up though this one is close to 1,000 pages and it's only the first one of a massive trilogy.


One of the many graphs highlighting the sheer unfairness of the climate crisis. If you do

the math with the stats emphasized above it means each human in the top 10% pollutes

25 times more than each person in the poor majority. To put it in simpler terms, imagine there are 100 candies and 100 people, 10 gluttons eat 5 candies each while the

last 50 people are left with 10 pieces or a meager single candy for 5 poor people.


Unfair Suffering, Blameless Victims and Beyond


A recurring climate rallying cry I personally dislike is that we need to “Save the planet”. I understand its appeal and the fact that it's a simplified slogan to grab attention but it annoys me because it's wrong on several levels. First of all, the planet doesn't need saving and it will continue to exist no matter how much greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere. It's 464°C (867°F) on Venus not because it's closer to the sun but because its atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide (CO2). Venus is fine but of course there are no forms of life there and any water would instantly evaporate. Second of all, it maintains a separation between “the planet” and “us, humans”. Many cultures don't have a word for “nature” because they don't need a word to talk about “everything but humans.” If you're interested in learning more about this concept I recommend Philippe Descola's book Beyond Nature and Culture. The reason why we need to address the climate crisis is because it is deeply unfair, it causes a lot of suffering to blameless victims (the poor majority from the above graph) and will continue to have an impact on those not even born yet. The three reasons I've just named apply equally to Russia's infuriating invasion of Ukraine. Three more reasons to care about, and fight for, both causes.


If you want to dig deeper in the injustice of the climate crisis I suggest Aviva Chomsky's prodigious book Is Science Enough?: Forty Critical Questions about Climate Justice.


These maps show the number of days where combined temperature and humidity conditions pose a risk of mortality. This is also called the wet-bulb temperature. In short

the human body is at 37°C but the skin's surface is at 35°C so if there is 100% humidity

and it is 35°C (or more) the sweat will not evaporate and humans can't cool down

their bodies anymore, this can lead to organ failures and eventually death. Weaker

humans (children, the elderly and disabled people) will suffer first and most but even

those in perfect shape will fall victim to a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C or more.


Existential Threats


Warning to US readers I am using the phrase “existential threat” literally as in “if X happens then Y will cease to exist” not like US politicians and pundits who regularly use the term for ISIS, migrants crossing the border, Donald Trump, polarization or even “the lack of civic unity.” For Ukraine it's dishearteningly obvious that if Russia's invasion were to be successful then Ukraine would cease to exist, literally existential! For the climate crisis I couldn't find who coined the term but a shocking, yet accurate, phrase scientists regularly use is “there are now no non-radical futures.” Kevin Anderson, a well respected climate scientist who first worked for the oil industry as an engineer before coming to grasps with the gravity of the situation and becoming a climate researcher, expresses it this way: “There are now no non-radical futures. The choice is between immediate and profound social change or waiting a little longer for chaotic and violent social change. In 2023 the window for this choice is rapidly closing.” More from Kevin Anderson here if you're interested. In other words, the status-quo will not continue for much longer and either we prioritize what we want to keep now or we try to maintain the status-quo until physics dictates what we'll be able to keep and what we won't. This is expertly explained by Nate Hagens in a series of online videos. He also has a brilliant podcast where he takes a weekly deep dive in a variety of topics such as mass extinction, biodiversity loss, permaculture, the human brain etc. Said podcast is called The Great Simplification.


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond is a brilliant book on societal collapse and its root causes. Diamond reviews several example in great details and each is extremely well documented. That being said, his previous book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies was even better in my opinion. In this one he explains why historically Europe and Asia developed faster that Australia, the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa.


This real 1962 ad from an oil company boasting about melting glaciers hasn't aged well but it shows that oil companies have known for a very long time that they are causing sea-level rise and therefore willfully engage in misinformation campaigns to mislead the public.


Misinformation


The readers of these columns will be familiar with Russian propaganda as I addressed the issue in my very first article, in this one last month as well as in this one last week. Furthermore, I've discussed the threat posed by social media which regrettably applies to both of today's topics and immensely favor the spreading of fake news and other “alternative facts”. Russian propagandists are frustratingly good at what they do but I'm not convinced they're any better than the various branches of climate denialism.


In the case of climate change it started by denying the existence of the issue, the climate wasn't changing. Then it was changing but it wasn't caused by humans, it was because of <insert your favorite excuse here>. Then the goal posts moved again and the excuse became that we can't do anything about it because even if we stopped burning fossil fuels then <insert your favorite scapegoat here> would continue. If you are genuinely interested in understanding why all these excuses are wrong, I strongly recommend you check out Skeptical Science. This website was created by John Cook, originally a brilliant physicist who went back to school to get a doctorate in philosophy at the school of psychology of Western Australia University. Combining his understanding of the physical science and of human psychology Cook made this website with the explicit goal of debunking lies, excuses and explaining the scientific consensus to all. The website has a list of well over 200 climate myths listed from most commonly used, each thoroughly debunked for different levels of comprehension, from Basic to Advanced including a wealth of data, graphs, equations and detailed arguments proving the points. John Cook also offers a great free online course available on EdX called Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.



Too Big of a Problem For One Person, “I Can't Do Anything About it Anyway”


A recurring counter argument (or should I call it a terrible excuse?) is the one I alluded to in the subtitle above. Just because you cannot single-handedly solve a problem doesn't mean that you shouldn't try, do your part and if you can go above and beyond. I already used this quote before but it applies very well here again so I'll share it a second time. “No matter what you do it will never amount to anything but a single drop in a limitless ocean. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops.” David Mitchell. This logic applies to the war in Ukraine and climate change but it's also an excellent way to live without regrets, don't look for excuses and do your part. Your conscience will be grateful later.



 In 2015 every single country in the world signed the Paris Agreement and vouched to “Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The graph above shows the massive gap between the 195 signatories promises and our collective actions.


International Agreements Aren't Respected


Another depressing fact impacting both causes dear to my heart is the realization that international agreements aren't worth the paper they are signed on. As I already explained previously when they signed the Budapest Memorandum Russia, the US and UK agreed to “Respect the signatory's independence and sovereignty in the existing borders.” of Ukraine. These borders included Crimea of course so the accord was broken by all signatories except Ukraine more than a decade ago already. For the climate crisis the above graph is self-explanatory, take a minute to appreciate the colossal gap and what it signifies. As the old saying goes actions speak louder than words.


This article is already getting quite long so I'll stop detailing each similarity but there are quite a few important ones I've not been able to cover from forced migration (Internally Displaced Persons and international migrants) to the European farmers protesting Ukrainian food imports in the EU and environmental policies without forgetting the common villains financially (and, for some, politically) supporting Russia while fueling the climate crisis with their high-emission lifestyles. Notwithstanding all the depressing facts and figures I've just bombarded you with there are things we can do about it.


A quick side note on agriculture, I highly recommend Tim A. Wise's book Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food.And for those who don't read books I suggest you watch the tremendous documentary Eating Our Way to Extinction. It is also available in Ukrainian but fun fact it doesn't exist in Russian.


The finger-pointing Spiderman meme would be hilarious if it wasn't tragically

inciting inaction. It's always easier, and more comfortable, to blame others

than to take a hard look at our own behavior and change what is in our power.


What can I do about it?


Quite a lot actually. If you live in a democracy you can make sure to vote for the “right” politicians, those supporting Ukraine and who take the climate crisis seriously. You can also volunteer your time, effort and brain power. If you're in Ukraine check out this website or come to Lviv Volunteers Kitchen. If you're not in Ukraine you can always donate and in various cities across Europe and in the US they even do camo netting. You can also join the many marches or protests regularly organized virtually everywhere. Simply talking about it also works for all causes, raising awareness won't solve anything by itself but it's a step in the right direction. For the climate crisis there are tons of different NGOs doing excellent work, I personally help The Shift Project because I love their fact-oriented scientific approach. Being active helps relieve a sense of impending doom and volunteering is an amazing way to meet awesome people who share your values. Last but not least, you should start by calculating your carbon footprint and find ways to reduce it, every little bit helps and counts.

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