Ukraine, Climate and Freedom from Despots

March 4, 2022

On Wednesday, President Biden delivered his first State of the Union address. He started where he had to start: with the tragic, illegal, and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. There is a ratcheting resolve among peace-loving nations and people around the globe to support Ukraine and isolate the Putin regime. The U.S. is leading this effort alongside our allies, reaffirming historic bonds in the process. But as Americans watch the inspiring heroism of Ukrainians fighting for their land and survival, we see plainly before us the fallout from a world dependent on fossil fuels.

We normally focus on addressing the climate crisis around here – with our clear-eyed optimism about how awesome the future can be if we electrify everything – not on a dictator causing bloodshed a million miles away. But these things aren’t separate. Instead, they are the interwoven dependencies of a geopolitics that has allowed fossil fuels to set the terms for far too long, endangering life and liberty.

We have been hemmed in by a politics of scarcity and dependence that comes with fossil fuels. It is a geopolitical and climate imperative that we embrace the politics of abundance and freedom that comes with electrifying everything and powering our lives with renewable energy.

We need to empty Putin’s tank

We know that President Putin manipulated energy costs to help fund the Ukrainian conflict and tighten prices in the EU. We know that oil and gas markets are international. We know that the energy bill volatility and price spikes we’ve experienced here in the U.S. are exacerbated by global events. And we know that our collective efforts to act are hamstrung by our dependence on a despot’s rigid grip on energy supply. “If we really want to stop long-term making Putin very rich, we have to invest in renewables and we need to do it quickly,“ said Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission, in January. “If you really want to make sure that you can provide stable, affordable energy to your citizens, renewables is the answer.”

Pumps for peace

That solution, of transitioning to renewable energy on the supply side, is, of course, related to the machines we use in our daily lives on the demand side. For the EU and UK, that means electrifying 76 million homes. Which means a lot of heat pumps. And yes, heat pumps work beautifully and are being adopted with gusto in Europe – especially in its coldest climates.

That transition is arguably the most important one to make in the immediate term because it’s where Putin’s political power lies. If Russia, which is responsible for 40 percent of EU gas, chokes supply and the cost of living goes up for European families, Putin has European leaders in a headlock. But every time a heat pump is installed, his political power is reduced. And the planet breathes a little easier, too.

Addressing these interwoven crises requires nothing short of a wartime mobilization by manufacturers to produce the clean tech that will help wean us all off Putin’s dirty oil and gas. This is how we ramped up manufacturing to win WWII for the Allies. We can help the EU break up with gas, while also spurring our own transition from fossil fuels. There are myriad pathways for the U.S. to catalyze this transformation, including establishing incentives such as a significant procurement order by the U.S. Department of Defense, utilizing Loan Program Office capacity, and invoking the Defense Production Act to pump out pumps. We should do them all.

Building a better America is a win-win-win

What does a meaningful climate investment package have to do with Putin, Ukraine, and ending fossil fuel supply dependency in Europe? A lot. Because true energy independence for the U.S. and the geopolitical isolation of Putin and those like him will only come with electrifying everything. And, for that to happen, we need to invest in our transition, bringing down the front end cost of heat pumps, EVs, induction stoves, solar, and storage, so that American families can enjoy the energy efficiency, savings, comfort, and healthier lives that comes with electrification. That investment is necessary to spur our industrial capacity – to ramp the supply so that these machines become the most affordable and convenient ones to install. That helps America. It helps Europe. And it helps the planet. Not so much Putin, but we’re quite good with that.

Our prayers for peace in Ukraine and an end to the bloodshed. And our commitment to end this cycle of madness forever.