Energy and Tyranny

My aim as an eco educator is to explain in simple terms how things are connected, and how we can each make a difference. To do this, I often have to boost my own knowledge first; it’s easy for my brain to get tangled up in the various connections and causalities. Fortunately I have lots of really helpful expert resources to draw on. For the facts in this post, I’m deeply grateful to Flight Free USA.

This post is about how we, everyday people, can take away the power of global bullies by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

How does our oil- and gas-dependency support tyranny?

In a nutshell: 1) In the particular case of Russia, oil and gas account for 60% of their exports, and thus are a major source of funds for their military actions, including the current invasion of Ukraine. 2) Because disrupting the flow of oil & gas causes global prices to rise, our own dependence on fossil fuels limits our leverage and political will to impose sanctions, for fear that we will have to pay higher prices at the gas pump (in the USA) or that home heating prices will spiral out of control (in Germany and other European countries). 3) Access to the vast riches generated by control of oil and gas resources enables thuggish behavior in general, be it by governments or private interests. 4) Because oil and gas infrastructure (as well as nuclear) are centralized, it’s easy for an enemy to knock out a power plant or gas refinery with bombs. Not so easy to go around a whole country knocking out every solar panel, windmill, or woodpile.

Furthermore, since oil and gas go into pretty much everything, a rise in oil and gas prices causes pretty much all prices to rise. This makes us very vulnerable and thus unwilling to rock the boat for fear of antagonizing oil and gas interests. But every single act of conservation we can do; every shift to renewables we can make, helps weaken this stranglehold. However tiny it may seem on the household level, every little drop makes up the ocean.

Back in World War II, the Allied governments put out posters and leaflets informing everyday citizens of their duty to support the war effort by conserving gasoline and other resources.

“When you ride ALONE you ride with Hitler!” admonished one US government propaganda poster from 1943. “Join a car-sharing club today!”

In this case the purpose was to save gas at home, so we could use it for the war effort overseas. But now we know that conserving fossil fuels and other resources can help reduce the grip of authoritarian and tyrannical regimes in a broader sense. Furthermore, this effort is essential to defeat the most deadly enemy of all time: climate change; the collapse of our planet’s life-support system.

You can read more detail in the articles linked below.

The information in this post, including all of the article links, comes from Flight Free USA’s email newsletter, which you can subscribe to by visiting their website.

On a personal note, even if my efforts to minimize my dependency on fossil fuels (and on electricity, which is still mostly generated from fossil fuels) were not helping (however infinitesimally) to reduce the destruction of Spaceship Earth’s life-support system and weaken the grip of evil empires, they make me instantly more free and less vulnerable. And that’s power.

P.S. People living in cold climates, particularly, might like to look into compact energy-efficient woodstoves for home heating and cooking. And people everywhere should look into passive solar heating (and cooling). Also, people everywhere should insulate their houses (and landlords should insulate their apartments etc.) as much as necessary/possible to buffer against extremes of heat and cold. I have touched on these topics in my book and at various times on this blog; you can also get a wealth of current info by turning to our dear friend Google.

Further Exploration:

• “Caring about the Ukraine is caring about an end to oil and gas,” says Flight Free USA in its latest email newsletter.

Flight Free USA website urges us to “Sign the #FlightFree2022 pledge to stay grounded for the climate. PLEDGE TO FLY A LOT LESS, TALK ABOUT IT MORE, AND DEMAND SYSTEM CHANGE.” (I recently signed it, choosing the option “for life.” You can opt to take the pledge just for the year, just for vacations, or for life.) Says Flight Free USA: “The solution to the climate crisis is straightforward: to significantly reduce our emissions. Flying in an airplane is the most polluting activity we commonly do. Pledge to not fly, as a signal to our communities, leaders, and businesses that climate solutions are needed now. Together, we can reduce emissions by choosing to not fly, shifting the fossil fuel norm, and laying the foundations for strong climate policy.”

“This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats” (Bill McKibben; Clear explanation of the various connections between petro-dependency and tyrannical regimes. “If you’re an apologist for fascism, high gas prices are your first go-to move. So now is the moment to remind ourselves that, in the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and windpower by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth. The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, and the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. But the third best reason – and perhaps the most plausible for rousing our leaders to action – is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs.

“What It’s Like to Give Up Air Travel to Curb Climate Change” (Emma Pattee; “These three families gave up flying to reduce their emissions. Here’s how it’s shaping their relationship to people and places.”

• (This one is from the New York Times “Climate Forward” newsletter): “U.S. Oil Industry Uses Ukraine Invasion To Push for More Drilling at Home” (Hiroko Tabuchi; “The goal is ‘energy security,’ lobbyists said, although clean-energy advocates counter that wind and solar provide more protection from boom-and-bust oil markets.”

• Good news update: “The leaders of the European Union are expected to announce a proposal next week that would ‘accelerate the clean energy transition and reduce permanently our dependence on imports of natural gas.’ If it goes through, it could significantly blunt one of the Kremlin’s most formidable economic weapons: piped gas to heat and power the continent. … The 26-page E.U. draft proposal, seen by The New York Times, proposes to swiftly renovate old, leaky buildings to reduce energy demand, simplify regulations to attract investments in renewable energy, encourage more rooftop solar installations and produce more energy from biomass. … If the major elements of the European proposal are carried out, Russia’s war in Ukraine could have a huge, albeit unwitting, consequence: It could hasten Europe’s transition away from fossil fuels.” (Somini Sengupta; NY Times Climate Forward newsletter.)