Incredulity. Anger. Heartbreak. These are just some of the emotions I have felt over the past few weeks reading the news from Ukraine, hoping and praying for a peaceful resolution. Then I check Facebook for updates from my friends there. Are they still in Ukraine? What are they living? Are they safe?? Fortunately, they are. One has arrived safely in Poland, another is scrambling to get his children out of the country, and a third is showing the same determined optimism that impressed me so much after their Orange Revolution.
For seven years, I had the privilege of traveling twice a year to support democracy projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Ukraine and Belarus. I got to know the beautiful city of Kiev and the deep cultural pride of the Ukrainian people.
I’m not alone. Others have family and friends there. Many more see their courage in defending their country against Russian invasion and are moved to help. The United States imposed historic sanctions to counter the invasion but did not sanction the energy, due to the disruption it would cause Americans. In other words, our reliance on fossil fuels binds us in our ability to respond to Russia’s attack.
This is not the first war waged for energy resources, nor the last. According to a meeting of the UN Security Council in 2018, 40% of civil wars or conflicts in the last 60 years can be linked to competition for scarce natural resources. Today, climate change is exacerbating conflicts. A 2020 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that 14 of the 25 countries considered most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change are now experiencing violence. [Foreign Policy magazine] The humanitarian suffering caused by our addiction to fossil fuels will only get worse if we don’t change course.
There are steps we can take. We can act to move our country towards energy independence through clean energy. What does energy independence look like? In my experience, it’s wonderful! My family gets their heat and electricity from the sun through energy systems purchased and installed by a company in the Eastern Panhandle, using 100% American-made equipment. I am proud that we have done our part to help the planet, help alleviate the suffering caused by conflicts over energy resources and support our local economy – win, win, win!
I wish everyone can take advantage of this opportunity. But the investment costs of clean energy are prohibitive for many of my neighbors, even those who want to make the transition. In the past, government grants allowed Americans like me to make long-term investments and do my part. We need these public policies again.
I am encouraged that Senator Joe Manchin wants to advance climate solutions and promote clean energy alternatives (solar, wind, energy efficiency measures). This is good news for all of us. Allowing Americans to switch to clean energy will not only move towards energy independence, but it will support our local economy and (a very big bonus) save West Virginians their hard-earned money.
We are all Ukrainians. Inspired by their courage, we can act on their behalf in a new kind of war effort. Instead of planting victory gardens like our grandparents did in World War II, we can put solar panels on our homes. We can drive less in fuel efficient cars. We can create a new future for ourselves and for people around the world by becoming energy independent through clean fuels.