Big Oil Shuts the Door on Ukraine's Foremost Energy Campaigner
You may recall that last year, days after the invasion of Ukraine, this newsletter launched the (ultimately successful) campaign to get the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to build heat pumps. Much of the thinking behind that work came from an old Ukrainian friend and colleague, Svitlana Romanko—and she’s been the inspiration for much much more in the past year, working with the EU leadership in Brussels to speed up Europe’s transition to renewable energy and pushing the UN’s global climate conference in Egypt to keep Russia’s oil and gas reserves truly locked up. She has, in other words, become a key global spokesperson in the midst of the greatest fossil-fueled conflict in decades.
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But there’s one place she’s not welcome. CERAWeek is the hydrocarbon world’s biggest festival, a Davos for carbon. Energy executives gather to crow about their successes and whine about insufficient government support; government officials often gather with them, too often to offer solace and subsidy. This year is no exception: you’ve got the head of Exxon, the head of Chevron, the head of Abu Dhabi’s oil company, the head of the American Petroleum Institute. If you find gas station fumes an evocative scent, this is the place for you, especially this year: buoyed by Putin’s war, Big Oil made serious bank last year, welcome news after a decade of slumping share prices.
So maybe it was understandable that they didn’t want Romanko on hand. She was registered for the event, but apparently only because no one had checked her bio; when she arrived after the long journey in Houston, she was turned away at the door. You can see the moment in the video above. “I can’t answer why you were declined,” Unlucky Corporate Guy tells her.
But I can.
It was because she came bearing four messages:
1—“On the false premise of energy security, big corporations are trying to lock in further dependence on fossil fuels by promoting new LNG projects in Europe and the US,” she told me. The LNG boom is the industry’s last big goldrush, and the Ukraine war is its essential component. Since Russia turned off the spigot to Europe, it needed replacement gas—and in the course of the year cobbled together just enough supply to make it through a warm winter. But what Houston wants to do is build huge permanent LNG installations, to ship the gas for decades off to Europe. They’re being opposed by people living along the Gulf Coast where most of those facilities go, and by sane people in Europe who have memories long enough to go back to the Trump years: why would you want to be dependent on America either, when the sun shines and the wind blows over Germany and France?
2—“The same gas lobbyists that now promote new LNG projects in the fake name of energy security, were partnering with Russians and served their interests for many years.” And that is…embarrassing. Remember, the last-but-one CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, literally got a “friendship” medal from Vladimir Putin, for helping build out the fossil fuel complex that now funds his vicious war. In the eternal political present in which we reside, such memories fade quickly, but Romanko has the receipts and also the anger: she’s spent the last year retreating into basement bomb shelters and watching friends die. That’s why Razom We Stand (Razom is Ukrainian for Together), the NGO she founded, is pushing for a total embargo on Russian oil and gas, but also for a rapid conversion away from oil and gas altogether.
3—The Ukraine crisis is not the only horror on this planet. Romanko has spent most of her life fighting climate change, most recently at the Global Catholic Climate Movement, now renamed Laudato Si. She knows that the heatwaves that now plague the earth each year have their origin in Houston, just as surely as the waves of mercenaries and prisoners pushing toward Ukrainian lines in Bakhmut.
4—Ukraine—now ravaged by Putin’s missiles, which are fired not at military targets but apartment blocks, electrical substations, hospitals and the like—is the perfect candidate to be rebuilt as a global clean energy model. Its reconstruction will come in an era when clean energy is the cheapest power available, and everyone will be watching. A truly green and energy-independent Ukraine would be Houston’s biggest nightmare.
As often happens, the attempts to muffle a real voice has actually amplified it: Romanko reportedly got to deliver her report to Biden clean energy kingpin John Podesta, also on hand for the CERAWeek conference. And hey, just in the same spirit, here’s a video from filmmaker Adam McKay (“Don’t Look Up”) that just emerged today, saluting Exxon CEO Darren Woods, who is giving a keynote at the conference this week. Enjoy!
In other climate and energy news:
+The Iditarod is getting…mushy
In years past, organizers have had to alter or shorten the trail to accommodate the new hazards. In some recent years, there was not enough snow to start the race, so race officials had snow trucked in or brought by cargo trains from the north to patch up the bare ground at the starting line. In 2008, organizers permanently relocated the timed start to a place roughly 30 miles north of the original place, moving it from Wasilla to Willow, seeking more stable conditions.
+As the air warms, it also gets dirtier, making breathing hard. From a new study:
If global temperatures increase by 4 degrees Celsius, then dust and plant emissions are predicted to increase as much as 14%, according to the study. But if the world manages to stay within 2 degrees Celsius of warming, that increase in [small particulates] is about 7%. “The more we increase CO2, the more PM2.5 we see being put into the atmosphere, and the inverse is also true. The more we reduce, the better the air quality gets,” James Gomez, UC Riverside doctoral student and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
+Can you recycle old solar panels? You can
+Who’d a guessed it? The fossil fuel industry knew gas stoves in the kitchen were bad for your lungs back in, oh, the 1970s
More than 50 years ago, in 1972, AGA authored a draft report highlighting indoor air pollution concerns similar to those being raised by health experts and regulators today. In particular, this draft report examined what to do about problems related to the emission of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides (collectively referred to as NOx) from domestic gas appliances. This draft, recently discovered in the U.S. National Archives, would eventually become an official report published by the National Industrial Pollution Control Council (NIPCC), a long-forgotten government advisory council composed of the nation’s most powerful industrialists.
However, an entire section detailing those concerns, entitled “Indoor Air Quality Control,” vanished from the final report. With it went all the important evidence that the gas industry was not only conducting research into what the NIPCC called the “NOx problem” but also that it was actively testing technological solutions “for the purposes of limiting the levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in household air.”
+A new “Shareholder Showdown” campaign is sponsoring investor resolutions at major U.S. and Canadian banks, asset managers, and insurers.
Among the resolutions filed are:
An Indigenous rights reporting requirement filed by Sisters of St. Joseph for Peace at Citigroup;
An absolute emissions target disclosure mandate filed by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and three city pension systems at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Royal Bank of Canada; and
Measures filed by As You Sow requiring JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley to publicly disclose their 2030 plans for transitioning lending and investment portfolios away from fossil fuels.
+The opposition to the vast new Willow oil complex in Alaska continues to grow, with rumors of increased opposition from some at high levels in the Biden administration. Abbie Dillen, president of EarthJustice, makes the case succinctly and powerfully:
If approved, Willow would rank among the worst sources of pollution in the country. Its emissions would exceed those of any other planned project on federal lands. To put the wreckage in perspective, Willow could produce more than twice as much emissions than the administration’s renewable energy projects on public lands by 2030 would cut combined. Last year, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland called those renewable projects part of “a clean energy revolution.” This year, her department is poised to enable a counterrevolution twice the size, one that would cut miles of pipelines and roads into fragile wild lands.
+From the invaluable Amy Westervelt, in the Guardian: fossil fuel companies have donated $700 million to American universities over the last decade. Because they care passionately about higher education. No, because
research centers accepting funding from the gas industry were far more likely to embrace fossil gas as a climate solution, and to downplay the role renewable energy sources might play in the energy transition, than their non-fossil-funded counterparts.
+Please grow your weed outdoors. I mean, it’s called weed.
+If you want to drive an EV but can’t abide supporting Elon Musk, a columnist for Car and Driver makes a persuasive argument that you want a Ford anyway
Besides stealing Tesla’s market share on trucks, Ford’s stealing its corporate impishness, too — when the electric Mustang Mach-E was unveiled, Ford demonstrated its tailgating possibilities by filling its drainable front trunk (or “frunk”) with shrimp. “Frunk shrimp” became a meme, which surely tormented the emperor of try-hard social media posting, Elon Musk.
+Just to say, plans for 3/21/23, the big day of action against the fossil-fueled banks, proceed apace—we’re closing in on 90 demonstrations spread across the country. Find the nearest one here
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