In February of 2022, Russia invaded the nation of Ukraine, beginning a war between the two countries. As a result, Russia shut down the Nord Stream 1 (NS1) pipeline which supplies gas to Europe. The reasoning behind this shifts depending on who is asked, as Dmitry Preskov, a spokesperson for the company responsible for the pipeline, claims it was shut down due to Western European sanctions. The European Commission spokesperson argues this was an independent move by Russia in retaliation to Western Europe’s support of Ukraine in the conflict. Regardless, Russia’s supply of traded energy is projected to fall to 13 percent in 2023 from 20 percent in 2021 by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
As a direct result of this conflict, gas and oil prices have spiked, with a single barrel of oil regularly reaching prices of over $250. As a result, the worldwide economy has been struggling, and there is a renewed focus on the research and investment into renewable energy. According to the IEA, clean energy investment is expected to rise to $2 trillion by 2030. However, this increase in interest in clean energy was largely driven by the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has many people wondering why it takes a war for world leaders to begin taking more drastic measures to reverse the impact of fossil fuels.
The simple answer is cost. One of the major benefits of clean and renewable energy is that it is cheaper than burning fossil fuels. Additionally, it would offer countries more energy independence to prevent crises like the war in Ukraine from impacting their economy and energy availability. The environmental benefits are more of a secondary concern.
It is worth mentioning that as Western world leaders push for renewable energy to lower costs and protect the environment, Ukraine’s own environment is suffering. Since the signing of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2014, Ukraine has been dedicated to reducing fossil fuel emissions and creating a greener world. These efforts have begun to provide tangible results, as the energy production of the country increased by 51% from 2010-2020. The amount of that energy that came from renewable sources doubled over that time period. Yet, after the invasion of Russia, Ukraine’s efforts for a clean and sustainable country have been severely impacted. Tens of thousands of people have died, and more than 8 million have been displaced. The country’s infrastructure has not been spared either, as refineries, energy facilities, and industrial pipelines have been repeatedly attacked, polluting Ukraine’s water and soil. It’s also estimated that about 30% of Ukraine’s protected natural land has suffered from the effects of the war.
This is hardly the first time war has led to technological progress. In fact it is often argued that the two go hand-in-hand. In the words of historian and University of Toronto professor Margaret Macmillan, “[w]ar has the unintended effect of producing larger political groupings that help with human progress.” It increases the power of governments, bringing about progress and change. Historically, social benefits, improved education, and advancements in medicine and technology, have been direct results of warfare. All of these things are normally considered benefits, but it is important not to forget the costs of such progress. Surely most people would prefer not to endure the death and carnage war creates, in spite of the potential humanitarian progress it can offer. Yet, as it stands humanity has currently not found an alternative catalyst for change at the scale war provides. This begs the question, how can engineers, scientists, and political leaders commit to the advancement of technology while avoiding the detrimental impact of war? Additionally, why does it take a war and financial benefits to encourage the switch to clean energy?