These days, it’s basically impossible to go about your day without hearing or reading the phrases, ‘cost of living crisis’, ‘suffering’, ‘fuel poverty’, and so on. The catastrophic inflation that has skyrocketed all of our living costs was driven, in part, by rising gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But what exactly are fossil fuels and why have they got anything to do with Russia? Russia is one of the world’s largest gas exporters – the three fossil fuels are natural gas, coal, and oil. 80% of the world’s energy comes from these sources, so everything in our lives is reliant on this industry – from electricity, to transport, to central heating, to smartphones. The list goes on and on. Western sanctions on Russia’s economy therefore have increased the price of gas, which has a knock-on effect globally and has raised inflation for all products.
Fossil fuels are widely recognised as non-sustainable and huge carbon emitters. They are unsustainable due to the chemical processes that require millions of years to create fossil fuels. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine is partially being fought due to the discovery of various large-scale gas fields in Ukraine’s territory. Since Russia is the world’s second-largest gas producer (aside from the US), many political analysts have argued that Ukraine’s close alignment to the EU, added to the desire to join NATO, combined with the discovery of natural gas, all threatened Russia enough to start a war. As such, fossil fuels are not only contributing to an environmental crisis, but they are a direct cause of one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century.
As individuals, there is almost nothing we can do to change this. Geopolitics is mostly out of the individual’s hands, that is the domain of governments.
Equally, the effect we can have over how our government chooses to source its energy is rather minimal. According to the Guardian, 68% of people from a 2000 person sample agreed with more direct government action, such as a carbon tax, as a way of green recovery from the pandemic. Instead, our current prime minister is potentially not attending Cop27, and his predecessor scrapped the green levy as a way of funding her unfundable policies. Our government agreed to be Net Zero by 2050, yet are still giving planning permission for new oil fields to be constructed. With these new oil fields, we will still be emitting well past 2050, which according to scientists, is already too late.
So what can we actually do? Since our government seems to be asleep at the wheel, individually, there is not a lot we can do. We personally cannot change our nation’s consumption of fossil fuels, you can’t just detach yourself from the National Grid. Whilst we can mitigate our own impacts in certain areas, like flying less or becoming vegetarian, for the most part, our energy sources are the domain of our leaders. However, as individuals, one of the most important things we can do, in the face of not having many options, is knowing what is going on and knowing how to debate against those who challenge it.
One of the most important things I have found that works in a debate is facts, however, in the age of information, everyone has their own facts that suit them. This naturally complicates debate. However, there are only so many facts that challenge the absolute certainty of the climate crisis, so knowing as many as possible is always best. Another argument that I have often heard is “there is no point in doing anything since the US, China, India and Russia have such higher emissions than us (UK)”. Whilst this is superficially true, all the above countries have far higher emissions than the UK per capita, this does not negate our role as a nation nor as individuals in emissions. In fact, the UK’s respected position in geopolitics, perhaps prior to our current political crises, requires us to be a leading nation regarding climate change. The US, as the second largest emitter, will be obligated to take harder action if the majority of its main allies takes a hard stand against polluters.
Often an argument posited by climate change sceptics (or that annoying uncle who loves being contrary) is that climate activists don’t have a leg to stand on since everything in their lives, from the clothes on their bodies to the iPhones in their pockets, was created by fossil fuels. But really this is a redundant argument, do these critics expect every climate conscious person to reject all of the things that comprise modern civilisation due to their dependence on fossil fuels? To be climate conscious or an activist doesn’t mean you have to write off everything that is fundamental to living – just because you think fossil fuels are bad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear clothes. This argument was posited to a Just Stop Oil activist when she was interviewed on Good Morning Britain. Regardless of how you view the protests of Just Stop Oil, the suggestion that being an activist and wearing clothes is hypocritical of your cause is, frankly, nonsense. This is an example of a false equivalency, something that climate sceptics love to use to cast doubt on the validity of the facts.
In this case, this false equivalency does highlight one fundamental point of climate conscious people. We are entirely dependent on the whims and profits of fossil fuel companies. The cost of living crisis, at a time when both Shell and BP has made double their profits of 2021, when 2022 hasn’t even come to a close, demonstrates this. As I said before, we can’t all just stop using fossil fuels – that would require living in a cave. But what can we do?
Knowledge is power. Knowing these monstrous facts will be your weapon in the age of information. Nowadays everyone seems to choose their facts, whether they are from peer-reviewed science, think tanks funded by fossil fuel companies, or a Flat Earther on Youtube. However, we must agree on a degree of objective truth. Most people are sensible, they are just affected by their information source. Rather than taking our anger at the state of the world into debate, we must remain calm, collected and willing to listen. Truly changing people’s minds has never happened through the threat of violence or anger; people must feel respected enough to engage in a debate of equals for real change to ensue. So, talking to people and spreading correct information is paramount in tackling this issue. Raising climate consciousness to the primary concern of our peers is fundamental, it also brings me to my next point.
We all, no matter where we live, will be affected by the climate crisis in one way or another. So, we all, no matter where we live, have a responsibility to try and change. We can take our individual action, which will make a large difference, but until we have governments that truly prioritise Net Zero and the shift to renewables, we cannot solve the largest issues. We must ensure that our primary motivator in the voting booth is the party, or person’s, environmental policy. Regardless of your previous voting patterns, we must collectively remove political ideology from our hearts and pragmatically prioritise who is best equipped to deal with these issues. How can ideology help us if the world as we know it ceases to exist?