How the Russian invasion of Ukraine shifts the paradigm on the fight against climate change, or doesn’t

Forest fire in the Greek village of Glatsona on the island of Evia © Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty

Just last month, the global world order took an abrupt turn as Russia mercilessly invaded Ukraine. Even though the Biden administration had warned about the event, it still came as a surprise to many. But reality can be full of surprises, and not always pleasant ones.

Concerns about another Cold War, this time with China, have morphed into legitimate fears of a potential third world war, or worse, a global nuclear catastrophe brought about by Russian forces, an old relic of 20th-century history resurfacing with a vengeance.

But no matter how immediate, and perhaps distracting, the war in Eastern Europe has become, another more insidious threat to our civilization remains, human-induced climate change. Unfortunately, the manner in which we try to mitigate, or at least prepare for it, may have also undergone an abrupt shift after February 24th, 2022.

The climate blob that we created

Human induced climate change reminds me of the classic 1988 horror flick “The Blob” (a remake of the 1958 version), in which a slow moving, yet enormous and deadly gelatinous mass from outer space lands on Earth and tries to take over the world by hiding inside the walls of people’s homes, inside the sewer systems, and any other spaces where human beings rarely ever venture about.

Climate change has been even stealthier and more insidious, a phenomenon we created and has been gradually altering the lives of plants, animals and humans since the last century, though it continues to gain speed and potency with each passing year that we ignore it. Unlike the bombings, the tears, and the bloodshed that are a part of war, the vaguer and more complex phenomenon of climate change has easily swindled us into a state of complacency.

The Blob (1988)

But its impacts are quickly turning into something less insidious and more direct, and the increasing number of forest fires ravaging homes can be just as graphic as scenes from the situation in Ukraine (and other lesser-known conflicts around the globe). As heatwave and drought-induced infernos leave buildings charred, displace people, and raise food prices, and while increasing floods cause similar situations, we may have nowhere to run.

How the conflict is affecting climate mitigation

On a positive note, the war has led many world leaders to realize the detrimental effects of relying on other nations, especially Russia, for fossil fuels, and the best way to achieve energy independence, in the long run, is to invest in renewable energy as quickly as possible. If the US and Europe could count on their very own renewable energy sources to power their economies, Russia wouldn’t hold such a powerful grip on them, and perhaps this war wouldn’t be happening.

On a not so positive note, the conflict has served as a distraction from the need to tackle the climate crisis. In President Biden’s first State of the Union Address, he barely mentioned climate change at all, which was evidently not a priority considering the now much more immediate threat of a full-blown war with Russia.

Credit: Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

But what could really set back climate mitigation efforts is the sudden shift in national budgets to more belligerent causes. Just a few days after the Russian invasion, German chancellor Olaf Scholz made a historic announcement to parliament, pledging to fund 100 billion euros to strengthen the country’s armed forces, and increasing year-on-year defense spending by over 2% of GDP.

That’s 100 billion euros that could have gone to investing in renewable energies and carbon capture technology that will now be spent on tanks, machine guns and missiles every year.

The US, which already spends close to 4% of its GDP on war materials (USD $705.4 billion in 2021) every year, will also be increasing military spending by a significant amount, and other nations around the world will soon be following suit.

Humanity’s obsession with war

Credit: Getty Images

Yet even before the invasion of Ukraine, it seemed much of the world was more obsessed with weapons designed to wreak havoc on society than technologies designed to protect us from climate catastrophe. Last year, the United Nations reported that “more than a decade ago, developed countries committed to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in support of climate action in developing countries.”

But that target has yet to be met.

Meanwhile, joint world military expenditure in 2020 was estimated at almost $2 trillion. That’s right, for some reason most countries around the world struggle to come up with $100 billion dollars over several years, collectively, to try and save us from climate catastrophe, while they appear to have no problem coming up with $2 trillion dollars in preparation for war.

It is an undeniable -and rather unpleasant- fact that war, especially nuclear war, is a clear and present danger, now more than it has been in quite some time. The world’s nuclear powers possess, in total, over 10,000 nuclear warheads in their arsenal, most of which are in the hands of Russia and the US. Although that number has dropped significantly since the end of the Cold War, it is still way too high to avert a nuclear catastrophe, especially since today’s nukes are much more powerful than those used in World War II.

Is our luck running out?

A nuclear war today would not only kill millions of individuals within minutes, it would also lead to a nuclear winter, culminating in worldwide famine on a scale our species has never experienced as a whole. Luckily, we made it through the Cuban Missile crisis and the entire Cold War without annihilating ourselves. But luck only lasts so long.

People often make the claim that these nuclear capabilities have maintained peace and prevented World War III. That may have been true for a time, but human beings are far from flawless, often erratic and more emotional than rational. At a time when one powerful yet highly imperfect individual can have a bad day and push the button that initiates the end of civilization, it’s plausible to think we have just been lucky indeed, and the idea of a madman starting a nuclear war may be a statistical inevitability.

Pick your poison

It appears the resurgence of Soviet-era conflict has watered down the conversation about anthropogenic climate change and shifted priorities, resulting in even more hoarding of weapons on a global scale. But when carefully looked at, the priorities of countries like the US, Russia, China and many others were already influenced by an obsession with defense (much of these “investments” in war machinery have been the result of CEOs of private defense firms working in government and pushing for more defense spending, which directly benefits their bank accounts).

Despite all the talk at climate conferences, climate mitigation was probably never going to get the bulk of annual budget spending, because human beings are not good at reacting to complex and long-term threats, and very good at denying them.

Just four days after the Russian conflict began, The Guardian published an article titled “IPCC issues bleakest warning yet on impacts of climate breakdown” about how the impacts will likely be more severe than previously predicted. The scary thing is, we might not even survive long enough to witness the day climate change ravages our entire global civilization, because by then we may have already annihilated ourselves with nuclear weapons (and ironically pushed the climate system in the opposite direction, jumpstarting a process of global cooling, at least for a while).

Humanity faces two choices. We can rapidly invest in renewable energies and carbon capture technologies to see if we manage to save ourselves from environmental catastrophe, or keep doing what we’re doing, which is rapidly investing in bombs that are supposedly going to “protect” us, but will likely end up in the wrong hands sooner or later (if they aren’t already), and that’s the end of that.

It appears that choice has already been made.

Credit: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

If you like what you just read, then you may very well enjoy my fiction novel, The Shadow in the Mirror, where you can find out what’s actually going on with Harold Hopkins.

Harold’s only wish is to lead a normal life. Yet, for reasons he can’t comprehend, he is shunned by all living things. No matter how hard he tries, he is unable to garner attention from the woman he loves, nor can he foster genuine friendships or find a decent job. Meanwhile, since childhood, he has been haunted by his own reflection in the mirror, which frequently acts as a window to another world. The person on the other side is everything Harold wishes he could be, like a clone of himself leading the fruitful life he was destined to lead. He finally sets off in search of answers, where he learns about the unearthly events that took place when he was born, and discovers the tantalizing truth about his own existence…

Available on Amazon both in paperback and Kindle here.




Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Master’s in Sustainable Development. Author of The Shadow in the Mirror. Vegan.

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Roberto Burgos

Roberto Burgos

Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Master’s in Sustainable Development. Author of The Shadow in the Mirror. Vegan.

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