Back in March, 2020, when we worried about catching the new virus and grappled with the enormous social upheaval that lockdowns brought we thought we were living in extraordinary times, the worst of days. We hadn’t contemplated a Russian dictator invading a sovereign country, threatening nuclear attacks or potentially triggering World War 3, but here we are two years later living through extraordinary times, the worst of days.
In January this year China, France, Russia, the UK and USA issued a joint statement saying: “We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons — for as long as they continue to exist — should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented.”
It’s a statement that is full of contradictions and epitomises human stupidity.
Since the end of the Cold War, world leaders have agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” and everyone understands that use of a nuclear weapon would be disastrous for global civilisation, therefore nuclear weapons are rationally unusable. Yet they still exist.
Putin seems to be using the threat of nuclear weapons to wage a conventional war, for now.
Paradoxically, it might be the threat of nuclear war and the realisation that Russia is funding its invasion with the proceeds of oil and gas sales that might be the motivation needed for countries to stop using fossil fuels and address the other existential elephant in the room – the worsening climate crisis.
“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink,” António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said last year at the COP26 conference in Glasgow. It sums up this moment in history pretty well.
The latest Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change is, again, a sobering read, “an atlas of human suffering & damning indictment of failed climate leadership” said Guterres, with half of humanity already living in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts – droughts, floods, extreme heat, water and food scarcity and destructive weather events.
According to the World Resources Institute: “The next few years offer a narrow window to realise a sustainable, liveable future for all. Changing course will require immediate, ambitious and concerted efforts to slash emissions, build resilience, conserve ecosystems, and dramatically increase finance for adaptation and addressing loss and damage.”
For the past two years, climate scientists and climate action advocates despaired that the Covid-19 pandemic was distracting from the vital need for governments to take immediate and drastic climate action. Before the pandemic, Brexit was the geopolitical distraction from the pressing climate catastrophe.
Watching the disaster in Ukraine unfold on our TV screens and on social media is a heartbreaking and surreal experience. Modern technology brings us up close to the tragedy and disaster ,yet we are removed.
We can only imagine the trauma and terror of our cities being bombed or the exhaustion and fear of evacuating our lives - leaving husbands, sons, uncles and grandfathers behind.
The desire to help, to do something, is overwhelming. Appeals and collections of supplies are understandable but aid agencies like the Red Cross and UNICEF say a flood of well-intentioned donations can create logistical problems in crisis areas. They say the best thing to do is donate money which can be spent on the ground on exactly what’s needed.
Another thing we can do is extend the hand of welcome and kindness to the 20,000 Ukrainian refugees expected to arrive in Ireland in the coming weeks. Even though Ukrainians would prefer to be in their own country, living their lives in freedom we must help them establish lives here for however long they need.
It might seem removed but another effort we can do to help is to reduce our consumption of oil and gas. While most of Ireland’s oil and gas is sourced from the UK, US and Norway with small amounts of oil coming from Russia, any efforts to drive less, cycle or walk more, turn down our heating, insulate our attics and use less electricity will have a positive impact. Ending our reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energies can be good for peace and good for the planet.