Talking Points

Global warming waits for nothing, not even war

Only so many disasters will fit on the front pages of the world's newspapers and websites — there is a war going on in Europe, after all — so it's likely the new U.N. report on climate change won't get the attention it deserves.

That's too bad.

The bigger danger is that the war might also set back efforts to slow the earth's warming.

The U.N. report is frightening, a document of how climate change is no longer some future consideration, but a present and devastating reality for much of the planet's population: Rising heat is killing crops, putting millions of people at risk of malnutrition, while millions of others are having difficulty finding water, or are displaced by the increasing frequency of floods, wildfires, and other extreme weather events. Livelihoods and lives are vulnerable.

"Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone — now," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement accompanying the assessment. "Many ecosystems are at the point of no return — now." 

That means it is urgently necessary for the world to focus on reducing fossil fuel usage and build up the stock of renewable energy energy sources like solar and wind power, using nuclear power to help make the transition. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has much of the world focused instead on where we're going to get oil and gas, and not on how to stop using them so much.

Russia, after all, is the world's second-largest producer of oil, and income from its oil and gas industries is helping fund President Vladimir Putin's war. Nations are looking elsewhere for their short-term fuel needs. The U.S. oil industry (already the world's largest producer) is pushing for permission to start pumping even more fuel to make up deficits. There's even talk about turning to Saudi Arabia for help, despite continuing fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

When war arrives other priorities are quickly shoved aside. 

That's understandable, but the existence of the crisis in Ukraine won't make the climate crisis go away. Indeed, they're inseparable.

"Yes, the Ukraine war is hugely important. But it does not happen in isolation from the climate crisis," Wolfgang Blau, co-founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, wrote Monday morning on Twitter.

If we're smart, the war will actually help kick-start a green revolution, which would solve several problems at once, including increasing national security. Countries that don't need oil or gas are clearly less vulnerable to disruption and blackmail from authoritarian warmongers like Putin.