Madeleine Para: Clean energy transition would break Russia’s geopolitical hold


For years, our planet has been showing us the need to move away from fossil fuels. Extreme weather, driven by excess greenhouse gas emissions, continues to get more frequent and more expensive to recover from. But today, it’s not just the climate pressuring us to get off fossil fuels. Our geopolitical and economic realities are now demanding the same thing.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was swiftly condemned by world leaders, and President Biden announced a host of sanctions designed to cut Russia out of global economic activity. But Biden stopped short of direct sanctions on energy, partially due to the fact that limiting oil and gas supply would ultimately drive prices up, to Putin’s benefit. Those higher energy prices would add strain in Europe and here at home, at a time when people are already struggling with inflation. Already, it’s clear that America’s — and the world’s — fossil fuel dependence is hampering our ability to respond to Russia’s attack.

“Russia is incredibly unimportant in the global economy except for oil and gas,” one Harvard economist pointed out. Ideally, America and our allies would hit them where it really hurts — but because of the global economy’s reliance on fossil fuels, we have, so far, pulled that punch.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing American oil and gas producers, jumped to take advantage of this dynamic. They renewed their calls for American energy independence. And yes, energy independence is an important goal. But that energy independence cannot come through increased domestic oil and gas production. In fact, the U.S. is a net exporter of energy, yet our energy prices are still affected by the actions of other major players like Russia and Saudi Arabia. So the “solution” of additional fossil fuels would merely be a swap — an attempt to address one major problem while exacerbating others: climate change and price volatility.

But imagine an America powered by abundant clean energy, leading the world in the transition away from fossil fuels. Our leaders could impose hefty sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas companies because higher fossil fuel prices wouldn’t hurt us here at home, and global demand for those fossil fuels would be shrinking. Clean energy would mean that our domestic energy prices are stable and affordable, freeing us from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. And of course, clean energy would not dump tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, continuing to destabilize our planet’s systems. The clean energy transition would bring more geopolitical, economic, and climatic stability, keeping us safer and more secure on many fronts.

So the question is not, “Should we transition off of fossil fuels?” The only answer to that is yes. Indeed, the E.U. is already taking steps in this direction, spurred by Russia’s attack. The question now is how can the U.S. make the transition?

A well-designed price on carbon — which the U.S. Senate is already seriously discussing — would meet all the needs here. First, imposing a steadily increasing carbon price would speed the transition to cleaner energy options throughout the entire economy, from the biggest industries down to individual consumer choices. Second, the revenue from the carbon price can be allocated to Americans as a regular dividend or “carbon cashback,” protecting Americans from higher costs and fighting against inflation. Third, a border carbon adjustment can be used to impose international pressure, which would break the grip of oil states like Russia. The E.U. is already planning to implement a tariff like this, and Republicans in Congress are expressing support for a similar idea.

At the height of Build Back Better negotiations last fall, this idea was a prominent one. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Finance Committee to craft carbon pricing legislation. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said, “I’ve had a carbon pricing bill in my desk for the last three years just waiting for the time.” Republican Senator Mitt Romney — who, it’s worth noting, identified Russia as a threat in 2012 — said in January, “If you’re serious about climate, put a price on carbon.”

It’s time for our elected officials to jump back into these policy discussions with renewed commitment. We can’t wait any longer for the transition to clean energy, and we have broad agreement on the policy that can get us there. Our climate, our energy prices, and the stability of our world are at stake.

Madeleine Para is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Madeleine Para

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