It would be wrong to say the time to do so is now, because that (ideal) time was many years ago.
But, at least, old Putin’s mad invasion of Ukraine is the slap in the face we needed to wake up from our comfort zone. The world needs to give up fossil fuels now. If not for the gigantic environmental consequences, then for the geopolitical problems. For decades, oil rich countries pushed dictators onto the world scene, and we basically made them more powerful than they were with our money, while hoping they will just be bad within their borders. But power knows no limits. It’s basic psychology that sooner or later, when these guys think they’re powerful enough (again, with our money), they’ll try to grab more than what they have. Especially when not doing so allows for democratic examples to flourish near their borders. Dictators hate free people, the ultimate threat to them. Throw in some nostalgia about a carefully selected mighty past (not that time when the Mongols burned Moscow) and some crazy religious ideas from corrupt, brain fried figures like Kirill, head of the Russian Church, and it becomes clear that this war was surely coming. Not so clear for Western leaders, who got comfy in decades of peace, lying to themselves that diplomacy might work with a decaying dictator. In hindsight, in Russian matters, leadership should probably be given to Eastern European and Baltic countries, as they know very well the true face of this threat.
Now that everyone is awake, we need to start moving and have enough courage this time to carve a new path. Fossil fuels need to go. We have so many options already, we have the technology, we just need to scale it. And all that’s keeping us from doing it is convenience. We’re too used to things to change them. There’s a lot of talk these days about fuel prices and heating and how we can’t stop buying oil because we need it so much. Actually, that need is greatly exaggerated. Most car trips are not “essential”, there are maybe around 30% that can’t be done without a car, but for the rest of them we just didn’t try to think about an alternative. Like talking public transport, or a bike or an e-scooter in the city, or a train outside of it. There’s a huge number of short distance trips that we make by big, inefficient cars just because we’re used to doing that and because we like to be comfortable.
Well, maybe we also like to be alive and free and not in debt. Maybe more than that comfort. Because the connections are pretty clear and we can’t have it all. We need to choose. I don’t know about you, but I would gladly choose public transportation over a war in Europe (I like cities with less cars anyway, they’re a lot more enjoyable), also I could live with a few degrees less inside my home during the winter. I’d be fine with less flying too, if that would mean less chances of rockets flying over my head and bombing my neighborhood. So I think we, as consumers, can reduce fuel demand pretty fast if we really want to. And we postponed this for decades, we put ourselves in this position.
Sure, some will say that in America you can’t live without a car, but that just because how Americans designed their cities and suburbs. And guess what, cities can be redesigned. They are all the time, in fact, but usually for the wrong reasons, like to make room for a new highway that only increases car dependency or to add a parking lot so huge you need a car to cross it. That is pretty stupid. Time to shift focus and build public transport networks instead, also bike lanes, walkable centers, make shopping malls smaller and bring them in the neighborhoods, connect suburbs and towns with railways and not worry about the “poor car manufacturers” so much. That’s what “build back better” should mean. Get the cars out of the picture, cut through those lies that you need them. Only car and oil producers need you to believe that there aren’t better (and cheaper) alternatives.
Then there’s the industrial need for energy from fossil fuels. Here as well there’s a lot of room for fast improvement, because most changes weren’t put in place because of cost and business considerations. But cost is suddenly not the main issue anymore when you have a war raging next door. There are things worth more than money (all things, actually) and the efforts we need to do now are more important than any sum. Subsidizing oil now even more than it already is would be a mistake that will only keep us stuck in our current problems for more decades and that will increase chances of global conflicts.
Did I mention the potential for growth and millions of jobs and huge amounts of money in renewable energy? What the hell are we even waiting for? Let’s trade oil for peace and true prosperity.
We’ll have our comfort back in a short time, but we need to give up some of it now and truly make an effort.