The five-part series War is Climate Change is presented here as a single essay. Many thanks to Geoff Herzog for his editorial suggestions and close reading of the entire essay.
The Interlocking Crisis: War and Climate Chaos
Also in Counterpunch
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin
Climate change is the apex crisis of all time and the US military is the prime crisis multiplier.
As we approach the horizon of climate disaster it certainly looks like the predatory phase of human history — of which war is just the most glaring example — is related to our predatory relationship with nature. At the center of the storm is the interlocking crisis of militarism and climate destruction.
We will evolve beyond perpetual war and global empire or face climate chaos.
The climate crisis is rooted in a set of interlocking institutions with a common cause of power over others and a shared strategy of violence, plunder and deception. The military is the linchpin, playing a pivotal role intensifying the climate crisis.
Consider the basic facts. The US military is:
- The single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel in the world;
- The most powerful global force securing oil and protecting oil infrastructure;
- The leading director — along with the big bankers and fossil fuel giants — of the elites’ plans for dealing with the coming crisis. The military and big corporations are not in climate denial — they are in control — and plan to keep it that way as the climate deteriorates.
The war machine’s enormous consumption and strategic capture of fossil fuels and their behind-the-scenes management of the crisis hints at its true role: sponsor of big oil and co-creator of the climate crisis.
The dominance of fossil fuels and the supremacy of the US empire rely not on victory in war or on market savvy or “value added” to the economy but on their political power. That power makes destructive and wasteful industries extremely profitable. The Oil Empire relies on massive public funding, carefully crafted exemptions to law and immunity from the economic, social and environmental damages they inflict.
The military can only maintain the fiction that it protects our security by concealing its role as destroyer of the very things we really need to survive: a healthy environment and a democratic society. The fossil fuel giants can only maintain the fiction that they are profitable players in a free market by winning trillions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and by eliminating its major cost: pollution.
“[A] wind-water-solar system uses half the energy as a fossil fuel system and also eliminates health and climate costs due to fossil fuels. U.S. consumers will pay only $1 trillion per year in energy costs with the GND, whereas under a fossil fuel system, they will pay $2 trillion per year in energy costs and $600 billion per year in air pollution health costs, and will incur $3.3 trillion per year in global climate costs due to U.S. emissions, for a total economic cost of $5.9 trillion per year. Thus a wind-water-solar system costs society one-sixth that of a fossil fuel system.”
The carbon, methane, oil spills and fracking fluids wrecking our one and only home are — by the wonders of capitalist accounting — simply made to disappear as a cost of doing business.
Get this: giant corporations claim legal ownership to the fossil fuels created by nature; they own the machines and labor to refine and transport it; they hide and control the formula for fracking fluids as a trade secret. But, the toxic chemicals themselves, the oil spills, the carbon and methane waste — without which no fossil fuels are produced or consumed — are not their property but ours. Only the profits remain with the corporations. Pollution is considered by both corporate and government actors as an “externality” that is not counted. But, its poisons are not external to nature or our bodies and we are already paying for it with the sixth extinction, premature death for millions and hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
If the true costs of oil, gas and coal were accounted for in the capitalists’ equation — including massive public subsidies — the fossil fuel giants would quickly go from being among the richest and most connected corporations in the world to bankrupt orphans. But, those costs are cloaked by the war machine because it is essential to the military’s own need to hide the true costs of war.
The power of the corporations and the military are by no means the product of some mythical free market. Instead it’s an economic system — well rigged, well maintained and well enforced by US military muscle. Like the hub in a giant wheel of misfortune, the US military is the central point anchoring and protecting the global corporate power that is pushing us toward the planetary precipice.
We Knew This Once, Let’s Learn It Again
Over half a century ago Martin Luther King named the enemy: the evil triplets of racism, militarism and exploitation. In our time, the evil triplets have a new and monstrous brother: climate destruction. King was drawing our attention to the interconnections between all forms of oppression and exploitation. Fifty years later the links have become more intense and more obvious.
Along with the interlocking crisis and institutions, our troubled relationship with the planet is the single most revealing consequence of a deeply rooted culture of dominance. From the very beginning, European empires used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim ownership of “discovered” lands because the natives who lived there were pagan “others” with no rights Europeans should respect. Natives were threats to be assimilated or eliminated through war. The domination of “others” and the domination of nature have been linked ever since. Like our hostility to nature, war is not simply a policy or action — war is a culture — a way of understanding and acting in the world.
It’s the same culture that underlies our empire, our failed economy and failed political system. All the racism, the class exploitation, the misogyny, the homophobia, the inequality — all the hate and fear of “others”– are summarized, magnified and implicated in the degradation of the planet.
These ancient ideas of dominance live on in modern systems. Together they are like the “feedback loops” climate scientists warns us about. And, they are just as dangerous.
Today we face a constellation of powerful institutions that have magnified corporate power by merging the corporation and the state. It’s hard to see the boundaries between the big banks, oil companies, media giants, and US government because they are united in purpose, design, and culture.
Where Do We Go From Here? Organize!
What is not obvious are the implications that the interlocking nature of corporate rule hold for our actions and strategies for change. What are the system’s weak links? Is there time for incremental change? I am afraid we have backed ourselves into a corner: it’s peace and revolution or climate catastrophe.
We can start by casting away illusions. The intertwined and escalating nature of the crisis will make it nearly impossible to fix within the existing order because the crisis was created by the current system of corporate governance.
The evil triplets King identified were not simply free-floating ideas or bad attitudes. Each have a systematic and institutional foundation whose long history is both justified and hidden with cover-stories repeated thousands of times by the corporate media. These narratives are also related. “Free-market fundamentalism” is to corporate power what “colorblindness” is to the vast militarized penal system and “humanitarian war” is to empire: nice liberal sounding doublespeak that promotes the transition from old forms of dominance and exploitation to new ones.
The interlocking nature of the crisis means the task ahead is monumental. Our actions must be truly historical in their sweep and consequences or we will be overwhelmed. We can begin by pushing back against the systematic interlocking crisis with a loosely interlocking movement of movements. As Michael Eisenscher wrote:
“What compels these different strands of progressive struggle to weave a new progressive tapestry is recognition that none of these movements can achieve their objectives without achieving the objectives of the others. We will not be able to successfully decarbonize our economy if we do not also demilitarize US foreign policy.”
We need each other to win.
Our rebellions against climate change and war should continue the work and extend the vision the black revolution started.
“[T]he black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws —racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” Martin Luther King Jr., “A Testament of Hope,” 1969
“Interrelated flaws.” “Rooted deeply rooted in the whole structure.” “Systematic rather than superficial.” We must see what King saw. Tell me the last time that elections alone accomplished the “radical reconstruction of society.” Instead, the revolutionary project holds the greatest potential for overcoming the climate crisis.
Ok, Smartass: But You And What Army?
Got me. In this article and those that follow, I look at the interlocking systems of war and climate crisis. If we don’t know the enemy we can never win. But what about knowing ourselves? The finest strategies, ideas, and analyses are barren without an army of organizers and activists to make ideas into real material forces that must be reckoned with.
While the fresh energies and creativity of new political movements are our best hope, we still face the same old problems of organizing: “you and what army?” Extinction Rebellion, Youth Climate Strike, and About Face are rallying the troops we need — as are many other trends and organizations. Occupy Sandy showed us how a people-centered adaptation to climate disaster might work. Actions against more oil wars in Venezuela and Iran have the potential to knit both issues together.
But, we still need to build an army of organizers. Face-to-face work is the most labor-intensive method, true, but also the most effective. That actually makes organizing the quickest path to base-building and movement-building. Slow is the new fast.
While the Green Party thought up the Green New Deal, it is Sanders — operating on the left edge of the dysfunctional two-party system — that has the closest thing to the raw numbers of volunteers change demands. That alone means we need continued engagement with, and coordination between, various tendencies aiming to challenge the system. We can become greater than the sum of our parts if we have the political skill to allow for both unity and struggle in our political relationships.
We also need to recognize that organizing is a practice not a science. We are all perennial beginners. Here is a place to start again: check out my blog at befreedom.co. You will find a series of articles on organizing. Face-to-face organizing remains the gold standard for raising consciousness, building organizations and taking action. There is no way to challenge the war machine and face the climate crisis without it.
War is War on Mother Earth
“In order to achieve the massive systemic and cultural transformations required for mitigating climate change…we’re going to have to deal with the socially sanctioned, institutionalized violence perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy that is pouring fuel on the fire of global warming.” Stacy Bannerman
Climate Change Causes War
There is a close relationship between war and climate change that can be seen in a cycle of feedback loops creating the interlocking crisis.
Take the case of Syria, the perfect example with its direct relationship between war and drought. In an exacting statistical analysis of wars fought between 1980 and 2010 the connection between war and climate change is undeniable.
The US military itself has long recognized climate change as a “threat multiplier.” The last three Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Reviews characterized climate change as a threat to national security.
Since the idea of climate change as “threat multiplier” tends to encourage militarized responses, (like Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposals) this information is widely reported in the pro-war media and I will not repeat it here. The military and their media allies fall silent when it comes to a far more important truth: war causes climate change.
War Causes Climate Chaos
At the core of the corporate state is the war machine, the world’s largest polluter. Despite the exemptions from reporting on military pollution that the US demanded in the 1997 Kyoto Accords and continued suppression of information by the military, the general picture comes through. Consider the evidence linking fossil fuels and war-making.
- The US military is the world’s largest polluter of all forms of toxins. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise supported military needs.
- While there are many sources, a 2016 report by the GAO itself stated: “The Department of Defense (DOD) generally, and the military services in particular, are the largest consumers of fuel in the United States Government.”
- Military pollution is particularly poisonous. Fighter jets, destroyers, tanks and other weapons systems emit highly toxic, carbon-intensive emissions, not to mention the toxins released from the detonation of bombs including the forever-poison depleted uranium munitions.
Given the historically unprecedented size of the US empire and its permanent war- footing we can safely assume that the US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world.
“Possessing the world’s largest fleet of…aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles…– virtually all powered by oil — the Department of Defense is, in fact, the world’s leading consumer of petroleum… [A]n April 2007 report by a defense contractor…suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.” Michael Klare
The military guarantees the profits and political power of the oil giants. As Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, explains in an article about the military-petroleum complex:
“[T]he DoD had some of the planet’s biggest petroleum dealers, and masters of the corporate universe, on its payroll. In 2005, alone, the Pentagon paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP (British Petroleum)…(on whose behalf the CIA…covertly overthrew the Iranian government back in 1953). In 2005, the Pentagon also paid out over $1 billion to…the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (best known in the United States for its Shell brand gasoline) – and in excess of $1 billion to oil titan ExxonMobil. In 2005, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and BP ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth on the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s five hundred largest corporations in terms of revenue.”
The subsidy to oil is so great it’s hard to tell where the military ends and the oil companies begin. And this does not even count other forms of direct and — the even more massive and hidden indirect subsidies — showered on fossil fuel giants by the US government.
Securing America’s Future Energy, a group of retired military and business leaders counter the official claims that the military spends zero dollars defending oil by making a conservative estimate that $81 billion a year funds oil capture and production.
“[T]he US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil — a lunacy instigated by a series of post-WWII Presidential decisions.” Patricia Hynes
The war machine burns oil to capture oil to burn oil to capture oil. The empire is no marketplace: it’s both supply and demand. So while the consumption of oil by the military is a small percentage of the world’s total consumption, its role as coordinator and enforcer of the fossil fuel regime is what makes the US military a threat to our living planet. Hynes again captures the big picture in a recent article:
“The United States is the central actor and agent for more reasons than its historical megaconsumption of fossil fuels. The U.S. has functioned as the stimulant and model for social, economic and political systems driving GDP growth in other rich and newly rich countries, resulting in fossil fuel use spiraling “out of control since the mid 20th century.” Not only that, but the U.S. mode of consumption is continually being reproduced across the world.”
As the US empire grew around the world it held up the “American Way of Life” as proof of our superiority and a standard for others to follow. And that standard meant growth without limit and burning fossils, lot of them.
The Historical Context Reveals Everything: It’s an Oil Empire
The fusion between the military and oil giants created a dramatic spike in fossil fuel use starting around 1950. This merger and its consequences occurred in a particular historical context: the supremacy of the US empire in the years following WWII. Elaine Graham-Leigh sets it out:
“The rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions that created the current climate crisis began around 1950…in the period immediately following the Second World War…..The Allies would not have won had they not been able to cut off German access to oil and to maintain it for themselves. The lesson for the US…was that… monopolization of the world’s oil was essential if it was to be the world’s superpower. This made oil a central military priority, and also cemented the dominant position of the petroleum/automotive sector in the US.”
Oil became “a central military priority” and engine of seemingly unlimited economic growth. The US military became traffic cop for the oil trade.
A Marriage Made in Hell
In the decades following WWII only two global superpowers were left standing: the neoliberal regime of huge transnational corporations that operated above and beyond national borders and the US empire with its vast global network of military bases and perpetual wars operating above and beyond international law. The global economy and the global empire were a perfect match. It was a marriage made in hell.
In 1980, President Carter reasserted the connections between US policy, military force and oil. Shaken by the overthrow of a CIA-installed regime in Iran in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter’s State of the Union Address proclaimed US control over Middle East oil.
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil….Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
The so-called “Carter Doctrine” was the work of Zbigniew Brzezinski (organizer of the Mujahadeen and father to corporate media star Mika Brzezinski). Apparently the US was not an “outside force” in the Middle East but there was nothing “outside” of its “vital interests.” Ronald Regan built on Brzezinski’s vision of limitless world hegemony by defining the security of Saudi Arabia as essential to US interests — to this day it still is.
The US government married its fortunes to oil — “until death do us part.” We shall see about that.
The Arctic as the “Last Great Frontier”
The other revealing context reaches to our oldest cultural mythologies of frontier and American exceptionalism. Only in the US could the disaster of climate change become a new frontier complete with profitable business opportunities.
The Obama Administration discovered, in the melting Arctic, both our past glories and potential for future wealth.
“The Arctic is one of our planet’s last great frontiers. Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable, and changing environment.”
Are we supposed to believe that the very institutions that melted the polar ice caps can now be trusted to “protect and conserve” what’s left? The same document claims it’s going to “account for indigenous communities.” Right, just like natives were accounted for at Standing Rock (to name but one of many examples).
Falsehoods of this magnitude can only seem believable when they are part of a culture’s deepest mythologies. The “last great frontier” and “pioneering spirit” is code for empire, the colonial project and in this case — an updated version of the Doctrine of Discovery. Obama called forth the frontier spirits — a year later the US staked its claim to the newly “discovered” territory with a military strategy for the Arctic.
Then along comes Trump, another frontiersman — without the righteous pretensions — but still a product of the same myths each and every President has passed on to us.
Trump is rushing us toward destruction by escalating wars inherited from Bush and Obama even adding new fronts in Venezuela and Iran. He declared open season on Arctic oil production and native rights. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated the age-old formula seeing “opportunity and abundance” and military advantage in the ice-free waters of the north pole. Trump’s new Arctic military strategy totally misses climate change while targeting Russia and China. Now we have a new arms race and record global military spending led by Trump but provoked by the Russia-obsessed Democrats and pro-war media.
It’s a perfect storm of a system.
In elevating military power over climate change Trump takes his proper place as an All-American President much like the ones that came before him. Deal with it. Trump did not drop from the sky.
Unless we reckon with our past we will not have a future.
The war on Mother Earth demands the kind of transformative change that only a massive “movement of movements” can create. I hate being the bearer of bad news but we face an interlocking crisis of militarism and climate change driven by the interlocking institutions of corporate power — all deeply rooted in national mythology.
Hope alone is not a strategy. Hope leads us to shallow moral politics that substitute our desires and dreams for the daily concrete work of organizing ourselves to confront power. A real political strategy begins with an honest assessment of the problems we face. Yes, we face a ruling class with a single-minded fixation on profit and power. No, there is no evidence that they will regulate themselves. In fact, they are driving us to the precipice.
Only we can steer us away from the cliff. Grab the wheel.
Also in Counterpunch.
There are things we are not supposed to know and the corporate-controlled news industry is not going to tell us. Totally absent from the obedient media is one of the most important stories of all time: war creates climate change.
The story of how this knowledge has been repressed is essential to understanding how the government and military are at the heart of climate counter-offensive and what it will take to stop them.
The Government Rules by Force, Fraud and Deception
The information blockade starts with the military itself. The military purposely restricts information plus its immense size and bureaucratic complexity means that it is so hard to grasp that political leaders cannot themselves understand the institution they are supposed to command.
You want proof? Just try reading the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2016 report which could not figure out just how much oil the military burns. The GAO concluded: “[C]ongress does not have full visibility over the amount of fuel volume the military services require on an annual basis for their activities…”
This should not come as a surprise. Since its inception in 1950 or so the modern military has resisted any accounting of costs in violation of Article I, Section 9, of the US Constitution. In 2018 the Pentagon failed its first-ever audit. It’s not just about the missing 6.5 trillion dollars, (although that really matters too) it’s that the opaque accounting system is armor — a defensive weapon used to neutralize anyone that wants to understand, let alone oppose, the US government.
This massive fraud is just the financial side of the serial political con committed by the US government. Article 1, Sec. 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress, and only Congress, the right to declare war — but that has never stopped the Pentagon or the President or the Congress or the Courts from betraying their duty to defend the Constitution.
Not only can’t the government regulate corporations it cannot regulate itself in line with what is supposed to be the highest law of the land— the US Constitution.
But shift your vantage point to see the merger of the corporation and the state and then you see a military perfectly regulated in keeping with a corporate empire that equates profit with power and actively promotes both without limit. The liberal state is no more.
For example, the War on Terror increased the Pentagon’s appetite for power and secrecy at the cost of environmental justice. According to legal scholar Hope Babcock,
“[O]ne response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 has been a significant erosion of basic civil liberties. Congress has given unprecedented power to the President and his law enforcement agencies to wage this war against terror….The military has sought, and largely received, permission from Congress to weaken environmental and public disclosure laws as part of the arsenal of “tools” it needs to fight this war.”
If weakening “environmental and public disclosure laws” is a weapon of war — then “destroying the planet to save it” is the outcome.
The Dirtiest Of All Dirty Secrets
This very big, very dirty secret — that war drives climate change — is carefully guarded. To keep things hush-hush the military is excused from oversight or obligation. This exception to the rule of law has always been the practice but G.W. Bush formalized it demanding language to that effect in the 1997 Kyoto Accords, which he later refused to sign anyway.
“The complete U.S. military exemption from greenhouse gas emissions calculations includes more than 1,000 U.S. bases in more than 130 countries around the world, it’s 6,000 facilities in the U.S., its aircraft carriers and jet aircraft. Also excluded are its weapons testing and all multilateral operations such as the giant U.S. commanded NATO military alliance and AFRICOM, the U.S. military alliance now blanketing Africa. The provision also exempts U.S./UN-sanctioned activities of “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian relief.”
The Kyoto exemption set the pattern for subsequent climate meetings at Copenhagen 2009, Cancun 2010, Durban 2011, and Doha 2012. In a typically toothless and incremental fashion, the Paris Accords replaced the mandatory exemption for the military with voluntary reporting on non-binding goals, disguising further deception as progress.
Speaking of toothless, Obama’s much-heralded 2015 Executive Order requiring federal agencies to cut greenhouse gases specifically exempted all overseas activities of the intelligence and military agencies from having to report contributions to climate change or limit pollution. The military is responsible for 80% of all government fuel consumption.
The Democratic Party’s version of deception is the denial that anything can be done outside of stimulus for so-called markets. Obama’s support for alternative energy was a small part of an “all of the above approach” that provided cover for dramatically increasing oil production, and expanding oil infrastructure for an otherwise archaic and unproductive energy economy.
30 years of elite efforts to address the crisis did not capture the public imagination because they offered nothing of substance. Emissions only continued rising, as “Global Banks Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.” Decades-old oil wars continue and expand as the US aims to capture and control Venezuelan and Iranian reserves with the backing of both corporate parties.
Trump seized on this record of weakness, withdrawing from Paris, rescinding Obama’s Executive Order, and enforcing the Republican brand of total climate denial (a denial that even the oil companies and military they serve do not share). Trump’s climate death-wish is enabled by the failed outcomes of the non-binding agreements, exemptions, and slick tricks like “all of the above” or Biden’s middle ground. These efforts will do nothing to “keep it in the ground” and that is a true measure of success.
Trump and the climate deniers so easily mock the liberal attempts at addressing the climate crisis because the liberals make a mockery of themselves.
In fact, the US government is the historic agent and manager of climate change.
“In all past international conferences it was again and again the U.S. government that sabotaged the meetings and refused to be bound by any treaty. The Obama Administration on Aug. 27 again confirmed that at the UN meeting in New York in September to prepare for the 2015 Paris meeting that only a non-binding agreement could be put forward.”
And so the Paris Accords undermined themselves by design. From the first international climate conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to Paris 2016, we witnessed a series of performances by the most accomplished actors on the world stage. By every critical measure, the elite climate meetings have failed — except they have succeeded in offering false hope and distraction away from the massive movements it’s actually going to take to bring about change.
These treaties did not fail for lack of an executive power to enforce limits on member nations. NAFTA, IMF, WTO, and the World Bank all create and enforce the rules of global corporate order by imposing international financial regulations and punishing all restraint of global trade. “Who elected the IMF to be the ministry of finance for every country in the world?’’ asked Julius Nyerere, the former president of Tanzania. Well no one, but that is exactly how the IMF operates.
On a twin-track, the US government/military enforce the political rules of empire. The empire aims for total hegemony, known in military lingo as “full-spectrum dominance”and will do whatever it takes to prevent the emergence of a multi-polar world. We spend trillions and kill millions policing the world.
But when it comes to climate change — where is a cop when you need one?
Well, there are far too many cops but they are busy enforcing the global order and a fossil-fuel economy that would collapse tomorrow if the true costs of oil and war had to be reckoned with.
Despite the fact that the recent UN’s IPCC report has succeeded in sounding the alarm that we have precious little time before irreversible climate damage, it also continues earlier UN shortcomings by not mentioning the military’s role in climate change. As bad a future as the IPCC report predicts, is it does not include military pollution in its calculations.
Naomi Klien’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate fails to recognize the US government and military as key players in the climate crisis. Why so? To accept the government’s role would be to upend her claim that free-market fundamentalism is to blame and government regulation is to wish for. And despite all the good work done by 350.org their website hardly refers to government, let alone the military, as a source of climate destruction.
Disarming The Green New Deal
It is within this context of 70 long years of secrecy, special legal exemptions, deception, fraud, lies by omission, non-binding agreements — and the global role of militarism as climate crisis multiplier — that we can best evaluate the Democratic Party’s version of the Green New Deal (GND).
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bought the GND to the world’s attention which now has overwhelming public support. There can be no “just transition” to a new economy without security for workers and the communities most impacted by climate change. But in its current form, the DNC’s plan also uses the language of market solutions and technical fixes that sadly repeat the weakest features of failed climate “action” already offered by elites.
But most importantly, the Democrat’s GND omits the US government and military as a cause of climate disaster. The other — almost unbelievable omission — is the failure of the Democrat’s GND to explicitly call for dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels. In fact, the words “oil” “gas” “coal” or “fossil fuels” do not even appear in the final document that established the committee. It’s just amazing. It’s a dangerous replay of how we got sold the substandard ACA: take universal health care off the agenda from the very beginning and then craft a corporate “solution.”
The Democrat’s GND remains a vague non-binding wish. The 2050 deadlines are standard political dodge-ball. When faced with crisis, corporate politicians always want to ‘kick the can down the road” — postponing real action until the damage is already done and someone else takes the blame. Adaptation to disaster and management of the crisis rather than prevention of climate chaos is the hidden but actual program of the Democrat’s GND.
Given the far-reaching influence of big oil, the near-total dysfunction of Congress, the GND committee is likely to remain yet another exercise in fraud and deception. Republican members of the committee have terrible voting records on environmental issues and like some Democrats have significant financial connections to oil. The New Yorker reported:
“Forty-one of the House’s four hundred and thirty-five members have pledged “to not take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry…” But only one pledge-taker… is on the new climate committee. The rest, as E&E News reported, have fossil-fuel connections…”
Pelosi staffed the committee to kill it. Ocasio-Cortez was invited but chose not to serve. Why? Most likely she does not want to waste her time or spoil her reputation on a loser committee. But her real “contribution” came in deceiving the public. In March 2019 McConnell called the Democrat’s bluff by bringing the Green New Deal to a vote. Pelosi and AOC organized a “present” vote to hide the lack of support among Democrats. The three Democrats that broke party discipline and did not vote “present” all voted no.
The very next month 224 Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, voted to subsidize fracking and gas infrastructure, spending $580 million to open up new fossil fuel markets tied tothe US as a rebuff to Russia. Russiagate and “security” trumps climate again. A real GND would ban fracking right now.
Like the Paris Accords, the Democrat’s GND is designed to fail us. All the decades of exemptions, denials, omissions and non-binding agreements gave the impression of action being taken. But they were all Orwellian theatrics scripted to distract from the vast consumption of fossil fuels and the military’s enforcement of a world order dependent on oil, gas and coal.
Meanwhile, we twist in the wind.
What is Viable?
The same historical context suggests that a program like the Green Party’s Green New Deal — the idea that inspired Ocasio-Cortez — gives us a real fighting chance because it accurately identifies the political and military roots of climate change. Such are the contradictions of the political crisis. A small, poorly funded and too often ignored organization like the Green Party is nonetheless freed by its independence to make a historic contribution to the most important issue of our time.
The environmental crisis is beginning to reconfigure political debate. Incremental change is no longer an option. This is precisely what happens in a revolutionary situation: prevailing wisdom and common sense are turned on their heads. Ideas once dismissed as utopian become the practical answer.
Threatened with climate destruction is there any real meaning left to the “lesser of two evils?” Do we vote for permanent damage in 12 years as opposed to 8? Wouldn’t that be so cunning and clever? At least you couldn’t be accused of “purity.” Even the arguments about “viability” — designed to silence dissenters — are being weakened by the obviously unsustainable form of government we now have.
What is viable? Any strategy, form of government, political party, or economic system that gives us a mere 10 years before irreversible climate chaos is not viable. Here is our paradox: watered-down programs like the Democrat’s GND are totally inadequate to the task at hand but may (or most likely may not) be politically “viable.” The Green Party’s GND — if enacted — would actually give us a real fighting chance against climate destruction but we are told it is not “viable” within the existing system.
Make your own judgments but make no mistake: the most powerful jury is not out; the verdict is in. Mother Nature has spoken: it’s the existing order that is not viable.
Doubling Down: The Military, Big Bankers And Big Oil Are Not In Climate Denial –They Are In Control And Plan to Keep It That Way.
Fourth in the Series War is Climate Change. Also in CounterPunch
“Capitalism, militarism and imperialism are disastrously intertwined with the fossil fuel economy….A globalized economy predicated on growth at any social or environmental costs, carbon dependent international trade, the limitless extraction of natural resources, and a view of citizens as nothing more than consumers cannot be the basis…for tackling climate change….Little wonder then that the elites have nothing to offer beyond continued militarisation and trust in techno-fixes. — Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes 
The ruling class may be an utter failure but that is not stopping them taking aggressive action on climate change. Their chief concern: maintaining power, control and profits at all costs.
The plan is well underway and it sure ain’t the Green New Deal. Just imagine a more extreme version of the world that already exists: where healthcare is rationed; where wealth inequality strangles democracy; where austerity is a weapon of class warfare; where millions die prematurely from toxins in air and water; where war and incarceration is the solution of choice; where people are rounded up in concentration camps; where corporations rule unchallenged; where extreme weather wrecks havoc in an expanding circle of misery. The only new thing about their solution is the stench of fascism that grows ever stronger and more odious.
The Bosses Want More of the Same
When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds.
The Republicans know full well that their partners in crime — oil companies, bankers and the military brass have known about climate change for decades. And, the corporate Democrats know that these same powerful players they too represent already have a risky plan to deal with climate change. From their shared perspective, even the Democrat’s Green New Deal, despite its weaknesses, must be marginalized since it competes with the establishment’s plans for our future.
Framing Climate Change
To maintain power they need to limit our thinking. The two most important narratives imposed on us are climate change as a “threat to national security” and as a “business opportunity” — the twin rationales for military and corporate power. They want to focus us on how to manage the crisis, profit from it, or adapt to it, instead of opposing it.
Once framed in this way the very institutions responsible for climate change can benefit from disaster while hiding their responsibility for creating the crisis. But the military-corporate management of the crisis will undoubtedly follow the same principles that created the crisis: the costs of pollution, adaptation, endless growth and war won’t appear in the corporate ledger. Military budgets will only grow larger. The costs will be “externalized” and paid by the suffering of everyday people.
The 63 million Americans currently exposed to unsafe drinking water and the 200,000 (according to an MIT study) in the US that currently die prematurely from air pollution are just a down payment. And the US is the wealthiest country in world history. The global figure for air pollution related deaths is 5.5 million annually. The 20 million or so deaths from war since WWII are a gross outstanding debt. How is that for adaptation and management? How will our rulers plan to maintain control as the crisis deepens?
Plans? What Plans?
Unsurprisingly, the military plans to maintain its ambition for “full spectrum dominance.” A 2014 report from the Department of Defense quotes former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who — having previously been on the Board of Directors of Chevron and Deutsche Bank — knows how to unite big oil, big banks and big guns.
“Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities….A baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of the military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations and other facilities is nearly complete, Hagel said. “In places like the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S military sites in the world, we see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years…”
They want us to forget that it has now been proven beyond doubt that the military is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels and largest polluter. War will continue, climate crisis be damned. Elizabeth Warren’s 2019 policy statement and the bipartisan letter sent to Trump by over 100 congress members urging Trump to make climate change a national security issue is more proof that war trumps climate. In truth, the military is caught in a crisis of its own making. As Desiree Hellegers puts it: “The US Military Poses a Significant Threat to the US Military.”
While the pro-war media makes much of the military’s attempts to use alternative energy, the Pentagon failed to reach its puny 2014 goal of 5% renewable.
Similarly, Obama’s 2009 stimulus package cancelled out the effects of small green spending with an “all of the above” approach, including money for “clean coal,” record oil production and increased energy use. This pattern of “greenwashing” — minor green efforts masking major investments in fossil fuels is identical to the corporate approach.
The oil companies and big banks that make crazy money from fossil fuels also hide the truth by posing the problem as a question of proper management. Sharon Kelly reports the banker’s view of a new “business opportunity”:
“Scientific research finds that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases…is warming the planet, posing significant risks to prosperity and growth of the global economy,” JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley wrote in a 2015 statement. “As major financial institutions…we have the business opportunity to build a more sustainable, low-carbon economy and the ability to help manage and mitigate these climate-related risks.”
So how is it that the bankrollers of climate chaos, investing $1.9 trillion in fossil fuels just since the Paris Accords, also claim to “manage and mitigate these climate-related risks?”
According to the bankers, the problem with climate change is that it’s “posing significant risks to the prosperity and growth of the global economy.” What they will not say is that the global economy — which demands enormous fossil fuel production and consumption — is posing significant risks to the climate. The global shipping and aviation on which peak profit-making depends is, like the military, exempt from the Paris Accords. The bankers, generals, and politicians are protecting the sources of their power.
From the Gold Standard to the Oil Standard
What the bankers will not say is that billions of the dollars they trade in are “petrodollars” — as explained in this informative documentary video. A 40-year back-room deal with the Saudis secretly recycled oil money back to the US. This deal essentially shifted the US dollar from the “gold standard” to the “oil standard.” According to Bloomberg:
The basic framework was strikingly simple. The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.
Buying oil in dollars is a form of imperial tribute other countries pay to the US — which is why the US insists all oil trading be in US currency. Iraq and Lybia once traded oil in other currencies. Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and China still do. See?
Since oil props up the US Dollar, bankers have a direct interest in wars that prop up the fossil-fuel regime. It is highly unlikely that the US Dollar, the Military-Industrial-Complex or the global corporate economy can live without its addiction to oil — whatever green capitalists imagine in their wildest dreams. Some contradictions simply cannot be overcome.
Representative Democracy is Dying. Long live Direct Democracy!
It’s “power to the people” or nothing. There is no middle ground. But we will be swamped along with the middle ground if we do not have real leverage and real power. The military, the oil companies and the big banks have plans and power both. The Green Party’s Real Green New Deal is a solid plan, as are the guiding principles offered by DSA Ecosocialists, or Tulsi Gabbard’s OFF Act.
But, the straightest line to the power we need is not just good policy, more manifestos, analytical precision or electoral politics (although those things might be helpful) — it’s the sloppy, contradictory, demanding work of organizing and direct democracy. The many efforts to protect water and confront infrastructure projects are leading the way. The Red Nation is a new voice telling classic political truths. Listen carefully. The “Red Deal” platform states:
This…will encompass the entirety of Indigenous America, which includes our non-Indigenous comrades and relatives who live here….We cannot expect politicians to do what only mass movements can do…..A mass mobilization, one like we’ve never seen before in history, is required to save this planet. Indigenous movements have always been at the forefront of environmental justice struggles…The Red Deal is not a “deal” or “bargain” with the elite and powerful. It’s a deal with the humble people of the earth; a pact that we shall strive for peace and justice and that movements for justice must come from below and to the left.
“We cannot expect politicians to do what only mass movements can do…from below and to the left.” So true, but how?
Whether you are base-building with workers or tenants, movement-building with the peace and environmental movements or running electoral campaigns, the under-appreciated work of talking with, and listening to, everyday people is the fast track to fundamental change. Talking with everyday people is a revolutionary act. Acting with others is better yet.
A massive Harvard study tells us what we already suspect: we have the most dysfunctional, least democratic electoral system of any so-called “western democracy.” The collapse of real representation is a leading cause of crisis. To think that such a broken system can repair itself and then take on massive problems of its own making without an equally massive and equally disruptive popular movement is more than just wishful thinking — it is a profound disregard for history. Show me some evidence. How was the original New Deal created? The failure to allow moderate and popular reforms like universal health care does not bode well for government’s ability to act on climate and war — issues that strike right at the heart of the existing social order.
We have good blueprints. It’s vitally important to put demilitarization at the center of our efforts not just because the US empire is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels or because the same military is the enforcer of the global fossil fuel regime but because understanding the connections between war and climate changes clears the way for fusion and synergy between the environmental and peace movements and movements for economic justice.
But the real question — the unanswered question — is HOW? How do we move on the climate crisis? Can we build it from the bottom up? It sure isn’t coming from the top down. Can the Green New Deal become a revolutionary reform? Ask people what they think about the Green New Deal. Where it leads is up to us.
1/ The best single source is a very well researched collection of essays The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes. Find the quote on p 234.
2/ You can see much more of this misdirection by looking at this document: “Military and National Security Leaders Urge Robust New Course on Climate Change.” Or see Elizabeth Warren’s new plan for a green military.
Climate Crisis Means the Ruling Class has Failed. Can the Working Class Inherit the Earth?*
Last in the series “War is Climate Change.”
Power For Profit is Still the Prime Directive
The climate crisis is proof positive that the ruling class is an utter failure — but it will not fall on its own. Can the working class rise to the challenge? It sure will help if we understand that our class interests are not merely the economic needs of working people — no matter how important that is — but the universal interests of a healthy planet for all the people. Let’s start acting like it.
The corporate solutions to the climate crisis must dodge the causes of the crisis. The ruling class uses deception and secrecy to limit public debate. When the facts become obvious and overwhelming corporate politicians simply refuse to debate it. Gag rules are back in fashion. When the people demand a Green New Deal the same politicians water it down and disarm it.
Meanwhile, the Corporate State pursues the only agenda it has ever known: power and profit. If we accept corporate empire as normal, natural or eternal there is nothing left but better management, technical fixes, adaptation, and illusions of endless growth.
Since corporate capitalism is a “grow or die” system, it cannot consider limits even at a time when planetary limits are on display for all to see and verified by our best science. For example, there is no place in corporate plans for the conservation of energy despite the fact that energy not used is the truest form of clean energy. Instead of keeping in the ground, it’s always more and more.
Former Trump Secretary of State and former Exxon-Mobile CEO, Rex Tillerson repeats the managerial view.
“I’m not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact…we believe those consequences are manageable….It’s an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions.
Shell Oil tried those “solutions” by investing $5 billion on Arctic exploration betting that the melting ice caps would clear the way to new-found riches. The “grow or die” dynamic at the heart of capitalism pushes all the corporations into The Race for What’s Left. They cannot stop themselves because the quest for limitless profits compels limitless growth. No capitalist enterprise can opt out of the system for long and survive.
The latest liberal-sounding twist on the management and engineering ploy is for oil companies, the military, and elite think tanks like the Rand Corporation to push “adaptation and resilience” as a form of acceptance to climate catastrophe.
Meanwhile, the corporate state itself boosts yet another “gold-rush.” In fact, the US government led the charge to the “last great frontier” in this 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic :
“This strategy is intended to position the United States to respond effectively to challenges and emerging opportunities arising from significant increases in Arctic activity due to the diminishment of sea ice and the emergence of a new Arctic environment.”
And the #1 concern:
“We will enable our vessels and aircraft to operate, consistent with international law, through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic, support lawful commerce….”
The government will respond to the “emerging opportunities” of a “new Arctic environment” to support “lawful commerce” with our military might. The new arctic gold-rush is the same as the old one, except now it threatens worldwide disaster. We can count on corporate power to double-down as the crisis worsens. And they are doubling down on us.
Their other plan is to suppress dissent. A new security industry grew dramatically after 9/11 to become a wing of the intelligence community and military. From Nigeria to Standing Rock, to Honduras environmental activists face militarized police and violent suppression including assassination and jail time. Since 2010, 1000 environmental defenders have been murdered, many of them native people. By 2017 nearly 20 States have considered making protest a crime. Protectors have been accused of being terrorists. Even old-line private armies like the Pinkertons have retooled themselves for climate change. There is no border between national security and business opportunity for oil cops and mercenaries who exercise the police powers and military duties of the corporate empire both at home and abroad.
Q. Whose Plans are These? A. The Ruling Class That’s Whose.
Yes, there is a ruling class. Here are just a few of its major features in regard to war and climate destruction.
While not without its fissures and fractures, the elites rule through a network of powerful institutions that consolidated power on a global scale by merging the state — the US government in particular — with the largest corporations. This fusion is the systematic foundation of the twin crises of war and climate destruction.
Since the corporate state seeks to use “all their means of power” they have effectively integrated the military, government, big oil, big media and big banks into the interlocking force of corporate power.
Here it is — straight from the Army’s mouth:
“Competition between contending groups using all their means of power has always characterized the international environment….Such competition involved all instruments of state power: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic…expanded in some recent policy documents to diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement…”
The corporate state came of age as it assimilated “all instruments of state power” into its network.
A key connection, for example, is the deployment of banks and bankers, including the IMF and World Bank as weapons in the pursuit of common objectives — as was obvious in the recent coup attempt against Venezuela that also enlisted “informational” giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter in the war effort. Even faux-environmentalist groups Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Environmental Defense Fund have taken money from and provided cover for the fossil fuel giants.
The Revolving Door?
The interlocking institutions work in many ways but one means is the so-called “revolving door.” The merger of finance capital with government has been well documented by Nomi Prins. This CBS News analysis lists the names of Goldman Sachs executives “at the highest reaches of power both in Washington and around the world.” Two recent reports by Public Citizen document the connections between Federal Trade Commission officials and the corporations they are supposed to regulate and the routine transfer of politicians to the front ranks of corporate lobbyists.
The same kind of dual office holding is business as usual for the military-industrial complex.
“As many as 380 high-ranking Defense Department officials and officers…left government to become lobbyists, corporate board members and defense contractor consultants….In 645 instances documented by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, officials went to work for major contractors—Boeing, General Dynamics and United Technologies are the top three—with nearly 90 percent of them doing lobbying.”
These officials are lobbying — they work connections. The “revolving door” metaphor fails to describe how corporate power is staffed. These politicians, bankers and generals are not moving in and out of anything. Instead, they are simply being transferred to different “duty stations” — to borrow a military term. Individuals play various roles as a means to develop the connections and gain the experience needed to seal the relationships between the interlocking institutions of the corporate state.
New research from sociologist Josh Murray reveals the inner workings of the global machine. Murray’s high-powered statistical analysis shows that the more interlocked with each other corporations are, the more they act as a coherent ruling class aware of their global class interest. It is precisely these highly connected organizations that have the strongest relationships with the US political system.
“[T]he most likely to form PACs and donate money to US politicians are those firms that make up the “inner circle”…in the G500 (Global Fortune 500)….[Those] most central in the transnational interlock network are the most likely to form PACs.
An interlocking system of corporations allows them to intervene in US elections as a matter of routine. Citizen’s United just legalized the system. It’s not the Russians, it’s corporate power. Give up the fantasy of free-market fundamentalism — it cannot be proven using evidence. Welcome to Corporate Power — it’s the only form of capitalism that matters — and we can see it all around us.
Will The Working Class “Inherit the Earth?”
The ruling elites have an organized class consciousness that thinks globally and acts globally. They use all the means at their disposal. How about us?
They have the corporation, we have the coalition. They already have a network of powerful organizations while we aspire, or should, to a “movement of movements.” Just as the ‘revolving door” cements ruling class ties we should aim to raise an army of “key workers” (a term we use in union organizing to find and support the real leaders) that can build the linkages between the peace movement, the climate movement, labor, and all the other social movements. There is not a single social movement or community that does not have a stake in the climate crisis.
Climate crisis is a revolutionary situation if we have the vision and audacity to make it so. We cannot continue to live or act in the old way and our rulers cannot rule as they have. Something has got to give. I have observed and participated in four decades of the perennial attempts to find ideological unity. We cannot agree on exactly what kind of class consciousness we are after or what socialism really means. We love to argue with each other — me too. But instead, we need to balance our ideological preoccupations with organizing. That means dramatically scaling up our engagements with everyday people and starting where they are not where we want them to be. Careful listening is the first step.
In the end, organizing is about action. In the end, organizing is all about “power to the people.” When millions move we will find the way forward together. There is no other way for us to learn democracy:
“The organizer’s rhetorical, strategic and tactical repertoire is designed to produce social action because it is in the tumult of political life that leaders emerge, relationships develop and transformations in consciousness are realized.”
Organizing also means learning to navigate and find strength in differences — because differences are the concrete conditions of our movement. Nothing — nothing — is ever going to change that. Perhaps we can move forward by developing a program that promotes on-the-ground unity in action without uniformity in ideas or analysis. Coalitions are designed to be just that — unity without uniformity. Here are some tips on coalition building.
The height of political skill is not getting everyone you agree with in a room to draw up a platform, analysis or manifesto. The height of political skill is to build a movement — of people you do not fully agree with — that can successfully execute a plan of action. That is real solidarity that looks like the real working-class.
We are held down by intersecting and mutually reinforcing structures of domination and hierarchy — empire, class, race, gender, age, sexuality and more. These codes and structures of dominion find their ultimate expression as the climate crisis. Perhaps we will be liberated by turning those same intersecting lines of oppression and exploitation into pathways of resistance.
[T]he perspective and political practice some of us currently call intersectionality is fundamentally ecological, is insisting on the organic, interactive, complex, and interdependent nature of oppression, and therefore, by both necessity and our own nature, of liberation…Each kind of oppression has its strategic importance in the reproduction of domination and props up the others, just as each struggle has moments of igniting a broader swath of resistance and leading that moment.” Aurora Levins Morales “Medicine Stories” p. 25-6.
If the forms of oppression intersect, then the forms of liberation must intersect as well. Each struggle, while rooted in the particular conditions of some people, place and time, offer lessons and produce resources that apply to everyone. The Red Nation gets right to it:
Thus the Red Deal is “Red” because it prioritizes Indigenous liberation, on one hand, and a revolutionary left position, on the other. It is simultaneously particular and universal, because Indigenous liberation is for everybody.
Our movement crisscrosses at the intersection of what is “simultaneously particular and universal.” If you are looking to the working-class for leadership you will know we are ready when we become “a class for itself” that is simultaneously on the way to becoming a class for the whole people and the whole earth. This way we can inherit the earth without owning it and receive its bounty without destroying it. This way we can win.
1/ Tellerson is quoted by Oscar Reyes in “Climate Change INC: How TNCs are Managing Risk and Preparing to Profit in World of Runaway Climate Change.” p 63, in Buxton and Hayes, The Secure and the Dispossessed
2/ Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, pp 355-365