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The War in Ukraine: Should We Postpone Our Sustainability Careers?

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

I grew up in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, a city of 1.6 million people which is now laying in ruin.

I am a career changer and a recent MBA in Sustainability graduate. My new career is helping companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, introduce circularity into their business, and help with any other projects that would make their business more sustainable.

For the three years I had been an MBA student, I couldn’t wait to start my new career. That was until February 24th, when Russia attacked and invaded Ukraine. The Russian army bombed the university I had graduated from, people were killed, and two and a half million Ukrainian kids became refugees. The world, and especially Europe, became overwhelmed with a renewed fear of a nuclear catastrophe.

How could I think about greenhouse gas emissions now? Who cares whether a bottle is made from plastic or glass, or whether a shipping box will spend 400 years in a landfill or is recycled? Innocent people were dying!

Suddenly my people-and-planet-saving career seemed unimportant, not needed anymore. Political maneuvers, modern ammunition, and financial sanctions were saving people and the planet now.

I was in pieces…

But then I started thinking about it while exploring facts and considering opinions.

At the start of the war, the world was paying Russia $700 million a day for oil and $400 million for natural gas. Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, told The New Yorker in March: “You are paying all this money to a murderous leader who is still killing people in my country.”

In the view of Svitlana Krakovska, Ukraine’s leading climate scientist, the war on her home country is directly linked to climate change. “Burning oil, gas, and coal is causing warming and impacts we need to adapt to,” she told The Guardian. “And Russia sells these resources and uses the money to buy weapons. Other countries are dependent upon these fossil fuels; they don’t make themselves free of them. This is a fossil fuel war.”

The US and many European countries have now cut trading, financial and scientific links with Russia. However, as Russia keeps bombing my country, European countries still keep using Russian natural gas and oil (an EU ban on imports of Russian coal started on Aug. 10), thus continuing to subsidize the war and genocide of the Ukrainian people.

My and my sustainability colleagues’ work is needed now more than ever!

We MUST help countries and companies move away from what pays for the war in Ukraine and ignites conflicts elsewhere in the world: fossil fuels, i.e. oil, coal, and natural gas. And the only way to do it is through a faster transition to renewable energy sources: solar, wind, and geothermal to name a few.

The transition has already started.

  • As John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker “barely a week goes by without one of the world’s automakers embracing the production of electric vehicles.”

  • U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management raised nearly 4.4 billion dollars by selling six leases for wind farms off the coast of New York and New Jersey that could eventually provide enough power for two million homes.

The European Union and other countries are still dependent on Russian fossil fuels, but there is more political momentum toward decarbonization:

  • President Joe Biden just signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. It includes nearly $400 billion over 10 years in funding for climate and energy-related programs, and an extension and improvement of the U.S. electric car tax credit.

  • Earlier this year Germany earmarked 200 billion euros for investment in renewable energy production between now and 2026

  • The EU has vowed to slash Russian natural gas imports by two-thirds by winter and to cut Russian natural gas imports out entirely by 2027.

  • In 2021 the wind became Spain’s largest source of electricity with the goal of increasing the share of renewables in electricity to 74% by 2030.

  • ​​According to the issue brief in Resources for the Future, in the U.S., the Clean Energy for America Act (CEAA) encourages renewable-energy investments, energy efficiency, and the purchase of electric vehicles could lead to a significant reduction of carbon emissions.

I feel powerless when I watch the news about the war in Ukraine.

Then I remember that I do have a choice: I can yield to my sadness and helplessness and do nothing, or I can gather my strength and embark on my new career: moving the world toward a safe, sustainable, and decarbonized future.

The choice is mine!

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