“We’re at an inflection point. About every four or five generations, there comes along a change – a fundamental change takes place. The world ain’t going to be the same … So the question is: Who is going to prevail?”. President Biden, speaking to American soldiers in Poland in March of this year.
Biden’s point seems to be about the battle between autocracy and democracy but just beneath the surface lies a more threatening idea which also applies to inextricably linked economic and social systems.
Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine explores at length what happens during these ‘inflection points’. It is more than a decade old but is still relevant to what is happening during the current crises we are living through. In times of crisis we can feel unmoored. Understanding a situation that is incomprehensible can take its toll when the path forward looks uncertain.
Crisis Capitalism in Action
The earthquake of destruction that the invasion of Ukraine triggered has reverberated with a series of aftershocks for the global economy as grain shortages and threats to energy sources make an impact on our previous stability.
It is unsettling to witness the lobbying taking place in the aftermath of this event. Vested interests mobilise to capitalise on the uncertainty and provide solid solutions we can grasp. This is done most efficiently by those who aim to make a profit despite the detrimental effects on society and the natural environment. As the violence and brutality accelerated in Ukraine, lobbying by these self-interested cohorts also increased.
The invasion of Ukraine is not simply a war of expanding boundaries – it also has many of the hallmarks of a war centered around fossil fuels. Russia’s wealth, currently being used to purchase weapons to kill their neighbours, is largely dependent on its export of energy. Europe’s reliance on this energy makes us involved in this war, no matter how much we dislike this fact, and therefore we must bear responsibility.
There has been a discernible shift in the narrative from how to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to more ominous calls to build infrastructure to simply obtain fossil fuels from elsewhere. The most responsible and logical way to proceed would be to significantly increase our renewable generation capabilities and reduce our energy requirements – simultaneously working towards managing the climate crisis and removing power and wealth from the grip of an autocrat. Building more fossil fuel infrastructure simply shifts this dependence onto other countries and does nothing to address the more difficult long-term questions of decarbonisation.
Lobbying increased in January with the aim of increasing exports of LNG to Europe as a response to increased tensions in Ukraine, however producers in the US have been heavily lobbying to get approval for more infrastructure in European countries for years, to increase their export potential and off-loading their cheap gas as demand at home is expected to stall. It has worked – Biden announced that he was removing restrictions to increasing exports to Europe which will inevitably increase fracking within the country with all its associated environmental and environmental costs.
Ireland is fully on board with this capitulation where one crisis is escalated by our response to another with renewed calls for Shannon LNG to be built. The fact that we currently do not rely on Russian gas does not seem to temper the calls.
The folly of responding to this crisis of overreliance on Russian oil by increasing our reliance on fossil fuel from other countries has been extensively written about, to no avail.
Lobbying in Ireland and Europe has not been restricted to energy, big agri-business has also viewed the war as an opportunity to weaken the sustainable Farm to Fork strategy, something that was in the cross hairs even before the war.
Russia and Ukraine are intrinsically linked with the global farming industry. Russia is a major exporter of fertilisers which the predominant model of agriculture globally relies on, as the sanctions kick in the vacuum created may not be easily filled. Ukraine is also a major exporter of grain, used for both human and animal consumption across the world. Ireland will be impacted by both of these things with expensive fertiliser and fuel making planting and harvesting nearly unmanageable and a fodder crisis inevitable. Again Ireland was not silent on the calls to scrap environmental measures in favour of more intensive production something that is strongly opposed by the Irish environmental NGOs.
Consequences of Crisis Planning
We know from our own history of crisis management during the 2008 recession, that policies made in a time of crisis can have deep and lasting consequences if the social impacts are not carefully considered. Let’s hope that this time, someone somewhere is thinking these consequences through.