Putin Couldn’t Invade Ukraine Without Fossil Fuel Money


Purim is, among other things, a holiday of blame. We come together as a community to publicly name and boo the bad guy.

I have always hated this aspect of Purim; he feels bad for wallowing in the evil of another human being. When I was a kid, I covered my ears and shifted uncomfortably in my seat. As an adult, I try not to focus on the final chapters where we read about the violent revenge wrought by the hanging of Haman’s sons.

But the Megillah is unfurled every year for a good reason: it’s a warning that evil really exists in the world, and that we, as Jews, have the power to stop it in its tracks.

In recent weeks, our minds have turned to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The escalating military drama and humanitarian crisis in this country has filled our heads and our hearts. As Purim approaches, it’s easy to see Vladimir Putin as a vicious Haman and Volodymyr Zelenskyy as our modern-day Mordechai.

The Jews were quick to pass off Putin as Haman, as we should. To achieve his ends, he is ready to wreak havoc on the Ukrainian people and, if that is what it takes, on the Russian people as well. But it took us many years to recognize what a bad actor Putin is, and in that time we Americans and Jews have empowered him.

Reviews | Stopping Putin starts with holding the fossil fuel industry accountable

Sometimes we’re hesitant to fully name the villain, but inaction only makes it worse. Putin bears full responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine, but he can only act brazenly thanks to the fossil fuel industry.

Without the global fossil fuel industry to fund it, Russia could not have invaded Ukraine. 60% of Russia’s exports and nearly 40% of its federal budget come from the sale of oil and gas. And wealthy Western countries are complicit in these numbers. The EU buys 45% of Russian gas, much of which is extracted in partnership with Exxon, Shell and BP and financed by Citigroup, BlackRock and JPMorganChase.

The story of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in many ways deeply tied to the story of our unsustainable global energy system and climate change. Ending the invasion requires starving Russia of oil and gas money. The result of critical sanctions and boycotts is soaring energy prices around the world, including here in the United States. The fossil fuel industry is cynically profiting from this crisis by calling for more drilling and mining in the United States while raising prices at the pump and enriching itself out of the crisis.

Americans should not be surprised. We have seen time and time again the willingness of the fossil fuel industry to profit from destruction, but we have been reluctant to fully accept the facts.

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has misled the public and investors, denied climate science, delayed political action and destroyed communities, all in the service of maximizing profits. Just a few months ago, Exxon’s top lobbyist was filmed bragging about the members of Congress – from both parties – he had wrapped around his finger and how he could get them to kill the Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s ambitious climate and jobs package.

There are many reasons – theological, political, capricious, cultural, pragmatic – why many of us have hesitated over the years to name the fossil fuel industry as an unequivocal villain. Moreover, as specialists in the production and distribution of energy, aren’t Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP the best placed to support us in the transition to clean energy? Urgently, to have energy independence in this moment of crisis, don’t we need to drill more gas and oil quickly?

No and no. Despite being aware of the climate crisis since the 1970s, oil, gas and coal companies have not made significant investments in renewable energy. Their business model is based on one thing: extraction.

The truth is that oil and gas companies cannot rapidly increase production in the United States. They have already maximized their staff and capacity, which means they currently have 9,000 oil and gas licenses on federal lands that are not in use. Drilling and mining are not the answer to energy insecurity. Oil wells cannot be drilled tomorrow and pipelines cannot be built in a week. True energy independence can only come from transitioning to 100% clean energy as quickly as possible. Renewables like wind, solar and hydropower are cheaper, more reliable and faster to deploy than fossil fuels. More importantly, only clean, renewable energy will give us and our children a chance for a just, livable, and sustainable future.

It’s time for us to carefully examine our own reluctance to fully recognize the fossil fuel industry for the villain it is.

Reviews | Stopping Putin starts with holding the fossil fuel industry accountable

This Shabbat, leading up to Purim, we read in the Torah about the archetypal evil of our tradition, Amalek, the ancestor of Haman. We are called to “remember Amalek… erase the memory of Amalek… do not forget”. It’s a confusing trifecta of commandments with almost as many interpretations as there are rabbis. But at its core, this passage and the teachings over the centuries reflect how difficult it can be to recognize evil, to fight evil, to erase it, while keeping it in mind – and how point it is important.

Very often we do not target individual people or entire systems for derision and condemnation. But, as we celebrate Purim this year, taunting Haman and ringing our groggers, let’s remember that the future of the Jewish people – and the future of humanity – depends on our recognizing the fossil fuel industry as a real villain in today’s story.

Reviews | Stopping Putin starts with holding the fossil fuel industry accountable

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