Ukrainian socialists hosted an on line discussion on “Energy Crisis and Sustainability: lessons of the Russo-Ukrainian war” on 22 October. You can watch a recording on youtube here in English, or here in Ukrainian. The panel of speakers included Ukrainian climate policy researcher Maryna Larina; Leszek Karlik of the Energy Policy Group of Razem, the Polish left party; and Christian Zeller of the University of Salzburg; and me.
The event was part of an on-line conference on Reconstruction and Justice in Post-War Ukraine, hosted by the editors of the socialist journal Spilne (Commons). Recordings of all the sessions are now up on line, and well worth viewing.
Here’s the text of my talk. At the end I have added some comments on the discussion, and some links to further reading. I look forward to the continuation of our discussion. Simon Pirani.
I have not been to Ukraine since the invasion in February, and I only understand the difficulties people face at second hand. Furthermore, it is difficult for all of us to talk about post-war reconstruction when the war is raging. Every day this means not only deaths and injuries, but also the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including power stations and boiler houses.
This winter, Ukrainians will not only be trying to protect themselves from bombs and bullets, but also trying to stay warm and healthy in the face of disruptions to gas, heat and electricity supplies. [This month, Russian bombing has focused on civilian infrastructure, putting one third of power stations out of action and forcing widespread power cuts as winter temperatures set in.]
But even under these circumstances, discussion has begun about post-war reconstruction, in the first place between the Ukrainian government and European governments at the Lugano conference in July. They are making plans for the long term.
The labour movement, and social movements, need an approach to these issues that takes the side of working people and of society, as opposed to economic or political elites. I am going to suggest four principles that can help develop such an approach.
1. Energy should be supplied mainly from renewable sources.
Society internationally needs an energy transition – that is, a transition to a system without fossil fuels, centred on electricity networks, with the electricity generated from renewable sources such as solar, wind and wave power. In Ukraine, there is also some potential for biofuels made from agricultural waste.
I am sure everyone present knows why this is: because global heating could seriously damage human society, and the chief cause of global heating is the burning of fossil fuels.
For the last 30 years, the world’s most powerful governments have gone to great lengths to delay the energy transition while simultaneously pretending to deal with the problem.
The labour movement and social movements need to advocate a transition that serves the interests of society, not capital.
Two points to make about Ukraine specifically.
a. Coal has historically been central, in the Donbas in particular. Coal use has been falling since 2016, mainly due to Russian military aggression. Now, political forces in the Donbas are discussing a future without coal. For example in the recent open letter by the Mayors of Myrnohrad, Chervonohrad and other towns (here in Ukrainian, here in English). I hope that the labour movement and social movements will engage in this discussion.
b. Gas has also played a key role. The government has sought to reduce dependence on Russian gas, and there have been no direct imports since 2015. However, in Ukraine, as elsewhere, gas companies make the false argument that gas is part of the solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, because it produces energy with fewer emissions than coal. Actually, it’s part of the problem. The energy transition means moving away from gas.
2. It is in society’s interests to cut the flow of energy through technological systems.
To understand this, we should, first, forget the idea of “energy demand”. People do not want “energy”. They want the things that it provides – heat, light, electricity to run computers, the ability to travel from place to place, and so on.
Read the rest of this entry »