Opinion: To cripple Putin, we must transition to renewable energy

Houston Chronicle

By Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment and John Beard, Founder of Port Arthur Community Action Network

As the world grapples with yet another crisis funded and facilitated by fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry, foreign dignitaries, and administration members are attending the annual CERAWeek conference here in Houston. Corporate chiefs would have us believe that the solution to the problems that petro-dollars create is more fossil fuels, including boosting exports of U.S. oil and gas to Europe.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Vagit Alekperov, oil giant Lukoil chief, in the Kremlin in Moscow, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2001. (AP Photo/ITAR-TASS, Presidential Press Service) ITAR TASS, SUB / AP

We were young people during the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, and remember being shocked at the long lines at gas stations. Our parents hunted for gas stations with any available fuel and shorter lines. We were too young to understand geopolitics and the role fossil fuels played in creating conflict and crisis.

As we look back, Americans learned firsthand how petrostates can weaponize fossil fuels and inflict lasting harm on our day-to-day lives. Of course that doesn’t compare to the life and death realities Ukrainians face right now.

We also know Americans face daily and cumulative adverse health impacts caused by the U.S. fossil fuel industry. This is particularly true in communities like Houston’s east side and Port Arthur, where John lives. Many families are forced to bear those health burdens, as they currently depend on that industry for their livelihood.

The crisis in Europe demonstrates it is more important than ever to go all in on reliable renewable energy, so that Putin, and others like him, cannot use fossil fuels to incite geopolitical crises and fund war. Communities in the U.S. and worldwide will also benefit from the decreased fossil fuel pollution and the weather disasters linked to the resulting climate change.

Yesterday, the EU Commission announced plans to cut Russian gas imports by more than 65 percent in 2022, while rapidly scaling up renewables and energy efficiency measures. This announcement comes despite the fact that the European Union imports 41 percent of its gas from Russia. The EU has developed the political will to use this crisis as an opportunity to do what is best for the citizens and the planet and to send the strongest possible message to Putin.

It’s time for our political leaders to show the same resolve.

Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said recently, “The way to fight Putin, in the long run, is to shift the world economy away from the oil and gas that keeps him affluent, armed and arrogant. . . . [W]e must also move swiftly to end the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Plus there are so many benefits for working families. Investments in renewable energy generate roughly three times more direct and indirect jobs than comparable investment in fossil fuels. The U.S. can create 25 million new jobs by 2035 by investing in projects that cut carbon pollution using existing technologies. And building a 90 percent clean grid can support more than 500,000 jobs each year, many of which are family-sustaining union jobs.

Texas certainly needs investment in our electric grid.

We should not bow down to the oil and gas corporations. Although some have withdrawn from Russia for now, the fossil fuel industry enabled and empowered Putin. For years, Exxon, BP and Shell helped Putin, and other petrostate autocrats, foster fossil fuel energy insecurity and geopolitical tensions. U.S. financial institutions bankrolled fossil fuel projects in Russia. Fidelity, BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase and others invested $5.8 billion dollars in Russian oil and gas giants Lukoil, Rosneft and Gazprom. Without these petrodollars, Putin and his ilk could not afford to be waging war on their neighbors.

Looking to exploit Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. oil and gas industry can barely contain its glee in arguing for a U.S. oil and gas cavalry to the rescue. Increasing fossil fuel reliance, however, would require new export (and import) terminals. It would take years and billions of dollars for the U.S. to build these export terminals — doing nothing to solve the current problem — and lock in fossil fuel infrastructure for decades.

Russia’s war with Ukraine is the most recent example of global bad actors manipulating fossil fuel supplies, sources and prices to drive political tensions. A just and clean energy transition can’t wait. Retooling our economies to facilitate a swifter and inevitable transition to the global installation of renewables, energy efficiency and climate justice is the path forward to safeguard people living now as well as future generations. And for families living around fossil fuel facilities and infrastructure in Texas, the transition to renewable energy will bring sustainable jobs, cleaner air and a quality of life that fossil fuels failed to provide.