Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a massive violation of rights, and could signal the final phase of the fossil fuel industry, writes Clean Creatives director Duncan Meisel

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a massive response across the business world, with dozens of multinational companies – besides a few notable laggards – leaving the country to evade sanctions, or to join the global condemnation of Putin’s unprovoked violence. But the biggest implications will be on our energy system – and the ripples are just beginning to spread.

Heads of state in Europe, North America, and beyond have taken the sudden rise in oil and gas prices as a signal to accelerate the nascent transformation of our energy and transportation system away from fossil fuels, and towards clean energy.

As President Biden put it: “Transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles and clean energy, with tax credits to help American families winterise their homes and use less energy – that will help. And if we do, it will mean no one will have to worry about the price of gas at the pump in the future, and it means that tyrants like Putin who use fossil fuels as weapons against other nations.”

There are signs that the spike in oil prices is already impacting consumer behaviour as well. Searches for new and used EVs on the car-buying site increased by over 100 per cent last week. 

Unlike the oil crisis of the 70s or the temporary spike in oil prices of 2008, the technology to replace internal combustion vehicles, gas boilers, and fossil fuel power plants is no longer theoretical – it is a possibility, on the cusp of widespread reality. Since 2010 the price of constructing solar power has dropped by 80 per cent, making it cheaper to build and operate than essentially every form of electric generation on earth. By the middle of this decade, global automakers have committed to debuting dozens of full EVs.

This longer term economic trend is meeting with a sudden, swift crisis that may change the economic landscape of energy forever. But the companies affected by it aren’t just the ones in the business of pumping oil and burning gas. A whole ecosystem of enablers and advisors have come under pressure over the past decade for their ties to the fossil fuel industry, and 2022 may be the year where those companies are forced to choose between the energy system of the past, and the one that is rapidly coming into development in response to Russia’s invasion.

Advertisers now have a choice: continue greenwashing oil majors that have padded Putin’s personal bottom line and put fuel into the tanks of Russian tanks, or finally decide that an industry that funds totalitarian regimes worldwide is too toxic to hold on to. Banks will have to decide whether to keep running the complicated financial schemes propping up an industry forced to write-down billions of dollars in Russian investments. Law firms will have to contemplate the moral and personal cost of helping oil and gas producers search for loopholes in international sanctions that will allow them to continue extracting profit from pariah states.

These are the intellectual and creative minds that keep the pipelines pumping, and pollution cheap. But if global leaders are as serious as they say about achieving the only energy independence that matters – independence from the volatile, compromised oil and gas industry – this choice will eventually be made for every company attached to the fossil fuel industry. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just a massive violation of rights and law, it’s potentially the signal of the final phase of the fossil fuel industry that has ruined too much of our planet.

The sooner advertisers, PR flacks, lawyers, bankers, insurers, and every other facilitator of the fossil fuel industry steps away from polluters, the more they can limit the damage being done in the Ukraine and beyond. Going clean has never been more urgent.

Duncan Meisel is director of the Clean Creatives campaign.

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